It’s been 56 days since I made what may be one of the scariest decisions I’ve made in a few years.
November 12, 2018 I contacted my manager and informed her I would not be in the next day, that I would be seeing my doctor, that I wasn’t handling life well. I should mention that I’ve tried to be fairly open about my mental health struggles at work, both with fellow supervisors and management as well as other employees. I contacted my doctor to get an urgent appointment – something that’s usually difficult-to-impossible, partly because he’s very busy, and partly because I rarely have the confidence or urgency to push for.
I’d been really struggling with my mental health. For years I’ve battled general anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, often with suicidal ideation that would come and go. However I’d been regressing quite a bit over the last month or so previous. I was sleeping 4 hours per night on average. Drinking daily, starting as soon as I got home – and usually having at least 3 sometimes 5 drinks before bed. I was starting to experience auditory and visual hallucinations. Paranoia. Anxiety attacks – over and above my already high anxiety levels. Panic attacks. Volatile and extreme mood fluctuations. Anger. Apathy. Difficulty focusing on tasks or work. A shift at work was about all I could manage. Any other tasks or appointments or errands outside of work were extremely difficult at best, and usually just not doable. And so on. I explained it all to him, with more honesty detail than I’ve been able to do so before then. I asked to be put on stress leave/medical leave for mental health concerns – and he wholeheartedly agreed.
That was 56 days go.
56 days. I’ve been on medical leave for mental health for 56 days. Previous to this the longest I’ve been off work for medical leave was approximately 1 month when I was in my early 20’s, and that was due to a car accident while on the clock.
So where am I at? I still struggle to leave the house. Sometimes, if I know exactly what I need to accomplish, and it will be a VERY short period of time I can manage. If I know I’m going somewhere ‘safe’ – and WITH someone ‘safe’ – it can make it easier. Going to visit my parents (out of town) so far has been enjoyable, even if it’s a few days One of a very few businesses in town is also ‘safe’ to a degree – I can sometimes hang out there for an hour and be relatively okay. Going grocery shopping has been hard for years, and I couldn’t handle it alone now. Sometimes I’ll go with my roommate to help get the list tackled and done with, but not every time. Household tasks are not hard – if I can get motivated to start AND stay on task. Something as simple as loading the dishwasher or unloading it doesn’t take a couple hours. It can sometimes take a day or 2. Laundry isn’t too bad – at least loading the machines isn’t. Folding it afterword has always been difficult, and lately it’s nearly excruciating. Making meals…definitely not something I’ve been consistent with at all over the last few months. Sometimes I can manage, most times not – so we try to have relatively easy-to-make stuff on hand. Frozen breaded chicken breasts, pasta side dishes, etc. Or there’s always Domino’s because sometimes the idea of paying someone to make me supper AND deliver it is just easiest – probably a little too easy…
On the one hand, it’s surreal to think that I’ve been away from work for nearly 2 months. On the other, it really doesn’t seem that long. A few weeks at most. I was telling someone that even though the days feel long, the weeks fly past.
So where am I at? I would love to say I’m recovering well, and that I have a return-to-work day slotted and planned, and I’m excited to return to work. But I can’t. Recovery has been far less linear than I was hoping, It’s been far harder than I anticipated. Going past work will more often than not trigger anxiety symptoms such as elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, rapid, shallow breaths, and so forth. It’s a little alarming to think that my thoughts are less on “when” I can return to my job, and more along the lines of “if”. And I don’t know how much of that is self-doubt fueled by depression, or how much of it is reality slowly surfacing after being stuffed down through years of sheer determination.
I just don’t know.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a dedicated and loyal employee, no matter where I’ve worked. I’m more likely to show up for work sick to my stomach than I am to take a day off for the flu. Up until 2016 the thought of taking a day off for mental health was not something I’d do (but I’ve been getting better at taking mental health days since then). 56 days for mental health. Even though I’m right smack dab in the middle of it, it still feels wrong somehow – like it’s somehow less of an illness than a chronic physical condition.
I have moments where I think I’ve just duped myself into being too weak. Where I think that maybe I’ve convinced myself I’m unfit for work, and thus made myself unfit for work in a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have moments where I tell myself to put on my “big boy” pants and just get back to the real world. But then I have moments where the weather is decent enough for a walk, and I have the motivation and courage to leave the house… and the first half of a 20 minute walk will have my heart pounding and me fighting NOT to just turn around and go home, to breathe evenly, to hold my bladder… or some combination of any or all of the above.
If I struggle to leave my house and go for a short walk around the neighbourhood that I know is safe, where I’ve lived for a few years already… how am I supposed to be able to handle work? The answer, for now, is that I can’t. Some days I’m fine with that, other days I’m not. Regardless of if I’m okay with it or not, it is what it is and at this point I don’t seem to have much say in the matter.