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6 Coworkers Who Helped My Mental Health

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We spend a significant portion of our lives in the presence of our coworkers. If we work for eight hours a day, that’s almost a third of our lives, and half of our waking hours. Based purely on time spent together, we can have a significant impact on one another’s mental health. We all have examples of that terrible colleague that stresses us out or makes our blood boil, but it can go the other way too. I’ve been lucky enough to have some phenomenal coworkers over the years, ones I would consider friends today, who have helped my mental health whether it was intentional or not. Seemingly small actions can end up meaning a lot to someone, whether we know what someone is up against or not.

1. The Car Keys Coworker

My conversion disorder can cause seizures; though they’re usually contained to happening in my sleep, there was a time when a stressful job caused them during the day as well. I didn’t have a safe place to have my seizures in the office, and didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I confided in a friend at work, and she offered her car as a comfortable place for me to go have one in private. After asking for her keys a couple of times, she told me I didn’t have to ask and would always place her keys on the corner of her desk, so I could take them whenever I needed. Fifteen minutes after I took the keys, she would always text me asking if I was OK. It made a huge difference knowing that someone was still checking in in case something went wrong.

2. The Excel Wizard

One of my colleagues (now a good friend) is incredibly skilled at data analysis. He taught me everything I know about creating reports and manipulating data into usable insights. When I came back from a mental health leave to a new role, I was so lost and didn’t know how to do anything. He spent time with me every day, teaching me and providing training even though we were on different teams. He had spent weeks building custom reports for his work, but when he saw I was struggling, he used his own time to create versions for my business unit. His kind efforts saved me from drowning for the second time.

3. The Check-In Coworker

While I was on the aforementioned mental health leave from work, I didn’t hear from anyone on my team. But one of my mentors, who always left her office door open for me when I was struggling, reached out. It was a short LinkedIn message, saying something along the lines of “Haven’t seen you lately, I hope you’re OK. We miss seeing you around the office” And just like that, I felt like a person again. That quick check in was the strongest catalyst for me getting back to work, because I felt like I mattered.

4. The Silent Supporter

After a short time of working together, a coworker and I realized we lived within a few blocks of each other, and she agreed to drive me into work every day. At the same time, I began to experience intense leg pain, and learned that without intense treatment, I wouldn’t be able to walk within a year. The pain had been building over time, and I had a small limp, but it got significantly worse. Some days, I could barely walk. My limp became obvious, and I became self-conscious about it, but my coworker never made me feel weird about it. She would quietly adjust her walking speed and slow down for me. In order to make it to my treatment, I’d have to rush out of work early, and the cost of taking an Uber there began to stress me out.

She told me she wanted to leave work a bit earlier sometimes to “beat the traffic,” and it just so happened to be on the days I had treatment. She would casually ask if I had treatment, and if I did, she would try and finish work early so she could drive me back in time for my appointment. She never framed it as her going out of her way for me, but I think we both knew that it was mostly for my benefit because I was too proud to ask for help, or admit I was struggling. On days when my pain was particularly bad, she would drive me all the way to my building instead of our usual drop off spot saying it was easier that day because of traffic. I think about all those accommodations she made for me, and how without her I have no idea how I would have made it, or how much worse my mental health would be during that difficult time, and am filled with gratitude for her.

5. The Sleep Monitor

I often wake up specifically for certain early meetings, but I’m not a morning person. My medication makes me groggy, and it’s hard to get going right away, so I get irritated and frustrated when I wake up early for a meeting, only to realize it’s been canceled. One day, I joked with a coworker about how it ruined my sleep for nothing, and the next time it was canceled she made a point to text me saying “They moved the meeting! Stay asleep!” Seeing that text when my alarm first went off allowed me to go back to bed for another hour. She doesn’t know how important enough sleep is for my mental health, but the gesture of letting me know based on us being in different timezones made a huge difference.

6. The Sticky Note Artist

For whatever reason, a coworker and I started a running gag of leaving each other cute little sticky notes on our monitors. Sometimes she would draw silly little cartoons, or cheesy notes like “Have the best day ever!” Those little notes were often the only thing getting me through long days. Some days my depression would make me want to stay in bed, but I’d think “I wonder what little note will be at my desk today,” and it was enough to get me going.

Some coworkers knew my struggles better than my close friends because they saw it up close, while others had no idea what I was going through and helped anyway. We don’t always know what someone else is going through, but we can always find ways to help however we can. I hope that someday I’m able to reciprocate to other coworkers what these folks have done for me. And I hope that they know how much their acts, no matter how big or small, meant to me and how grateful I am to have had them in my life when I needed them most, whether or not either of us knew it at the time.

Getty image by gremlin

Originally published: September 7, 2022
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