Into the system…

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work, work, work: life before March…

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I started a post about work a couple weeks ago, but somehow never found the energy or time to finish it. It was made up of lots of little thoughts about work and how that relates to my depression. Returning to the post now, I’m struggling to make it a coherent whole. My thoughts and feelings surrounding work have been fairly complicated over the last few months and I’ve paid passing mentions to work and related frustrations throughout previous posts and comments, but I wanted to try and bring this together somehow.

This started to get so long that I’ve now split it into parts. This first part covers a lot of the background information, including what I actually did and how work-life was prior to my latest episode of depression. It touches on mood and my understanding of “normal”.

My career: As it says over there —->, I work in IT/Management Consultancy and joined the company as a graduate just over a year ago straight from university.

My role: After 8 weeks of training with the company, I began my first role. This was at a well known bank, working within the communications team on a large outsourcing deal. I was part of a team responsible for internal communications and employee engagement for approximately 2000 staff worldwide (roughly 1000 colleagues in India, 250 in Manila, Philippines and 1000 in the UK). I’m responsible for maintaining our Intranet sites (Microsoft SharePoint), over 100 distribution lists, writing and editing written communications, organising events and I’ve also been involved in a number of internal projects along the way. My role has developed dramatically since I started as our team’s scope has grown enormously. The work is extremely varied, often challenging and hard work, but generally fantastic. I love it. I was lucky and fell into the absolutely perfect role for me, which took me by surprise a little I guess. When I started as a consultant there was always the risk I’d hate it or end up in a role that didn’t suit me. Thankfully it’s a role that also suits my skills perfectly and because of this I’ve done really well, taking on a lot of responsibility for my level, receiving good ratings and setting high expectations.

Talking to my Line Manager: Since I started this role I’ve always been in a small team. Most of the time it has just been me and my line manager, although we are always working with different teams across the Engagement. We have worked closely together over the past 9 months and from early on I decided to share my mental health issues with him. When starting work, I was worried and cautious about telling anyone about my past history of depression, but for some reason I made the decision to tell my line manager. A couple months into my first role, I was starting to worry about my mood and was also a little worried about how well everything was going. It was a feeling I was unused to and I became worried that I was setting extremely high expectations that I was unable to maintain. I got on well with my manager, trusted him and knew he respected me, so thought he was a good person to tell. I felt I’d established enough of a reputation for him to see I was clearly good at my job and that it wouldn’t be an issue. I thought about it a lot before I did and agonised over if it was the right decision. In the end I wrote to him as part of a usual RAID update and told him that there had been something on my mind and I wanted to raise it as a potential risk. I told him about my past tendency towards depression, including some info about my experience at uni (some of which he already knew from general conversation), told him I’d been worried about my unstable mood and the fact I might not be able to continue to perform at the level that I was. I also explained that I wanted him to know, just in case things deteriorated at any point in the future. He was happy to listen, supportive and just told me not to worry. We agreed that we’d come to that bridge if we needed to, but it was good that he knew and could keep an eye out for me.

This might seem like a weird move, but I think I was starting to feel it was time for a new approach. In the past, I’d never told anyone what was going on and this was a major problem during my degree. I set the expectation that I was a high-flyer and didn’t live up to it, due to what I now realise were some pretty horrific depressive episodes. I’ve generally been self-aware of what has been going on in the past, but I was worried that my performance would be affected before I realised. I knew that stress was often a big trigger of my depression and that I had a terrible habit of taking on too much when I’m feeling good, but then quickly accelerating through masses and masses of work, until I reach complete burn-out, crashing like a stone. I knew I couldn’t do that at work and lived in fear of the time that it might come. so I guess it made sense to warn him prior to anything happening.

It was a little strange afterwards, but okay I guess. I was quite glad I’d shared it with someone, but it was a little weird too, knowing that he was the only person that really knew about that stuff. It was reassuring to know that someone else knew to look out for me, but I also felt a little paranoid that he wouldn’t trust me with stuff or would be overly cautious – he didn’t really though and it was fine. Things generally went unmentioned, unless I brought things up when I was having a low week or we were just chatting about the past or whatever, which was good I guess.

My Mood and Work: Following my confession to my manager things pretty much carried on as they were and work was generally a positive experience. I guess my mood was up and down throughout, but was never really too extreme. I guess over the years I’ve come to accept “normal” mood as being anything within the spectrum of mild depression to a mild euphoria. I don’t know if I ever have truly normal moods – I think my natural state seems to be some kinda numb-melacholic, sadness, but I’m not sure if that would be normal. Even when I’m what I would regard as “well”, I still frequently think about death and often feel that there is no point in life. Contentedness is something I’ve felt so rarely, I barely know what it is. When I’m up, I’m not sure my mood is ever settled enough to be regarded as normal. I am usually too busy working too hard and being highly-productive to notice that I actually feel happy. It tends to be only when I find myself giggling uncontrollably, or unable to stop talking, that I realise my mood is actually quite high. I’m reluctant to say I’ve been hypomanic, because after all, that term relates to bipolar disorder and I don’t want to go there right now, but knowing the definition of hypomania, that is pretty much where my up-moods reside.

There were a couple of periods between October and March where I guess things dipped nearer to the moderate depression level, but that wasn’t really unexpected either. I was pretty miserable around Christmas-time and entertained the occasional suicidal thought and more common thoughts about death, but nothing like my worst episodes. Fleeting, short periods of depression weren’t really something I regarded as a problem. I’ve experienced them for as long as I can possibly remember, so I was always able to just put things to the back of my mind and carry on. Years of experience in hiding these things, means it’s very easy for no one to notice. Even when my line manager knew to keep an eye out for things, he never noticed anything and it was only if I actually talked to him that he’d know my mood had dipped. Sometimes I would give him a bit of a mood status update, along with my regular work-related status updates, although more often I’d still hide things if I was low.

During this time I also talked to a few work-friends about things. There were a few guys at work who I’d become close to and in the end I started to share things with them. It became something I could talk about to a couple people, but only within work. I guess I started to build a bit of a support network within my friendship groups at work and this certainly helped through the milder depression.

Becoming a workaholic?: There was one aspect of my work that was getting worse and worse throughout this period leading up until March. I was beginning to struggle to maintain my work/life balance and although it wasn’t something I saw as a problem, it was leading to more and more arguments with my partner. He was frustrated that I was never home, or if I was, I’d be on my laptop probably working anyway. I was working long hours and always have done, but I think they were creeping up on me and instead of 8am-6pm being the norm it was soon becoming 7.45am – 6.30pm and then 7.30am – 7pm and beyond. I wasn’t even noticing that I was getting in earlier and leaving later and I was working in the evenings at home too. I enjoyed the work and I think because of that, it was easy and almost tempting to get carried away. My partner does not see how a job can be something that you enjoy doing, where as for me, it is exactly that. I was becoming more and more of a workaholic and working harder and harder, but I didn’t really see it as a problem. I felt lucky that I’d found a job that I enjoyed and I have always wanted to do well. I occasionally started to panic a little that I was taking things too fast and pushing myself too much, but things still seemed to be okay and I was coping just fine. I got stressed occasionally but nothing unusual and I didn’t really think I had anything to worry about. It’s a high-pressure environment and it gets to everyone now and again, so I really didn’t think anything of it.

Late Feb 2008 – Things change: In late February 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 stress. I begin counselling, return to work and things pick up for a while. Late April/Early May my mood deteriorates much further and more dramatically this time, alongside further increasing stress at work. I begin to feel increasingly suicidal and accidentally confess how bad things had got to my line manager. We then get to the bit where HR get involved, I’m referred to Occupational Health, finally go see my GP and get signed off. It is during this snowball of events that things become more and more difficult…

Written by intothesystem

Monday, 14th July 2008 at 4:34 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] work, work, work: life before sign-off Posted in Into the system… by intothesystem on July 15th, 2008 This is the second part of my post about work. The previous post can be found here. […]

  2. […] on July 16th, 2008 So I’m at it again.. writing more about work (previous posts here and here), but this time from the perspective of not being […]

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