It’s been six months since I’ve worked outside of my home, for anyone other than myself. After losing two jobs in succession due to my mental health (and two prior to that owing to redundancy), I made the decision to give myself a break and stay at home. I’m surprised it’s already been so long. It doesn’t feel like it, and it makes me take stock to wonder what I’ve achieved and whether I’m ready to return to the workplace.
I’ve hesitantly applied for some part time work recently. I even got an interview lined up. These past couple of weeks, though, have planted seeds of doubt. It’s caused me to reflect on my recovery time and my ability or desire to return to work. I’ve had two holidays, and two subsequent weeks that I’ve had to use as recovery time. It takes a lot out of me, still, to do things. I wonder if I need the recovery time as much as I think, or am I just using it because it’s there? If I needed it, there’s no way I can return to a workplace just yet. I’d end up in the same situation I was in before. Taking too many sick days, falling further into myself.
Would a steady income and a sense of purpose be good for me? I feel so guilty for my minimal earnings and inability to contribute. Alleviating that guilt might help me regain a sense of identity, purpose, normality. The guilt may be transferred, though, to the feelings of inadequacy and panic should I have to take any sick leave. It feels like an inevitable cycle I can’t get out of. Inevitable despite my efforts at therapy. Despite my time to heal and look after myself.
I wonder, am I really still too ill to work? It will get to a point where I can only know by trying. Of course, the thought of trying is either hugely anxiety-inducing or results in an internal outburst as though I’ve just ingested Gigglewater. Yes, finally, a Harry-Potter-themed reference! If I’m not ready, how long do I give myself? How do I know?
That, of course, is classic anxiety. Being unable to know for sure whether whatever decision I make is the right one keeps me stagnant. In the spirit of honesty, that stagnation is present much further outside any potential work scenario. My life until now has essentially been me wallowing gloopily in a pond of my own anxieties.
That’s the crux of most things I write about. Anxiety keeps me from doing things, but also keeps the worry of not doing things well and truly alive.
What are the advantages of going back to work?
Okay, so I suppose there are probably some advantages to going back to work. If I can work out what they are, perhaps I can decide if I’m ready.
A steady income
Working self-employed doesn’t bring me enough money in to even pay the rent. Knowing how much money I’d be bringing in every month would allow me to budget properly. I might even be able to pay my own rent! I’d feel less guilty. I could afford to buy things. I’d feel like a Proper Person. What a gift!
Keeping me busy
Working for a set number of hours per week would arguably keep me out of trouble, at least. I’d have something to get up for, and plenty of things to keep me occupied. I could use the skills I’ve built up over the years for something other than complaining on this blog.
Meeting new people
Ugh. I mean, like any sensible person, I hate meeting new people. However, for the last six months it’s been me and Mr Seeds, day in, day out. Yes, I’ve seen friends and family. Perhaps seeing some different people a few times a week wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Perhaps I’d even like them.
I don’t go anywhere. Ever. I go to the shops sometimes, the chemist, the doctors, therapy. A lot of days, I don’t actually go outside. Working would give me somewhere to go and somewhere to be. My body is stagnating as much as my mind. A commute and a different environment might help with that.
What are the disadvantages?
If I’m still unwell, the days off will commence and it’s hard to break the cycle. Once I’ve been ill, something in me switches and it just gets worse. If I don’t acknowledge my illness, though, I might burn out and end up where I started. Taking sedatives on the daily tends for the most part to make me quite tired (who know?). How often will I need a day off to rest outside of my non-working days?
The job itself
I’m looking for part time work. This means that it’s usually a lower grade to what I’ve done in the past. People don’t tend to want someone in for half the week to do grand, fancy things. Instead, they need someone to keep things ticking over. If I’m at a job where I’m not busy enough, I hate it. I get anxious that I’m not doing enough, but no-one ever seems to want to throw me a bone. I feel as though I’ve been burned before in this area. Not least because the last few places I’ve worked have, seemingly, had pretty poor management structures and few opportunities for professional development. I constantly wonder why people are ‘ignoring’ me and end up getting myself into a bit of an anxious state.
Meeting new people
Yes, I said it was a good thing. Yes, it may also be a bad thing. If I don’t feel comfortable, I won’t be happy and the anxiety will spiral. There’s literally no way to know this without jumping straight in, though. Some people are very understanding about my issues with my mental health. Some are not. I don’t know if I’m ready to fight the fight against those who are not again.
A job would arguably give me a lot. There’s a part of me that’s worried about stagnating even more, though. I get a job, it goes okay, I stay there and manage to keep my conditions in check. Before I know it, I’ve been there a year. I’ve done nothing outside of work with my life because when you’re always tired, there’s neither the time nor inclination. Would standing still cause me further anxiety, or is it what I need?
There are no useful conclusions to draw from this. All I’ve done is write out how my brain thinks about any potential good or bad side to returning to work. The problem with having anxiety is knowing what to trust. There’s the part of me that digs its heels in and insists I’m not ready. Is that my gut instinct, or is it anxiety fearing any sort of change? Another equal part thinks I should go for it. I’ll never know unless I try. There’s panic floating there, too. If I do that, am I ignoring my gut? What if it turns out exactly the way my other jobs have? Am I even capable?
I don’t know who or what to listen to. There are rational counter-arguments to everything. I know I can’t lie around in bed blogging and occasionally typing for money for the rest of my life. I’m scared of full time work because I don’t think I can handle it. I’m scared of part time work, knowing it’s temporary, or being unfulfilled.
Caution prevents me making any drastic changes and retrain, study, or anything like that. There are too many unknowns. This is why I have lain so still for such a long time. I don’t like not knowing. I don’t take risks or a chance on myself.
Many people can’t return to work, and that’s awful. It’s awful because our government barely deems these people as worthy of support. I don’t class myself as being completely unable to return. Paralysis caused by anxiety doesn’t render me incapable, just frozen.
I need to thaw myself out, but I’m not sure how or where to turn. I don’t want to deal with disappointment if I do commit to something, only to be hindered by the same issues I’ve already had. Probably, a part of me doesn’t want to commit in case I don’t suffer. That would mean I am healing, and I don’t know how to cope with that.
Returning to work may seem like an easy yes or no answer. It isn’t. There are no yes or no answers when you live your life the way I have, shying from progression or change. I hope to one day know myself well enough to understand the layers of my thoughts. The twisting serpents that form my anxieties alongside the budding rationalities. Healing whilst trying to fit into already-aligned expectations and slots of daily life is hard. There are no tick boxes to tell me when I am capable of doing something new.
Healing is all about trying, but trying is about the unknown. The circle continues, I suppose, until something deviates it from its path. Whether that will be my working life or something else is foggily undetermined, but there will be a deviation. Change will come. I hope I’m able to recognise when it does.