Returning to work after six months off was not easy at all. It was my second long period off since I was hit by an episode of major depression in December 2013. I have had periods of severe depression before and once was off work for almost a year in 2004. It’s driven by an ever present anxiety that has been with me since I was a Sergeant in the Regular Army. Even then I did not know why I felt that way. I was hyper -vigilant and very driven. I still am.
After 16 years it ended my second career with the Police, who didn’t seem to be able to cope with the thought of a “mentally unstable officer” on medication. The stigma was terrible despite being a popular officer, who was often the choice for complex and challenging issues. The stigma drove me out.I decided to seek outdoor manual work as I found exercise and being outside was a source of wellbeing. This was certainly true and for three years I was free of medication and became confident of finding more mentally challenging work. Not my best decision for my mental health.
What affects me the most is the behaviour of others. It’s uprising how many adults behave in ways better suited to the school playground where they were supposed to grow up. Despite the anxiety, and possible because of it, I can work in great detail, I work hard and am very responsible. I do my best to bond with colleagues and to be supportive. I put a lot into work relationships as I fear conflict and its effect on my anxiety.
In the autumn of 2013 I began to suffer severe headaches, something that at that time I could say I had never had. In December that year I developed Shingles and needed three weeks off to recover. I returned to work feeling very unwell, headaches, in a dreamlike state, my nerves overwhelmed. I had an MRI scan of my brain which showed no issues. Things got worse I could not work from May 2014.
It was depression of a type I had not experienced before, it was a living hell. I often felt I was stuck in the bottom of a dark pit. My employer was very supportive and I had counselling and rehabilitation support. I made a phased return to work in late August, I was not well but I hoped that with support and understanding from my managers I would be able to cope. I felt barely alive and very disabled by it.
Depression is the curse of the strong, you feel it shouldn’t exist, that it should not take your life away from you, you feel you can challenge and fight it. You can’t. It hurts like hell, like flue and a hangover at the same time. You can barely function because your thoughts just don’t flow and connect properly. You are bewildered by your surroundings, shocked by trivia, threatened by contact with others. The exhaustion is total, your head swims with fatigue and confusion and you have fuzzy tunnel vision. Then someone says “How are you today? Feeling more positive!” Arghhhh!
That’s how I felt at work from August 2014 until April 2015 when I could not face being at work. After six months and a change of medication I’ve now returned to work again in September. I’m still not well. I don’t think I ever will be. My manager understands this and is being very supportive and considerate. For my part I feel I am keeping up with my work ok. I am working 25 hours from 12-5pm and walking the 4 1/5 miles to and from work as much as possible. Some days are great, some days are bad, but being in work and pulling my weight is important to me. I hope it can continue and help to drive the depression away.
Thoughts of scuicide? Yes I’ve had them. When the pain, confusion and disconnection from reality has gone on for weeks and months it seems a valid solution. Possibly the only solution. Fortunately I have a wonderful family and that saves me. This is not drama. It is that bad that death seems to be the only release.
Moving Forward has contributed enormously to my recovery. I have never felt part of such a caring brotherhood since I was soldiering. Knowing you are not unique in your health problems is a great source of support.
I’ve had three really good days this week, but not today. Today is a tough one…..time to keep Moving Forward.