In this installment of Our Stories, Kerri-Ann describes her struggles with an anxiety disorder in the workplace and the courage and strength she found to cope with this silent monster. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise – white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience…this is Our Stories!

Jamaica, the land of wood and water, a tropical paradise that many around the world eagerly visit on a yearly basis to soak in our sandy beaches, listen to sweet reggae music, and party in the nightlife. In a report for the Happy Planet Index, published by Britain’s New Economics Foundation, Jamaica was ranked as the third “Happiest Nation” in the world. “What a nice place to live, sweet Jam down, the only problem is…nuh dollars nah run,” sang by the famous reggae icon Tony Rebel. But “nuh dollars nah run” is not the only problem the people of this paradise experience. There is also a monster that creeps into the minds of some of its people…..anxiety disorders

Meet Kerri-Ann Cooper – a teacher at a prominent high school in Kingston

LOL! Time to relax and enjoy at my favourite chill spot.

She sometimes struggles with anxiety flare-ups while at work. But even though she is troubled with anxiety disorder, Kerri-Ann has learned how to cope.

Kerri-Ann was a pre-trained teacher between 1994-1997. She became a trained teacher in early 2000 at a prominent high school in Kingston. Kerri-Ann has taught several subjects to her students over the years, namely, Information Technology, Office Administration, Principles of Business, EDPM, and Entrepreneurship. She also teaches vocational studies like Customer Service Level 2 and Business Administration Level 2

  1. What do you think triggered these feelings of anxiety or depression at work?

Basically, it is usually triggered when there is excessive work and a limited amount of time given to complete the assignment. And also the concerns that if my work is not completed on time, it will affect another colleague. As a result, in the long-run, I would have affected three or more person’s work in the workplace, if this should happen.  Based on this line of work, it is important that a person feel that they can depend on you. If a particular colleague gets to the point where he/she knows that they will be affected by your lack of work, it can create a problem.  I also believe that this will affect your character and work ethics and may cause you to be out of a job, thus these thoughts trigger my anxiety.

2. Have you ever spoken to your employer about the mental issue you’ve experienced as a result of excessive work?

I have never spoken to an employer about my anxiety issue, maybe a co-worker. I am more of a personal individual, so I normally speak to my close friends about what I am experiencing.

3. You said you have never spoken to your employer about your anxiety issue.  But tell us, is there a system implemented at work to assist employees who have experienced anxiety and depression?

Not that I am aware of. I don’t know of any at my place of employment.

Wait a minute! Let me put my best smile on for the camera while I mark these exam papers.

4. Kerri-Ann, tell us of a specific incident you’ve had with anxiety or depression in the workplace. 

I remembered I acted for two years as the Grade 11 Coordinator and when the position became vacant, it was given to someone else. There was no communication from the relevant authorities to explain why I did not get the position. Many things were done behind my back but nothing was conveyed to me regarding the position I was acting in. I vividly remembered, it was the individual who got the position, who was nice enough to convey to me that he/she had gotten the role. And even though, I would receive an excellent review on my performance appraisal and many of my colleagues thought I would be given the role, I was blind-sided by my employers. Eventually, this triggered my anxiety in the workplace.

5. Please tell us, how did you feel when you were not given the job as the Grade 11 Coordinator?

I became angry, withdrawn, and depressed, I felt like my hard-work as the Coordinator was not good enough. Eventually, I went on a journey of healing, started to create an action plan, and focus on my goals, I started to become more jovial and open up more. I finally realized that life is about doing things one step at a time and going after your dreams.

6. Kerri-Ann, you’re at a place where you put your health and well-being first. Please tell our readers some additional coping tips you’ve come up with for anxiety or depression at work.

I have come across different ways how I can deal with it. I managed to tell myself,

‘Kerri-Ann you know you need to relax, take it one step at a time, you normally get it done and it’s not the end of the world’.

I remind myself, that I overcame it last year and my health and well-being come first. After giving myself the pep talk and once I am in a relaxed mood, it allows me to work faster. Additionally, I drink water, try to stay away from the noise, and remember to occasionally take a break from tasks assigned.

Behind every smile lies… Fear, discouragement, and pain. But behind Kerri’s smile lies…hope, courage, and the beauty to see the possibility in all things.

7. Tell us, what last advice would you give to those who struggle with similar experiences as yourself in the workplace?

I know that where we are at with this issue, persons don’t trust anyone with their personal struggles. I normally advise persons to talk to someone and let them know what you are going through and if they can’t help you, they can suggest someone who can. I know at my husband’s school, they have a system in place where the guidance counsellors are not only dedicated to working with the students but also with teachers who struggle with mental issues. Also, at HEART TRUST NTA, the guidance counsellor also sets aside time for teachers to come to his or her office and express problems that they may be experiencing. Lastly, my advice to persons is just to talk, talk to someone, whether it’s your pastor or a friend because this will allow you to release yourself and give you some form of peace of mind.

Best wishes Kerri-Ann and all the best in your endeavours. Thanks for sharing your story.