· 2 min read · Features

Dealing with a personal breakdown: One HRD’s story


It’s fair to say that I didn’t think anything was wrong and that I didn’t need help

“I think everyone working in HR understands the importance of mental wellbeing and of putting systems and processes in place at a corporate level to support employees. However, one of the things we’re not always so good at is looking after ourselves in the same way. Anyone can find themselves in a position of crisis with their own wellbeing if we don’t take a proactive approach towards this.

I learnt this the hard way when I had a breakdown at the end of 2017. I use the phrase breakdown because it best describes what happened in a way that I can connect to and that resonates with me.

My breakdown was triggered by multiple cycles of IVF treatment and the significant mental and physical toll that takes on you. At the point where my breakdown happened I’d never sought professional help to support me with multiple miscarriages and failed IVF cycles. It’s fair to say that I didn’t think anything was wrong and that I didn’t need help. IVF had essentially become a process that I’d found a way to compartmentalise. My way of avoiding having to deal with the grief, anxiety and depression that resulted from it was to throw myself into work and make myself so busy in all areas of my life that there was no time to stop and think about what I was really going through.

The thing is that strategy of repressing those emotions and essentially running away is only sustainable for a limited period, and in December 2017 I eventually sought out professional help from a psychotherapist. That first meeting opened the floodgates and all of the emotion and pain I’d been repressing started to come out. By the end of that week I found myself in A&E with symptoms of a panic attack: waves of chest pain that took my breath away and numbness down one side of my body.

It was terrifying and I didn’t see it coming. The experience was enough to lead me to resign from my role as HR director at River Island and completely re-assess my life. I needed to stop and process everything that I’d been through. I needed to stop running.

Through 2018 I focused on recovery and channelled all of my energy into improving my mental and physical health. I started to prioritise self-care. Recovery is not a linear journey and there have been highs and lows this year. But I’ve learnt a lot and I established a robust support framework that I’m now able to share with other people. I found a way to re-shape my life and bring back balance, health and happiness.

I now have two businesses, one in which I support HR professionals and teams with a model for self-care, commerciality and identity. In my second business I support individuals who are undertaking IVF treatment and work with organisations who want to support their employees struggling with IVF.

HR is a tough job at the best of times before you even consider personal factors. And that’s why a lot of people choose the profession: because of the challenge and breadth of the role. It’s a profession that comes with a very unique set of challenges and demands and it’s one that comes with a legacy: decades of history and perception that still need changing in some organisations. It’s a profession where you need grit, strength and resilience, and I’m excited to be able to support you with that in my new column for HR magazine starting next year.”

Karen Beaven is former HR director at River Island, founder of The HR Entrepreneurs Network, and an IVF and fertility coach. Look out for her new series of wellbeing columns for HR professionals starting in the January 2019 issue

Further reading

Is HR neglecting its own mental health?