The HR Juggler

The 25% Club: My Name Is…

Posted on: January 21, 2013

fighter

This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. Some of the posts, like today’s, will be anonymous, others will be accredited – all have a powerful impact and help to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do.

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Hello. I’m a member of the 25% club and my name is…

… only it’s not that simple, is it?

I am so glad that there has been a real effort in this wonderful online community to shine a light on mental health issues.  This light must outshine the stigma attached to these issues.

I’d like to share my story.

I’m a relatively ‘normal’ person. My friends and family describe me as upbeat and outgoing; confident and quite amusing. I have a very happy life, with wonderful people in it. I have a demanding job, which I usually love, and consider myself to be career driven and motivated.

December 2011. A lot of pressure at work. I found myself to be compromised on a daily basis. My integrity compromised. I would agonise over decisions that needed to be made. I was put in the middle, between my boss and another Director. I couldn’t win. I phoned my friend and colleague and told her that I couldn’t face another day of it. Sleep on it, she said. You’ll be fine. You always are.

The next morning, I felt too drained to even stand.  I thought it was flu.  I phoned in sick and decided to go to the doctor.

Questions. Lots of questions. Do you realise you are shaking? Do you realise you are crying? How well are you sleeping? Not well. When did you last feel happy? I don’t know. Have you had thoughts about ending your own life? No. A lie? Not a lie.  I don’t want to end my life. What I want is to sleep. Sleep and not wake up. Just drift. Sleep. I don’t want to end my life. I don’t have the energy to. I couldn’t let my family down like that. I just don’t want to be alive. Sleep.

Take these tablets. Tablets? Anti-depressants? Yes. You’re depressed. You need an initial two weeks off work. I can’t. I can’t be off sick. There’s too much to do. But I can’t go in either.  You cannot go to work.  I go home. I go to bed. I lie there all day staring at the wall. I don’t read. My friend calls and I ignore it. My husband comes home from work. I cry. I cry and cry and cry. After over an hour, I stop crying. He holds me.

The worst call I had to make was to my boss. He was in shock. He blamed himself. He was partly to blame. Or was he? How can he affect the chemical balance in my brain?

My husband was wonderful. Supportive. Kind. Encouraging.

I don’t really remember those weeks too well. The tablets were awful. Headaches. Insomnia. Feeling dizzy.

My best friend’s Dad took ill, and then died. When the dizziness and headaches permitted, when I felt well enough, I drove to see her. We supported each other, even though we were both broken inside. I saw two friends regularly. My mum visited. I could barely get out of bed.

Victim of circumstance, or physical condition? The stress level was so high at the time. But, trust me, I have faced far worse circumstances than these. Bereavement, illness, far worse work stress, discovering I am ‘reproductively challenged’. I take these fates and I deal with them and I find the positives, and I support those who I love and who love me and I am so, so damned grateful for all the good I have in my life. I’m HAPPY, for God’s sake.

 I have discovered that I am the last member of my family to have had to take antidepressants. My mother, father, brother; even my grandmother. All suffered bouts of depression.

It will come back, apparently. I try to prepare, to equip myself. But how can I, when the triggers can be so small? And yet I can survive a major trauma?

There are few secrets when you work in a HR team. They can all see why I was off sick, although only one person in Payroll actually came up to ask me how I was. I resented her asking me, even though it came from a good place.  In talking with two people I trust in the team, it emerged that they too were on ‘head-meds’. So that’s three, from a team of less than thirty. That I know of. We call ourselves ‘The Mentalists’. We laugh.

I came off the tablets in two months. I refused to be on them, to be defined by them.

I learned so many things from this.

Firstly, know your triggers. I know that my major stress trigger are certain aspects of conflict; being put in the middle, being unable to win. I challenge these situations now.  I know that the world does not end when I am not there; I delegate and trust my team more.  I speak up when I feel that my integrity is compromised. I have stepped away from people who take and take and take.  Secondly, know your symptoms. For me, it’s insomnia, that’s the first one. I’ve just gone back on to prescription sleeping tablets. It’s not ideal, but I’m not going back there.

I know this. Please hear this, HR comrades.  The hardest thing I ever had to do was return to work.  Knowing people knew; knowing that they judged me. Knowing that some thought that I couldn’t hack it; knowing that some thought I was playing the system; knowing that some people felt I was weak.  Seeing that things I had been driving for months had been signed off whilst I was off and progressed; feeling undermined rather than feeling achievement. Feeling exposed, replaceable, violated, weak, isolated. Having to fight back, when I was so weary. Throwing up when I came home from work. Feeling like you’re losing your mind. Wondering if you can be losing your mind if you know you’re going mad? Earning a promotion, less than 8 months after being signed off. Yes, earning it. I collapsed in front of our Board of Directors in my first week back at a conference. I still turned up the next day. I fought back. I keep fighting. I don’t want to be that person. The person in the dark.

Support people when they return. Don’t just think ‘phased return’. Think of their self-esteem, their feeling of self-worth. Talk to them. Encourage, don’t patronise.

Challenges remain.  Knowing that some people play the system, especially where there’s good sick pay. Seeing on Facebook that someone who is currently off sick with stress is going clubbing every weekend. It is plain wrong.  Fighting the rage when a manager discussed paying off someone who had been off sick for a week with stress ‘because he won’t be able to come back and do the job that he did before; that these people can never hack it’. Having to admit to feeling ‘low mood’ for no reason. Still not knowing why it happened, will it come back, how can I have such a broken mind, how can my family and friends not view me as ungrateful when I have so many things, am so blessed.

And feeling, on some level, that I perpetuate the problem by not being honest about why I was off sick.

I am a member of the 25% club, and my name is… Fighter.

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If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • attend our event with Mind on 5th February 2013 at 6pm
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute a post, please get in touch with my on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or via the comments section below.

3 Responses to "The 25% Club: My Name Is…"

Strikes a lot of chords with me. Thankfully my black dog hasn’t returned..yet. Well done and good luck

Hi Alison,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am a Health & Wellbeing Coordinator in a Mental Health Trust and I feel your thoughts on how we deal with people who are experiencing stress and/ or depression (and your story) could be shared in a very positive way through coaching and training I do with Managers. Would this be ok with you? Best wishes. Kim

Hi Kim

Thanks for stopping by to comment. Its a guest post, so not my story directly. I have checked with the person who wrote it though and they are happy for you to share it in the way you describe and they hope that it may be helpful.

Best
Alison

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