My last post was dated July 4, 2013. What happened since? I am sorry I was unable to keep writing and I hope I did not lose too many readers in the meantime.
ON WORK AND MENTAL ILLNESS
BAD BEHAVIOUR OR SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS?
My last blog post was written a long time ago. The hiatus was due to other things happening and taking over my life. The year 2013 was one of upheaval and change for me, all of it leading to the realization that the next stage in my life is pushing hard to take the place of the present. Yes, that would be retirement from my day job.
I have not been able to write. My brain would not focus. My usual ability to take distance from my daily life–finding refuge in imagination and writing–was completely shattered during this time.
In the months since I last wrote on this blog I was assigned a new job over the summer, and failed in the eyes of my superiors. I was assigned yet another new job with reduced responsibilities and less exposure to stress at a new work site, new supervisor, plus less salary. I was ill with anxiety.
I had little input in these changes; I felt chastised and very vulnerable. Never before in my life had I felt less control about my work life, or less sure about my rights as an employee. Perception of the reason for my incapacity is everything. Was my poor performance wilful defiance and did it warrant discipline? Was it a mental health problem and accommodation for illness would be more relevant? How can one tell the difference? What is the right course of action?
Just now the discussion of incapacity on the job is front and centre in the media with Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, as the subject of the scandal. The man is obviously mentally unhinged and possibly ill, besides being a bully, but he does not seem to know it.
My trip into mental deterioration started in 2011 and resurfaced this year, 2013. I became aware that I was not myself mentally in January 2012. My deterioration happened due to several causes, but the most obvious was that the stress I experienced from the particular work I did. The exposure to hostile and aggressive clientele during long years on the job, added to the absorption of the trauma told to me on the job by many women and children, finally affected my resiliency. I became ill: my ability to focus and to cope with stress decreased acutely as a result.
I won’t speak here about other factors that were related to the work site. Suffice to say that I made mistakes on the job, followed by more scrutiny from superiors. As a strong person, a straight shooter and outspoken, a shop steward for many years, and a volunteer on committees and in associations, it was hard to see for others what was going on with me. Besides the perception of me and my illness, others have their own agenda: office politics always play a role on any worksite.
Once cool-headed and able to deal with the most explosive or hostile rant from any difficult client, I now was crumbling on the job, breaking down crying, hiding from calls, confused, exhausted, full of irrational fears, unable to stay at work. I was off sick for several months. However, I recovered with a short period of prescription medications and by leading an active and healthy life style, yoga a very useful part of it. I returned to work gradually and was deemed rehabilitated, although I felt somehow different, changed forever, vulnerable.
I was easily unhinged: return to the same job with increased stress (as my case load increased) caused a similar flight or fight response and similar reactions of withdrawal as before. Yes, my illness returned. This time I recognized the symptoms and turned to my physician and therapist sooner. I was able to prevent deterioration to he previous point of serious illness and was off for only a brief period.
My illness lingered anyway at a lower level of intensity although my capacity to work was clearly affected. Eventually, the medication prescribed by my specialist together with the clinical counseling I have enjoyed in the last months helped me get back on an even keel. I enjoy the desk job I now occupy. I feel functional again. I have less fear and anxiety about going to work. I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel and know that I am heading for the end of work as I knew it.
Will I ever be the old me again? No, I do not expect that. One always changes through the experiences of life. I would be very concerned if I would not have changed through this ordeal. That would mean that my self preservation instincts were dismantled and then I really would be in trouble.
I have never been a fearful type and usually entered any adventure or challenge put before me. I was proud of my lack of fear. My mantra was “I will try anything once”.
In the least three years I learned what it means to live with anxiety and be fearful.
My trust in others has drastically changed. Everybody has an agenda, although it may be hidden. What is obvious to me, might not be to others. Trust in myself has changed. I obviously cannot get out of any difficult situation anymore without harm. This is nature; growing older and wiser is part of aging; knowing one’s limits and strengths is part of wisdom.
In a few years I will retire. I will have gained another increment of wisdom towards becoming a Sage. Ha! I don’t have to prove myself any more, nor compete with the Gen-Xers. In this time of overvaluing looking young and unblemished, when plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons is not frowned on while, strangely, young people are not really valued, I am content. I am not young. I am not old, but aging, looking forward to being able to devote more of my time to writing.
I will continue to write stories and will blog again. Who knows, my experiences of the last years might come in handy one day and show up in a story.
First I will leave tomorrow for a vacation in Mexico. Stay tuned…