Let’s stop stigma – And change mental health

Writing ‘letters’ and returning to work after depression

 

During Depression Awareness Week (22-28 April) we are sharing experiences around depression and mental health written by Black Dog Tribe supporters who want to share their stories with hope that it may help others.

Below Karen has written about work pressure, the heart-breaking moment she realised she needed help, and what it was like going back to work after some time off.

I never thought this would ever be me.  One minute I was awarded 'the most likely to put a smile on your face' award in my previous employer’s Christmas frivolities, then within 18 months I was writing my 'letters'. 

The starting point for me was when at the age of 35 I decided to have a change in career and applied for a management role in the health sector.  There were two jobs advertised and I was thrilled to be offered one of them, well actually it was the one job I wanted and half of the other.  I was warned by a close friend that it would be a very challenging role and to think carefully before I accepted but I was so pleased and cocky enough to think that the interview panel must have been impressed with my skills so I accepted.  Three months into the role I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew and raised concerns with my manager, who had no interest in listening to my worries not only about my workload but also about the impact it was having on the areas I was responsible for.  Although I was producing work, meeting deadlines and making improvements, I personally did not feel that I had the time to give the attention needed to the areas I was responsible for.  This really got to me as I was so used to producing work to a high standard I started being really critical about what I was producing and I was so worried that my professional credibility was being damaged.  I spent far too much time at work and my time at home was spent worrying about work and not being able to sleep.  I became forgetful, angry, did not want to socialise, I lost interest in everything that I used to enjoy, my sex drive went out of the window and my relationship suffered.  The only thing that I found comfort in at this time was my 3 furry children - a cat and 2 greyhounds. 

By the time I had been in the role for 18 months I had turned into an emotional wreck and my moods swung between desperation, tears and anger, I had also started to be physically sick on the way into work and sometimes even at work.  I didn't share any of this with my family or friends as I didn't want to be seen as a failure.  I'd put weight on and could not stand the sight of myself in the mirror - I had gone from wearing make-up and high heels on a daily basis to barely managing to throw uncreased clothes on to go in to work.  I started to cut myself as a punishment as I was so disgusted with what I had become.  I had a beautiful home that I had really worked hard to get, there was no way I could afford to keep my home if I did not stay in this job - who would want ME - I was useless, fat, ugly, thick, rubbish at my job - there was no way out!  Then that's when I started to think that the only way out was to end my life, I became obsessed with researching the most effective method and making plans - I didn't want to upset any family or friends who would find me, I couldn't bear the thought of no one finding me and my dogs and cat not being fed or let out for days but I couldn't run the risk of highlighting my intentions before I had chance to complete my actions - lots of planning to do and my mind was a muddle.  I wrote letters to friends who I wanted to look after my furry children when I was gone and I had decided on my method.  The only thing I was still worried about was my dogs then I had the thought that I would take them with me so it was leads on and off to the garage ........Thankfully I just couldn't bring myself to harm them - they were so trusting of me how could I do it - I spent the night in absolute horror at what I had nearly done, I realised I needed help. 

I contacted my GP the following morning and she asked me to come straight in, I was prescribed anti-depressants and was followed up on a weekly basis for a couple of months.  I was also referred for an intensive course of CBT - which I ceased after a few months as I didn't find it helpful.  I was signed off work with depression related to work.  My manager was not impressed and was reluctant to refer me to our occupational health department as 'I just needed to get back to work as my workload was manageable and it was just me, oh and I was also putting unnecessary pressure on my colleagues by being off!'  I was gutted.  After he was approached by a couple of my work colleagues he eventually agreed to refer me.  I received my first appointment date - I cried all the way there and was physically sick in the car park before I went in as I did not know what to expect - would they side with my manager? I needn't have worried - they were great.  They advised my manager that they would not support my return to work until the situation changed.  After 6 weeks off work I made the decision to go back.  I wasn't really ready but my decision was partially prompted as I had heard that a job in another Division was to be advertised and through the grapevine I heard that an application from myself would be welcomed so again I didn't want to appear weak by having excessive time from work - also I was finding it harder to hide the fact I was off work to my family and friends as I hadn't told them, only my GP, therapist and occupational health doctor knew my mental state and what extent I had been driven to.  I was so nervous about applying as not only had my confidence taken an almighty knock I also had a sickness record - who would be stupid enough to take me on. 

In my interview I was asked in a roundabout way about my time off and I responded that after my time off I was slowly realising how I could use my experience into learning how I could deal with things differently in future - I didn't outright come out with that I had been diagnosed with depression.  I was offered the job - I honestly do not know whether I would still be here if I hadn't been successful.  The first thing I did in my new office was identify the pipes running along the ceiling - I was nowhere near being out of the woods and thought they could deal with the body if I did decide to do it as it was 'their' fault.  I have been in my new role for 15 months now and I no longer have negative thoughts to the extent I did and I actually enjoy my job.  I have since been approached by colleagues who have told me that they could see my decline; some had even approached my manager at the time with their concerns but were brushed off.  I just refer to it now as the time I went a bit nuts.

So where am I now - I am still on antidepressants and to top it off I have also recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia - whether this was an original contributing factor or whether it is a result of my depression I'll never know.  My family still do not know to this day about my depression diagnoses and I have only confided in a couple of my closest friends (still don't want to appear weak or a failure)  I have confided in my manager and I even told her about the pipes in my office which I think shocked her.  My hopes of maybe having a family of my own one day have been affected a) how do you tell someone that you have started a relationship with about your history of depression b) could I ever trust myself to have children when I know what I have nearly done?  I also still have my 'letters' which I have kept as a reminder of how desperate I was and that I should try never to get into that situation again.

 

One thing no one knows about and what I have found I am now dealing with the fall out of is the £20,000 of credit card debt I built up which I am now trying to clear.  The banks were happy enough to keep extending my credit as fast as I was spending.  I spent to try to make myself happy and I also thought that I would not be here to pay it off so what the hell.  I am now in a position where I know (hope) I am going to be here so need to get on top of this debt as it does really worry me.  Banks and credit cards are happy to keep charging me extortionate interest rates and fees but are not willing to help me put a realistic plan in place so I am struggling to make ends meet at the moment but I will get there.  Thankfully I am able to do this but I do think about others who are in or who have been in my situation who are not as fortunate :o( 

Where did it all go wrong, where did I fail, how at the age of 35-38 years old did I get myself in to this state are questions I often ask myself.  I was the type of person who was eager to learn and experience new things, helpful, put others before myself, always up for a challenge, independent, came across as confident but I was also the kind of person who was bit self-critical, took too much on and loath to let people down.  I believed that as people viewed me as this strong, fun loving, independent woman I couldn't let my guard down or show weakness. 

I am still this person although I am not as confident as I was, I am a bit quieter/mature, not as tolerant but this is maybe a self-preservation thing, I don't beat myself up (as much) as I used to and realise that I have got boundaries and it is alright to say no sometimes or be more open about managing others expectations (or what I perceive are their expectations!) - I don't always put this into practice though.  I have also decided that I do not want to further my career - it's just not worth the risk of a relapse if it didn't work out (although who knows this might change).  Most importantly I realise that none of this was not my fault.  On a brighter note with the amount of crying I have done I have helped to keep paper tissue and toilet roll manufacturers in business.

Wow, so like my story, although I didn't realise the effect my 'old' job had on me until I read this. No job is worth the misery, thank you for your honest reflection of your experience. You have helped me.