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What Happened When a Colleague Said I Was Oversharing

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Just before my manager went on maternity leave, she told me she had some feedback for me. A colleague had told her I was oversharing. She said I didn’t know other people’s mental health struggles and I should be careful to have boundaries.

I know exactly what led to this comment. On our team chat we had every morning once lockdown started and we started working from home, one member of our team was talking about moving houses and having to take out life insurance. I said when we changed our mortgage, the adviser suggested we might be able to get cheaper life insurance than we currently had and gave us the phone number of a company, but after a conversation with them, they declined to cover me. This was because they had asked questions about my medical history, which included a question about how many times I had self-harmed. I told them the answer was hundreds of times.

I had a feeling as I made the comment that maybe I shouldn’t be saying it, but afterward, I thought nothing more of it until the feedback from my manager. I took it well at the time, telling my manager I was sorry I had upset the colleague and it was right they had fed it back and I would be more careful in future. I also said I did have a tendency to overshare and have difficulties with boundaries.

Later, though, I got upset about it. As I was working from home and my wife was at work, no one was there to see I was upset. I felt ashamed of myself, and as a consequence, I didn’t tell anyone else about the conversation. I just replayed it and beat myself up about it in my head.

I’ve come a long way in my mental health journey, and the comment from my manager reminded me of how I used to be. A few years ago, I totally lacked any boundaries. With low self-esteem, I’d talk to anyone about my feelings and thoughts and symptoms of mental illness, as their sympathy made me feel that someone cared. Without that, I felt completely worthless. In contrast to many people in my therapy group, who had to learn to reach out when they were struggling, part of my journey was to learn not to reach out so much. To understand when it was appropriate to share, and to whom. I’d had a series of favorite people (FPs) in the past, to whom I had become attached and reliant upon. I’d bombarded them with my mental health problems and eventually it got too much for them and they ended the friendships, leaving me feeling completely broken and ashamed.

After over a year of a group therapy program, I’d learned to have healthier relationships and to relate to people in healthier ways. I have mixed feelings about the comment from my colleague. On the one hand, I totally understood where they were coming from. People can be triggered by things other people say, especially when it comes to something like self-harm. And of course I wouldn’t want to upset anyone. On the other hand, in therapy I’ve also learned triggers are everywhere and it’s not actually healthy to avoid them; it’s about learning to deal with how they make you feel. And it’s a very big topic at the moment, that you should speak up about mental health.

One good thing that came from this event was after a few days of feeling bad, I eventually told my wife about it, and her reaction was touching. In the past, she’s not always been great at dealing with my mental illness, and particularly my more attention-seeking traits. But when I told her what had happened, she immediately defended me, and was so upset about it she even posted a rant on Facebook about the (nameless) colleague. I had to ask her to take it down, worried other people from work might see it and become even more upset with me. But I appreciated the thought, and it was nice to feel she had my back.

I don’t actually know who it was that originally made the comment, but I’ve narrowed it down to two people, one of whom has now left the team. Soon I will be joining a new team at work and the other colleague it could have been will also be in that team, so we’ll be working closely together. We actually get on fairly well, but when I talk to her now, it’s always in the back of my mind it may have been her who reported me and I should be careful what I say.

As I prepare to come to the end of my journey in my therapy group, I find that I now find it hard to open up about how I’m feeling. I think of my past behaviors and am filled with shame, and I worry I might jeopardize the healthier relationships I have now by going back to those behaviors, so I tend to keep how I’m feeling to myself. I think the comment my colleague made has also contributed to this. I’ve explored why I had a tendency to seek attention (one of the therapists in the group always said she doesn’t like the term “attention-seeking” and prefers “care-seeking”). When my baby brother died when I was just 3 years old, my parents’ attention was elsewhere as they grieved and they were unable to deal with my overwhelming emotions as I grew up. I’ve learned healthier coping strategies, such as asking friends if they want to meet up rather than bombarding them with my problems, which means I get that social interaction, but without the unhealthier aspects.

I think working from home was also partly responsible for me making that comment. I’ve struggled with it, feeling lonely often as I’m alone in the house while my wife goes out to work. When we first started to work from home in March 2020, I was overwhelmed with panic, but I’ve slowly gotten used to it. I still prefer being around people, though. In the absence of actual people around me, I’ve found myself overusing the morning team meetings and the team chats as I reach out for social interaction.

When lockdown first started, I had friends on the team who I could talk to. Gradually, they all left and now I don’t really have friends there. This has been difficult to adjust to, and also contributed to me making the comment. In the future, my company is moving to a hybrid working schedule and most of my team wants to work at home more or less permanently. I’m planning to go in a couple of times a week if I can, but there will be a hot-desking policy, so I have no idea if I’ll even be sat with anyone I know, and every time I go in it might be with a new set of people. I now have a new manager based in the US (I’m in the UK), so I won’t even ever get to meet her in person.

Due to my group therapy, I’m generally feeling much better, but a few weeks ago I went through a bad period. My manager and some of my team knew, as I took a bit of time off sick, but I didn’t elaborate on how I was feeling. When I got back, I continued to feel bad for a few days but didn’t tell anyone, and no one asked if I was feeling better. I think working from home can hide how people are feeling. For people with mental health problems, that can be a bad thing. There was no one to see I was struggling when I cried at my desk. For people with eating disorders (I used to have one), no one notices they are skipping meals and losing weight. If someone has a panic attack, no one is there to see it.

When I reflect on the oversharing comment, I think it’s had an effect on my ability to open up, but in my case, maybe that’s partly a good thing. It does also upset me, though, when I think back to it. I watch what I say now, and when I speak to other people on my team, I worry what they are thinking of me. I’m trying to think of work now as just a job, and not as a social thing, as I have done in the past. I need to remember I have friends outside of work, and I don’t need to tell people I work with everything about my life.

Getty image by fizkes

Originally published: October 13, 2021
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