Into the system…

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

work, work, work: but not at work…

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So I’m at it again.. writing more about work (previous posts here and here), but this time from the perspective of not being there.

Being signed-off is a weird experience. It’s difficult to know that everything you had been focussing on, everything you’ve been involved with, is still carrying on without you.

I was not really expecting to be signed off when I was. The occupational health doctor had suggested I could probably continue to work, as long as my company made some adjustments to reduce the stress I was under. My GP was less sure and I don’t think she trusted me to slow down.

Before I was signed off, I was terrified by the prospect. For me, it meant I had to tell my partner, which I knew was not going to be easy, but it also meant giving in and accepting the fact I wasn’t coping and wasn’t capable of working. I’d not been willing to accept that, even to the point that suicide was a much more attractive prospect than admitting I couldn’t cope.

When I did eventually give in and take my sick leave, it was difficult. I’d been carrying on at work, doing my job for so long after I’d become unwell, that I almost didn’t know how to stop doing it. Being in such a small team, it was a scary prospect to just drop everything and not know what would happen with it all. My line manager was in the process of moving onto a new project and role, so essentially the team was about to go from having two members of permanent staff, to none. My future line manager was looking at ways to transform the team and all her plans were pointless without me. I hated the fact it made everything so uncertain.

At first it was impossible for me to switch off, not helped by the fact I was still getting regular requests for information. I realise now how many tasks I did that people took for granted and that no one else knew how to do. My inbox has been piling up with requests for me to do things. These thing are not getting done and there’s no one to ask to do them, so I have this horrible knowledge that the work is piling up because I’m ill and the longer I’m off the more of a nightmare return is going to be.

One of the other things I’ve noticed is that work has been completed shoddily since I’ve been off. It is almost comforting to know that I am essential and the place can’t carry on without me, yet I’m angry because I spend so many hours making sure these things happen week-in-week-out, perfectly every time and now they’re going out in a less than satisfactory state and no one seems to be complaining. It almost makes me realise that my efforts really were pointless, in which case why do I bother? They obviously don’t need me after all. This is of course paranoia talking and I don’t know which part of me to believe. I hope that people have noticed our regular communications have fallen by the wayside, but I somehow suspect that most people won’t have.

One problem I’m struggling with is what to tell people. Some know what has been going on, others don’t. At first this was a problem my line manager made even worse. When a few people asked how my holiday was, I started to wonder where they had got that idea. If I was going on holiday I’d have told people first. It seems people were jumping to conclusions and no one was putting them straight. I think my line manager didn’t know what to tell people, so holiday seemed like a good idea, but it has added to complications. I don’t know why he was so adverse to telling people I was ill – I suspect he was uncomfortable with the reality and I guess he thought he was protecting me, but I felt awkward about it. In the end I had to talk to my line manager and ask him to be honest. I told him to tell people that I was ill and unsure when I would return. I don’t know if he listened to me. A few people I’ve had to put straight and at least let them know I’m on sick-leave, although I’ve been fuzzy with the details. There are other people that still don’t know. Some people hadn’t even noticed I’m not in work, probably assuming that I’m working in a different office, or have rolled off or something – people are coming and going all the time, so it’s not unusual for someone to disappear for a few weeks. I’m still getting requests for me to do stuff. I actually had to email 2 people this morning to let them know I wasn’t on holiday, but was on long term sick and their requests will have to wait.

Then there are the people that do know. Some are just aware I’m ill, so god knows what they think is wrong with me. Others, those who I’ve told, know the details to varying degrees. Some know I’m off due to depression/stress. Others know the extent to which I’ve been ill. There have been some people who have been really supportive. It’s refreshing that they have been happy to talk to me about it and keen to learn more. I guess for some, mental health is not the last taboo. Others have been less helpful and some I guess just don’t understand. I’ve had people tell me to relax and I’ll be better in no time – “get some bubble bath and pamper yourself” was one suggestion. I haven’t bothered to try and explain that their suggestion is hardly going to help. Others just avoid the subject completely, which I guess is their prerogative, but it makes me feel quite ignored and isolated.

Another issue is the uncertainty of everything. At first it seemed like everyone, myself included, expected me to only be off a week or two at most. I kinda thought I’d just take a break and then I would go back to my old role, possibly doing a few less hours, but everything much the same as it was. Then it seemed I wasn’t going to be back as quickly and things have got more vague. The team I was in could no longer stay still and wait for me, so things started to change. People were making decisions about me, my job and my future, without me being party to the conversation. Someone new was brought in to join the team and cover my responsibilities in my absence. I have no idea who is telling her how to do them. My old line manager has finally moved onto his new role permanently and is no longer involved or responsible for me. My new line manager has taken on some of his old responsibilities and others seem to have been forgotten. I am now in limbo, not sure of where I fit into this new team or if there is a place for me at all.

Various return to work strategies have been suggested. A couple weeks ago, I think they expected me to be coming back by now. There was talk about possibly returning to look for a new project and starting afresh. I found this a terrifying prospect, although I can see there may be some benefits. There has also been the suggestion that I re-join my old team, but that I might take a phased approach, possibly working part time or only taking on some of my old responsibilities. I’m scared of this return though. I’m scared that I have lost my place and that I won’t feel like I belong anymore. I’m scared that I don’t know what will be my responsibilities or what my new line manager or new colleague will be doing. I’m scared at the prospect of returning to the mounds of work that are waiting for me. I’m scared that I won’t be seen as capable any more. I’m scared that I won’t be able to cope. I’m scared that this has set me back and I won’t be promoted. I’m scared of what everyone will think. I’m scared about explaining where I’ve been. I’m scared that the second I step back in that office, that everyone will begin to demand things of me again.

Alongside that fear though, I can’t wait to go back. I miss the place and everyone there. I miss having something to do. I miss my role and responsibilities. I miss feeling like I have a point. I miss the escape. I miss the independence. I miss the social contact. I miss the stress! I miss being able to pretend that everything is okay. I miss being busy. I miss the canteen food. I miss having a job that I love.

I talked to HR yesterday. I think my HR rep and my new line manager want me to go back to my old role. This makes me happy, but it also makes me fearful. They want me to return in the next couple of weeks and I have no idea if I can. I was told to talk to my GP about it this week and to see what her advice says, but I got the impression that I’m expected to be going back soon. I’m scared that if I am not ready to go back or I don’t go back in the next few weeks, then I might not be able to go back to my old role and then I will have the terrifying prospect of looking for something else. I am scared that I will just be replaced, a feeling which is somewhat crushing when you already have low self-worth and appreciation. I want to feel like I have a job to go back to and that in going back I will be valued and useful, but I don’t know that I do and I find that uncomfortable.

The reality is though that I am no better than I was when I was signed off. The reality is, I could go back to work tomorrow and continue to do my job well and pretend that everything is okay, but I suspect that everything is not okay. I know that my mood is dropping again and in a matter of a few days I’m likely to be in a suicidal low again. I also know that if I get stressed, on top of that painfully low mood, I am far more likely to act on that mood. I know that the only thing that is stopping me from being as ill as I was when I was at work, is the fact I really have nothing to be stressed about. I wonder though if I’m just making up these excuses because I don’t want to go back. I wonder if I’m just being scared about nothing and that if I actually threw myself back into my work that everything would be okay? I over-think all of these things to the point that I’m getting worried and stressed about it all and don’t know what to think.

I also know that my doctor doesn’t want me to go back to work until I’m a lot better, but that I want to go back, leaving me unsure as to if I should be honest with her. Tomorrow I will have to talk to her about the prospect of a return to work or not, but how can she make an honest judgement without knowing how I am really feeling? I don’t know what is best, because I can’t ever see a way out of all this. Is it any wonder that so many people with mental health difficulties aren’t in work? I have a fairly supportive employer and even with that I find the whole thing draining and difficult. I worry about the future, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

I feel like I’m going around in circles here. This isn’t how I wanted this post to end up, but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I have no idea what will happen next with regards to work. I think it’s the uncertainty that gets me most.

All I know is that being off work isn’t the easy option. It asks so many questions of me, that I was unprepared to answer when I was still at work. I was able to ignore things and justify my tiredness and mood with the fact I was over-worked and over-stressed. I can’t do that now that I’m off.

Written by intothesystem

Wednesday, 16th July 2008 at 1:10 pm

One Response

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  1. […] and thinking about how I am right this moment is not all that easy. Many of the thoughts about when I might return to work and if I’m actually any better are still on my mind, but there are other things too, alongside a fairly high presence of suicidal […]

    into the present… « Into the system…

    Wednesday, 16th July 2008 at 2:09 pm

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