I never really understood mental health awareness. It wasn’t a class they taught in school and wasn’t something that was readily discussed at home. My understanding of mental health awareness used to be somewhere between non-existent and “take a bath with wine for your own sanity.”
When I joined Hotwire in 2018, I flew to the UK to attend my first Bootcamp, the annual gathering of all Hotwire employees at one location for three days. I was just four months into my new position and I remember sitting in my seat in the pavilion tent watching our CEO, Barbara Bates, take the stage. Instead of speaking about next year’s outlook, she talked about her journey with mental health, the struggles she faces, and how she builds healthy mental practices. It was an unexpected presentation from a CEO, but I would learn it is a topic Barb feels very passionately about. I didn’t know what to do with all that information at the time; until that point, I felt pretty good about separating my work from my “feelings” so I didn’t understand why mental health would matter to a CEO.
The following spring I found myself going to a therapist. Occasionally I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. As someone who didn’t face their feelings head-on, this was something that confused me. I thought, “Something must be wrong, how do I fix this,” so I decided to figure out how to turn it off. I went for a few sessions but I didn’t have what they call a “breakthrough.” Yet a year later, I’ve realized those sessions were the start of a larger conversation I needed to have with myself.
Fast forward a year to March 17, 2020, the Bay Area announced a six-county wide shelter-in-place order as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, effectively closing all office work. This wasn’t a difficult shift for Hotwire. Thanks to our “Thoughtful Working” program we were already able to easily work remotely. Prior to COVID-19, many people worked from home regularly. I, on the other hand, loved to be in our San Francisco office. I would be the first one in and the last one to leave every day. I thrived being able to have face-to-face conversations with my managers and co-workers, and appreciated the ability to further draw a line between my professional life and personal life. With this new shelter-in-place order, that line was effectively erased.
The first few weeks were the hardest. True to form, I acted as if everything was fine, refusing to let my mental perspective cloud my day-to-day work. Refusing to acknowledge this drastic shift in my work life that reverberated into my personal did not end well. It all came to a head during the week leading into Easter weekend, when I was about to have a number of days off. You know that feeling when you have been running for a while with your head down, and when you finally look up and see the finish line it hits you all at once just how tired you are? That happened to me. The weekend was my finish line if I could just make it through the week, but the weight of everything that had been going on hit me all at once.
Earlier that week, I was attending an internal training session and one word stuck out to me: vulnerability. I didn’t understand what vulnerability looked like in the workplace, but soon our P&C leaders pointed me to a few resources, such as Brene Brown and her TED Talks. I filed those away for future reference.
Thursday night, as I crawled into bed part exhausted from work and part thankful that I was on PTO for almost a week, I went to sleep thinking the same thought I had the year before: “something must be wrong, how do I fix this?”
My four days off were spent binging on all of Brene Brown’s content, reading everything I could about vulnerability and in turn mental health. I watched both of Brene’s TED talks, read Alicia Keys’ new book and finally did some much needed self-reflection.
I learned so much in those days, but what I can say is it all came down to being intentional. I found I needed to be more intentional with my thoughts, conversations, relationships and work, especially in today’s new work environment. No more acting as if everything is fine and keeping your mental perspective separate from day-to-day work. I hope what I learned can serve as a reminder to us all as we continue through 2020: hold your mental health as sacred and intentionally protect your mind space.
Most people don’t think about what emotions they are dealing with, but taking the time to really identify what you’re feeling can help you to better cope with challenging situations.