Dear Agony Aunty Sarah,
I have suffered from depression and anxiety for many years and was recently given a big project at work with a lot of responsibility, which has really increased my levels of anxiety. I thought I could handle things, but everything has got on top of me and I do not know how to tell my boss that I am so behind. The deadline is approaching and no-one knows that I haven’t done my job properly yet. I’m so worried, I can’t sleep at night and I don’t know what to do.
Ok, deep breath. You are working yourself up and making yourself feel worse. This will result in you catastrophizing the problem and feeling like there is no way out for you. There is.
I understand the fear of what people will say and the anger you think you might have to face, is stopping you, because you have probably imagined the worst possible scenario by now.
I say this to clients often, when you are left alone with your head, i.e. thinking, there is no end to it. Your thoughts can go on and on and be torturous; you can embellish conversations that have not happened into rows, escalate situations until you feel you have no way out. Handling reality is always easier, because it’s there in front of you. So what’s the worst thing you have imagined in this situation? Your boss is angrier than anyone could ever be, everyone else in the company hates you and the project fails and doesn’t meet deadline; you are fired, the company fails and everyone loses their jobs..? If that were true, that’s one big project you’re working on!
You have been so brave to write in and tell me. I would now encourage you to share this with someone else. If telling your boss feels too daunting, tell a colleague or a friend at work first. This will help relieve some of the stress and help you practise saying it and getting it off your chest. At the moment it’s a huge secret and that gives ‘It’ power. Choose someone to tell; a friend in the office or a colleague, but choose the person well. You want someone who will support you and not run around waving hands and screaming making it worse. Once you have shared it with someone, you can ask for their support, tell them your plan and then approach your boss.
There is no harm in saying ‘hands up this is too much, I can’t cope with this workload’. Saying “I am not sure if you are aware I suffer from anxiety?” could be a good starting point. Or “I need to give you an update on the project and my concerns about meeting the deadline”, then you have made the point in one sentence. Anyone listening to someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety will understand and be grateful for you to have said how you are feeling in the run up to the deadline. The sooner you say something, the sooner the pressure and responsibility of the project can be shared and the deadline met.
Practically, you could consider what you would actually need to get the project done: Help with research, budgeting, marketing etc. Let your boss know what part you can manage and what you need help with. Break the project down and make it manageable, your boss will appreciate that you have thought about it and how it could work, rather than disowning it all completely.
This would be you managing the situation and not hiding from it. That can be a powerful feeling. You may also learn that most people are happy to help others when needed. You will see that sharing how you are feeling enables others to help you. This might be a good lesson for you to learn; because clearly you are adept at hiding your anxiety/depression and feeling like you should deal with everything on your own.
You have lived with anxiety and depression for long enough. There is no shame in the way you have been feeling. Depression has been said to be repressed anger and or a feeling of hopelessness. By doing something you will shift some of this energy.
I would really hope you would seek counselling and chat through your anxieties. Having them normalised can help greatly. There was a time you were anxiety and depression free, you can return there again.
I can’t promise your boss won’t be cross or that the deadline will be met, but I can promise you will be able to handle whatever happens and you will survive it. It will be okay.
Deep breath, be brave, seek support and speak up.
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