My name is Nikki-Dee and I manage the Emmaus Companion Core Offer project, which offers guidance on the expectations and support available to companions, living and working within Emmaus communities across the UK.
Since the age of 13, I’ve suffered from depression and social anxiety, a condition which affects me on a daily basis. I’m now 37 years old and it continues to be a battle, a juggling act. I am never sure how I am going to feel from one day to the next, and unlike having a bad back or the flu, it’s much harder to call in sick citing depression as the cause. Due to my social anxiety I can find it difficult to relax in a group setting, which isolates me on a personal level. I recognise that this has an impact on family and friends. There’s an invisibility to the condition, especially if you’re seen as someone who copes in a work environment, getting the job done and meeting deadlines, which I do. I’m hyper-critical of myself and my abilities and can be uncomfortable in my own skin. Some days it can be difficult to face the world, however I recognise that I have responsibilities, people relying on me and a job I enjoy, which I believe makes a real difference to others.
While mental health issues are now discussed openly in the press and social media, there is still a stigma attached to the condition which stops many individuals sharing their own experiences with friends, family members and employers. There is a fear of being judged, or of not having the same opportunities as others, especially career-wise.
Now that I am older, a bit wiser and my career is more established, I’m no longer embarrassed to be open about my condition. It’s not something that I have chosen and it does not define me, although it continues to have a daily impact on my life.
I would never have imagined that I’d be suited to a career that frequently requires me to present to complete strangers, which my current role at Emmaus requires me to do. I meet companions and community staff regularly to consult with them on their views and to discuss the Emmaus offer. I push myself in order to succeed, and on a good day I recognise my worth and know I can do a good job.
I choose to work in this sector because I am genuinely passionate and care about the issues. I’ve been there and want to make a difference. I know what it feels like to be on the other side, so when I’m sharing guidance and best practice in front of community managers and companions it’s because I believe it will really make a difference – it spurs me on.
I’ve chosen to share my story as I think that it’s important for people to try and understand that mental health issues can affect anyone of any age or social economic standing. It also doesn’t have to stop you achieving a positive future and forging ahead in your chosen career. I believe with greater understanding, and the sharing of different experiences, individuals that suffer from mental health issues will feel empowered and less isolated. Equally, friends, family and employers will be less likely to make assumptions about the limitations of those suffering from mental health issues and will instead work towards embracing the many attributes individuals can offer – much the same as any community in society.