Warning: Swearing and references to self-harm.
This week I returned to work after three months off with depression. I’ve had it for over twenty years, since my teens, and it comes and goes. Since my last stint on anti-depressants, I tried to maintain normal mood variations, but I had been struggling for a couple of years with low moods and suicidal thoughts.
My father had come to my house to help with some DIY. He was expected, but I really felt like slashing the arteries in my wrists. I boiled the kettle, made tea, made no eye contact, unable to hide the misery I was feeling but not wanting to express it either. He said something about sanding and varnishing my new skirting boards and was quite surprised when I shouted, “Fuck the fucking skirting!”
“I’m only thinking of you,” he said.
“I don’t give a shit about the skirting!”
I’d had a throat infection so he said, “Is the cold getting to you?”
“It’s not the fucking cold! I’m depressed! I’m suicidal at times.”
I broke down and wept into my hands. Dad, ever practical and helpful, was at a loss. He hugged me until I had relaxed a bit and asked me what I needed. I said I didn’t know. He didn’t like to see me distressed so he left me to be on my own. I had been sleeping late in the day so I asked him to call my GP in the morning and get me an appointment. I got back on the anti-depressants.
Acknowledging how I really felt was a big relief and seeking help was an important step on the road to recovery. From past experience, I knew better than to think I was well just because I felt better than I had been, but I allowed myself to enjoy the high that came from the release for as long as it would last.
Nearly three months later I had another low period, but still wanted to return to work, as I wanted to get back into a routine. The doctor increased my medication and said to give it another couple of weeks to allow it to take effect. I am now on a ‘phased return to work’, which basically means I can choose my hours until I feel better.
My HR manager and supervisor have been really good. I can take breaks whenever I want, I have finished early because the long days were more of a struggle than I expected. I was told I could work much shorter days, but to me that seems pointless when I am trying to get back to normal life.
I was welcomed back. I had been missed. People obviously ask what illness I had, so I tell them. Depression. I’ve been fairly open about it. I’ve sought out colleagues I’m friendly with to have a chat. Anyone else who has asked, I tell them. I’ve had various responses: sympathy, understanding, misunderstanding, indifference, related stories, curiosity. I don’t want sympathy; it makes no-one feel better other than the sympathiser. Someone asked, “Are you all better now?” Clearly someone who doesn’t know about depression. Someone asked with interest how it affected me, and I found myself trying to summarise without going into detail.
I tell people because despite increased awareness of mental health issues, there is still some stigma attached to it. Even I tried to deny it myself in order to carry on regardless. I’m not completely open about it. I’m a very closed person on the whole. I just wanted to say what I had as if it was something like diabetes. It’s a condition. It’s manageable and treatable. It probably won’t go away completely. But, most of all, there is no shame in having it, and if anyone feels that things in life are too much to bear, have the strength to admit it and seek help.
I’m still a long way off being well. There are a number of things I my mind I need to address. I am grateful for the help I have received and maybe could have used my time off work to sort things out, but just having that time as a respite has done me a world of good. Now I still need to seek further help, and I imagine there will be times when I simply can’t face work. I am fortunate that my employers will allow enough flexibility to aid in my recovery.