May 5, 2022
4
Min read

“I spent my life supporting my kids and colleagues—while neglecting myself”

Written By
Steve Howe
With thanks To
Maialen Dominguez | Workplace Experience Manager at Veepee

Life got real for Maialen at an early age. When she was 22, she got married. By the time she was 24, she was taking care of two young boys. 

Suddenly forced to provide for a family, she abandoned her psychology degree and started working as a receptionist. Her career path had been permanently re-routed: 

“When you’re in your twenties or thirties and you don’t have kids, you can make some professional moves, take some risks. But when you need to feed two babies, you take things as they come—you need the money.”

Modus operandi 

For Maialen, this was a painful realisation. Growing up, she was exposed to mental illness in her family. She wanted to use her experience to help others, as a psychologist. Now, as a receptionist, she was helping people—just not in the way she’d anticipated. 

So she threw herself into her work. Forced to say ‘yes’ to the cards life had dealt her, she took on each and every request her colleagues made:

“It’s my modus operandi: I thrive and feel comfortable having lots of responsibilities and different things to take care of.”

And so began a 20-year career in service of others: executive assistant, personal assistant, office manager. Maialen embodied the ‘can-do attitude’ and ‘incredible multi-tasking skills’ typically seen in job descriptions for these types of roles. She quickly gained a reputation as someone to rely on, someone who could throw together an event or oversee an office move at short notice: 

“It makes me feel like I’m in control, because it’s what I’m good at. This has a flip-side: I forget to pay attention to my needs and limits—I’m always paying attention to the needs of others”

Behind the smile, Maialen felt emotionally fragile. A couple of times she summoned the courage to share her struggles with her manager. The response? “Leave your personal life at the door.” Not exactly the supportive intervention she’d hoped for.

Succeeding while struggling

Despite the emotional turbulence, Maialen continued to raise her kids and work hard. She eventually got a job at a startup that was going through a period of hyper-growth—the kind of place where a month feels like a year. 

Here, workplace culture was markedly different—intimidating bosses were out, empathetic founder-CEOs were in. But, Maialen says, this didn’t necessarily result in better wellbeing. People still hid their true feelings. She recalls a company raffle, in which employees could win a dinner with the CEO: 

“My colleagues were so excited—taking pictures and uploading them to Instagram—as if something amazing had happened to them. This happiness is something startups want to sell. But behind the scenes, I knew people who weren’t happy, and who weren’t talking to the right people about their issues.”

At the same time, Maialen’s personal life was falling apart. She and her husband separated, and she had to navigate the family upheaval on behalf of her two boys. By then she’d also been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

While the diagnosis meant that Maialen could access medication, it didn’t give her real psychological relief:

“Diagnoses can be hard to assimilate—no-one wants to be defined by them.” 

What scared her most was the idea that her colleagues would find out. Based on past experiences telling managers about her mental health, she feared she’d be judged—or even fired.  

So she quietly took her meds and, motivated by the idea of supporting her kids, leapt into the chaos of a rapidly-changing startup. Work was a welcome distraction, but the intensity left her even more emotionally and physically exhausted. 

“The craziness of those months helped me to avoid facing my personal problems.”

Challenging yourself 

Maialen eventually joined a more established startup, where stable revenue was almost guaranteed and the work was less stressful: 

“The office was close to my house. That gave me a break. I was more relaxed in my body, I slept better, I didn’t work weekends. My work-life balance was much better.”

And finally, she began to open up to a colleague about her problems. She told Maialen that what she felt was normal, and “what wouldn’t be normal is if you didn’t feel anything.”  

For the first time ever, Maialen felt heard and validated at work. After the pandemic hit, she continued to explore her feelings. She remembers visiting a construction site where the company’s new office would be built: 

“I had so much anxiety about the project: how is this going to work? Does it even make sense anymore? Will I lose my job?” 

Maialen knew she had a tendency to worry. But now—thanks to a colleague she could trust, and more time reflecting at home due to the pandemic—she began to confront her unhealthy thoughts:

“Why am I feeling this way? Why are my beliefs about myself like this? I realised it’s about challenging yourself. My beliefs about myself were rooted in the past, as if I hadn’t evolved.”

<quote-author>Maialen Dominguez<quote-author><quote-company>Workplace Experience Manager at Veepee<quote-company>

Finally, she contacted a therapist. She told the therapist that she had two teenage sons, and felt like she couldn’t take care of them. And that she worried—all the time. They began therapy that same day, and started working through Maialen’s trauma-related issues.

Maialen is now working on how she talks to herself, and removing the guilt of saying “no” to people. Ultimately, she’s realised that she’s been living for others—not herself. And she knows that by working on herself, she’ll be in better shape to support others:  

“Therapy is going to help me to be a better mum to my sons. We have a really open relationship—we’re like a team. They know I’m doing therapy, and some of the things I’ve been through. It’s the way it should be.” 

“Like going to the gym”

By the time she was 24, Maialen was in a committed relationship and mother to two boys. She had no choice but to take on the responsibility of caring for others. As an office manager, this was as true at work as it was at home. 

But in obsessively helping others, she neglected herself. She minimised, dismissed, and denied her feelings. This, Maialen says, reminds her of a typical parenting flaw:

“When kids don’t know how to manage their feelings, they get angry or sad. As parents, we tend to say: ‘don’t be sad’, instead of trying to understand or support.”

Companies often expect people in roles like Maialen’s—‘the culture people’—to bring the good vibes. But that’s a hefty burden for one person to carry—she now believes a positive work environment should be a shared responsibility.

She also thinks that companies should “create safe spaces for non-judgemental conversation around mental health,” including training to help managers guide people through rough patches: 

“There are procedures for how to deal with physical injuries at work, but the line is blurry when it comes to mental health. What should I do if I suddenly have a panic attack?”

And on a personal level, Maialen—through therapy—is still working on nurturing a more supportive inner voice: 

“Therapy is an ongoing process, like going to the gym. It’s something I want to do forever. It’s me being accountable for my mental health.” 

Maialen now knows that to succeed, she’ll need to learn to help herself with the same tenacity she helps other people.

Oliva therapist portrait photo

4 tips for people struggling with self-care

by Oliva therapist

Bliss White

1

Take a look in the mirror

I know it's hard for some of us, but do it! Self-care is so much more than just eating healthily and exercising. Tell yourself some positive affirmations like, 'look at you—surviving even when things get tough.' Then give yourself a high five in the mirror and focus on what's next.
2

Book some time with yourself

When’s the last time you took a day off and spent it solely in your own company? Do something that you've always wanted to do but never had the time for. On these days, give yourself permission to say 'no' or ‘not today' as much as you want. And keep to this boundary—this is YOUR day!
3

Crack open a window

Things happening in the world or in our jobs can sometimes feel incredibly heavy to digest. So every now and then, take 3-5 minutes to go and sit by an open window. Take a few cleansing, slow breaths to regain some emotional balance.
4

Chill with your pet

If you have a pet, go hang out with them for 5-10 minutes. Tell them about what's on your mind or what you think the next steps are to your problem. They are the best listeners. Plenty of research also shows that spending time with a pet can significantly reduce stress.
5

back to content hub
May 5, 2022
4
Min read

“I spent my life supporting my kids and colleagues—while neglecting myself”

Written By
Steve Howe
With thanks To
Maialen Dominguez | Workplace Experience Manager at Veepee

Life got real for Maialen at an early age. When she was 22, she got married. By the time she was 24, she was taking care of two young boys. 

Suddenly forced to provide for a family, she abandoned her psychology degree and started working as a receptionist. Her career path had been permanently re-routed: 

“When you’re in your twenties or thirties and you don’t have kids, you can make some professional moves, take some risks. But when you need to feed two babies, you take things as they come—you need the money.”

Modus operandi 

For Maialen, this was a painful realisation. Growing up, she was exposed to mental illness in her family. She wanted to use her experience to help others, as a psychologist. Now, as a receptionist, she was helping people—just not in the way she’d anticipated. 

So she threw herself into her work. Forced to say ‘yes’ to the cards life had dealt her, she took on each and every request her colleagues made:

“It’s my modus operandi: I thrive and feel comfortable having lots of responsibilities and different things to take care of.”
Quote author photograph

And so began a 20-year career in service of others: executive assistant, personal assistant, office manager. Maialen embodied the ‘can-do attitude’ and ‘incredible multi-tasking skills’ typically seen in job descriptions for these types of roles. She quickly gained a reputation as someone to rely on, someone who could throw together an event or oversee an office move at short notice: 

“It makes me feel like I’m in control, because it’s what I’m good at. This has a flip-side: I forget to pay attention to my needs and limits—I’m always paying attention to the needs of others”

Behind the smile, Maialen felt emotionally fragile. A couple of times she summoned the courage to share her struggles with her manager. The response? “Leave your personal life at the door.” Not exactly the supportive intervention she’d hoped for.

Succeeding while struggling

Despite the emotional turbulence, Maialen continued to raise her kids and work hard. She eventually got a job at a startup that was going through a period of hyper-growth—the kind of place where a month feels like a year. 

Here, workplace culture was markedly different—intimidating bosses were out, empathetic founder-CEOs were in. But, Maialen says, this didn’t necessarily result in better wellbeing. People still hid their true feelings. She recalls a company raffle, in which employees could win a dinner with the CEO: 

“My colleagues were so excited—taking pictures and uploading them to Instagram—as if something amazing had happened to them. This happiness is something startups want to sell. But behind the scenes, I knew people who weren’t happy, and who weren’t talking to the right people about their issues.”

At the same time, Maialen’s personal life was falling apart. She and her husband separated, and she had to navigate the family upheaval on behalf of her two boys. By then she’d also been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

While the diagnosis meant that Maialen could access medication, it didn’t give her real psychological relief:

“Diagnoses can be hard to assimilate—no-one wants to be defined by them.” 

What scared her most was the idea that her colleagues would find out. Based on past experiences telling managers about her mental health, she feared she’d be judged—or even fired.  

So she quietly took her meds and, motivated by the idea of supporting her kids, leapt into the chaos of a rapidly-changing startup. Work was a welcome distraction, but the intensity left her even more emotionally and physically exhausted. 

“The craziness of those months helped me to avoid facing my personal problems.”

Challenging yourself 

Maialen eventually joined a more established startup, where stable revenue was almost guaranteed and the work was less stressful: 

“The office was close to my house. That gave me a break. I was more relaxed in my body, I slept better, I didn’t work weekends. My work-life balance was much better.”

And finally, she began to open up to a colleague about her problems. She told Maialen that what she felt was normal, and “what wouldn’t be normal is if you didn’t feel anything.”  

For the first time ever, Maialen felt heard and validated at work. After the pandemic hit, she continued to explore her feelings. She remembers visiting a construction site where the company’s new office would be built: 

“I had so much anxiety about the project: how is this going to work? Does it even make sense anymore? Will I lose my job?” 

Maialen knew she had a tendency to worry. But now—thanks to a colleague she could trust, and more time reflecting at home due to the pandemic—she began to confront her unhealthy thoughts:

quote author photograph
“Why am I feeling this way? Why are my beliefs about myself like this? I realised it’s about challenging yourself. My beliefs about myself were rooted in the past, as if I hadn’t evolved.”

<quote-author>Maialen Dominguez<quote-author><quote-company>Workplace Experience Manager at Veepee<quote-company>

Finally, she contacted a therapist. She told the therapist that she had two teenage sons, and felt like she couldn’t take care of them. And that she worried—all the time. They began therapy that same day, and started working through Maialen’s trauma-related issues.

Maialen is now working on how she talks to herself, and removing the guilt of saying “no” to people. Ultimately, she’s realised that she’s been living for others—not herself. And she knows that by working on herself, she’ll be in better shape to support others:  

“Therapy is going to help me to be a better mum to my sons. We have a really open relationship—we’re like a team. They know I’m doing therapy, and some of the things I’ve been through. It’s the way it should be.” 

“Like going to the gym”

By the time she was 24, Maialen was in a committed relationship and mother to two boys. She had no choice but to take on the responsibility of caring for others. As an office manager, this was as true at work as it was at home. 

But in obsessively helping others, she neglected herself. She minimised, dismissed, and denied her feelings. This, Maialen says, reminds her of a typical parenting flaw:

“When kids don’t know how to manage their feelings, they get angry or sad. As parents, we tend to say: ‘don’t be sad’, instead of trying to understand or support.”

Companies often expect people in roles like Maialen’s—‘the culture people’—to bring the good vibes. But that’s a hefty burden for one person to carry—she now believes a positive work environment should be a shared responsibility.

She also thinks that companies should “create safe spaces for non-judgemental conversation around mental health,” including training to help managers guide people through rough patches: 

“There are procedures for how to deal with physical injuries at work, but the line is blurry when it comes to mental health. What should I do if I suddenly have a panic attack?”

And on a personal level, Maialen—through therapy—is still working on nurturing a more supportive inner voice: 

“Therapy is an ongoing process, like going to the gym. It’s something I want to do forever. It’s me being accountable for my mental health.” 

Maialen now knows that to succeed, she’ll need to learn to help herself with the same tenacity she helps other people.

Oliva therapist photograph

4 tips for people struggling with self-care

by Oliva therapist

Bliss White

1
Take a look in the mirror

I know it's hard for some of us, but do it! Self-care is so much more than just eating healthily and exercising. Tell yourself some positive affirmations like, 'look at you—surviving even when things get tough.' Then give yourself a high five in the mirror and focus on what's next.

2
Book some time with yourself

When’s the last time you took a day off and spent it solely in your own company? Do something that you've always wanted to do but never had the time for. On these days, give yourself permission to say 'no' or ‘not today' as much as you want. And keep to this boundary—this is YOUR day!

3
Crack open a window

Things happening in the world or in our jobs can sometimes feel incredibly heavy to digest. So every now and then, take 3-5 minutes to go and sit by an open window. Take a few cleansing, slow breaths to regain some emotional balance.

4
Chill with your pet

If you have a pet, go hang out with them for 5-10 minutes. Tell them about what's on your mind or what you think the next steps are to your problem. They are the best listeners. Plenty of research also shows that spending time with a pet can significantly reduce stress.

5

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