Sometimes the mountain you’re climbing turns out to be a volcano.
Even an elite mountaineer can be taken by surprise when a dormant volcano suddenly roars back to life under their feet. This captures the essence of how mental illness caught me off guard at a time in my life when everything seemed to be going great.
I never thought I would experience mental illness. At the time, I was up for a promotion at a previous employer, on the cusp of taking on significant new responsibilities and working long hours and traveling frequently. Back then, I felt almost invincible.
But I’d been ignoring the tremors that signaled an eruption was on its way. And when it came, I was blindsided. It’s a cliché, but true, to say that I never thought it would happen to me. And now that the dust has settled, I realize that many people out there have experienced something similar and may not always be fortunate enough to get the right support.
That’s why I want to tell my story.
I remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday. I’d taken the 18-hour flight to Dubai to deliver a speech on my organization’s new strategy. I took the flight even though I had been suffering from a migraine beforehand and had pain in my jaw. In hindsight, these were probably warning signs. I landed the night before the conference, headed down to breakfast the next morning and the next thing I remember was waking up in the corridor of the hotel with people standing around me asking me if I was OK. My heart was jumping out of my chest and my blood pressure skyrocketed. I thought I was going to die without being able to say goodbye to my wife and three daughters or my parents.
On my return to Argentina, I began a treatment plan for my panic attacks which was focused on medication. But things got worse and worse. I spent the next few weeks not sleeping, having frequent panic attacks, sometimes taking eight clonazepam pills a day to try and control my symptoms.
And as I deteriorated, I fell into depression and sank deeper and deeper to the point of experiencing suicidal thoughts. I remember being on holiday with my family and just being unable to get out of bed. I’d lost the will to do anything and had lost trust in my treatment.
It was at this low point that I contacted the psychiatrist who had previously treated my mother. He immediately diagnosed depression and started me on a new treatment plan. This was just the start though, as each individual is different. Treatment is a process – a process of trial and error with different medications until you find the right combination. This can be frustrating, especially when the first anti-depressants I tried didn’t work and my sleep medication made me fall asleep at noon. At times, I even felt suicidal. But eventually, I found the right medication combination which helped control my depression and insomnia.
I started to turn a corner and further improved when I began therapy. As profoundly difficult as that year was for me and my family, in many ways it was the start of a new chapter. I started a new job, my depression was receding, and a combined regime of medication and therapy was giving me the tools to manage my anxiety and mitigate depression.
I still have ups and downs, and anxiety will always be something I have to manage – but through therapy, I’ve started addressing issues that had been buried in my subconscious. And with medication treating the symptoms of my mental ill health, and therapy dealing with its causes, I feel like I’m regaining my footing.
Today, I’m on a low dose of anti-depressants and I still take medication to sleep. I see my psychiatrist every six weeks and my therapist weekly. And while I still push myself hard at work, I’m more aware of my triggers and I no longer take it to the extreme. I’m also more likely to speak up and be vocal about my needs.
I was lucky in how supportive my employer at the time was - but I know that many employers and managers in the Latin American business world aren’t similarly equipped to deal with their employees’ mental health. I hope that as more people share their stories, we’ll see the stigma around talking about mental health decrease so that people can get the support they need to recover and thrive.
Rogelio, Deloitte Argentina
Deloitte’s mental health story series aims to break down barriers to talking about mental health. It is not intended to – and does not - offer advice nor substitute professional mental health support. If you are experiencing mental ill-health or are concerned about someone else’s mental health, please contact your national or local helpline or healthcare provider for support.