23 February City leaders gather to discuss mental health and long-term physical conditions in the workplace
This is Me chats to BE Offices’ Julie Tucker for Time to Talk Day
To mark Time to Talk Day - the annual event that encourages all of us to make space in our day for a conversation about mental health on 1st February – we spoke to Julie Tucker, PR & CSR Manager at BE Offices. Below she shares her struggles with ill mental health and how opening up to others has been a key part of her journey.
Can you share more about your journey with mental health?
I knew I wanted to be a dancer from the age of just 2 ½ years old. I’d watched a televised version of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev performing Romeo and Juliet and I was captivated. Dancing became my whole life. If I wasn’t at school, I was at dancing classes, after school most evenings and all day on a Saturday. At the age of 13 my dancing teacher advised my parents to send me to a specialist stage school in order to advance my training for the future dance career I was sure I would have. It didn’t cross my mind that I would ever do anything other than dance.
At 17 I moved on to the upper school and within a few weeks of term suffered a stress fracture to my lower spine. Life was never to be the same again. Three months in a body cast and six months in a steel enforced corset, I was never to recover the strength or confidence I needed to perform at the required professional standard.
It was 1986, I was living away from my family and received zero emotional support. I look back on poems I wrote at the time and realise how utterly broken I was. This was, without doubt, the start of my mental health decline.
Are there specific mental health coping mechanisms that have proven effective for you?
Since the moment I knew I would never really dance again, melancholy became a constant unwanted companion. But life happened, and I suppose I must have coped somehow and just got on with things.
I wasn’t to know then that my melancholy would forever walk beside me. At times the voice is loud and malevolent, a dominant force which won't be quieted; sometimes it floats around on the periphery, waiting for a chink in my armour to swoop in and catches me unawares.
I wasn’t diagnosed with clinical depression until 1994. It was in the run up to my wedding. I should have perhaps heeded the warning my brain was clearly giving me. I was prescribed Fluoxetine (Prozac). It stabilised me and allowed me to cope and there have been a few occasions over the decades that I have returned to it. I know when I need it and I’m not afraid to seek a medicinal helping hand.
My other coping mechanism is journalling, I have countless notebooks with pages into which I’ve poured my emotions. Also reading, taking myself out of my life and getting lost in the fictional world of others, that really helps.
Have you personally navigated any stigma associated with taking medication, and what message would you like to share with others who may feel hesitant about seeking medication as part of their mental health journey?
It’s quite simple as far as I’m concerned. Clinical depression is a chemical imbalance, so if there is a chemical which will rebalance me then it seems obvious to me to accept that, in the same way we would take medication for any physical ailment.
I’ve never been quite as public before about letting people know I’ve taken anti-depressants but having been public about it, it’s incredible how many people have shared with me that they too need a medicinal helping hand to support their own mental health.
How has being part of #ThisisMe influenced your perspective on mental health?
Hearing others speak out about their mental health struggles and being brave enough to reveal their vulnerabilities to strangers was both uplifting and empowering. It really helped to feel I wasn’t alone and made me realise how important it is to normalise conversations around mental health and share my journey with others.
This openness has led directly to a greater understanding among my colleagues who have rallied around to support me, each of them quite bewildered that someone as smiley and outgoing as me could be carrying around such a burden. This had an immediate positive impact on me.
What advice would you give to someone who might be hesitant to seek support or share their own mental health challenges?
There is a saying; a problem shared is a problem halved, and that is definitely the case when it comes to mental health. Being able to speak to someone privately or speak out publicly, if you able to do so, is such a weight off your shoulders.
When sharing my mental health journey on LinkedIn, I received 15,000+ post impressions and almost 400 interactions, some from complete strangers. One standout instance is a text I received from a friend I haven’t seen since our children were at primary school together six years ago. She shared her own mental health struggles with me and that she too takes meds to help deal with them. It was humbling and heart-warming.
My own experience wrapped me in the softest blanket of emotional support and combined with the impact of another quite significant and positive life event, I begin the new year, already off my meds, sleeping better and smiling so much more than I was.
You also support our Green Ribbon campaign – why is that important to you?
In the same way I have made my mental health struggles public on LinkedIn, it is important for me to show my support for the green ribbon campaign and identify myself as someone who is open to speaking about mental health with anyone who might want to have that conversation.
What changes would you like to see to help end the stigma of talking about mental health in the workplace?
We need to be able to speak as openly about mental health as we do about any other ailment. There have been great strides made already but there is much further we can go. Individuals need only to be more open about sharing their own stories and listening to those of others in the same way they would if they had broken their arm.
Join the This is Me movement and #EndTheStigma here