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'Something had to give. Eventually, it did'

'Something had to give. Eventually, it did'
10 October 2017

It felt as though the walls were closing in. 

Up until then, I’d always been on top of my job. Some might say I was a model employee. 

I turned up on time, did my job – and did it well – and was rewarded with decent results and plenty of praise. 

But suddenly it all went wrong. 

A close relative was struck by a bout of ill health; my car conked out for no reason, costing me a fortune to repair; and then our family dog needed expensive veterinary care. 

I began to feel the world was against me and I seemed to have the woes of the world on my shoulders. 

Everyday tasks became difficult to complete, including many at work which had, until then, always seemed routine. 

My email inbox was bombarded with requests; colleagues kept walking into the office and demanding my time; and the phone, it just wouldn’t stop. 

I’ve never been one of those people who can leave their work in the office; I’ve always taken it home with me and worried about it, no matter how hard I try to distract myself. 

So managing everything that was going on - the assault on my email inbox, the face-to-face demands and the endless phone calls - became increasingly tough. 

“How can I possibly do it?” I asked myself, with increasing regularity. 

I fought on as much as I could but the signs of stress, though invisible to me at the time, became increasingly clear to everyone I came into contact with. 

I felt flat and irritable, snapping at colleagues and taking my frustration out on my skin, which I couldn’t stop scratching. 

Headaches became a daily scourge and evenings and weekends were devoted to catching up on sleep. 

Something had to give and eventually it did, embarrassingly, in a meeting with my boss. 

Although I didn’t think so at the time, it was the best thing that could’ve happened. 

My boss listened, empathised and suggested a way forward – talking to HR (human resources). 

I did as he suggested and made the call in private from his office. They listened and steered me gently towards Occupational Health (OH). 

I made an appointment with them and was seen within a fortnight. 

It wasn’t easy running through everything that had happened, but I managed it and felt better as a result. 

The woman from Occy Health (OH) gave me a couple of leaflets produced – I think – by the local NHS. 

They suggested talking to a friend at work, which I did the following day. The friend listened, telling me that I’d seemed out of sorts but that they’d not known what to do. 

I found our conversation, like the one I’d had with my boss, incredibly helpful. It might sound daft, but it felt as though I’d unburdened myself, let off steam – eased a lot of the pressure. 

I took a couple of days off and looked at the leaflets again. 

They helped me put everything in proportion, something I’d seemed to have lost. I thought more about what had dragged me down and realised that it had been a combination of things and that I’d just been unfortunate that they had all come at once. 

I put some of the suggestions in the leaflets into practice: I went for a walk at work during lunchtimes; shared problems with my workmate and updated my boss on how I was feeling. 

He helped me prioritise my tasks, asked colleagues to answer some of my phone calls and gave me permission to work one or two days a week from home. 

All of this helped me put things into perspective, to relax and to find solutions to potentially difficult problems. I now feel much better than I did. 

I know I’ve been fortunate and that my experience - acknowledging my problems, seeking help, receiving it, and beginning to feel better relatively quickly - is not as straightforward for other people who experience mental health problems at work. 

Many can find themselves in significant downward spirals that can have appalling or even catastrophic consequences. 

For the unfortunate people who find themselves in these situations, the help that worked for me – support from work colleagues, family and friends – may not be sufficient. 

They may need far more support, including counselling or psychotherapy, for example. 

I still have difficult days when nothing seems to go right. But now I know what to do to put it all into perspective and to not let the problems I had drag me down. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this I’d say it’s not to let problems fester. If something’s bothering you, talk to someone about it. Don’t bottle it up. 

And however dire the straits in which you find yourself, don’t give up. There’s help out there and people who can provide it.

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