May 9, 2016

3 years ago, I fell ill.  I was suffering from vomiting sensations, and thinking no more about it I went to my GP and began a course of medication to treat this as a physical issue.  At the time I didn't link it to anything mental; why would I?  It just wasn't anything in my sphere of thinking at the time.  I didn't like my work, and had previously had issues with stress relating to the job, but to me, a physical symptom was caused by a physical problem.  I only became aware that is was something else 6 months later.  

In September I took a week off work, and the physical symptoms dissipated.  At that point I thought no more about it.  It was only when I was due to return to work and the symptoms returned that I began to think a little more deeply about what was going on.  Why would my vomiting sensation return?  How could this be something physical if the only thing had changed was me being off work for a week?  

I returned to work on the Monday, by the Tuesday I was sitting in a bus stop 4 miles away from work in floods of tears. I had deliberately gotten on the wrong bus in order to make my journey to work as long as possible.  2 hours later I was sitting in my doctors with a sick note in my hand having completely broken down.  The doctor diagnosed work-related stress which would later develop into depression.

I couldn't believe it.  How had it come to this?  In my home life I was the happiest I had been, I had began dating my best friend (who became my wife a year later).   But there I was, bedridden with crippling anxiety and depression.  I felt so drained.  Essentially I had been struggling with stress at work for 2 years and just 'got on with it'.  My body and then my mind were exhausted.  Looking back now, I can see all the signs were there that I was heading to this, but at the time it just wasn't apparent.  To me, it felt like a sudden and overwhelming breakdown, but in actual fact it was a prolonged exposure to stress that eventually wore me down and wore me out.  

People say that talking about it is such a brave thing, and for some it is, and I understand and admire that.  I am lucky in the fact that talking about it has never been an issue for me.  I find it very easy to talk about it, and always make myself available if people want to ask me anything about my illness.  

Best wishes to anyone who reads this and recognised themselves in the situation I had described.  I hope you are at the beginning of this journey rather than at the crying in a bus stop stage. I thank all the counsellors that have dealt with my issue, my union who helped me in the work place, and my loving wife and family who have had to live with this for 3 years now.

It's my biggest regret that I never managed to return to work full time, because I had a dream of becoming a mental health advocate within my workplace.  Workplace stress is a real danger, but it’s still such a taboo.  This year a lot more people will find themselves in my situation, feeling overwhelmed but not recognising the signs until it is too late.  I believe that if I had recognised what was happening to me earlier then I wouldn't still be in the ravages of this condition nearly 3 years later. Let’s not wait any longer to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace. 

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