Returning to work

It’s nearly 16 weeks since I was last at work. It’s probably the longest period of time that I have not worked since I left school. At times it doesnt feel like it has been that long, at other times it feels like I havent been to work for years.

Last week I started seeing a new psychologist. My old one was great and I would have gone back to seeing her but she is about an hours drive from where I live now so location wise not great. Anyhow, I’ve had one appointment so far and generally the first appointment with psychologists/psychiatrists have been the same for me. They go through privacy stuff, how much they charge, all that jazz. Then they ask what you have been diagnosed with so far. For me that’s a bit of a list, for those who don’t know here is the list thus far;

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Dislexia as on psychiatrist put it)
  • Trichotillomania
  • Agoraphobia
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Thankfully, while it is a bit of a list, most of these are successfully being treated by medication and past exposure response prevention therapy (ERP) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Obviously, Major Depressive Disorder is a bit of an issue at the moment.

Anyhow, so once they have gone through this, they ask about past therapy and what medication you are taking. After all this, generally you fill out an assessment form of one sort or another, while you do this they read your referral. By the time this is done most of your session is over. In my first session with the new psychologist she asked what has occurred over past couple of months with hospitalization etc. Then it is generally, what are you wanting to get out of the sessions.

The first time I was asked this I had no idea what I wanted, however this time it was pretty simple. I want to be able to go back to work. I want to know how I cope with it, what I do if I start having a panic attack. It is going to be a major thing for me to go back to work, it’s not like I had surgery, or broke both my arms and I am better now. I’m better than what I was but I am far from being mentally healthy again, well not healthy but able to manage my conditions.

I have a lot of concerns/reservations about going back to work. Don’t get me wrong, I want to go back to work. I want to get back to ‘normal life’. Financially, I need to get back to work. While I am on income protection payments, it’s only 80% of my wage. That doesn’t seem like much of a drop percentage wise, but adding doctors appointments, specialist, hospital fees and added medication costs, it adds up. My parents are having to assist me quite a bit. I know live in one of their rental properties however I am not paying rent to them as I can’t afford it. When I go back to work I will be able too, but at the moment I can’t. While my parents are covering some of my expenses for me, I will have to pay them back. So, added to everything going on once I am back to work, I have to start paying off what I owe them and it will be a significant amount. Just the cost of being in Fullerton was $2150, add cost of moving, rent not paid etc its gonna be up there. Financially, there is a lot of pressure to get back to work.

Despite the financial stuff, I can’t and wont rush back to work before I am actually ready. I don’t want to go back to work to early and end up not coping and back in hospital. But at the same time, I have to be careful that I don’t stay off work due to unfounded fear. Ending back in hospital scares the shit out of me. It was the worst period of time in my life that I can remember. Not that the hospital or it’s staff wasnt good, it’s how I felt while I was there. I don’t ever want to feel like that ever again.

I am worried about a lot of things about going back to work. It’s currently 4am and half the reason I am still up is I am worried about going back to work. Despite all the medications I take I have had a lot of anxiety about it for the past few hours. The other reason I am still up is I have a psychologist appointment at 10am and I’m scared that if I go to bed now, I wont wake up to my alarm and sleep through my appointment. It’s part of the reason I am writing at the moment, it’s a coping mechanism of sorts  suppose. One of the things psychologists/psychiatrists suggest to help cope is distraction. Do something that gets your mind off what is making you anxious. Writing for me is kinda like doing that for me. When I write it’s kind of like I am sort of separated mentally from what is making me anxious, almost like I am looking through a window into my own mind, if that makes sense.

Going back to work presents a lot of challenges for me given what has transpired over the past 16 weeks. Just going back and being surrounded by so many people, so many different voices all talking at once. Being able to focus and process what I am hearing is still difficult. Particularly if I have to contribute to the conversation, like if I am asked a question or something. My sister has a tendency to speak quite fast and ask multiple questions one after the other. When she does this my mind just stops. Pretty much nothing happens. It’s like its been over loaded and it stops so it doesnt burn out. I have to ask her to slow down and ask one questions one at a time.

It’s not just interacting with people, it’s the questions of “where have you been?” “Did you have a nice holiday?” etc. And, while I know most people I work with are understanding etc, the feeling of being judged, like the feeling people are saying “You were sad so you have 4 months off work?” While most people are pretty understanding, there are those who aren’t.

Then there is actually doing my job. Mentally I still have problems concentrating, focusing etc. Can I figure out how to do what I do? Can I be productive enough? I know I will be going back on reduced hours to start with and depending on what work agrees to I may work from home as well, but how long will it take for me to recover to the point that I can work fulltime again. How will all this affect my career?

Along with all those things, I am really anxious about what happens if I have a panic attack at work. I have had this worry for a few years, but I have been able to manage them reasonably well. If I feel one coming on, I can generally get to the toilets and hide out in there until it passes. When I was in Fullarton I had to go to Flinders for an MRI, unrelated to the depression, when I was in Flinders I completely freaked out and ended up almost catatonic. What if this happens again, at work. When I was at Flinders, my Mum was with me and she was able to help deal with it. She had been given some PRN in case something happened, so she was able to give me it, which helped calm me down once it kicked in. But if I am trying to work and drive I am worried about having PRNs while I am at work. One of the types I have doesnt make me drowsy but I dont know if I would be able to work after I take it.

What if it becomes too overwhelming and I have to leave work early, or I have to go into the sick room for a while. Will work be ok with that. Given the nature of why I am off work, its hard to say how things will go with my return to work. Like, if you have the flu, you feel better, the symptoms go away, you go back to work. But, with mental illness, the symptoms don’t really go away. Its more or less a chronic illness in that isn’t cured, it is managed. And while I am managing things better than I was, I am at home most the time. It’s far easier to manage things when your isolated from most external pressures. Along with that, I am not so anxious about what I will do if I was to have a panic attack or something, because I am by myself so there is no one around to see it. Going back to work, there are a number of external factors which make managing things much harder.

While that concerns me, there is another side of it which concerns me as well. Normally, if you have an injury or something that means you are off work for sometime, your employer will want to make sure you are fully recovered before you return to work. One of the reasons for this is because they need to make sure that they do not add to your issues and thereby become liable for futher issues that arise. In a similar thought pattern I worry about how willing work will be to have me return, not knowing how I will react exactly. Is there anything that they need to be aware of? What do they do if I have a panic attack, or I end up like I did at Flinders?

I know that when I do go back to work I wont be back to my old self, I will still have things that I will need to work on and learn to manage. But I want them to be as minimised as possible. As I said I dont want to end up back in hospital or something like that. But I also dont to cause others at work to become scared or concerned either. A lot of people dont know much about mental illness, how it affects people, etc. So if something happened at work, like a panic attack, and other staff saw it I dont want them overreacting, I dont want them calling an ambulance or something silly like that.

Plus as I said I am not totally back on the ball. I started writing this at about 3am, it’s now a bit after 6am. It has taken far longer than it normally would for me to write this much. I lose concentration, I forget what I have already written and what I was writing about. So what happens when it comes to work, how will I manage to do my job, can I be confident that I am doing things correctly, how do I make sure I remember to do things etc.

I suppose the reason this is playing on my mind so much at the moment is I know it is coming close to the time when I will start to return to work. I know that on Wednesday when I see my psychiatrist next, he and I will be discussing returning to work. Likely this will be the last appointment with him this year. I’m not sure that I am ready yet to go back to work yet and I wonder if it’s worth going back to work until after the holidays. I dont know, will see what the psychiatrist says.

Thats it for now. Cheers for reading.


About malensteptoe
I am work for one of Australia's big 4 banks in the System Admin Team. I am also a mental health sufferer. Currently diagnosed with OCD, MDD, Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia and Trichotillomania. I also write books and a blog. I am an advocate for change of the view towards mental health sufferers. We can and are beneficial people in society, with much to offer and contribute. We are not all violent, actually the percentage of violent tendencies in the mentally ill and those without mental illness are no different. You may work with someone right next to someone with mental illness and never know. So maybe it's time to re-evaluate your opinions?

One Response to Returning to work

  1. Lynette Staltari says:

    One day at a time love, what if? You should say so what if I have a panic attack at work, you only need one support person around you , I work with you , I would be one phone call away ,you understand what is happening ,so give it a go, even if you do 1 hour at a time, you are great at your job, so come on you can do it. Xx

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