Helen Durkin, Senior Employer Brand Program Manager
Helen Durkin, Senior Employer Brand Program Manager

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a while about mental health and my own experiences of it. I have always stopped myself for a variety of reasons. In fact, I have had this blog sat in a draft form for over two years and not published it until now. 

I was scared to put myself out there and be judged by my peers in the industry and at work. 

In the past, I have worked for businesses where mental health was something that was not spoken about, but now working for Indeed, I know I can speak out and will be supported. 

I am a Senior Employer Brand Manager at Indeed within our Talent Attraction team, and in my job I am constantly asking our employees to tell their stories on our inside Indeed channels. These stories can often be very personal so it would be wrong of me to do that and not be prepared to tell a story of my own. 

This is by no means a blog with ‘six easy steps to improve your mental health’ but more an honest account of me who is very much a work in progress and how Indeed has supported me on this journey more recently. 

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done” – Stallone in Rocky

Keep moving forward

Helen with some of the team in Austin, the last time we were together face to face was in 2019.
With some of the team in Austin, the last time we were together face to face was in 2019.

It sounds simple to do, but in reality is really tough when you keep getting knocked down by life. How do you keep putting one foot in front of the other? How do you keep moving forward?

For someone who has gone through a lot of change over the past few years in my professional and personal life, I think what I have learnt the most about myself is however bad it seems in the moment and however much I think I won’t be able to pick myself up and carry on, I always do. I always seem to put one foot in front of the other, even if the steps are only baby ones. 

I have struggled with my mental health for about six years now, don’t get me wrong I have always been a worrier but having a panic attack and ending up in a heap on the floor in one of my old jobs not being able to breathe, was something that was very new and scary to me. 

Up until that point I wouldn’t say I was someone who struggled with their mental health. I had become a shadow of my former self, I was barely managing to get to work, couldn’t eat, go out or spend time with the people I loved especially my family who are my world. 

What’s wrong with me?

Helen as a child
The happy, confident little girl

I remember phoning my mum after having another panic attack (this time in Tesco’s) and crying uncontrollably saying ‘what’s wrong with me?’ Obviously she was really concerned as I had always been so self-assured and confident as a young girl (her own words not mine). She told me that I needed to go see someone and get help. 

At first I was just so embarrassed by the prospect of talking to a counsellor, especially when I knew people very close to me who were going through far worse situations than myself. But everyone has their own challenges to face in life and they should not be compared to each other. So I gave it a go….

Getting help

I took myself along to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) every week for about three months, which although was very confronting and I went in every time thinking she would just laugh me out of the office, it was one of the best things I have ever done. 

We spoke about everything from my family, friends, work and relationships. Somewhere along the way from being this confident young girl, I had developed a deep rooted feeling of being unlovable. 

Now that probably sounds pretty simple to fix, but what I think shocked me the most was that this feeling of being unloved had caused me to not recognise myself and not be able to control my emotions. 

For anyone who hasn’t experienced a panic/anxiety attack, I would not wish it on my worst enemy. It’s terrifying as you truly believe your body is shutting down and you think you’re having a heart attack. 

It is also really difficult to get out of and you end up feeling the side effects for days after, where another attack can be triggered a lot quicker. It also then becomes very difficult to separate if you are just sad about something or if you are having irrational thoughts which can lead to anxiety. You lose confidence and clarity in if someone has actually upset you and they are in the wrong or if it is your anxiety. 

I know that I can be very quick to blame myself for feeling a certain way, when often my anxiety is triggered when my body is repelling something that potentially I haven’t dealt with or I am unhappy about something. It’s sometimes very easy for me to say ‘oh I must be being irrational about this’ rather than actually I just need to confront a difficult situation because it is making me feel uneasy. 

Being someone who hates confrontation, I often find it tough to strike the right balance.

Luckily for me it’s been a long time since I have had a full blown panic attack but I know now that I will always have some level of anxiety and I have to be aware of that. 

I read somewhere that anxiety is like a door that has been blown wide open and once it is open it can be really hard to slam that door shut.

Starting a new job

I started at Indeed three years ago and without my manager or team knowing, I was struggling with my mental health after a recent break up. I was not eating properly and struggling to socialise. 

Helen's onboarding week at Indeed with my new boss Bryan and Lauren in my team.
My onboarding week at Indeed with my new boss Bryan and Lauren in my team

In this picture, I may look happy but pictures can be deceiving. Inside I was breaking down and spent most of my nights in Dublin for my onboarding week crying and not coping with my emotions. 

If I look back, what I realise now is starting a new job in a company like Indeed was exactly what I needed. 

From my very first day I could tell how supportive and open Indeed’s culture was. 

I could see how honest and authentic Indeed’s leadership team was with issues around mental health and although I had not been open about my struggles at that time, I knew that if I did say anything I would be supported and just knowing that helped me to relax. 

Another thing that blew me away was the company’s Open PTO policy where you can take as much holiday as you need as long as you are hitting your targets. I realised that if I needed to take a day here and there to look after my mental health that I would be able to do that and over the three years that is exactly what I have done.

My boss may not realise this as we have not had an in-depth conversation about my past experiences with mental health, but I have always known I could go to him if I had been struggling. This was not the case in my previous job and I felt like I could not be my true self and had to hide my struggles as much as I could. 

Every meeting he starts the conversation by asking how I am and if I am ok. It is a very little thing but it makes a massive difference to my happiness in my job. Our CEO launched a series called ‘Here to Help’ over the pandemic where he interviews employees from across the business and he starts every interview with the same thing. It’s nice to see this approach being role modelled from the top down.

So what has helped me?

Helen climbing Snowdon in Wales with Indeed swag
Climbing Snowdon in Wales with Indeed swag

The biggest thing that has helped me is owning my anxiety and talking about it with anyone who will listen to be honest! Although I was not diagnosed with anything in particular which I think is pretty normal for people with mental health issues, I know now what I need to do to cope when I struggle. 

I have great friends and an amazing family, who I know hate seeing me going through any kind of issue but are always there to listen. I am a very honest person so I will always let someone know if I am finding things tough, and also I am rubbish at hiding things.

At Indeed, we have a number of Inclusion Resource Groups (IRGs) which are employee-led groups formed around traditionally underrepresented or marginalised groups in tech (in numbers or power) that actively contribute to efforts specific to Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging. 

I was on a panel recently with our Women at Indeed chapter in London where we were talking about wellbeing at work and I highlighted how important it was to try and talk to someone about how you are feeling. It could be a friend, a family member or a councillor. 

With our employee assistance programme we are able to take advantage of six free counseling sessions which to me have been invaluable. 

I have also just recently joined our Access Indeed IRG as an ally because I believe mental health is an invisible disability and I think the more we speak about it the more we can normalise the conversation and remove the stigma often associated with it. 

Be kind to yourself

Helen traveling solo in Belize, again with my swag
Traveling solo in Belize, again with my swag

All I can do is keep moving forward and as much as I would love to go back to when I didn’t get panic attacks or anxiety, what I do know is that it has made me a stronger person for it.

I may get judged by people I interact with as having a problem that needs sorting and fixing, but I know that often that person has their own struggles which they are ignoring and not being honest about. 

I think we all move up and down this 1-10 scale of mental health every day, some days we are a 1 on that scale and some days we’re nearer a 10. Sometimes we move through that scale multiple times throughout the day, I know I do.

As I said, I am still very much a work in progress, I am very hard on myself when I get anxious about something and can be my own worst enemy. I also haven’t thrown myself into exercising all the time which I know will help (all those happy endorphins), but I am getting there with daily walks which have really helped especially during the pandemic. 

As one of my best mates always says to me ‘be kind to yourself’ and she is totally right, ultimately it is about being kind to yourself.

I am a big fan of inspirational quotes and this one resonates with me a lot so I hope if anyone reads this who is struggling they can take something from it.

“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” – Christopher Walken 

If you are struggling please speak out and ask for help whether that’s from your family, friends or contacting a charity like https://www.mind.org.uk/ 

We are also hiring at Indeed especially within our Talent Attraction and HR teams so if you want to come and join a business that makes it ok to not be ok check out our open roles.