Unspoken Conversations are the topics that are often swept under the carpet, whispered amongst the closest of friends and bitched about by many. I want to create awareness about difficult things that people face in life; grief, mental health, money, illnesses, family troubles, relationship difficulties and putting yourself first. I want to tell the truth about things that really matter.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Working with Depression

Some would wonder how people suffering from mental illnesses function, let alone pull it together at work.

Let's face it, healthy people struggle through Mondayitus, hump day, or any day starting with the word work day, let alone if you're struggling with an internal battle between negative forces in your brain, making even getting out of bed the toughest of fights.

It's crazy isn't it... thinking that 1 in 5 battle from a mental health illness yet they invisibly slip into their daily routines, showing up for work and silently bowing their head down low so to go unnoticed even though inside their minds they feel as though there's a bright flashing arrow above their heads announcing that they are in struggle town.

It's difficult to describe to some one who hasn't been there, the feeling of a great weight literally pushing down your shoulders so that it as an audious task just to put one foot in front of the other.

So it's difficult to ever describe being trapped inside of your own mind, and creating a prison with bars so closely welded together that you struggle to grip the iron rods for support.

The great weight and heavy thinking makes it near  impossible to function full stop, let alone at work.

I would know, I've been there.

When I think back to how I coped at work the answer is simple; I didn't.

I went from being a go getter,  initiative driver, full of energy, generous team player to someone who could barely have the courage to open my email inbox in sheer terror and anxiety that I'd give the wrong advice or that I'd be  overwhelmed by the number of unread emails waiting for my reply.

Just leaving the house felt like a mission, so by the time I rocked up at work, on the occasions that I did, I was already exhausted from the lack of sleep I'd had plus my body  constantly producing adrenaline because it was in full flight mode.

My anxiety crept up on me slowly. It started with the stress and normal anxious feelings that come with starting a new role and taking on bigger  responsibilities. But soon my stress turned to worry, then panic and as I became more tired from a lack of sleep, I lost concentration, started feeling dizzy, lacked judgment, became too drained to talk, and eventually started cringing when someone would ask me a question or how I was doing.

I lost my very own voice and control over my emotions.

My colleagues were absolutely amazing. They could see that I wasn't my normal self and they gathered around to support me.  Tasks that I used to compete in 10 minutes could take me an hour and they would have to explain things to me at least 3 times before I  understood because the first time my anxiety clouded my mind making understanding near impossible, the second time I'd manage to breath a little more to start to hear what they'd say and the final time I could make  mental notes and set off to try and turn them into actions.

It really must of been incredibly hard for my colleagues and manager to stay patient when my productivity was at an all time low and to see me so on edge.

I really am so grateful for their support and I have no idea how people out there suffering manage to continue to show up to work and carry on with their roles while they are struggling with their own internal battle.

Eventually I started calling in sick. First, a day at a time. Each night I'd set my alarm knowing full well that I would spend the night tossing and turning and that when it'd ring in the morning I wouldn't have slept and I'd be left feeling frustrated and frazzled.

Soon I was texting my manager every single day with an apology for being a no show.

I went and saw my doctor and counselor.

I met with my manager over coffee outside of work. We decided that it'd be best for me to take some time off. I desperately wanted to feel well again. I knew that I could do the job. I loved my team and the company that I worked for but I'd lost faith in my own ability.

I was my own worst nightmare.

Having time off gave me thinking time. This is one of the hard things with mental health. You are unwell yes. You need time off to regroup yes. You start over thinking things yes. You feel like a failure because you cant even get out of bed let alone dressed showered and presentable for work. Negative thoughts become your best friend until you hide away together in your own little safe haven. Yet you know, deep down, that you must face your demons to get better. But your demons feel so real and scary. You lose the will to fight because you don't have the energy to stop the thoughts.

That's when your colleagues, managers, support workers, friends and family must step in.

They must drag you to appointments for help.

They must force you to meet with your manager to discuss your health.

They must help you to take your medication and to get you out of the house.

You will feel numb.

You'll feel useless.

But it'll be helping even though you can't see it.

You feel as though you're going to be fired; why would they want to have someone as terrible as you in their work place?

You convince yourself that they're better off without you.

I just pray that you have supportive colleagues and that you take baby steps to let them know that right now you're sick and need some extra support.

You might be amazed by their  understanding. Mental health affects so many people so chances are that they themselves have suffered or they know someone who has.

It is their job to protect their workers health and wellbeing.

If you need time off then so be it.

Be kind to yourself.

Let your medication take its time to work.

Celebrate the small wins like getting to work.

Take your lunch break and go for a walk.

Eat healthily even if you have to buy lunch because you can't be bothered making it.

Go to the toilet just to breath if you find yourself feeling flustered and breathless.

But be honest with your bosses; they will be the ones who will help and understand if you require a lighter work load until you find your feet. They'll make time for you to go to appointments and will understand if you can't come to work some days.

If your boss struggles to understand then try to help them.

For you're not useless, you're more then capable and you won the position in the first place. Everyone has things come up in their life that will one day affect their ability to work, this may just be your little hiccup.

Working while suffering is incredibly difficult, made more so if you stay silent.

Speak up, be honest and be kind to yourself for you are a valuable team player.

To managers out there, you may need to provide a little more framework and guidance for people who are suffering. They may need to take time to go to  appointments and some days may be better then others. Try to reassure the worker that their role is safe and that they won't be fired because no doubt that's what's playing on their mind. You also may need to reduce their work load for a little while but things will get better.

To colleagues, you may find yourself repeating instructions and answering the same questions time and time again but please be patient. If you find that your work mate is staying inside of their office and not leaving during lunch try to coax them out for a walk even if you have to go with them.

Time and  patience will help to heal this person as well as  constant positive reinforcement.

Look after yourself and those around you,

Kirsty xxx

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