Working with mental health issues

This morning we got out of the house at 7 am to go see the doctor for my husband. It was a reassuring visit for him so that was all good.
On the way back I saw the first few people going into work. It was a glorious sunny morning, and I am a morning person. The morning is when I feel I could do ANYTHING.
I told my husband how I find myself looking at people going to work, and I get the knot in the throat.
When I see them I think oh I would love to be going to work!
He said, laughing: “It’ll pass!”
I said, seriously: “Yes, it passes because all I have to do is think ahead a little, and think of all the difficulties I know I would start having at any job, and I know I won’t be able to sustain it anymore”.
He added, to be reassuring and stop any sad thoughts from crystallising: “It’s only ’cause it’s a nice sunny morning. Wait till winter comes, and it’s all dark and wet… You’ll be glad to be at home!”
I said: “Well, no, actually. I remember I always loved going to work in the morning. Even when it meant driving on the motorway and I had my radio on. I like going to work in the morning. But now I know I can’t. On one hand that new realisation lets me breathe: I can stop getting into fits of hyperactivity, sending out CVs, feeling all confident and hyped and then see it all crumble. On the other hand, it makes me feel really sad, to realise I most likely won’t ever be able to get “back into work””.
We left it at that.

When I started this whole process of working towards a diagnosis, it never even occurred to me to think about claiming disability. Since accumulating information, I know that a lot of people do. It is now becoming clear to me how difficult it is to work regularly for people with mental health issues!

I am reminded of the reason why I quit my last job. At first, a few of my favourite colleagues were leaving. But some remained, and I loved them to bits. I had gone to work AS therapy: I had been working as a translator and found the solitude at home and the stress extremely damaging and alienating. It was a good decision: I loved my humble work at Specsavers, loved my ebullient and beautiful boss, loved my colleagues, loved my varied and mostly elderly customers. I found out towards the end that we were paid less than minimum wage, but it didn’t matter to me: I was happy to work there.
My boss was understanding of the physical pain caused to me by standing (a must in a shop) and allowed me to do another type of work, where I could sit. She tailored my new schedule around my work exhaustion and the fact that I wanted to be home for my children. She was great and helpful.
Hypermobility (basically your joints are way to bendy to support your bones and muscles) meant that recovering from a very nasty ankle sprain made me start suffering standing or even sitting comfortably, which combined with my boss leaving and the afore mentioned colleagues quitting or relocating, I kept wondering whether I should stay or not.
What gave me the final push out was the unfair way I felt many colleagues were being treated. What had kept me there was the hope that I could do something to help my colleagues and improve things, but I soon realised I was up against more than I could afford to fight.

While I was working there, however, I noticed the scorn in other people when my colleague’s anxiety caused him to call in sick. The frustration. They felt they could not get away with being home sick because they felt “nervous”. They didn’t understand how paralysing it was for my otherwise exceedingly talented and capable colleague.
On the other hand, I understood that when he called in sick, all others had to work double. I understood the frustration in a team of being let down. So if you have such difficulties, I feel I understand that as someone hiring you’d rather have someone unproblematic, than someone who is going to be home a lot, or someone who might potentially explode in a drama.
In my case, it was amazing how much one single person’s attitude, one boss, could make the difference. Of three directors, one was the go-to woman for me, one was the go-to man for my colleague, and the other was nobody’s go-to person: nobody trusted him.
So, in the end, what do we need in order to be able to work?
I think all of us, myself, my colleagues with different mental health problems and others with physical health problems they were ignoring and making worse because they couldn’t afford to miss work, all of us, we need workplaces to be truly humane.
The knowledge that it’s ok to be home if feeling unwell will make you stay home less, not more. I truly believe this.
Not being terrorised into missing work, even when you’re not paid if you don’t show up!
Ensuring you always have a little extra staff, so that if one misses the day it’s not the end of the world. Certainly not told off or reprimanded for it!

In my case, these probably wouldn’t be enough, but they would sure have made all my working experiences far, far easier and less traumatic. I am sure they would make a deep difference for people who suffer from depression and anxiety, and even those who suffer from bad back or migraines (all conditions made worse by the stress of going to work even though they are really not feeling up to it).

Being able to take more days off, or rather, being free to take days off full stop: one should have the right to do so, perhaps some paid in full and some not, some not paid at all, and all subject to previous discussion in case an especially busy time is ahead, or a particularly important project: but people should be allowed more flexibility and freedom to manage their lives, even if it means taking a week off just to have an impromptu holiday, rather than have such strict holiday and days off policies.
This, I feel, would benefit a wider range of people, and would convince more people to dare go back into work.

Just a random thought.

As I stand now, I am happy I now have an appointment to look forward to with the Derbyshire Pathfinder team, who will then decide what to do with me, psychitrically speaking, and I am in no spirit now to think about anything else, though I do try.

I do, however, still think I’d like to slowly veer my activities towards helping in crashing the stigma around mental health, and make a difference, somehow. i have always wanted to make a difference for those who sufer and struggle in this society. Of course that was before I finally admitted
I was indeed one of them, rather than the strong and confident paladin I always thought I was.
I can be that paladin again, I feel sure of this, I just need to learn to bukld some good armous first.

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7 thoughts on “Working with mental health issues

  1. I miss working…but I think what I miss more is the skill that I had that made it possible for me to work…somehow I lost the ability to tolerate the presence of other people. I even have problems with this on the internet…and of course the lost time. My partner got very angry with me today. He went away for a couple of days and the alternates came out. I notice that I was posting at 2AM…and I know why. But the point is that my body has changed and It can’t tolerate the loss of sleep. I’m surprised I can string three words together. My partner tries to ‘control’ my illness, in part because the symptoms frighten him when they do flare up. My stance is that these are my symptoms and that I have to learn how to manage them. He is no more responsible for managing the symptoms of my DID than he would be responsible for managing a post stroke aphasia.
    I have to work with my therapist on ways to let the alternates express themselves in ways that are healthier for my body. If it is this disruptive to my life and I don’t work it would play Hell with any attempt to return to work.
    Still…I long for a day when I can return to a job.

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    1. I get that they might frighten him, bless him x Does he ever speak to your therapist, is there anybody who can help him deal with your symptoms? Sorry if you already spoke about this x

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  2. Billy your post is brilliant. You are very much expressing what many of us who struggle with mental illness or chronic illness experience. Both I and my son experience much of the same. Why must we fit into the work world? Why can’t the world accommodate differences, different needs? We are still valuable.

    Your comment about joint laxity reminded me of recent research identifying a genetic syndrome called ALPIM (Anxiety-Laxity-Pain-Immune-Mood), which I blogged about here: http://kittomalley.com/2015/07/13/alpim-anxiety-laxity-pain-immune-mood/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh that’s really interesting I’ll go read it thank you!
      And yes, it’s always been important for me: I always managed through sheer will and force of character to bend the rules in the workplace a little: some would hate me for it, my colleagues always got inspiration but most of the time it ended that I left too soon to really make a difference and they would revert back to accepting how things were.
      I so often thought among the many things I could do that I could be a champion for the rights of people whom I knew were incredibly valuable colleagues, but were ostracised through problems such as these. Unfair, like you said, and a waste! A waste of potential and ideas and what have you. Thank you Kitt.x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ugh you have no idea how much I struggle with this. My husband kinda gets it – why I can’t work – but wants what most people want, a house, nice car, be able to take vacations….and my own brother and sil are disgusted that I’m on disability and not working.
    I’m not close with them.
    I would love to have a “career” where I felt confident about my skills and where others valued me and my contributions to projects.
    It’s a degrading way to live…mental illness has robbed me of many opportunities for success.
    I relate so much to this post and it’s a very sore topic in my home, because it means essentially living as working poor. Not being able to get ahead.
    And when I’m hypomanic and I have tons of business ideas…not one has lived long enough to materialize. All the ideas just remain ideas and it’s demoralizing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can imagine, Sabrosa 🙂
      You are one of those who confirms and crystallises what I saw in “real life” with what I read around here. I see all this effervescence, all this talent, so much intelligence in these pages, and to think that with more understanding and flexibility we could all work at least a little. It would make a huge difference to our finances, as you pointed out. Also, here in the UK the Government Department for Work and Pensions (and my good friend works in that very department, so I get an idea first hand of what their thoughts are) is really cutting down hugely on disability allowance and they are judging a lot of people “fit for work” who really actually aren’t… at least not until workplaces don’t upgrade their flexibility and facilities and awareness.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Effervescence is a beautiful word. I wish I could put on some effervescence every day like a yummy perfume that everyone loves and can’t get enough of 😉
        I couldn’t agree more with you and especially your last statement in terms of making significant changes to how we can contribute based on our skill set and protect our productivity by allowing us to protect our mental health.

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