You don’t have to be mad to work here

Throughout the ups and downs of my illness I’ve always managed to keep myself in work or study and this is something I’m actually quite proud of (which is pretty big in itself, because I don’t say things like that very often). In saying so I don’t mean to cast any aspersions whatsoever on those with similar difficulties who can’t manage work during their bleak times. Perhaps I just count myself lucky that things have never got quite so bleak for me.

Work is incredibly important to me, both professionally and personally. In terms of the struggles I’ve had with myself working has had a huge role to play. Being at work brings shape and focus to the disorder; it gives me a reason to get out of bed, paint a smile on my face and laugh at the (not always) hilarious office japery; most importantly of all, it provides company in an otherwise lonely place. Being at work is part of my strategy for making sure I never unravel completely no matter what’s going on.

As noted in previous instalments, during my recent ‘bad patch’ I started carrying some of my chaos to work with me. This was the first time that had happened and was a big cause for concern. So much so, that I began to wonder whether it was time to do something I had never considered before and let my employer in on my secret. It seemed like a sensible idea. I was reaching out in every possible direction to put in place as much support in place as I possibly could (which is exactly the right thing to do). At the same time, the decision to tell an employer something like that about yourself is huge and not one that should be undertaken lightly.

Suffering from depression is nothing to be ashamed of, let’s be quite clear about that. At the same time, it is a private matter (said whilst blogging, I see the contradiction) and certainly not an easy thing to disclose to colleagues. People have a variety of views and opinions about mental health difficulties, and there is still a considerable amount of stigma attached. I knew that I worked in a good place with good people but still felt there was something of a risk associated with discussing my problems in the workplace.

In the end I weighed up the risks and balanced them up against the risks associated with the place that I was heading to – essentially becoming too ill to work. I’ve already mentioned how important the structures associated with working have been to me over the years and in the end I decided that if I had a choice it was something of a Hobson’s choice.

And so, I took deep breath and referred myself to our Occupational Health team. My aim was to ensure that I was well enough and stayed well enough to stay at work. At the same time I sent my sent my referral form to my line manager and the senior manager responsible for my team – it seemed important that I spoke to some of my more immediate colleagues about the practicalities of my day to day work which had become a little chaotic.

Fast forward two weeks and I’m pleased to say that far from taking a risk I absolutely made the right decision. My colleagues have been incredibly supportive without treating me any differently ( a big concern me) and, have been willing to work with me to review my workload and get some support in place to make sure I continue to contribute without becoming overwhelmed.

The fact that you suffer from depression isn’t ever going to be something that you want to shout from the rooftops. At the same time it shouldn’t become a dirty little secret. Support is out there, you do just have to find the courage to start reaching out and taking it.

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