After ignoring the symptoms of a mental health condition for many years, I had a breakdown in 2012 and finally accepted that I needed help.
This breakdown coincidentally coincided with Channel 4 Goes Mad week. Some of the programmes shown that week included bits about mental health and work. At the time I was in a bad way mentally and watching these made me very unsure as to whether to disclose my initial diagnosis of Cyclothymia to my employer.
I began to have lots of negative thoughts: Could I ever go back to work? Would people think I am making it up? Would I have to change jobs and, if so, would anyone ever employ me again? That’s one of the problems with mental health, the normal thought process is incredibly skewed and I resorted to my natural position that the worst thing will always happen.
After obsessing about this for days I decided the right thing was to be honest with my family, friends and work. It was a difficult phone call to work, but I explained to my manager about my diagnosis and we agreed to keep in regular contact. He told me I had been referred to Occupational Health and then asked if I also wanted to see the organisation’s Counselling Service. I agreed and started counselling 4 weeks later.
After a few counselling sessions I started to occasionally meet my Manager. This took place nowhere near my workplace as I really had to build up to that. When I finally did enter my workplace, it was at 07:15 when I knew there was little chance of bumping into many people and I left very swiftly. But stepping through those doors helped, it took away some of the anxiety I had felt about returning to work.
After a few counselling sessions I started to occasionally meet my Manager.
Next time I went when I knew my colleagues would be there and the constant butterflies in my stomach were doing the rumba that day. Was I treated differently? Not at all, my colleagues were very caring and I had received texts and messages whilst I was off work which really helped me make this big step.
My Doctor referred me to a Psychiatrist, who diagnosed Bipolar Disorder. I started a medication regime and after a period of trial and error with the medication I found myself suddenly feeling different; I had renewed interest in hobbies I had long abandoned, my sleeping pattern got better, those butterflies finally left, my mind was devoid of negative thought and I began to like myself. In short, I felt good and knew I was ready to go back to work after periods of sick leave totalling nine months.
I had a phased return which had been recommended by Occupational Health. This helped me to readjust to the routine of a working life. In my first week I had a meeting with my colleagues. We talked about Bipolar Disorder and they asked the wonderful question, “How can we help?” I told them that there would be days when I may not be the chattiest and could get upset easily or there would be days where I would be overbearingly hyperactive. I asked them to tell me if they thought I was either, as sometimes I might not be able to recognise it.
After obsessing about this for days I decided the right thing was to be honest with my family, friends and work.
I also wanted to make sure that my colleagues were aware of the support that was available and to give my employer some recognition for the mental health support they provide to employees and the public alike. So, in my role as a Time to Change Wales Champion, I suggested that they should sign the Time to Change Wales Organisational Pledge. In June I watched as it was decided unanimously that my employer would sign up. This was one of my proudest moments.
I know I was in a lucky position, I had an employer and colleagues that had really supported me, helped me get back to work and continue to support me to this day. I appreciate that not everyone gets that level of support from their employer, but I think the work of the Time to Change Wales campaign will help bring employers to a place where mental illness is treated the same as a physical one.
Find out how you can help end mental health stigma within your organsation.