Into the system…

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Dr Occy Health…

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So if I can now be considered “stable”, why has so little changed over the last few months? I know it is good that I am generally feeling a lot better, but I’m getting a bit fed up of this “stability” to be honest. It seems that I am still unable to return to normality and start living my life again. I am still stuck in the limbo I’ve been describing for months now and it is getting tiresome.

I know this feeling mainly comes from the fact I am still not back at work. Before I was ill, I pretty much defined myself by my work. I was probably a workaholic and I really enjoyed my job, so to stop working was a massive adjustment and disappointment. When I was first signed off I never imagined I would have been off this long. It has been over two years now.

On Thursday I returned to Dr Occy Health (I can’t remember what I referred to him as last time). I was disappointed that the outcome was little different to last time. I had gone in there hoping that I would have some goals to work to and a rough schedule planned for my return – 1 afternoon a week, 2 afternoons a week, 2 days etc. It soon became clear that he had nothing like that in mind and if anything he still didn’t expect me to be going back at all.

We talked about how I’d been, my job and what barriers there were for me returning to work. Unfortunately there are quite a few barriers. He seemed concerned about the number of unknowns involved. As I have mentioned plenty of times, I work in consultancy. This means that things are unpredictable because everything is dependent on client demand. It is what appealed about the job, but it also makes it difficult to plan ahead. I can’t just resume my old job on reduced hours and responsibilities because my old job doesn’t exist any more. I have to find myself a role, which is going to be difficult especially as I won’t know when I will be ready to start and roles are coming up and being filled all the time. I will be of no use to a client if I’m only in for a couple hours a week anyway, so I don’t know what opportunities there are for me.

There is also the problem that I am based in Manchester and all the support network and internal work is very much London-centric. The Manchester office is simply a regional base where people drop in for meetings, to get their laptops fixed or to perhaps spend a day working away from the client, but no-one really works there on a permanent basis. Everyone is based on a client site at least 95% of the time. We have no HR staff up here, my career counsellor is based in London and I have no manager to report to. I will essentially be on my own. Dr Occy Health does not like this very much and I think he wants some face-to-face support to be put in place before I try to go back.

I told him I was keen to do something to get back soon though. He wouldn’t let me make any firm plans to return and he did not want to give my employer any idea when I may be back as he wasn’t happy about committing me to anything. During the appointment he started to draft his report for my employer and he was quite clear about not setting any deadlines for my return.

One thing that worried me was the way he always talks about “if I return”. I don’t what to think that I may never go back. He seems to be pretty careful about not raising my expectations, which I guess is probably a good thing, but it also knocks my confidence. If he is so worried about how I cope, does that mean I won’t be able to? He is clearly very concerned and I find that a little disconcerting. I know the likelihood of anyone returning after such a long absence is pretty slim, but surely I can be one of the minority?

I think he may be worried, not only about what pressure I put on myself, but also how things may end up with my employer. They may be well meaning and understanding in theory, but the demands of the business are such that I can see it being very easy for me to fall into the trap of taking on too much, too soon. I think once I am back in that environment the competitive nature of the place is likely to put pressure on me. I recognise that and maybe that acknowledgement will be enough to prevent these problems, but I am not entirely sure it will.

He asked me what I wanted in life. Not just with my career, but my entire future. I told him that I honestly don’t know. I told him that I spent so much of the past two years not expecting or wanting to have a future, that I find it hard to comprehend. He said this was sad and I guess it is, but it is just the way that things were. I don’t know how things are going to turn out. I don’t trust myself not to relapse. I am still kinda expecting everything to just fall apart again and I worry about getting my hopes up about anything. Being relatively well and stable is not something I am used to any more. I am genuinely scared about what the future holds and I don’t know where to start.

I think he asked me about the future, because he really wants me to consider another career. He seems to think that returning to the same company isn’t wise, but I’ve thought about this before and I am not sure I can see myself anywhere else, anytime soon. Dr M definitely thinks the same too. Whenever I talk about my work and my company she expresses her concern and in particular, her distaste for the competitive nature of the place. There seems to be an expectation that because I have been mentally ill, I should just get a nice, easy, repetitive job that doesn’t involve any stress or pressure. I really don’t like this.

Even if I did want to reconsider my career, I don’t feel I have any other option. I feel almost a sense of duty to return to my employer after all they have done to support me whilst I’ve been ill. I hope that they will do what they can to maintain that support and to keep me in work, but I do have my doubts.

No employer in their right mind would take me on now with this absence behind me either, so what choice do I have? I am concerned enough about how I will find roles within my current company, let alone finding a whole new employer. What manager is going to want to trust me with a client if I’m likely to have another meltdown and take two years leave at no notice?! It is a big risk for anyone to take on and I completely understand that. If they’re offered me or any other one of my 250 peers, it would be stupid of them to choose me. DDA or no DDA, that is a fact. They are a better fit for the job, because they are less of a risk and minimising risk is a massive part of our job. I know there is a point when that risk will become minimal. If I manage to get through the initial stress and pressure of a return and stay well, then there is a good chance I can maintain that, but there is the difficult bit beforehand to negotiate. It’s a bit of a catch 22, because I will need a role and responsibility in order to gain the trust and confidence of future managers, but getting that first role without a proven track record is going to be pretty hard.

So what other options would there be? A life on incapacity? No thanks. I doubt that option will be open to me for much longer either – I doubt I’d pass a medical now, even if I am still deemed unfit for work by occupational health. The WCA for ESA is notoriously bad at turning down seriously ill people, I still find it hard to believe I got through it the first time.

Anyway, we went on to talk about what I can do now. He said the primary objective needs to be starting some contact with work and working out how I can start to “reconnect with the workplace”, but there is no way I should take on any responsibility any time soon.

He set me the “homework” of looking for opportunities and ideas for ways in which I could start to make contact with work. He didn’t seem to expect me to actually carry any of those out, although he said if I felt up to it I could perhaps make a start. It was suggested that when I was ready, I could perhaps try visiting the office for an hour or two to see how I feel about it. Maybe I could shadow someone for an afternoon, just to remind myself of the kind of work that we do. Maybe there is some training I can get involved with. Maybe I could just meet up with someone to talk through some ideas. These are all possibilities in theory, but whether or not any of them will happen is another matter. I remember talking about these sorts of things with Dr R, the previous Dr Occy Health and although I brought them up with HR, there seemed to be a reluctance on their part and nothing really came of them.

I contacted my HR rep after the appointment anyway to see what she thought of the suggestions, but she said she’d like to wait for the report to arrive before discussing anything. My copy of the report arrived this morning, so hopefully she will be in touch soon. I also just found out that she’s pregnant and going on maternity in a couple of weeks and I don’t know who will be taking over. I guess it probably doesn’t make much difference as they will be based in London anyway, but the latest HR rep has been pretty good and some consistency would probably be helpful when I am trying to go back.

Anyway, we will have to see what happens. The plan is to review things in a couple of months. I hope that I will be able to try some of the suggestions before then, but whether or not they will let me is another matter.

There is a breakfast meeting of the office forum in a few weeks time and they have kept my place on the committee open whilst I’ve been off. I’d quite like to go along and there should be no pressure, so maybe I will be able to go to that.

I still feel a lot of guilt about not working and aside from Dr Occy Health, I think everyone is expecting me to get back to work now. If I’m relatively well, generally coping on a day to day basis and even capable of going travelling for a couple of weeks, there should be no reason why I can’t go back to work, right? Sadly not. I guess it is different. There is no pressure on me at the moment. I can do as much or little as I feel like and I don’t have to worry too much about making mistakes or breaking commitments. I can’t carry on like this forever though. I am going to have to test myself eventually.

I also still worry about the benefits side of things. I don’t want to be on ESA any longer. You hear all the time at the moment about how people are stuck in the cycle of claiming benefits and how we should all just get back to work. I wish they realised just how hard it was, even for those that genuinely want to go to work, have a job to go to and are even feeling ready enough to try. There are so many barriers to overcome and the things at stake are too much if things don’t work out. I guess I just have to be patient. I will get back eventually.

Anyway. This post is long enough. I’ve said so much of this before, which is partly why it is so frustrating. I just feel like I’m not getting anywhere. I suspect I will be writing about work a lot over the next few months. Hopefully there will be some progress soon.

p.s. I also want to write about my therapy assessment – but I don’t have the time now. That was also pretty frustrating and disappointing, but I will try and explain soon.

Written by intothesystem

Wednesday, 8th September 2010 at 11:35 am

4 Responses

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  1. Have you thought about doing some voluntary work? There are so many opportunities available, and you can make a big difference (even if it’s helping out in an office for a few hours a week, that can make a massive difference to a charity that can’t afford admin staff!). It could give you a bit of drive and purpose, a lot of organisations have structures to deal with volunteers with disability, and if you can demonstrate a consistent committment to doing it then it will prove to OcHealth that you might be ready to start thinking about your job again. And if you do end up trying to find another job, you will be able to show that you could cope with the volunteer work and are “better” and less of a risk, as you put it. Just a thought.

    inthemarginsofmymind

    Wednesday, 8th September 2010 at 4:54 pm

    • Thanks hun.

      I actually do already volunteer for my local Youth & Community Centre, responsible for communications and marketing for the place. It isn’t very structured though, but has been a start for waking my brain back up.

      I’m also chair for a local social and community group for women in my village, which is good at getting me out of the house even if sometimes the moaning cows make me want to slap them!

      I’m actually a bit worried about how I will balance this stuff with a return to work, but we will see.

      All this doesn’t seem to count for much with Dr OH though but I think that’s partly that there is no routine or real commitment to it.

      intothesystem

      Wednesday, 8th September 2010 at 5:05 pm

  2. Dr OH sounds particularly determined to not let you back yet doesn’t he… have you thought about asking for a second opinion from someone else… it makes me wonder from how you write this if maybe he is almost being forced into not letting you back into work – I know that doesn’t sound nice, but you know your own mind and if you feel ready to return to work on a phased basis surely they should attempt to put something in place for you.

    I know you do the voluntary work already so that proves that you are keeping active in the community. The recent travelling on your own shows that you can cope quite well alone!

    I wish I could offer some more advice.

    Ms Leftie

    Sunday, 12th September 2010 at 4:26 pm

    • No, I don’t think it’s that he doesn’t want me to go back. He is completely independent from my employer (they use a company that specialises in occupational health to provide guidance and support to employees) and I’m pretty sure he only has my best interests and health in mind. He has no reason to act any other way (except perhaps the longer I’m off the more times his company see me, so the more money they get?) and he is genuinely lovely and seems understanding. Ultimately his success is measured in me getting back to work and being able to stay there (and I think they probably get a bonus if that is achieved), so he does want me to go back, but he won’t want to do that too fast and risk failure.

      I think he is just very worried about the high risk of relapse. I haven’t been feeling as strong lately as I was 6-8 weeks ago and I was honest about that, so maybe he is just too concerned that if he added on any extra pressure now, I would crumble.

      He isn’t completely stopping me from going back though. He is happy for me to talk to HR about ways in which I can begin to get involved with work and for me to visit the office if I feel up to it, so there is hope that can develop into something more. I just hope it does sooner rather than later I think.

      We shall see.

      intothesystem

      Monday, 13th September 2010 at 11:25 am


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