Anxiety and work - being me
Posted Monday 23 July 2012
It started off a fairly normal day, no different to any other in fact. When I arrived at my desk, something seemed, off. I can't to this day explain it. Almost that sense of impending 'something' and can't quite put your finger on it, but when you focus too much, It disappears in an instant, leaving you unsure if it even existed in the first place.
The screen in front of me started to change. The text blurred, the words lost focus. Something wasn't right. I felt like someone was hugging me, squeezing me, they wouldn’t let go. It just kept getting tighter, and tighter, I couldn't breathe. I froze, unable to move, just...staring. I gripped the mouse, my eyes welled up, my whole body had stiffened, the room disappeared out of existence. I felt completely out of control.
My Team Leader hurried me out the office and sent me home to recharge. “A Blip” she called it, and I returned to work the next day hoping normality would resume, which unfortunately – it did not. I suffered again, worse than the last, leaving me dizzy and exhausted, my head overcome with questions and a foggy uncertainty of what was happening to me.
My GP advised me that I had suffered anxiety attacks, some sort of depressive breakdown. “Not to worry” he chirped, and out came the prescriptions and a two week sick note for work.
At the time I worked in recruitment, so the idea of 2 days off let alone 2 weeks was unheard of, a sentiment echoed by my employer. I had daily emails to see “how I was” and to “just check in”. If I was honest with them (and myself) I wasn't alright at all. I couldn't leave the house, my time split between crying and bleak nothingness. If I left the house anxiety hit all over again and I was back to square one. But of course, out came the mask of “content and okay” and I went back to work early, only for it to happen all over again and receive another 2 week sign off.
This time, I was determined to break from work. I ignored my phone and emails. I took my medication. I researched depression read forums, talking to others that had gone through similar experiences. I let them know I was ready to graduate back to work, and was promised support, and understanding every step of the way, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth.
It was the glances and whispers from those I had considered friends that hurt the most. After what was now a month out of the office, I was the elephant in the room. I was excluded from lunches, ignored in meetings, what was before a chatty and friendly office was cold and quiet. I felt like a ghost, in a bubble with everything existing outside of it, passing me by without second thought. My desk had even been shoved into the corner as I “wasn't there, but they figured I wouldn't mind”. I put up with this for 2 days, before walking out reduced to tears from the sheer cruelty (intentional or not) and exclusion making me feel so unwanted I didn't think I could carry on.
I was signed off again, days turning into weeks, into months, into more prescriptions, a hospital submission and therapy. Until one day, I came to realise that on top of everything else I was dealing with and working through, the thought of ever returning back to such an unhealthy environment would stop me returning to work ever again. I took back control, and handed in my notice. I volunteered in a school – something I had always wanted to do, and slowly pieced my life back together again.
Since then, I am open and honest about my breakdown, friends, family, co-workers and am much healthier and happier for it. And although doors have literally been closed in my face employment wise (my former boss advised talking about mental health in a public forum will make me “untouchable” and that “being myself won't get me anywhere”) I haven't given up. I started writing about my experiences, and strive to make a difference and change the perception and discrimination faced by those of us suffering with mental health challenges every day.
And as for work? I will soon be working for a charity as Head of Operations, helping those with mental health issues (amongst others) get the help they truly deserve via Rehab community bed schemes. Work I found from talking and writing about Mental Health so openly and honestly. So I guess just being 'me' isn't too bad after all...
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