Returning to work: with support, we can all begin the journey of getting back on track

I have suffered from chronic depression and social anxiety for most of my life.  Owning that has been difficult. Admitting I have difficulties has always felt like a weakness and for a long time in my family, circle of friends, and community it was taboo.

You were just meant to get on with things. Challenges were meant to strengthen you, not cause you moments of pain and existential questioning where you have felt so gripped by your emotions that it had paralysed you.  Paralysed you to the extent, that just getting out of bed was a marathon.  Safety disguised itself as being wrapped up in my duvet and shutting the world out.  Not going anywhere. Not talking to anyone. Becoming lost in a world of social media and mind numbing and time wasting netflix box-sets.

You can almost get away with that in the evenings and weekends, but not weekdays.  Weekdays, when you are trying to hold down a full time job, and pretend that everything is ok.  That’s when masks and poker faces come in handy, with a bubbly can-do façade to match.  My depression comes in waves and cycles, but my anxiety is always with me.  My anxiety sometimes grabs hold of my voice box, and chokes everything that I want to say.  Scolds and berates me and cripples my stance and poise, into a timid manifestation of myself.  My depression then tag teams in, pulling me under a massive wave of inertia where I sometimes I sink to the bottom and it’s very hard to come back up and find solid ground again and again. This is exactly what happened in August last year.  Things had gotten so bad that I had to be signed off work for an extended period.

At first this was a relief.  An escape from the stressors at work and freedom to sleep in all day shutting the real world out. But then all too quickly I began to feel worse.  I felt unproductive, which made me feel like a failure, my depression and anxiety worsened.

With help from my GP and counsellor I was able to gradually return to work.  I had been placed on a phased return, which means you do a few hours each week and gradually build your hours up each week.  This is so that you can slowly get used to being back at work and around people and it not feel too overwhelming. I was put on lighter duties too so that I was not having to cram my full-time work into part-time hours, which would be both impossible and counterproductive. I found that I was anxious on the first day, but this was alleviated by the fact that my line manager was very supportive in person.  We have a catch-up at the beginning of each work day to discuss how I’m feeling and to map out the work tasks required by me for the day.  I can discuss the workload and raise concerns if I think it’s too much.  So far my duties have been very light and manageable. My teammates have been friendly and welcoming and have not asked any questions at all. Which was such a relief.

The thought of returning to work had filled me with dread. After being inactive for so long I had also put on lots of weight, “Will people talk about me?” I worried.  The reality was very different. HR had assigned me a wellbeing counsellor while I was off work. Each employer has an Employee Wellbeing Service and I would advise everyone to find out about this service at their place of work.  Often they offer both financial and wellbeing advice and can refer you to a counsellor for 6-12 weeks if needed. I would also advise joining the Trade Union at your workplace, who can offer legal advice and also provide a companion who will attend HR meetings with you.

The counsellor had phoned me each week with practical steps towards first getting used to getting out of the house and he referred me to Mosaic Clubhouse, which I wish I had found years earlier. Unfortunately mental health services are not advertised/signposted as well as they could be. I have found the “Information Hub Help Booklets parts 1 & 2” invaluable with an oasis of useful information on local and central support services and networks available. I would thoroughly recommend these booklets to everyone.

Our offices are brand new and very light and airy, with large windows letting in lots and lots of natural light.  I found this really helps, as sunlight really improves my mood.  It helps the office feel less claustrophobic too. Unlike our old building, there are also spaces you can go to - break out areas and the canteen if you need to take a break so this really helps returning to work feel less intimidating and less institutionalised.

I am now thankful for the shorter days as I find my energy beginning to become depleted just as my shift draws to an end. I have really enjoyed the yoga classes here at Mosaic which have helped me to relax and de-stress at the end of the week. Coming to Mosaic on my days off even if just for a few hours also stops me being socially isolated and gets me out of the house.  It’s also helpful to know they are there if I ever need to pop-in.  Time seems to fly by really quickly here, and there’s always a buzz of activity.

I’m thankful for my mood being in relatively high spirits due to the support I have received from the counsellor, my work and my family.  Fortunately attitudes around mental health are changing and evolving, with many people becoming far more understanding and aware that anyone is susceptible to a crisis, has times of vulnerability and that we all will experience at least one mental health episode in some shape or form during the span of our lifetimes. This is human and that with support, we can all begin the journey of getting back on track. The first step on this journey is admitting and facing the issue and then asking for and finding that support.

 

"With support, we can all begin the journey of getting back on track"

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