Into the system…

blogging, work, mental health, therapy, disability, benefits and more…

Since Thursday 13th March 2008…

with 4 comments

I was trying to work out where my story begins. I can’t deny the fact I’ve suffered from this “illness” for as long as I can remember, but the events of recent weeks must have a beginning. Something started to change things.

Thinking about it, I guess things start with Thursday, 13th March 2008. This date and the subsequent description of events will identify me clearly to family and friends, but I somehow don’t feel inclined to smudge the details. I might do yet, but at the moment we shall leave it as this. I don’t intend on advertising this blog to them, so I hope they will never read this.

Anyway, on this day, I lost 2 family members from different sides of my family. My paternal great grandmother and my maternal grandfather. The shock of this was obviously massive. I was due to travel down to London that evening for work the next day. I didn’t know what else to do, so I stuck to my plans and travelled down. I think I was looking forward to the peace and quiet of being alone in my hotel room. That night, when I was down in London, I was feeling overcome by everything. I’d been low for a while and had toyed with the idea of contacting my company’s counselling service a few times – wondering if it would help, but I’d kept telling myself I’d be fine. These sudden bereavements sent my mind into turmoil and I didn’t know what to do. I somehow made the snap decision to call the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and I was referred to the counselling service.

In the week following their death, but before the funerals, I went and saw the counsellor for the first time. I hadn’t told my partner what was going on – I knew he was sceptical about counselling and would have thought I should deal with things on my own. I went to the counsellor under the cover that I needed to sort some things out in the office. It had been an awful week. The weekend following the deaths, my other half had fallen down the stairs and needed an ambulance visit (old ligament knee injury) and I was generally stressed out with everything going on. On the outside I was able to hide things and generally held things together, but I was unable to think, completely stressed out and distressed by everything.

The first counselling sessions were focussed on talking about the bereavements and working through the stress I was experiencing. As we started to talk more, I found myself realising that there were much longer term issues that were adding to my sense of being unable to cope. I have always kept my thoughts very private, bottled things up and been unable to talk about them. I was struggling to think straight and didn’t know how to order my thoughts. I found it easy to talk to the counsellor about work and the pressures I faced there. I worked long hours, in a high-pressure job and failed to maintain a sensible level of work/life balance. My fiancé hated my job and we frequently argued about it. Venting my anger at this constant battle was easy, as I didn’t have to deal so much with my thoughts, but could talk about events and arguments and how they affected how I felt.

I found it less easy to talk about the deaths, because I felt weird discussing that with a complete stranger. It started to get easier and I felt that because the pain and confusion was both more immediate and quantifiable it was easier to put things into words. Some of the time I’d just sit there and stare at the walls because I didn’t know what else to say. I found it hard to articulate my inner thoughts and feelings. I felt like I was wasting the counsellor’s time as I just didn’t know how to explain things. It felt like I was hiding things from him, because I couldn’t allow myself to be honest.

Something happened immediately following Grandad’s funeral that made me feel uncomfortable and start to think about things. My family were talking about other relatives, the other people at the funeral and a discussion began about a distant relative of mine who is suffering from depression and who was unable to work. My mother’s family are farmers and the most important thing is that you work hard, so the discussion that followed was unsurprising to me, but still had an effect. A discussion followed that his depression was just an excuse for laziness and not working and wasn’t a real illness. This chilled me to the bone. Many thoughts ran through my head. I was angry at their prejudice and I just wanted to shout at them to shut up. I felt sympathetic for my poor relative. It made me feel kinda relieved that although I was struggling myself, I was still able to work. I think ultimately it made me scared and ashamed, as I really knew that I was suffering from depression myself, I just didn’t want to admit it.

Things progressed following the funerals. I got back to work and I started to feel generally a lot better and more able to cope. The routine of my job helped me to focus on things and kept my mind distracted. I continued to see the counsellor for a few more sessions. In one of the sessions I admitted that I’d been struggling with my low mood and worried about it, but things picked up and I was generally feeling a lot better.

Things changed in the first week of May. My mood suddenly deteriorated. I felt awful, unable to concentrate on work and exhausted by everything. I was irritable and anxious all the time and just wanted to be on my own. On one evening, my fiancé and I had a massive argument about my job and lack of work/life balance. He shouted at me that it would be the job or him and I couldn’t think straight. I felt so desperately caught between the job that I loved and the man that I loved and felt that I really couldn’t cope if I was to lose either. I walked out of the house feeling hysterical and desperate. My mind immediately switched to suicide and I was upset and out of control. I couldn’t think straight and didn’t know what to say or do. I cursed the fact I didn’t have any money so I couldn’t just go buy alcohol or anything that would make the distress I felt go away. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn and wasn’t thinking straight at all – my mind going over and over that I was in danger of losing everything that I felt was important. Walking around outside I managed to calm down and return to the house, mainly because I had no idea what else I could do, but my mind was still going over all the negative thoughts and wondering what was next.

The following day I had another business trip to London. While I was travelling, I thought a lot about the previous night and tried to write about how I felt. I wrote the following:

I wanted to kill myself last night. If I had been on my own I’d have probably made a good attempt at it, but it was a private thing and I knew I couldn’t do it with my fiancé in the house. We’d had an argument and I needed to be alone. I ended up walking out of the house just to get myself away and walked in a daze trying to get away from anyone or anything. All I wanted to do was walk to the canal and jump off the bridge, but I was so confused and unable to think that I ended up walking in the wrong direction. I don’t know if that was my sub-conscious holding me back or the fact I was so upset I wasn’t thinking straight enough to do it. I was wishing I had any money with me so I could stop and buy alcohol or something, but my mind was all over the place and all I had with me were my keys that I’d used to unlock the door. Somehow I managed to walk until I started to calm down, suicide still on my mind, but no longer the energy to do anything about it. I went home, tears in my eyes but calmer and quiet. Ended up just saying I was a little upset and pretending nothing was wrong, doing my best to focus on the television and my sister’s phone call, but mind not on the job. Went to bed wishing I’d been able to just end things earlier, because I knew the moment had passed and I wouldn’t be able to then.

Now it scares me now how close I would have been. If I was on my own last night I have little doubt that I would have taken the pills that beckoned from my bathroom and seen what happened. Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough, but who knows? The moment has passed.

This morning I feel strange, but carrying on as if nothing had happened. I am on my way to London for work and using the travel time to think and write. My mind is almost blank and I can’t concentrate. I wish I could write about what put me in that place last night, but I can’t seem to. Everything changed so quick.. I’d had a bad day and had been feeling low for a couple of days, but suddenly something changed following that argument and I crashed. Today I feel better. Still low, still tired, but better. I feel in control and aware of things, where as yesterday I was startlingly out of control. I think I am safe and won’t do anything stupid. When I’m at work I will be forced to focus my mind on the tasks in hand, so I should be able to distract myself from my mind. I don’t even feel particularly down – low but not suicidal. So why did I get like that last night in such a short space of time and how did I manage to return to normal so quickly? I wish I had the answers.

Reading that back is strange. I think it helped to get it down in paper, so that I could think about it and rationalise things. I’d scared myself. As soon as I regained composure, I worried about how one argument had left me seriously thinking of suicide and self-harm. I felt guilty for feeling that way. Hated the fact that I couldn’t see through the argument. I knew there was obviously something wrong, but didn’t know what and wanted to pretend everything would be okay.

During the day I just concentrated on work and distracted myself from how I was feeling. In the evening I was at a work social event. I drank a lot and quickly, so the night passed in a kind of high fuzziness. It was great, but didn’t last. I walked back towards my hotel and once alone, I found myself thinking about suicide and feeling awful. I was feeling lonely and confused and began thinking over the previous evening, finding myself beating the rational thoughts I’d had in the day, found myself thinking maybe suicide was the better option. I got back to my hotel room and found myself sat at my laptop, looking for someone to talk to. In my drunken state I began talking to a friend from work who was working the night shift. At first I was just talking about how I was a bit drunk and tired, but then when he asked how I was, I stupidly sent him the above passage that I’d written on the train. I regretted it immediately after I’d clicked the send button, but it was too late and I was so drunk I couldn’t really think. He began to talk to me, ask me why I was feeling like that, ask if I was safe. I found myself opening up and talking to him – so drunk I couldn’t really stop myself. I began to open up about the things I’d been struggling with and we talked late into the night. I was so very drunk, shaking and crying my eyes out and desperately wanting to just leave my hotel room and walk into the night. My friend kept me talking, I think out of fear of what might happen if he didn’t. I stayed up most of the night and found myself pacing the room, trying to work out what I wanted, what was wrong with me, how I felt and why I felt that way, but unable to explain any of it.

The next morning, feeling a lot more sober and calmer I began to think things through. I began my journey back home, not really sure of how I felt. I was unable to think straight most of the weekend and didn’t really feel like seeing or being with anyone. My mind was distracted, but I managed to get through the weekend, hiding what had happened the previous nights and just going back to normal.

Anyway after the weekend, it was back to work. I was struggling to concentrate on anything. I would be fine and would be getting on with work and then the next thing I’d realise I was staring at my screen unable to focus or read what was there. I found myself occupied by a whirlwind of unclear thoughts and had to regularly get away from my desk to hide and calm down. I think it was starting to be noticeable that things weren’t quite right. My line manager was already aware of some things, including the fact I was seeing a counsellor. One morning he made a joke about how I shouldn’t kill myself over something that I was stressed out about at work. I think I stumbled over my words and felt myself go white and shake. He didn’t say anything at that point and I wonder now if he’d noticed, but I don’t know. Later that evening though I wrote to him and kinda said that his joke wasn’t a joke for me. He realised what I’d meant and told me we needed to talk and he needed to tell HR. I hadn’t thought about this at the time. I think I’d got used to suicidal thoughts and hadn’t really realised how serious they were. Thinking about it now, I know he was genuinely scared something would happen and didn’t know what to do to help. Over the weekend he told me he would tell someone in HR and that we would discuss on Monday. I reluctantly agreed, although I found out later that he had told HR before he even told me he would, which made me angry and has made it difficult for me to trust him and be honest with him since.

Monday came around and I was dreading it and completely unable to focus on what was going on at work. I was worried about what others would think and what it would mean at work. I was angry at myself for being so stupid and telling someone about how I felt. I hadn’t realised it would cause so much fuss. The HR person called me in the afternoon to talk about how it affected work and what they wanted to do about it. They asked me a few questions and tried to determine what was wrong and if what I’d told my manager was true. They tried to get me to see a doctor and told me I needed help. I refused to believe them and explained why I was scared of doctors, although I think I also knew they were probably right. I just wanted to keep burying my head in the sand. They also told me that they wanted me to see the occupational health team to determine if I was fit to work and if they could suggest any things to help me. This was a terrifying prospect, but I kinda knew I didn’t have much choice and reluctantly agreed to see the OH specialist.

Anyway I saw the occupational health doctor a couple of weeks ago. He was a GP based on the other side of Manchester and I had an hour appointment. I didn’t know what to expect and turned up at his office, terrified. During the session he asked me to explain what had been going on and how I was feeling. My work had sent him a little bit of info, but it was mainly down to me to open up. This is the first time I’ve seen a doctor to discuss this kind of thing and I didn’t know what to expect, but I think I found it easier to relate things back to work. It was hard for me to open up and explain things. I didn’t know where to start, as things just seemed so complex and so much had gone on so quickly. Anyway, I eventually managed to start explaining what was going on. We talked a lot about why I’ve been suicidal, my past history of self-harm and unstable mood and what had been going on recently. He pushed for me to see my GP and we talked about my reasons for not wanting to do that. He tried to give me some reasons that it would be better for me to see a doctor. He told me that if I was scared I should take someone with me or should write some things down before I went. I told him I’d think about it and try, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to.

Going to the Occupational Health was a bit of a wake up call. I didn’t really learn anything new about myself – deep down I knew things had got out of hand and that I was clearly not a picture of happiness and stability, but it was weird to have a medical professional telling me that I needed to get further help. I have tried to hide things for so long and deny that there is anything wrong with me, that I didn’t know what to say.

In between telling my line manager and seeing the occupational health I had a couple counselling appointments. The first one was a waste of time. I didn’t feel like talking and just talked a bit about work and how we were busy. I didn’t talk about the fact that a few days earlier I’d been desperately suicidal.  However after the appointment I realised that I needed to be open and honest with him if it was going to be useful. At the next appointment I forced myself to tell him. I didn’t want to and found it impossible to say “the s word”, but I eventually managed it. After the last attempt at telling someone (ie. my manager) I was scared about telling people. I’d learnt the hard way that suicide does get taken seriously and is regarded as not normal by others. I think I’d been suffering from suicidal thoughts for so long I’d forgotten that others are scared by them and don’t assume them to be normal.

When I told my counsellor, he also pushed hard for me to see my GP. We talked about my history of self-harm and past times when I’d felt like that. We talked about my fears of seeing a doctor, my fears of getting help. We talked about medication and my fears of that. I knew all along that I was depressed, but I refused to admit it. I still refused to admit it and still battled against seeing a doctor and getting help.

However I realised that the pressure for me to go see a doctor was getting too much. Reluctant as I had always been I knew I was going to have to give in. My company expected me to. My line manager and HR rep wanted me to. The friends that knew what was going on wanted me to. The counsellor wanted me to. I knew I had no choice. The occupational health doctor telling me I should was the final push I needed. He was clearly a good doctor and I warmed to him quite a lot in that one hour appointment. I hate doctors, so it was reassuring to have found one at least that didn’t seem so bad. It was a shame he wasn’t my GP.

Anyway what happened next can be found here. I saw the doctor and the label was applied. I finally had no choice but to accept that I was depressed and needed help.

6 weeks of mayhem followed me telling my line manager and I still regret it. It’s going to change things forever.

I guess there are two stories here. One of someone who knew she needed help and tried to find it in the form of a counsellor and another of someone who refused to admit she needed help and got it forced on her by a silly mistake of telling someone. It’s weird that they’re both about the same person. Even weirder that they are about me.

Written by intothesystem

Monday, 23rd June 2008 at 1:25 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I can relate to almost everything you’ve said here. I think the hardest part is telling the first person about it all, then next deciding who needs to know and who you want to know. And if it’s any consolation at all I think you’ve been pretty brave and straightforward in the way you’ve handled it all. I’m still avoiding telling anybody other than my wife and my therapist about what’s going no for me, and even they haven’t had the whole sorry story yet. This post has been great to read – it’s opened my eyes to things I haven’t given head time to yet – pretty inspirational in lots of ways.

    The Chuckle

    Monday, 23rd June 2008 at 1:52 pm

  2. Oh – BTW – if you could get your partner to be with you when you speak to your GP or a counsellor it may help him understand [in a technical and therefore more male way] what you’re going through. My first experience of someone else’s depression was my wife’s post-natal D, which meant I was with her when she spoke to our GP and also one of the health visitors. It gave me a better understanding of what she was coping with.

    The Chuckle

    Monday, 23rd June 2008 at 2:15 pm

  3. […] my mood really began to deteriorate and I was beginning to struggle with those high expectations. Then you know what happens next… Things change more suddenly in March when the two bereavements add to, what was already, mounting […]

  4. […] my social worker and have very little other support. In some ways I’m hoping it will be the same therapist I saw through the EAP back in April/May 2008, but I don’t suppose it will be, but you never […]

    Doctors and EAPs… « Into the system…

    Monday, 23rd November 2009 at 1:07 pm

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