This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and here, Vikki Knee, senior bid co-ordinator within our Utilities & Rail business has decided to share her account of hitting crisis point last year and how since then she has received help and support. Vikki is sharing her story in the hope it will help others, who are experiencing similar feelings to what she was, to seek help.

“I am writing this account at a time when I am starting to reduce my antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication. Last July, I had a clinical mental breakdown, brought on by an accumulation of issues……I hit a wall.

I knew I was overdoing it, I was busy with work, juggling a young family, in the process of moving to a new house and my youngest daughter was about to start Primary School. I felt like I was going 100mph and it still wasn’t fast enough.

I was becoming tearful, angry, having mood swings and not finding anything interesting whatsoever.

I went to the doctor’s numerous times, they provided me with print outs regarding the symptoms I was experiencing but it wasn’t enough, I was already in crisis mode.

I remember my husband arranging for the girls to stay with his mum and he drove me to our local A&E department where I was referred to the Crisis Team. I was in a very bad way.

I was not in a good place for some time, trying different medications to see what worked, and one resulted in a toxic reaction which sent me back to square one.  Eventually, we found medication that worked, and I started to get back on my feet.

Throughout this time, Kier has been hugely supportive and kept in touch with me the whole time - I’m lucky to have a team that are not only colleagues but I can now confidently say true friends too.

Once I was in a more emotionally stable place, my line manager offered me the chance to have some counselling sessions. The Occupational Health team called me, we had a chat and we agreed that counselling sessions would be a good way forward. I was granted the funding of six private counselling/Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions and within a week I had received a letter confirming my first appointment, the Counsellors studio was only a 10-minute drive from my home which helped so much.

My Counsellor and I discussed my life to this point and this reflection really made me understand who I am as a person today. I was also given tools to curb the anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD I had been suffering from. These tools included things like;

  • Just take one day at a time
  • Instead of lying in bed ruminating – get out of bed and jump in the shower as it awakens your senses to ground you
  • Go for a walk, count how many cars or birds you can see – distract your mind
  • Keeping a writing pad and a pen next to your bed so you can write down your thoughts
  • Carrying an essential oil in your pocket to smell if you start getting intrusive thoughts or panic attacks – another grounding technique
  • ‘Headspace’ app on your phone to use first thing when you wake up in the morning – I didn’t realise how popular this was for a lot of people

I’m really thankful that this counselling support was available to me and I could not recommend it enough. I still go to see my counsellor now (and will do so again when Lockdown is lifted), I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that Kier provide, through Aviva, has given me the tools to cope, manage, and be more aware of my mental wellbeing. Through the EAP and meeting my counsellor, it has saved my life, literally.

I have since returned to work, at the start HR arranged for me to come back working half days to ease myself into work life again. I didn’t realise how mentally draining it would be, I’m glad they did!

Having the support of work colleagues/friends during this time gave me the reassurance that I had a support network in place at work as well as at home during this transition. I had regular meetings with HR and my line manager for us to collectively assess when the right time for me to come back full time would be. Thankfully we timed it right and there have been no issues along the way.

COVID-19 has hit us all in one way or another. When I heard that I would have to start working from home I was dreading it as being in the office gives me the distractions, I need to get through the anxiety fog in the mornings. I aired this concern with my director, we had a chat about how we could ease the issue – not just for me but for the entire team. It was agreed that we would all have bi-weekly calls via Zoom so we could see everyone, talk about what our workload looks like and generally see how everyone is feeling. This helps so much and is a highlight of the week. This helps me put irrational thoughts back into perspective again and hearing other team members air their thoughts and feelings makes me feel that my thoughts are just as ‘normal’ as the next persons!

Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine is so helpful at a time like this and a simple smile or “hello” to the person you are trying to socially distance from and walk past on a pavement goes such a long way. Keeping my daughters’ home-schooled and entertained is also a huge distraction right now and also gives me something else to focus on. This is a trying time for all of us, but it doesn’t mean we’re alone.

I’m not ‘there’ yet but I am definitely on my way and the most important thing out of it all is that my daughters have their mummy back.

If you need help, Kier has Mental Health First Aiders and the EAP programme. Speak to your manager, you don’t have to do it alone……I know that now.”


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