We are Accountable and Responsible

No, It’s Not the Start of a Bank Advert…

But it sounds like it, doesn’t it? The kind of phrase used to put across a serious face to the public, the kind that is reassuring and dependable. That, or it’s used in the kind of statement made when there’s an admission of guilt or wrong-doing, usually accompanied with the phrase ‘lessons will be learnt’. Yet everywhere you look there’s an increasing attitude of passing the buck. Everything is always someone else’s problem or fault. And if it is our problem then we prevaricate about correcting it until it’s too little, too late. Yet we need to wake up and realise that we are accountable and responsible, each and every one of us, for every thought, action or word we speak.

For the last month I’ve been documenting my progress in returning to work. Each day I have battled in, come home exhausted and drained. But I’m making progress, bit by bit I’m building my confidence. I’m putting to use all the tools I’ve learned to help me cope, like having my fidget spinner handy to tapping my palm to the count of ten when my speech has failed again. I am the one who is taking responsibility for my progress. Yes, there are days when I could have used more support or have needed a kick up the bum to motivate me out of the door, but the accountability for my actions lies with me.

Just Do Something

The reason I am writing this is that one of my greatest frustrations that I’ve experienced with going back to work is the lack of accountability or responsibility that I’ve seen demonstrated by some within the business.  Some tasks are solely the responsibility of the manager when you go back after a long absence. No member of staff should be chasing to get occupational health involved for a month, nor should they be telling their manager they still haven’t had a return to work meeting. but that’s what has been happening. I have been met with prevarication and a complete lack of accountability. It’s been a constant cycle of hearing that my manager had ‘not heard back’ from one department or another, issues had been passed on to someone else or even worse I heard nothing at all.

I’ve felt like screaming, tearing my hair out or busting into tears. All from frustration at the prevalent attitude that ‘it’s someone else’s problem’.

You Don’t Know the Damage You’re Doing

First of all, I am not a problem. I am a person who happens to have mental health issues. I have depression and anxiety and being left in limbo does not help these conditions. It exacerbates them.

Secondly, every time that this sort of behaviour is allowed to happen it is contributing to the general poor attitude towards mental health. It’s probably why I’m fighting so hard to get the things in place that I need. No-one else is going to do it for me, not even when it’s their responsibility to.

Thirdly, we all need to be accountable and responsible for better practises regarding mental health in the workplace. Employers need to be held accountable if they are only paying lip service to their promises of not discriminating and supporting employees with mental health issues.

If We are Accountable and Responsible for Ourselves, We Can Change Things

As regards to work, I am doing my part. I’m keeping them up to date with each step of my recovery.I’ve been open with my colleagues about the issues I’m experiencing. Most importantly I’m getting to grips with my role again. I am not using depression or anxiety as an excuse, they are conditions I am living with, but they don’t define who I am or what I can do. They can be limiting, but I am responsible enough to recognise those limitations and act accordingly.

One of the main reasons I have gone back to work was for my own recovery. I knew I needed to do this to give me structure and would help towards my feelings of self-worth. What I didn’t expect was that it would help others too. I have had so many messages and comments from followers on Twitter saying how amazing they think it is that I’m doing this.  That I’m battling depression and going back to work, some even saying that they couldn’t do it.  I think it’s possible. It’s why I’m doing it. That with the right support, the right environment, you can have mental health issues and still hold down a job.

To All of Us

So, if you’re an employer reading this, don’t assign someone to the scrap heap if they have a mental health problem. Be willing to support them and be accountable and responsible for that support.  By doing so, you’re going a long way towards breaking the stigmatised idea that every person who has a mental health condition is incapable of working. Likewise, as sufferers we need to keep fighting for what we need from our employers to help us stay in work. That way we can help reduce the number of days lost to mental illnesses.

It all boils down to this. If we want to make the change, we have to be the change.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Got to Fight For It

The Journey Continues

So, I’m still fumbling onwards with my efforts to return to my full hours at work. There are plenty of people who are being wonderfully supportive and I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have gotten in touch via Twitter and Facebook.  It has helped me more than you’ll ever know! I’m still struggling through, but if the last 4 weeks have taught me anything, is that no matter how much support you get from friends, family or colleagues; to get any kind of assistance from your employer you’ve got to fight for it!

This may seem insane. It feels it to me. I struggle on a daily basis with crippling low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. I am on anti-depressants and going through counselling. This would say to you that an additional level of support and care would be required. Apparently not.

Take Your Sweet Time

It has taken 4 weeks to get the referral to occupational health put through by my manager. This is something that for most, is organised before they even return to the office. If this was an illness that impaired my motor skills, my sight or hearing, this would have had to be done before I walked through the door on my first day back. My request for a change of hours is still being debated and argued over. Issues with pay from January have still not been resolved. The constant procrastination by my boss means every day when I get home, I’m exhausted. To the point that on Wednesday I was so drained, Alex had to collect my kids from school. I couldn’t function.

The Effect of Indifference

The items I’ve listed here have just been a few of the obstacles I’ve hit. And for every tiny bit of progress (like occupational health) I’ve found I’d got to fight for it. If I hadn’t finally bitten the bullet and spoken to the service manager (my boss’s boss) I would have still be waiting for my referral. Every single thing has been a case of I’ve got to fight for it, tooth and nail. Which isn’t easy. Like I said, I have anxiety. I have depression that convinces me of how worthless and useless I am. To find that so many things have been neglected or forgotten to be done, does not help. It’s a constant cycle of ‘we’ll sort it tomorrow’, but it never gets sorted.

Imagine if you will, that you already feel like you are useless, you have no value to anyone or anything. In this state you are attempting something huge, stepping out of your comfort zone to try to help towards your recovery. You are doing everything that has been asked or expected of you. But the people who are supposed to be helping you in this process, keep forgetting to put in place the things they have assured you they would. They then keep postponing meetings with you. On top of this, because of their inaction you are hurting financially.  Their care free attitude of ‘they’ll get it sorted as and when’ is sending your anxiety into free fall. They treat your reasonable requests with indifference. Would that help you?

Would that convince you of your worth?

No.

If we want change, we’ve got to fight for it!

I truly believe that some of these issues are because it is difficult for employers and managers to see mental illness. The needs and requirements of a sufferer are different from those of someone who has returned to work with a physical disability. But it does not make them any less real. On Wednesday I spoke with the service manager who has had a notorious attitude of ‘if you’re at work then you’re well enough to work’. The levels of anxiety I experienced in this short meeting were through the roof. Speech went out the window, I was scratching at my hands feverishly, I could barely control myself from crying. I honestly thought I was going to vomit.

But I fought through it. I needed something to change, so I fought for it.

I know it shouldn’t be like this.

But it’s the way it is until we make a stand. If we want employers to change their attitude and give meaningful support to their employees with mental health problems, then we’ve got to fight for it. We’ve got to fight for every little thing that we know will help us get through, be that medical breaks, change of hours, a set desk, or even just to get occupational health involved to arrange these things. We’ve got to fight for it!

Fight!

I know hard it is to fight when you’re already fighting a battle inside your head. But for you to win the battle in your mind, you have to fight the battles with your employer to get the support you need. There’s no shame in getting some help to do this. Your union can be great in this capacity. Sometimes all it takes is a colleague who supports you.  But most importantly, you’re not alone in this battle, and neither am I. It’s going to be tiring, sometimes exhausting. But we can make the change.

After all no-one else is going to do it for us.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Time To Talk

One Step Forwards….

I’ve been documenting and sharing my experiences with returning to work over the last few weeks. It’s been a rollercoaster of an experience. Some days have been great. Others have been awful.  Realistically, as lovely as my manager is, he hasn’t handled my return massively well.  Last week I told you I how I’d had to take control and finally get some structure agreed, a difficult experience for me as I had to battle with anxiety the whole way through. Well, one of the things we agreed was at some point I would take the time to talk to the team about what had been going on with me and how we can handle my mental health situation in the office.

Of All the Days….

Ironically the day my manager chose was Thursday, which was also Time to Talk day. If you aren’t already aware, Time to Talk day is a big thing. The opportunity to talk openly about mental health in the hope to raise understanding and reduce stigma. It’s been all over social media and is having a great impact. So in short, in a private team meeting I explained as much as I was comfortable with to my colleagues about how depression and anxiety have wrought havoc on me for the last six months.

So how did it go? I’ll tell you in one word: Incredible!

It didn’t matter that by pure coincidence we’d chosen Time to Talk day. What mattered was how brilliantly supportive my colleagues were. They listened, without judgement, and took on board the things I had to say. I’m not saying I didn’t nearly go to pieces a few times, I really did! But it was worth it! Really, really worth it!

Make the Time to Talk

Sometimes as sufferers we can end up being the greatest barrier to ourselves.  Yes, depression can be hugely limiting. It can force you to be reclusive and anti-social. But part of recovery is overcoming these symptoms. I’ll admit, it isn’t easy. There are days when depression and anxiety win.

But not every day. Like Syrio Forel in Game of Thrones, we choose what to fight, to not succumb to what some see as inevitable.

Making the effort, making that time to talk to my colleagues was a huge step for me. I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. Yes, a great deal of preparation on my part was involved. Yes, my speech went as it so often does when I’m anxious. But I did it. It’s possible for anyone. It just may take time and preparation. If you’d asked me a year ago if Alex would be able to stand up in front of a room full of students and talk openly about his mental health, I’d have said no. But on Friday that’s exactly what he did! It’s what we both did.  It may have exhausted us, depleted our energy to the point that we both took a hit mentally. But we did it!

We took the time to talk and in doing so raised awareness of mental health. We achieved what some would have thought impossible. Two people who at times can be crippled by anxiety and depression, were able to talk about how their mental health has affected them. They were able to inform, educate and encourage people to be more open about mental illness, to look at new ways of supporting someone going through this.

One criticism that is often leveled at sufferers of depression is they wallow in it. That sufferers allow the illness to become their identity, which in turn never allows recovery. One particularly vocal individual on Imgur often spouts this at anyone and everyone who they think will listen.  But the truth of the matter is that when you are living in the darkness it can be hard to see the way through. The trick is remembering that there is a way through. It may take a while, you may never be fully free of it. But you can learn to live your life with mental illness. Like for me and Alex it may even provide you with a purpose, who knows?

All I know is that by taking the time to talk openly about our issues with mental health, we’ve helped others gain an understanding of it. That alone is worth it.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Fumbling Through

Another Week

This week has been chaotic. My second week at work has not been much better than the first. It has still been rudderless, without any sense of structure or planning. I have been fumbling through my working hours in a fog and come home exhausted and disillusioned. Once home, I’ve then had the stresses and strains of family life to contend with too.  I’ve ended up numb, struggling to focus and increasingly over-sensitive. It’s felt like life is crushing me.

It would almost seem like my employer is making the process as hard as possible. I’m sure that’s not the case, but it shouldn’t be this difficult. I’m still waiting for Occupational Health to get involved despite numerous requests.  In addition my pay has been messed up and there has been no concrete plan as to how I’m going to be bought up to speed properly to get me on the phones.

Exhausted and Alone

I know I’m not really alone. I have friends and family supporting me both in and out of work. But when I have been sat staring at the screen trying to get yet another of the systems I was told would be working restored, I feel isolated. Trying to pin my manager down long enough to even get basic things sorted has been nearly impossible.

By Thursday I was so sick of fumbling through I was nearing breaking point.  I was so angry, but the angrier I got the less I could speak. I could feel the beginnings of panic setting in and the physical itching and agitation escalated.  Something had to change. Stammering and stuttering I finally managed to grab my boss and say I needed to talk to him. The meeting was awkward and difficult, but thankfully I’d prepared. Before I’d even entered the office that day I’d made a list of everything I wanted to raise and discuss with him. Slowly working through each item, even with my speech all over the place, I got my message across.

Assume and You Make An A## Out of Me and You

What shocked me was that my boss had no idea that I felt the way I did. He thought by keeping things relaxed with no formal plans was a way of easing me back into the swing of things. I guess it’s where the importance of talking things through comes in. I’d tried to communicate as much as possible what I might need before I returned, but either I wasn’t clear enough or he’d misunderstood. For me, I need structure and organisation. Without them my anxiety goes into overdrive. because he’d tried to give me space (I’d only asked if he could encourage my colleagues not to bombard me) I’d ended up feeling isolated.

All in all it’s been tricky to get it right from both sides. I do feel there has been a huge onus put on to me as the sufferer to take control of my phased return. It shouldn’t be beyond any employer to make sure that their staff can enter the building they work in. Likewise, systems should be back up and running as soon as possible, not nearly two weeks in.

Because of my own issues I have struggled to get my voice to be heard. I needed to be able to get my manager to really listen. The only way I could do that was by taking the bull by the horns and getting him to sit down with me. I’m so glad I’d made my list before I left for work that day. It was a huge challenge, but a necessary one to get my return back on the right path.

I Won’t Keep Fumbling Through

Realistically I don’t want to be my own barrier. Yes, I have anxiety and depression and they can restrict me. But I’m not going to let it hold me back. I won’t be defined by my mental health. By doing little things like preparing lists to take to meetings of what I want to say if my speech fails, or getting colleagues on board who are prepared to help. I can do this. More support from my manager is required, but I have to ask for it. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have to, but to get where I need to be it’s what I’ve had to do.

Fumbling through is no longer an option.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Educating Employers

The First Day

So last week I told you all about my first day fears about returning to work and the techniques I was looking to employ.  I’ll be honest, it could have gone better, but it could have been worse. What I want to focus on this week is the things that helped me through. I also want to look at what we can do to help the process of educating employers. There is a huge onus placed on the sufferer to ask for support when they return to work.  Maybe this needs to change, or do we as sufferers need to take some responsibility too?

Panic Stations!

One of the things I have found this week is how often my anxiety tried to spiral. I knew I would be stressed. Who wouldn’t be? But I didn’t anticipate the number of triggers I would encounter. Unfortunately neither did my manager.

The day before I returned to work he texted saying he wouldn’t be in at the start of my shift as planned and he hadn’t been able to get my pass to enter the building reactivated. No big deal you say? To me it was. This meant that instead of being able to return to the office quietly and have the support of my manager in the process, I would be reliant on whichever manager was available to come sign me in. This process would involve me having to report to security and call a manager who knew nothing of why I’ve been absent, let alone involved in my return to work. It also left me blind as to where I would be going once inside, what I was supposed to be doing…. Anything!

On receipt of the text I began to go into meltdown. I hadn’t even started back and I was already hitting into problems. Suddenly brick walls loomed in-front of me, stopping my return. It just added validation to the traitorous voice in my head that was already whispering that no-one wanted me back, that I would be incapable of working.

Mind Reading

Now I privately refer to my dark passenger as ‘the b#!ch’.  Everyone has that inner voice that sees the worst in us.  But with depression, that voice is crueller than the worst bully you have ever met. That voice will torment you beyond imagining, torture you and devalue any worth you have into nothingness. The b#!ch saw this text, bared her teeth and took the opportunity to have a field day.

Here’s the problem though. My manager is not a mind reader! He can have no possible clue as what my mind is doing upon the receipt of one simple text. So how do we fix this? My manager is not going to magically obtain psychic gifts overnight.

The answer is ridiculously simple. I needed to tell him that this was not going to work for me. In my initial panic I couldn’t see this solution. Thankfully, Alex was able to calmly remind me that I could text back and see what other options I had.  This basic act, just asking for another option and explaining the problems I was having, helped my manager see it from my perspective and change some things. I went in later to match his start time, when I did get in he took me to my desk via a different wing that was quieter and away from the madness of the main office and my desk was by a window in a corner so I could tuck myself away.

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Coping

These little adjustments helped. The rest of the day didn’t go perfectly as there is still a large gap between ideal and reality in the return to work process (one thing I appreciate is that my manager is learning as  we go along on this) Some areas he downright failed. To come back and find that my systems had not been restored as promised, the contents of my desk missing and often finding I was being left with no structure or support, was fuel to my anxiety.

But I got through. Using fidget spinners, 7-11 breathing and the grounding technique I was able to stay for my phased return hours.

So What Next?

Well, there is a long way to go to be honest. I truly feel there is a lot more that can be done to support sufferers both when they return from illness and on a day-to-day basis at work. I’ll give my boss some credit that at the start of the day he did try. But the business of the office, the pressing needs of other staff meant that all to often I was left rudderless and abandoned.

Too many times I was forced to enter the frantic, loud chaos of the call centre to try and get some help from someone, anyone. I had no e-mail, no phone, no computer systems to do anything. There seemed to be no kind of plan beyond getting me in the building.  The lack of organization tripped me out, but I felt I had no avenue to rectify this. On Thursday the total absence of support led to a full-blown anxiety attack before 9am. It was so bad I was unable to speak and rendered so for nearly 2 hours. This is NOT how a first week back should be for anyone.

So what do we do?

Educating Employers, Encouraging Employees

The solution is two-fold. Firstly, more needs to be done around educating employers around the subject of mental health. I truly believe that all line managers should be given some training around handling staff that are struggling with mental health issues. If 1 in 4 people in the U.K are suffering from depression , anxiety or  any other mental illness the reality is as a manager you are going to HAVE to manage someone afflicted in this way during your career. It is not just the responsibility of Human Resources or Occupational Health. It’s part of your duty of care to your employee to treat them with dignity and respect and to support them in the work place.

The Status Quo? No.

There are unfortunately some managers who do not see the world this way. Some create an atmosphere where there is little tolerance of mental illness, the attitude is if you’re not well enough to do ALL the aspects of your role, then you should just go home. Realistically this is counter-productive. By sending someone home because of mental illness when they are just asking for reasonable adjustments is likely to make them worse. You may as well have just stamped ‘REJECT’ on them because that’s exactly how it will feel.

Management like this is outdated, discriminatory and adding to the growing epidemic of working days lost to mental health problems. I am not saying that you won’t ever not need time off if you are a sufferer (after all I’ve just needed 6 months away from the office to get some semblance of recovery together) but if we could get more companies to seriously look at educating managers on this topic, we could reduce these numbers dramatically. Adjustments can be made, help can be given proactively. It shouldn’t take someone being signed off for months at a time before their mental health condition is taken seriously by their boss.

If not us then, who?

Secondly, we as sufferers, and supporters of sufferers need to speak up. If your return to work isn’t going well, say so. Be clear on what you need. If no-one is listening or you are struggling to find your voice, speak to H.R or your union. Get someone you trust to help you get what you need to say across. I am saying this as someone who’s first week has not gone great. But when I couldn’t find my voice, a friend helped me get to the right people to give me some guidance. I’m now in the process of arranging a meeting with my boss so we can get some structure and support in place.

We also need to make sure that we have the things we need to cope ready for when we’ll need them. Those healthy coping mechanisms such as the grounding technique, having focus items, breathing techniques all need to be in place too. You have to be at a place where and when things go wrong, we won’t just walk out the door. I came close this week a few times, I may still in the coming weeks too. I guess we have to accept that it will all take time. Educating employers won’t happen overnight and sufferers need to be at the right stage of their recovery. We need to be responsible enough to admit what our limitations may be, what we need as support but feel that we are safe to say so.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

First Day Fears

I’m Going Back, But I’m Not Better

My anxiety is ramping up each day this week. From Thursday onwards, I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in those anxious feelings. I’m more forgetful (I left my keys in the supermarket!) It doesn’t seem to take a lot to knock me backwards and the scratching of my hands has resumed at a frenzied rate. Why? Because I’m going back to work next week even though I’m not fully better. My head is going crazy with first day fears even though I’m returning to a job I’ve done for 16 years.

The Coming Weeks

Oddly I’ve decided to put this experience to good use. For the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing with you what this going back to work experience is like. From the first day fears, to me being back at full speed and everything in between. I want to share all of this with you, whether I’m successful or not. It’s a journey many of you are going to have to take at some point. Depression and anxiety can severely impact on our work attendance, some people have months off or even never return to work because of mental health issues.

I’ve decided to go back after a lengthy absence. I feel I’m improved enough that with some help from my employer that I can do this. I need to from a financial stand point, but also from the point of view of my recovery. It’s time to face this challenge, because if I don’t do it now I never will.

Facing Down First Day Fears

So what is kicking the anxiety off? I know the people I work with, I know the job inside out. It’s the same building I’ve been going to for years. I’m not scared of any of these things, parts of me are even looking forward to seeing friends I haven’t seen for months. What exactly am I so anxious about?

My current biggest fear is me. Or more precisely my mental health. I don’t cope well with crowds or loud environments and the office I work in has an abundance of both. The fear is that I’ll walk in, not be able to cope and end up back at square one. This fear is nagging at me, I don’t want to go backwards. But there is that risk.

So what do we do?

Well I’m taking the risk. I’m going back and facing down those first day fears head on. My boss is prepared as he can be, he knows that I’m not good with noise so he’s arranged for a desk in a quieter wing of the office. Colleagues are being made aware to try to not bombard me (a common problem when people return from absence in my office). For me, I’ve made as many arrangements as i can to make it easy as possible.

Preparations

So here goes. Here’s my list of what I’m doing to get myself ready as possible. My thinking is if I share it with you it will help me follow through with everything. Plus you never know, it might help someone else too!

  • Make the first journey as easy as possible. To do this I’m making sure the car is clean and tidy inside. I’ve arranged that someone else is going to take the kids to school so that stress is removed for now. I’ve made a playlist of relaxing music as well. Car will be fuelled and checked over.
  • Get my stuff together. I’ve already chosen and hung up my clothes ready for the day. Lunch will be prepped the night before and everything I will need will be in my bag. ( sicknotes, letters from counselor, return to work note, pass and fidget spinner)
  • Treat myself.  Have a relaxing bath the night before. Take a small bar of chocolate with me on the day. Make dinner as easy as I can for the day (slow cooker, ready meal or if all else fails, takeaway).
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This one may sound odd, but it’s what I’m doing. I’m going for counselling the day before to try to get some of the worst things out and get some strategies for coping set in place.  My partner is going to have his phone to hand in case it gets really bad on the day. I also have talked things through with my boss about the most scary concerns I have and he’s doing what he can to help me cope.
Ready, Set….

So, for me I’m looking at phased return , amended duties, a quieter environment to sit and getting occupational health involved to make this process as smooth as possible. My boss is fully aware that I may need to step away from the office, I may lose my speech when stressed or begin scratching. One of my closest friends at work has already said they’ll be on hand if I need some help, even if it’s just to make me laugh or wind me up.

All in all, I think I’m as ready as I can be. I’ll let you know how it goes next week, what’s worked, what hasn’t etc. Here’s hoping I haven’t crashed and burned! If you are facing this challenge too I wish for you that it goes well.  It’s scary as anything facing down those first day fears, but I think with a little bit of preparation it won’t be as bad as you or I think.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.