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Last night, our family dog, Rujan, died. Next Friday he’d turn 5 months.
But, this is not the story about how he died, nor how shattered to pieces I am. It’s about death and work.
Up until a year ago, not only would I have worked myself to death but I would work through death. Work was my way of coping (isn’t it obvious?). My way of surviving. My way of hiding.
But there was something else.
Coming off as weak.
When I was 19, my father died in a car accident. I felt numb and was basically a walking zombie. Nevertheless, I continued to carry on the work I had at the moment and kept preparing for the exam I was supposed to have in 2 weeks, just days after the funeral. But I never showed up. I cracked. Everything came running towards me at an instant, and I succumbed.
I haven’t told any of my professors what has happened, because I believed I shouldn’t hide my inadequacy to show up to an exam behind my father’s death. I believed it doesn’t justify it. I also didn’t want to come there, fail the exam, and probably end up crying the entire time.
So, for months and years after, I let my professors think that I’m a failure and that I simply didn’t care enough about my education (I know this for a fact because they’ve told it to my face). Two months after his death, I went flying to Berlin to pick up my industry award. Huh! Further proof that I could’ve taken the exam, but I cared more about becoming famous (I hope the sarcasm & irony are shining through in this one).
Looking back on my life, this is probably the single stupidest mistake I’ve ever made. Thinking that the death of my own parent doesn’t justify my feelings of not feeling ready to take the exam. That in the eyes of others, I would look incompetent, weak, and a complete mess. But what’s worse, this isn’t (solely) my blame.
We are meant to suck it up and face up being judged and labeled as fragile.
It’s Mental Health Awareness month this month. I urge you not to diminish and belittle problems that others around you may have, especially if they’ve found the courage to be open with you about them and share. You never know how many more problems and difficult situations they are facing without ever mentioning them, and without you even noticing it on them.
The last thing we need is to hear how university work (or work-work) is the most important. Don’t put us into a position where we need to put their grief - or whichever emotion we’re going through - aside. Don’t make us feel bad because “every other student can do it”, and we can’t. And lastly, don’t force your own decisions and expectations onto us too.
I am lucky and privileged that I am self-employed, even though I still carry on work for a couple of clients. Thankfully, I am bringing this down to one client within the next month, as I’m intensely focusing on building out my own company.
I vow right here and now that everyone who will ever work for me will be able to take mental health days off without any questions asked, and I will lead by example. The work culture that we’re in right now is driving all of us, literally, to our graves. I’m determined to stop digging mine and prevent others from doing the same.
This is a big and heavy topic, so thank you for reading. Please share this with anyone you know who needs to hear this, including the people who need to learn what to do instead of judging and diminishing. This is too big of a problem that we have on our hands and I need help from all of you to try and make it right.
Call someone you care about this week and ask them how they’re doing, will you?
Take care and be strong,