I have been a Civil Servant since 2002 working in a variety of roles for both DWP and the Home Office, joining CSHR in September 2016 helping establish the Newcastle Fast Stream Assessment Centre as the Operations Manager, doing a 6 month stint on the HR Policy Team and now recently becoming a Cohort Leader which I am very proud of.
I have probably suffered from anxiety since I was a teenager but never realised I had it until my early twenties (I’m 38 now).
I remember back at school I did Drama as one of my GCSE options (mainly because you didn’t have to do an exam), we had to do some improvisation, when it was your turn you had to stand in the middle of the circle and do an improvisation in front of the class. I remember feeling really, really nervous to the point I felt sick and dizzy - a point to bear in mind is that I was the class joker, confident in talking to people, played on all the school sports teams and I was thinking why am I feeling like this?.
Anyway it got to my turn and I just completely froze, I went beetroot in colour and felt like a rabbit in the headlights, I thought everyone was laughing and ended up having to walk out the classroom. Looking back it was probably a panic attack but mental illness and the fact that I was from a fairly rough council estate meant things like this weren’t talked about,so I just got on the best I could and since that moment on until some life changing events later in my life I always avoided situations that made me feel like this.
About the same time as this my older sister ran away and was a missing person (she returned safe and sound), which had an impact on my ability to fully focus on schoolwork.
One day my friend’s older brother asked me and my friend if we would like go to the local boxing club, having nothing else to do we said yes and I fell in love with the sport, eventually having a number of amateur bouts and later going on to be a volunteer boxing coach.
For me it was a perfect outlet to let off steam, but also enabled me to be introduced to a diverse mix of people from all ages and backgrounds. Boxing to me was so much more than getting in a ring and throwing punches at each other, it taught me respect, healthy living, rules, discipline, continuous improvement, team work and so much more.
The reason I mention boxing is that I feel this helped me and still does to this day manage my anxiety, healthy body, healthy mind and all that.
Anyway, career wise anxiety was still holding me back.
I’ve always had a good work ethic and delivered results but when it came to interviews or delivering presentations I would always be taken back to the nervous boy in drama who froze.
I have always been very ambitious and strive to give 110% and when I was 29 me and my wife had our first child (Alice) which made me want to rise up the career ladder, but like so many other times in my life I avoided applying for jobs. Even though my line managers, colleagues and friends would encourage me to do so my anxiety would plant thoughts in my mind to make an excuse not to.
Having Alice was a good incentive for me to try and break down some of the anxiety barriers and indeed after several sleepless nights, mock interviews and battles with my own mind I managed to get a promotion to EO as Estates Manager which was a job I thrived in and enjoyed.
My then SEO at the Home Office was moving on to pastures new and suggested I would be a good fit to temporarily manage the whole of the Facilities Team as a temporary HEO – I knew in my heart of hearts I could do it but again my anxiety would plant seeds of doubt and I started to make excuses up.
My SEO realised that there some underlying issues and spent time with me to provide mentorship, guidance and support to help build my confidence and cope with some of the areas that made me anxious or panic (which I was truly grateful for).
The year 2014/15 was bitter sweet, me and my wife had our second child (Thomas) but in the same year devastatingly my 11 year old niece was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and passed away on January 4th.
After me and my family came to terms with things it was as if a flick had been switched on for my anxiety and me. I used this to propel me to cope with my anxiety and try and improve things for my family and others less fortunate than myself.
I thought to myself: Here I am feeling anxious of certain situations, when poor souls like my niece and the many, many other people who have so cruelly had their lives taken away from them don’t even have the chance to experience the vast amount of choices and feelings we take so much for granted.
I applied for the HEO role and got it, I started to talk about my issues, I trained to be a mentor/work coach to help others, in meetings I would confidently stand up and speak, in ice breakers I would volunteer to go first if people were shy, if I saw someone struggling I would step in and help them.
It is sad in one way that such a tragedy needed to happen for me to alter my way of thinking.
I still feel anxious, I still feel nervous, I still sometimes feel like the scared teenager in the middle of the circle in drama but I do not and will not let it hold me back and haven't done so for the last 4 or 5 years.
My advice would be to talk about whatever issues you have, put yourself in situations that may slightly put you out of your comfort zone and build on them gradually, and have a think about what your WHY is, my WHY is my children and my niece’s memory. I made a promise to be the best I can be, so I am a role model to my children and others as well as to honour my nieces memory.