I used to think anxiety was all in the head of the sufferer in a figurative manner. I always understood the concept of a person being anxious about doing something extreme, like skydiving for the first time, but being so anxious about doing something as simple as going to a shop, that they are physically sick? Bollox! It must have been a hangover or something…
Then one day, anxiety was all in my head. Literally. I didn’t know that’s what it was straight away though. What I did know was that I had absolutely no desire to venture past my own front door. Whenever I did, because of my competing obligation to spend time with my family, even doing simple things such as going shopping, I started feeling dizzy and physically sick. This was especially obvious when walking and a sudden feeling of vertigo would present at seemingly random intervals.
Possibly the worst part of this period was my appalling mood swings and inability to tolerate people. I hated anybody outside my family. As somebody who frequently meets new people through work, this was especially difficult, Often resulting in a need to “disappear” to the little boy’s room for five minutes to regain my composure. It also affected my temper and rate at which I angered over silly little things. I’m not usually a moody or bad-tempered person. I think my wife has only actually heard me shout in anger once in the years we have been an item, and that was to a debt collector over the phone.
Unforseen change also sparked “episodes.” Simple things such as having to pick the kids up from school early because they were sick were incomprehensible to me. Or a change to a meeting time at short notice. Or a five-minute delay on a bus or train.
Eventually I decided enough was enough and visited my doctor. By my doctor, I mean a random doctor from a different practice because my GP practice at the time were useless. This chap was the one who made the diagnosis of anxiety and put it down to a seizure I had suffered out of the blue a few weeks before hand. Prescribing some medication, he proceeded to sign me off work for a few weeks to allow the meds to start working. He also advised the use of a free counselling service available in the UK called Talking Matters.
For all I didn’t notice an immediate change, my wife had mentioned how she had noticed an improvement in my mood. Progress was slow in the early weeks of recovery though. Gradually, the prospect of leaving the house become more bearable. Then I began to enjoy day trips with my family again.
The hardest hurdle to over come was returning to work. I had planned to return a few times over a two month period, but found the thought extremely stressful. After speaking to my doctor on a couple of occasions, as well as a counsellor, who both advised that I didn’t return to work just yet. I took their advice for a while but I soon found myself slipping into a depression due to the lack of human interaction during the day while my wife was at work and my kids were at school.
Eventually I decided it was time to climb back on the proverbial horse and drag my arse back to work, for some company and a distraction more than anything else. This tactic seemed to work. At least for a few weeks. And then my employer seemed to get bored with the whole phased return thing and decided I was ready to be thrown back into the deep end.
Within a month I was on a train to travel to a different company 300 miles away, to meet with a room full of people who I didn’t know, to gather requirements for a project in which I’ll be seconded to said company to develop on a platform that I’m not familiar with. In the interest of avoiding confrontation, and not admitting defeat, I kept quiet about how all of this affected me mentally for a good few months. All the time I was slipping back into a depression and suffering anxiety attacks again. Inevitably, I ended up having a breakdown and being signed on the sick again by my doctor.
This caused disquiet at work to say the least, but I didn’t care to be honest. I turned my work email account off on my phone and ignored work entirely. Apart from sending in sick notes anyway. I’d obviously learned a few tricks by this point.
It was during this bout of sick leave I had an epiphany. Instead of trying to keep everybody else happy at the expense of my sanity, fuck them all. This is the tact I have employed since returning to work this time, after the promise of weekly meetings to make sure I’m managing with my workload ect. They lasted roughly three weeks, the first two meetings didn’t happen, if anybody was wondering.
I think the inexperience of employers when it comes to mental health issues is a cause for concern. Employers are great at catering to some poor sod that has lost the use of their legs, for example, but piss poor at recognising when somebody is struggling on the inside.
The moral of the story is. Anxiety isn’t something to be embarrassed about. Don’t be afraid to get help, or tell somebody something is too much. Trust me, it’s a real thing and keeping quiet about it will only make it worse! And remember, no job is worth your mental health.