‘I’m not ashamed of my story’: Our colleague shares her pandemic-induced mental health journey to ‘help others along the way’
June 03, 2022
Michelle Anderson has a special bond with her dog, Eli.
The Minnesota-based Global IT business analyst originally adopted him as a companion, but today he’s also a service dog to help her cope with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“He’s my best friend and I don’t know what I would do without him by my side,” she says.
When Michelle was 2 years old, she was in a house fire that burned more than 90% of her body. Doctors gave her a grim prognosis: They didn’t expect her to breathe without a ventilator or walk and talk on her own again.
She proved them wrong. Today Michelle lives a full life, including obtaining two master’s degrees, working at Cargill and riding and showing horses in her free time.
Michelle Anderson, a Cargill Global IT business analyst, likes to ride and show horses in her free time.
But she’s also endured a great deal of pain. She has had more than 80 surgeries. And when the COVID-19 pandemic began, she started struggling with her mental health.
“I’ve experienced a lot of medical trauma throughout my life, so when the pandemic started and there were medical things everywhere, I found I had symptoms of that trauma resurfacing.”
Michelle isn’t alone.
Millions of people globally experience mental health challenges. During the pandemic’s first year, the prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
To support its teams, Cargill provides psychological well-being resources for employees and managers across the globe. There are educational tools for managing anxiety, education for leaders on how to identify and support employee mental health issues, employee assistance programs and mental health providers, such as Lyra Health. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Cargill reminded colleagues about how to support their own mental health and be an ally to others.
“I want people to know that there is genuine concern at all levels of the business,” says Lee Kirk, who leads Cargill’s Metals business and supports a business working group on employee well-being. “It’s not just about coming to work and getting the most out of people. It’s about having an environment where we get the best out of people.”
A little help from my friend — and Cargill.
As a child, Michelle says she didn’t know how to cope with her trauma, and learned to dissociate herself from those painful experiences. But during the pandemic, the memories came flooding back and began impacting her day-to-day life.
“You don’t go through something that traumatic and not have it affect you physically, mentally, emotionally,” Michelle acknowledges. “It affects all aspects of your life.”
To begin healing, Michelle worked with her support team to develop coping strategies. She also trained Eli to become her service dog. He learned to alert her when she’s showing signs of distress to help Michelle stay grounded and present before her symptoms escalate.
As she navigates PTSD, Michelle has flexibility in her schedule to attend appointments and manage her symptoms. She received computer adaptations to support her physical health. She’s even been able to bring Eli into the office to work with her.
“With the flexibility I’ve been given, I know I don’t have to worry about my symptoms affecting my work,” Michelle says.
For a long time, Michelle thought being strong meant she couldn’t show her injury affecting her life or open up about mental health challenges. But today, as she’s experienced first-hand how Cargill prioritizes health and wellbeing, she wants to share her story to show others that dealing with mental health challenges doesn’t minimize who you are.
“I’m not ashamed of my story and what I’ve been through,” Michelle says. “It doesn’t make me a weak person. It makes me stronger because I’m able to find support and communicate my needs and hopefully help others along the way.”