I can’t quite believe how much my life has changed since my previous blog in 2015. I left my science communication job to become a science technician (never leaving science education, obviously!), and my personal life has had some massive upheaval too.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the effect of my work on my mental health and, conversely, the effect of my mental health on my work. I didn’t tell my new manager about my depression until my circumstances changed so drastically that I knew it would affect my work. I’d already been in my current role for a year by then so I knew and trusted my department, but I still didn’t feel I could “go public” about my depression.
A few months later, it got to a point where I’d started having panic attacks at work, and just my manager and HR director wasn’t enough. So, very nervously, I told the rest of my department one lunchtime. They were so supportive and wanted to do whatever they could to help me. They don’t treat me any differently, and they take a genuine interest in how I am. I finally felt like I’d found a workplace where I could feel valued and settled, and it meant so much to me.
That all fell apart when my manager told us he was leaving: it came as a total shock.
It was terrifying telling my new manager, someone I’d known for one day, about my depression - I had no idea how he’d react.
I’d needn’t have worried because he handled it brilliantly. I told him I’d had depression for a long time, I was managing it with my GP and that it wasn’t really affecting work at that point.
However, within a week I’d been told to book an emergency appointment with my GP because I’d been experiencing suicidal thoughts, and that I should consider reducing my hours at work. It turned out to be the start of many weeks of informal catch-ups, meetings with HR and occupational health, counselling and breakdowns before being signed off work and coming back on a phased return. But my department, my manager and HR director have been fantastic, and with their support I’ve got a Wellness Action Plan in place.
Being back at work, and feeling so empowered to talk about my mental health with my colleagues, has had such a positive impact on my life. I’ve got amazing support at work. My colleagues are now used to me commandeering a glorified cupboard so that I can listen to music and do some colouring in when life feels a little overwhelming.
It’s nice knowing that, slowly but surely, I’m getting well again. I had an amazing moment this week when I compared my occupational health report from just before I was signed off work three months ago with the one from last week - it’s unreal to think how far I’ve come in that time, thanks to the support I’ve had from my friends, family and work, and my own hard work.
My friends and family have been amazing during this turbulent time as well. They’ve encouraged me to speak to my GP and to my manager, spoken to me on the phone at stupid o’clock and dealt with me turning up unannounced on their doorsteps. They’ve reminded me of who I am when depression isn’t clouding my judgement, and that they’ve always loved me and always will.
My life has changed so much - I’ve lost people who were my rock, but I’ve made some fantastic new friends along the way.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, and what I need to stay well.
Self-care isn’t all cake and bubble baths - it’s about survival. Some days it’s remembering to brush your teeth, to eat and drink.
I’ve discovered new hobbies like singing in a choir and going to the gym. I thought they were extravagant, but I and others noticed how much my health deteriorated when I stopped doing them. I’ve also started meditating - originally I’d pooh-poohed the idea, but taking time each day to just “be” is so grounding.
In my previous blog, I said how one day I’d be more open about my mental health. I’m so glad I’ve reached that point, even if it took me a few years to get there. I’ve taken ownership of my depression, and I’m proud of how much I’ve achieved. The fact that my openness has encouraged others to seek help for their mental health issues, or even just think about mental health, is incredible. I always said I’d have my “small but perfectly formed” support network to thank, and I do - it’s just now it’s a different group of people, and it’s a lot bigger.