Updated: Oct 13
I could sit here and begin to tell you the lengthy history of my depression, but I will spare you the details. The object of the blog post is to hopefully inform you of how a negative, uneducated work environment can be detrimental to an individual suffering with mental health.
I would also like to say – early doors – that as of this moment I have been medication free for over a year, thanks to therapy and doctors’ advice. I still struggle every now and then but I have come a very long way from where I was. So please, if you are suffering, listen to all the medical advice you receive.
I had been taking antidepressants for years. One minute I think I’m okay so I stop my tablets, then I spend every night for a month crying myself to sleep. Despite this, I managed. It was like some twisted routine my body got into: I was able to handle my home life and work life with a fake smile.
As time went on it became harder and harder to fake that smile, to the point that people around me noticed I wasn’t my usual self. On one particular day I woke up feeling particularly terrible, but I got myself to work and just sat quietly. My mind was running wild. All my usual negative thoughts were twice as loud, banging on the sides of my head. It felt like my heart was being squeezed. All of the pressure, anxiety and sadness was building up and up. I ran from my desk to the bathroom. I cried. I howled. My mind and body felt so much pain. It never subsided, no matter how much I cried.
I knew this wasn’t right. I was used to random breakdowns, but this one was particularly intense. I rang my doctors, and got myself an appointment for an hour later. I informed my manager of what was happening and left.
My doctor was kind and understanding. He put me back on my tablets and told me to not come off them under any circumstances. He suggested therapy, for what felt like the hundredth time. He advised I take a couple of days to get myself in the right headspace before going back to work. I rang my manager and informed him of the doctor’s advice. It was accepted and all seemed well. Or so I thought.
At this point, I would like to point out that I had told the company about my mental health history during the interview. They were fully aware of it all. The aforementioned incident happened after about 2 years of being employed at the company.
The next morning, I received a call from the director asking why I was not in work. I was confused – had my manager not informed them of my reason of absence? The director told me that they had, but wanted to hear it from me. I reiterated my doctor’s advice. As soon as I’d finished, he asked again: why was I not coming in? He did not understand why the doctor would advise me to be off, as I am ‘just sad’. He kindly informed me that everyone is going through stuff, and there are people who are a lot worse off than myself, because I – obviously – was completely unaware of that. Regardless of whether or not this was true, it is not something that someone with mental health issues needs to hear. That’s one way to make them feel crummier.
This suggestion – coupled with his generally condescending tone – just sent me into a frenzy. I was so worried, anxious and stressed. I thought I was going to lose my job. Shaking, I rang my doctor’s office and spoke to the receptionist, between tears and gasps for breath. She got the doctor to call me back within seconds. I told him of the exchange I just had with my employer; he was absolutely disgusted. He told me that what he said wasn’t right, and that he couldn’t believe that someone of their position could speak so degradingly to one of their employees. The doctor signed me off for 2 weeks. He also invited me back for a chat due to the state I’d gotten myself into.
I sent my sick note into work via email, addressed to both my manager and the director. I had a pleasant reply from my director, thanking me for informing them of when I’d be back. He was also kind enough to remind me that even though I was absent he still had a company to run, and that things had to continue as normal. The email was short, frank and just generally rude.
I spent the next two weeks at home trying to improve my mental health. It was hard. My usual negative thoughts were twenty times louder than usual, and it was only amplified by the fear of losing my job. Luckily, I have an amazing partner who helped me through. I needed the suppose, especially seeing as I spent my first two weeks not eating and just drinking beer.
As the two weeks came to a close, I became more and more anxious. I didn’t want to go back and deal with what the management was going to say to me. I was embarrassed – made to feel abnormal and in the wrong. I went in for my follow up appointment at the doctor’s, where I conveyed all my worries and anxieties about going back to work. He signed me off for another two weeks. This made me cry. He comforted me and asked what was wrong. I explained I didn’t want to be signed off further; I didn’t want to have to e-mail in another sick note in and get a horrible reply, but I didn’t want to go back in either. I was so petrified of what was going to happen to me on my return. The doctor pushed me to have the additional two weeks as I clearly was not fit to go to work, and I finally agreed to sign up for therapy.
I sent my note in via e-mail and waited for my response. This time I had a response from my manager who told me to take care of myself, and that they were looking forward to seeing me when I came back. I had worried for nothing. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. The next day I got a reply from the director. He thanked me for sending in the sick note, but then went on to explain that it was going to be a difficult two weeks for the company: many staff members were on holiday and workload was high. It was just another rude, passive-aggressive e-mail. Fantastic.
The two weeks went by and the time came for me to return to work. I was not looking forward to it, but I decided that I wasn’t going to run from it. I just had to face it. When I returned, all the staff were friendly and welcoming, which helped me feel at ease. It wasn’t long before I was called in for my back-to-work meeting with the manager and director. I was dreading this. My whole body was shaking. I didn’t want to be shouted at, or worse, fired. However, the director I met seemed a completely different person; he couldn’t have been more concerned about my health. He praised all the work I had done for the company, telling me that no-one had ever performed my role as well as myself. He told me how happy he was that I was back, and that his door was always open. I was astonished. What was with the change of heart? My only thought was that he must have looked into mental health himself and realised that he was completely in the wrong.
The most frustrating thing is that if he had behaved like that at the beginning, I would have only needed a couple of days off the gather my thoughts. Instead I spent a month off work worrying if I would have a job to go back to. Due to my company’s actions, my mental health suffered massively for quite a while. It took me a long time to shake off what was said to me. Thanks to therapy (which I started not long afterward), I was able to move past the incident. Now, all credit to the company, they deal with mental health issues a lot better.
The object of this blog post was to highlight that being uneducated on mental health issues can be very damaging to your employees, as well as yourself. There are people out there who have suffered a lot more than me; I always wonder what this kind have experience might have done to them.
I was only able to cope because I had a great support network of loved ones. Some people aren’t that lucky. The director was right – he has a company to run. Yet, because of their actions, a member of staff was off work for a whole month, and the company suffered.
Please be kind and understanding to those with mental health issues. And if you yourself are suffering, please contact your doctor and don’t be afraid to sign up for therapy. It’s free and it helps.
It helped me.
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