HPR Hero SIMONE WALSH
Words broke her. She now uses words to heal others.
Sticks and stones may break ones bones. But words.......We know how the rest of the saying goes. But in our next story, words did break. It broke a person’s sense of self confidence and with it, a will to go on in life.
“I was just not good enough for anything whatsoever.” In her twenties, Simone Walsh was convinced of her own 'destiny'. Having lost the drive to lead a life that her contemporaries had, Simone was finally diagnosed with clinical depression and kept under suicide watch for a better part of her early thirties.
“I was happy at my job. Having worked in my company for 5 years prior to that, everything was going the way they were supposed to. I gave a hundred percent to my job responsibilities, I had good colleagues and there was mutual respect and understanding amongst all.”
All of which had apparently started to change when a new manager came in and took over Simone’s department. The two years that followed became a “living hell” for Simone as she fell prey to her new manager’s unceasing criticism of her.
“It was non-stop. She tormented me day in and day out. I got no break from all the negativity when I finally approached her directly in hopes of understanding what had gone so horribly wrong in the way I worked, and why she was so very harsh towards me,” laments Simone.
A heart to heart talk with her manager confused Simone even more as her manager only laughed Simone’s concerns off saying there was nothing wrong. Instead, she said that she thought Simone was just “awesome” and she was “just mistaken”.
Had she had truly misunderstood her manager? Simone was convinced of her own delusions and returned to work with a new hope and promised to work even harder and with even more dedication than ever before.
However, once outside of the meeting, the verbal abuse on her continued, only becoming worse with each passing day. “How can anyone be as stupid as you?” ‘Is there anything at all that you can do right?” became daily words Simone just couldn’t escape. The more Simone tried to get better at her work, the more she was pushed back by her manager. “Do you know you are the absolute lowest on your team?” Insults thrown at her publically, group discussions and in internal meetings all became routine for her.
“I did not know how to handle the situation, because after all, she was my boss,” says Simone, unable to understand why she was singled out and bullied continuously. Being quiet and “weak” is what Simone believed was the cause of her being singled out.
Wanting a change, she tried to switch over to another department in the same company, but false accusations and rumours about her by the manager to other seniors in various departments made it impossible for her to seek a position elsewhere. “I thought I should leave the company but then I stayed back thinking this was my job, and I should stay strong and concentrate just on my work. So I tried to endure her negativity towards me. I didn’t want to be an escapist, so leaving was not an option for me. I really thought I could handle it.”
But she couldn’t. The endless mockery and belittling got the better of her. “I started to feel very low. I got paranoid easily.” Simone’s diet took a hit and she started getting weak, falling sick very often. “My father said so easy to just quit and move on. But it really wasn’t easy. I thought I could overcome but instead got trapped in more and more....”
The last straw that finally broke her was an internal meeting at her manager’s office where she was threatened by her manager, that if she didn’t improve in her work, she would be fired.
“I broke down....I just couldn’t go on anymore. I finally let it all out. My anger, my cries. I told her I’m going to quit,” says Simone.
“You made me feel low and incompetent as though I’m nobody. But this is it.”
Simone finally spoke up for herself in front of her manager. Two years of pent up anger and sadness finally gave way to tears and questions and more tears.
“You should lift me up as a manger. Instead, you made me feel like I’m worthless.” Why? Why me? Why did you make me feel so insignificant? I tried my very best. Then why?”
“But my manager just laughed a casual laugh. While I cried,” says Simone, recounting her reaction to her outburst in her office. “I’ll give you a few minutes to clean up and leave,” was all her manager had to say to her.
“While I was driving back home, there were voices inside of me as I drove into the middle of a busy intersection. All I wanted at that very minute was to get hit by oncoming cars,” says Simone as she lay still in her car, stopped in the middle of a busy highway at peak hour, shaking, waiting to die.
“Open the door! You’re getting yourself killed!!” she heard voices from outside of her car as passers-by got off, banging on her window to try and get her out. “But I didn’t let them in. I just stayed still in my car,” says Simone, remembering the day she had a nervous break-down. “The ambulance was called, along with it the fire and police.”
Finally, after breaking into her car and getting her information, Simone’s mother was called by the police and after all medical and safety tests were done on her, she was released.
Then started Simone’s struggle with her family.
“You see, coming from a Jamaican background, my parents didn’t look at my problems as real problems at all," says Simone. "There is a stigma attached to people with mental illnesses. My dad was not happy with the condition I was in, not because of my own suffering but because he was ashamed of what people might say about me. He just wanted me to keep everything under the wraps."
But seeing her health deteriorate, her mother started to get worried for her. Visits to the doctors and psychologists finally made her recognize and accept her daughter’s condition.
Simone was termed ‘severely depressed’ and had to be kept under watch round the clock.
“It sunk in that I was ‘officially crazy’!” Simone laughs for the first time, quickly going back to the struggles that followed. “I couldn’t go back to work, as I was to stay home under suicidal watch.”
What followed next were harrowing rounds of seeking legal aid and benefits from her company for the time that she had to take off from work. "I realized then how difficult it is to prove one's condition and receive what is rightfully your own. The wait is long, and not many can keep up the fight."
All of Simone’s coworkers spoke up and testified against their manager. There was a legal case against her.
Initially, her company did not pay her for her short term disability, fighting back saying nothing was wrong with Simone. But she continued to fight. And this time she was not alone. Her mother stood by her. Doctors reports finally got Simone’s benefits approved.
But her journey was not yet over. Simone needed to find her confidence back and stand on her feet all over again. She was enrolled in an adult day treatment program for mental illness where she had to go every day for 3 months. “The first day I felt I didn’t need to be around these people. There was a girl who was sitting there talking to herself. It felt so awkward since I was not like her. But then I stuck around, and was thankful for it. I understood everything about fighting depression, about getting back in the world and conquer the world! It got me laughing and exercising my mind. It truly was an amazing program for me...” Simone’s face lights up as she describes her road to recovery.
“Pick yourself out of bed...answer those calls....get ready....go out.....” The voices in Simone’s head started to change finally.
Her fight for justice, her road to recovery eventually saw her receiving a letter from her company stating that her manager was not working with them anymore and Simone should come back to work now.
What should have been a joyous win for Simone after all, she decided not to go back to that place and start afresh. “It took too long for them to respond. It can’t take this much for a company to decide.”
Her decision upset her family. “Why did we fight all this while? For what?”
But Simone had learned a lot in this journey of hers. It took her a year to get back basics. “I had gone through mental illnesses. I was not the same person that I used to be anymore. I saw people with illnesses. I learned that there is a fight for everything. To get even your basic rights in the work force.”
Wanting a change, Simone went back to school to get a degree, but got bullied even in school as the younger girls in her class eventually found about her struggle with depression. “They started to talk behind me, calling me a mental case, laughing at me. ‘Crazy lives here’ one of the girls stuck a poster behind Simone’s back as the same haunting memories came back to her again. “I keep becoming a victim of bullying. Why? Why? I ran away from school.”
But Simone stopped herself from going far. “This time I am not going to run away,” she told herself. Somehow she gathered all her courage and went on to complete her education. All that fight she did to get justice, all the mental abuse she faced and her eventual recovery was not going to go waste. “I will complete what I started,” was all Simone could think about. “And I graduated with honours! My parents cheered the loudest in the crowd!
Simone has since then, registered a non-profit organization called Essence Of Mind.
“I didn’t understand how to deal with things when I was going through my own depression. I didn’t know who to call, what to do. When you’re suffering, you don’t know what’s happening or who to go to help. It was a long and difficult journey for me. Therefore my goal now is to help those people struggling with mental illnesses.” With a promise to make sure no one stays alone, Simone’s company ‘Essence of MIND Outreach Program’ is a public non-profit organization that provides families and individuals with essential support to getting treatment regarding a mental illness.
Essence of Mind targets those people who have kids suffering mental illnesses in silence such as bullying and depression, and helps raise funds to give to people waiting for benefits. Apart from this, Simone has also launched a tee shirt campaign, connecting fashion to mental health. With positive logos such as ‘Life is for Living’, ‘Inhale change, Exhale failure’ Simone sells these shirts through her web site and promotes them during mental illness week. All proceeds are then sent to the Essence of Mind cause.
Simone now works to end the stigma of mental illness and return a sense of belonging, improve confidence, self-love, happiness, peace and normalcy to individuals suffering. She has developed wellness activities, seminars and events to raise funds to be donated to these families and support groups and provides the highest quality of treatment to financially disadvantaged individuals and organizations lacking funds. More on her Essence of Mind athttp://www.myessenceofmind.org/about-essence-of-mind/
Simone is now all set share her story through the release of a book in poetic form and make people aware of the perils of silent sufferings. While she works hard to raise awareness and funds at the same time, Simone’s only mission in life is to provide the tools and resources to individuals and families suffering from mental illness. “It is time to end the stigma of mental illness in our communities and beyond. I push myself to be better every day. I tried to kill myself. I tried many attempts. But I was unsuccessful. I guess God had a plan for me all along. I learnt to put myself in a better place. I learnt that I’m here for a purpose.”
Another broken link, the relationship between her father and her has been strengthened more than ever before. "My father who never recognized depression as a real form of illness has today understood the dangers of it and we have come closer than ever before."
As they say, everything happens for a reason! Simone Walsh, your efforts in reaching out to those suffering in silence will make our community and our world that much stronger. Thank you!
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