Into the system…

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

Off to the Office…

with 9 comments

Friday 15th October – 11.05am

(I started this post on Friday, whilst waiting for the bus. I didn’t get the chance to finish it, so I am going to post what I did then and complete the post before publishing it all together).

I’m sat at the bus station writing this on my phone, waiting for the bus that takes me to the office. I missed the connection as the bus from my village was running predictably late, so I’ve got a 25 min wait for the next one. At least my renewed disabled bus pass arrived before I got the bus this morning, saving me about 6 quid in bus fares today.

I am nervous. This is not the first time I’ve been back since I’ve been ill. I got over that hurdle a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t feel any easier a second time. On my last visit, I went to a meeting I was invited to. I used to be on the office forum, which focussed on employee engagement and office morale. The committee had stopped meeting after I went on leave, but the Senior Exec who was in charge decided it was time we revived it, so I was invited along. I thought it was probably a good way to get updated on the situation in the office and to do something work-related without too much pressure. It helps that I have a lot of experience in this area from my last role, so I thought I could handle it. Plus there was free breakfast so how could I refuse? I feared that a meeting with two Senior Execs and a handful of others might have been a bit much for my first trip to the office in two years, but I decided it doesn’t really matter what they think of me. Dr Occy Health didn’t expect me to go to the office to do any actual work, but I decided that it would probably be easier if there was a purpose to my visit and chatting about charity work and office parties didn’t seem like too much of a challenge.

At the start of the meeting I explained that I had been off on sick leave for a long time and that I was in the process of getting back in touch with work, with a plan to start returning part-time soon. I wasn’t sure about doing this at all. I don’t know if it is a good idea to have too many people knowing about my situation and I felt quite self-conscious, but I think it helped to set expectations and put my comments into perspective. I think I would have probably come across as strange if I didn’t put things into context. I am very behind with the latest news on clients and projects! Over two year’s absence can’t really be left unexplained.

I think I handled the meeting okay. I had things to say and as the only person there from my level, I could offer a unique position. This made me feel a little more useful than perhaps I had feared beforehand. I think if there were others at my level, I would have been tempted to stay quiet and I would have felt surplus to requirements, maybe even a hindrance. Compared to others, it would have highlighted how out-of-date I am. I also struggled to remember things, partly because it is so long ago and partly because my brain has been fried by depression and ECT. I had to think hard about how things were back then and what I would have said 2 years ago and it made it a struggle to keep up at times. Things have definitely moved on whilst I’ve been away (for example, the client I worked for last, is no longer a client), but reassuringly we were still discussing and facing many of the same issues we always have. The stuff I had remembered, was still valid and I still had relevant answers to give.

After the meeting, I took a hot-desk for an hour or so and started to trawl through my old inbox. I decided the best strategy was to skim-read subjects and mass delete. A request from two years ago is hardly likely to be valid any more, so I assumed it could be ignored. There were a few automated notices I had many, many times over, so I thought I better look at sorting those out. I sent a couple of emails to old colleagues to see if they could point me in the right direction, but most of the people I would have asked, have since left the company. Hopefully, someone will be able to help me stop them from coming though. Pretty much everything else went in the trash. I have probably missed a few things, but the chances are that if it is important, they will ask again.

I was struggling to keep my mind on the job. Part of this was probably a lack of concentration, but I think a lot of it was just down to how I felt about being back. I was reminded of how much I’d missed and what had happened before I went on sick leave. My mind was wandering back to those times and thinking about what happened and what went wrong. I felt a bit strange when I came across some old emails. Stuff from when all of this kicked off. Emails to HR and my old line managers about how I was feeling, what occupational health had said etc. I wish I hadn’t seen them really. I don’t want to go back down that road.

It was also weird to discover how much has moved on. So many of the old systems have been superseded and I have no idea where to start when I sign in. So many of my colleagues have gone, been promoted, moved client, moved office. I will have a lot of catching up to do when I get back. I will need to re-learn a lot of things and it will almost be like starting a new job, even more so because I will be starting a new role with a new team. I am worried though that with a year’s work and 3 years in the company under my belt, people will expect me to be experienced and know what I am doing, but I’m not sure I do any more!

I felt somewhat weird about the whole visit. On the one hand it was fine. I coped, I took part in the meeting, said something worthwhile and I don’t think I made an idiot of myself, but on the other hand I felt really out of place and uncomfortable. Despite the fact the meeting went okay, I have no confidence and I worry that I can’t do that job any more. I don’t have the confidence or the concentration. I am scared of going to meetings, talking and working with others, having to make decisions and everything else that comes with the job. I just don’t feel up to it.

The culture feels really alien too. Just wearing smart work clothes felt wrong. I used to love wearing my sharpest suit and heading into the office. I was happy when I drove through the office gates and walked in, laptop and security pass in hand. Work used to feel like the right place for me. I was good at my job, I knew that I was and I really loved it. Now I feel lost and out-of-place and uncertain if it is the right thing for me any more. When I walk in to the office now, I feel like someone who has got lost and ended up in the wrong place. It feels like there are all these people staring at you, wondering why you are there and thinking that you’re an idiot. I worry about looking confused, forgetting where things are or what the etiquette is. For months, the only people I really dealt with on a semi-professional level were doctors, psychiatrists and the like. That is a very different relationship to a working one. You don’t sit down with your manager and pour out your inner woes. You have to maintain a professional front, appearing calm and capable, even when you feel like crap and really want to hide under the duvet or break down and cry. I am not sure how long it is going to take me to adjust.

There was a small part of me that got a real buzz from being there though. There was a little spark of excitement at the thought of going back to work. Being there and taking part in that meeting, really reminded me of what I’d been missing. I like a challenge and to use my brain. I’ve not used it enough lately. I enjoy working with people to come up with ideas and I like to get involved with solving problems. It is good to feel like you are useful and to have something to focus on and think about. When you enjoy your work, it can be the thing you live for. I didn’t really want to leave the office and go home afterwards and it was hard to pull myself away at the end of my permitted two hours. I wanted to stay and work and be normal for a while. I wanted to forget everything that had happened over the past two years and just get on with my career and my life. I didn’t want to be ill any more. I don’t want to be ill any more.

I’m nearly at work now and staring at my phone to type this on the bus is making me feel queasy. I’m only going into the office for a couple of hours today. There’s no real reason for my visit and I could do what I intend to do there at home, but I thought it would be a good idea to try to visit again. I’m going to sit at a desk, read through emails and try to update my company CV. I don’t know how much I will get done, or what I will be able to do, but it is worth a try. After all, Dr Occy Health didn’t want me to try to actually work, so just being there is a good start.

Afterwards…

(I have written the rest of this post over a couple of days, so I will do my best to complete it and publish it now).

After my first visit to work – that meeting I wrote about above, I was completely drained by it. As I left the office, my mood started to crumble away from me. It was almost as if by leaving the office and getting back on the bus, I was leaving behind the normal world and going back to the mental one. My mood seemed to change accordingly. Whilst I was at the office, my mood was okay. I pretty much switched off my emotions and got on with the task in hand, doing my best to act normal and remember how I used to be at work. It didn’t go too badly, so I was hoping it was fine and that I had nothing to worry about. Unfortunately though, afterwards I felt really rubbish. I guess I had been maintaining the front and this can be exhausting.

It was really hard going back to the mental world. I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay at work forever and not go home. Being back at work gave me a few hours to pretend that everything was normal. It was almost possible to pretend that none of the past two years had happened. I was back at work, doing a job that I loved. I could forget the world of therapy, medication and psychiatrists and distract myself with a world of email, meetings and spreadsheets. Two and a half years ago, I was using work to distract myself from anxiety, suicide and a mood disorder, within half an hour of arriving at the office, I was doing the same again. If only that distraction and front could be maintained.

I was really anxious afterwards. I dissected everything a million times over. I went over everything I could remember from the meeting, to check I didn’t seem too mad or make a complete fool of myself. I have always worried about how I came across at work, but usually I could be fairly rational and pragmatic about it. Evaluating your own performance is a big part of the job, but it is not good to spend hours catastrophising, pulling apart everything you have done and then using it as a stick to beat yourself with. Unfortunately this time, my evaluation was definitely closer to the latter. I knew I was doing it, but couldn’t seem to stop myself. CBT – where art thou?

I felt quite panicky about the future. I worry about whether I could ever do that job again and where I fit in. The drop in my mood, level of anxiety and complete feeling of exhaustion afterwards only made this worse, because it confirmed my worst fears – that I wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t cope any more. I was annoyed with myself, because I didn’t see how a couple of hours could make me feel so bad. I was angry at myself for being depressed and angry at depression for taking my career away from me and stopping me from working. I was really disappointed that although the trip to work went okay, the fallout from it was less good.

My second visit to the office was not too different to the first, except I didn’t have a meeting to go to. I was actually a lot more nervous beforehand this time. I hadn’t been feeling very good mood-wise anyway and had very little sleep, so I was even more worried about what effect it would have on my mood. I haven’t been sleeping well at all since the increase in Reboxetine – I’d forgotten how bad it could be for insomnia.

I had emailed the night before to reserve a desk, but the woman was still grumpy when I asked her which one. I didn’t arrive until about 11.45, due to missing the bus, so I was later than I’d originally said. She said she had only reserved it up to that time, so if it’s gone it’s not her fault and I will have to do without. I did not like the idea that I will have travelled all that way and that I may not have had a desk to work at, but thankfully it was still free and I could set my laptop up and get to work. I had problems with the LAN though. I could get on the intranet, but no external websites were working, which seemed a bit strange. I managed to get on to the support website and worked out how to fix it, but it still ended up taking a lot of my time.

I spent most of the time going through the latest emails, including a couple of responses to my enquiries from my previous visit. Still didn’t have any answers, but I was a step closer to getting them. I did feel a little overwhelmed when I looked in my inbox and saw that in a few days I had over 3 pages worth. Considering I am on sick leave, so I am not getting anywhere near as many as I would normally, it was a little daunting. One of the biggest problems before I went on leave, was the fact I often felt like I was drowning in emails and there were times when I just couldn’t bring myself to answer any of them. I would check what I was writing a million times and would get a feeling of doom every time I clicked send, even when the message was a simple one-line answer. I would look at the list and not be able to summon the motivation to do anything about it. Certain names would fill me with dread, because I knew it would be more work.

After my inbox, I wanted to log in to my company CV, as it will need to be updated before I start looking for roles or internal work. It took me ages to remember where I needed to log in! Once I was in, I didn’t know where to start. It is obviously very out of date. I noticed the skills section doesn’t increment the number of years experience you have had, so decided that was a good place to start. There was a lot of skills missing and I didn’t even finish completing that section before my time was up. I wanted to stay and finish the job, but quite sensibly I had somewhere to be afterwards, which stopped me staying all afternoon. I felt really lazy arriving at the office just before lunchtime and leaving only a couple of hours later. I’m sure people were looking at me as I packed up and left. They must have wondered where on earth I was off to at 3pm. Leaving before 6pm is just unheard of, so that isn’t surprising.

I did feel a lot worse again afterwards, although probably less anxious this time. I didn’t spend any time talking to anyone on that visit, so I had no conversations to analyse afterwards, which helped I think. I literally spoke to the woman at the reception, took my desk, worked in silence and then got up and left. This is the way everyone works in that office, so I wouldn’t have seemed anti-social or anything.

I am still not sure how I feel about work now after dipping my toe in. I am scared that I won’t go back. I am worried that when I see Dr Occy Health in a couple of weeks, he will be concerned at my drop in mood lately and he will delay my return even longer. I feel very conflicted about it. Half of me is desperate to get back, to put the past two years behind me and to get on with my life. When I was at the office I felt okay and seemed to be coping, so there’s no reason why I wouldn’t cope for longer. I think it will be good for me to get back to work and feel useful again. I have been getting bored at home and feel very worthless. So much of my self-worth was tied up in my work and I think it still is. I will never feel like I have recovered or improved until I finally get back to work. I was a lot better over the summer and felt pretty well, but I still wasn’t at full capacity. I still wasn’t able to work.

Now, I am very scared. I am worried that I will not be able to cope. I am very worried that I will go full-steam ahead into a return and that in a few months I will be back to where I was. I will manage for a while. I can put up a front and get on with my job and everyone will think that I am fine, but it wouldn’t last. When I get to the office, even if only for a couple of hours, I feel myself going back to my old ways. I want to bury myself in work and feel the urge to push myself too hard. I don’t want to go home after two hours. I want to go back to full-time and to have responsibility again. I survived almost a year of overdrive last time, but I suspect it would only take a couple of weeks to break me again. Maybe even a couple of days. I worry that just a few hours of work makes me feel so terrible afterwards. That can’t be a good sign. Maybe my stamina would improve, but what happens if it makes me worse first? I have been wobbly enough of late, without needing any extra stress and pressure, so I don’t know if it is a good idea. Yet the thought that I may never get back to work makes me feel so worthless, I may as well just go kill myself anyway. I need to go back.

We will see. I am going to try to go in at least one more time before I go back to Dr Occy Health. I may try to spend a couple of hours working from home too. I am now checking my work email most days, which should stop that getting too overwhelming. Just ten minutes each day is a place to start, right? I need to have another think about what else I can do before I see him and what I need to ask when I go back. Sometime after seeing Dr Occy Health, I am meant to be meeting the HR manager who is looking after me whilst my HR rep is on maternity leave, so I need to think about what I will tell her too. I don’t know yet.

Written by intothesystem

Monday, 18th October 2010 at 12:32 pm

9 Responses

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  1. Wow. You’ve been out for a very long time, so I think going back is bound to be difficult. Well done for getting through those first two visits! I guess there are two issues here: being able to cope with the job per se, and being able to cope with the stresses of coming back after two years on sick leave (I’m sure being faced with two years’ worth of emails is enough to make the sanest person feel crappy!) I’m guessing also that you’ve probably changed and grown a lot over the past two years and that’s bound to raise some issues about whether this job is still for you.

    Keep writing and take good care of yourself. :)

    Res

    Residual Craziness

    Tuesday, 19th October 2010 at 1:48 pm

  2. Well done for going in, I hope it doesn’t break you x

    Kate

    Tuesday, 19th October 2010 at 6:07 pm

  3. Echoing what Residual said, it sounds like a lot of the stress of the first few visits are natural parts of returning after a long time – it’s really draining starting a new job, and in a way that’s what you’re doing.

    Do you have a senior person at work who you’re managed by, someone you can talk to about how it’s going (of course in a work-like-way (i.e. as you describe – more of a professional front, less of the personal emotions)? I’ve found managers (the good ones at least) quite useful in the past.

    Good luck! I’m sure you’ll make the best decision for next steps for yourself- there’s no rush, you’re obviously capable and smart, and recovering from illness – don’t be too hard on yourself! (CBT speaking!)

    Rachel

    Tuesday, 19th October 2010 at 9:04 pm

    • I unfortunately don’t have a manager at all. I am a consultant, which means I only have a manager when I am assigned to a client project. This is one of the things that occupational health have identified as a problem holding me back from returning. I have a HR contact (I’m on to my 5th or 6th since I went on leave though), who is responsible for managing my rehabilitation, but she is usually working in London so it’s not like having someone I can just pull aside to talk when I need to. It also doesn’t help that my last manager was supportive initially when I first confided in him, but then turned out to be a bit of a jerk when it became apparent that I was pretty ill and would be off work for some time.

      Thanks for the luck. I hope I will be okay. Dr Occy Health is pretty good, so we shall see what he says on Thursday.

      intothesystem

      Tuesday, 26th October 2010 at 12:59 pm

  4. Have enjoyed your blog for a while now – glad to find you back though sorry things have been more difficult lately.
    I think you’ve done really really well. Re-entering the workplace after any period of mental illness requires serious courage. When I went back on significantly reduced hours it was ironically much more stressful than when I finally got back to full-time – hardly enough time to even make a dint in my inbox, not enough time to feel part of the rest of the team – though I also recognise I couldn’t have coped with longer hours at the time. All in, it took just over a year to finally feel that I am back to my normal work self, confident and enjoying things without spending every other waking hour dealing with the fallout of just coping.
    Whatever decisions you ultimately make about what work is right for you, I’d say you’ve just taken two really important steps towards recovering a work-identity for yourself – one of the major losses of serious mental illness. Go gently with yourself and take it all a step at a time – and never doubt that you will ultimately find a way to enjoy work again and use your talents.

    Janice

    Wednesday, 20th October 2010 at 9:48 pm

    • I think you are right about finding reduced hours stressful. I know I will have the temptation to try and fit a full days work into half the time, instead of remembering I am meant to be doing less. Yet, I also know that full days would be too much of a shock to the system.

      I’m glad you made it back to your working self and that it is more than just coping now. I hope I can get to that stage too.

      I have found the loss of work-identity really hard, as so much of my self-worth was tied up in me having a good job, that I loved. I lived for work and losing that was a massive adjustment.

      intothesystem

      Tuesday, 26th October 2010 at 1:04 pm

  5. […] Into The System has had a day back at the office: […]

  6. Wow it was a massive step for you going in to work, your brave it must have been so overwhelming although we can tell from what you write, the kind of before you arrive and after scenario. Two years is a long time and it will take a lot of time to adjust but I feel you will, you’re a strong person underneath, you have come a long way. Please though see Dr N about your sleep you don’t want to end up getting your sleep patterns totally screwed up again, it could cause all sorts of endless issues for you.

    Ms Leftie

    Monday, 25th October 2010 at 2:38 pm

    • Thanks hun. It was a big step and I am glad it is over. I see occy health on Thursday and am about to go see Dr N about tummy troubles and lack of sleepiness again, so fingers crossed. xx

      intothesystem

      Tuesday, 26th October 2010 at 1:05 pm


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