The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day (check out #WorldMentalHealthDay on Twitter if you’re on there) is Mental Health in the Work Place and I’d like to tell you about my positive experiences but I haven’t had any.
After my marriage broke up I had a huge breakdown and it took me over a year to get into a frame of mind that meant I could start thinking about going back to work.
I did a course in using Information Technology (IT) which took 16 weeks. I think this was mainly because that’s how long it took to boot up the computers and the most exciting thing that ever happened was the release of Windows 95.
After I left I decided to do some temping to gain experience and enrolled with every agency I could and got work most weeks.
Sometime during that period I heard Spike Milligan being interviewed by Anthony Clare and decided to read Spike’s autobiography. Reading about his manic depression made me realise that that’s what was wrong with me and, after a trip to a psychiatrist via my GP, the diagnosis was confirmed.
I got medicated up and kept on working but the work began drying up and before long I was only getting work from one agency. I became friends with the manager and we lunched together often. I confided in her about having manic depression aka biploar disorder and I never heard from her again and I never got work through that agency ever again.
I applied for a permanent job in one of the top four accountant companies via an agency and got the job. They laid down some rules on their side – I’d only have to work my fair share of overtime, if managers disagreed with the importance of my workload and which of theirs should come first then they’d sort it out and that there was an open door policy re support when work got too much.
It was bullshit of course. I worked all the overtime – x lived too far away, y had a child, z’s husband wouldn’t let her do it so I got lumbered with it. Working a 60 hour week wasn’t unusual. There were the times when I had to drop everything and go to another office in another city and work there for a few days. Of course there was training courses that were mandatory and they were always in Reading. I have grown to hate Reading.
After 10 months the pressure really got to me. Each time I tried to take time off I was told I was needed then in the next breath, literally the next breath, I would be told I was accumulating holiday time and I needed to use it up.
I was working on energy I didn’t have, I was unhappy, I hated the job, I despised the people I worked with and I did everything I could to get the sack and they wouldn’t do it. Bad as I was at my job and becoming worse, having me there cocking things up was easier than advertising for a new slave.
It was a sexist environment and the partner in charge of the section I worked for was racist which really tested my temper. I often wish I’d stood up to him on that subject but I was too worn down and too tired to do anything other than breathe.
My mental health was suffering and I pleaded with my line manager for help. He told me to take a holiday but refused to let me have time off. My work deteriorated, my temper got shorter and shorter and my behaviour became erratic.
I finally confided in one of the guys that I worked closely with that I had a mental health problem and that the stress of the job was making things worse and that I needed someone on my side to speak up for me. I explained about manic depression/bipolar disorder and he said he’d have a word with the section partner.
A few days later I was told to gather my things together and leave because I no longer fitted the profile of the company. They didn’t openly discriminate on the grounds of my mental health problem but it was just too much of a coincidence.
I never worked again. The whole experience broke me into tiny pieces and what had been a mind that was relatively stable has become a mind that is fragile and teeters on the edge of instabiity every minute of every day.
I celebrate those of you with positive work experiences and I’m thoroughly glad for you. Unless those of us with negative experiences speak up nobody will ever get a positive experience.
I had no real idea of who I was when I last worked and had no sense of my value but I got involved in some community work at a senior management level for a while and realised that I was more than okay and that the flashy top accountant company was full of people thinking that being employed by such a company gave them a sense of self esteem or turbo charged their arrogance.
I have a limited life these days but I good one. I can no longer do any voluntary work but I’ve changed things in my community. I have people who come up to me in the street a decade after my last voluntary work and thank me for the good I’ve done. I am respected and valued and they all know about my mental helath problem.
So what’s the point of this?
Don’t let any of your colleagues make you feel bad because they haven’t the capacity to understand that just because you have issues with mental health you don’t have a decent life. Let them see how wonderful you are – you are amazing, truly.
Don’t live despite your mental health problems or despite negativity at work, live to spite them.