A more personal post …
You may recall that in late April I shared my thoughts on my current health situation in a post entitled On black dogs, red mists, and blue Mondays.
It was my attempt to make sense of a crisis point in my mind and in my life which has led to my being off work since April, and to hopefully return in October. The expectation is clearly when I return to work I will be “well” and all will be as it was before, although after periods of physical illness caused by stress even before anxiety and depression kicked in, I knew that things had changed.
I want to engage with work in some degree, but I also want to be “well”. For me, that means my health has now taken a significant leapfrog over my career, and I wish to find a work-life balance that will help me progress through my recovery over the next few years; I believe strongly it will take as long as that to get back to the point where I was, in summer 2016, before I started worrying, not sleeping, crying at a drop of a hat, and feeling sick at heart at the prospect of heading out of the house and engaging with others.
While I’ve been off, the physical symptoms I experienced with IBS (painful cramps) and migraine, have diminished – not altogether gone, because a bad day can pitch me back – and my levels of anxiety and self-worth have slowly started to readjust to a more “normal” level.
Well, normal for me. I’ve been experimenting with mindfulness, CBT (on my own, as the local mental health unit’s phone support was poor), and seeing a private psychologist on the advice of occupational health. All this calms me. I’ve also been lucky that I can still find some pleasure in activities like films and theatre, our local zoo, music. I even found the original ms. of the poetry book I had published in 2000. This original version is good. I was a good writer. One of these days I will share this book with you.
My confidence, though, and drive, will never get to the same level again, and I have to accept this. I am still struggling with retaining information and finding the right word, and for someone who has always traded in words (writing, presenting) that scares me. I play word-games, I blog, I make sure each and every day I am out and about I talk to at least two or three people; it doesn’t matter who or why, the most mundane interaction helps a lot.
While being off, I have tried to get out of the door most days. Stay engaged with what’s going on in the world. I still feel shattered but not weepy or angry anymore. I have reconnected with “me” since stepping back from work. I have engaged with my husband more, my parents, my house. Health is everything, work is not the be all and end all of my life, nor are the financial compensations that come from it.
Occupational health felt it may be more that six months before I am fully able to engage with work on a full-time basis; I want to pre-empt this, and to stop any possibility of causing problems to the business from short-term (or worse) when I return, so I am exploring flexible working and reduced hours. There are no guarantees of course, which leads me to worry about what may happen if I return full-time too soon.
Now I know myself a lot better, now my medication has changed, now I know that I am not responsible for the failings of everyone else in my organisation. I still have high standards, I still care, but I have to balance that black dog which sometimes makes me whine, or bark, or want to curl up in a corner. I have to conquer it. And I will, but now I accept that time needs to be taken to do so.
Many friends have been very supportive and caring during this process: I thank them all here. You’re terrific, especially those of you who have been through similar feelings and situations. The support network out there is immense. Within organisations, though, and within the NHS, there is a mountain to climb when it comes to understanding, empathy, and basic levels of support.
Mental health is not “like breaking a leg”. It is feeling so much pressure you feel caged, or want to break and run. It is feeling so frustrated you lash out in anger at yourself and others. It is feeling sad and hopeless, sometimes to the point of looking at a train track, a knife, or pills, and thinking “what if”. It is feeling terrified at the thoughts that come and go, which plague you in the dark or needle you in the light.
Most of all it is finding one’s inner strength, and recognising the best and most appropriate path to recovery. Wish me luck.