I’ve been signed off work for the past two months. I want to be clear, I never went to my doctor and asked to be signed off, she made me take it and then she made me take more (I cannot describe the embarrassment, shame and confusion I felt when my shaky hands turned over my sick note to my manager, purposely folded in half so no-one else could see what was on it). See thats one of my major problems, identifying I am having a crisis before its too late!
Anyway, the time to return to work had come, and obviously like any sane person (unless of course you work with fluffy animals or are paid to sleep) I was rather hesitant and un-keen to go back. However when you have a mental illness theres a whole host of other worries and fears that amplify all the others and returning to work can actually prolong a crisis rather than heal it.
In most cases of being signed off sick, the reason as to why is visible/known to you and others. You break your leg, thats an obvious one, everyone can quite clearly see your inability to work for a certain amount of time (i work in a trampoline park, so only having use of one leg is a no go). Say you have the flue, or a nasty bug, at the most you’ll be off for a couple of weeks, and chances are some other peers in the work place have gone or will go through the same bug, and so your in the same boat. In both these scenarios returning to work comes with the usual anxieties of how will people greet you upon your return, can you remember what to do, how are you going to manage getting up everyday again, will my boss be happy or annoyed to see me back and so on, so on, the usual human anxieties.
But I have a ‘mental’ illness, that no-one I work with really ever sees. One day I was there, the next two months I was missing. No explanation, no goodbyes, no sharing, nothing. Pouff gone. And whilst it seems a little odd to get hung up on this when it happens, for all my colleagues know I got fired or quit, its on the return that the struggles really come into play.
No-on can see my reason why I was gone, or why I returned. And the most common questions you get when you do return after a prolonged absence run along the lines of how are you and where have you been? Questions, I literally have no answer too. They know I didn’t break anything, clearly I wasn’t fired, I was gone too long to just be sick. And so when their questions are asked, what the fuck do I tell them?
I cant lie and say I’ve gone travelling either, I literally have no evidence. If I say I’ve been off just because I wanted time off, its followed by a bunch of questions such as oh why? aren’t you broke? what the hell have you done with your time? Again, I have nothing to show. Even if I am able to explain why, tell them about my mental health, how will they receive it? Will they think I’m nuts, or a psycho? Will they still be my friend? Will they think that I shouldn’t have the position I have because I’m not all there. Will they treat me differently, gossip about me, will they even say hello to me. Or worse will they patronise me? Theres so much stigma with mental health, that it had begun building one up in me against myself. And then I realised I had a decision to make, I can reveal all the answers or I can say nothing at all.
I returned to work, and I decided to leave the stigma at the door, and you know what? Thats all it is, stigma. Within in minutes of my return, I was hugged, high fived, lifted up in the air and spun around. The people that know about my mental health, never once asked where have you been, they knew and they didn’t care, despite my worries. Instead I was complimented with a ‘its so wonderful to have you back, we’ve really missed you,’ many times over. And those, bless them, who didn’t know about my mental health, where greeted with a very loving and simple answer of ‘I was off sick because I’m more or less crazy’. And to my surprise no-one batted an eye lid or treated me differently. No-one berated or queried my sanity. And once all the returns had washed away, it really was as if I’d never left.
I know how hard it is to admit to others what your going through, its so hard just admitting it to yourself. But by loving, respecting and owning your mental health, others can see and love you as you are. I made the mistake of underestimating a lot of my work colleagues, the stigma around mental health made me believe they would all judge me. But by breaking the stigma myself and just being honest about me, I broke the stigma around them too, and like I said before, thats all it was, stigma.
Turns out, a lot of people don’t mind if your mental, in fact a lot want to know more. Most aren’t at all fussed as long as you’re nice to them (obviously). Mental health shouldn’t have a stigma, but we’re giving it one.
I no longer intend to. I was off sick for 2month because I had a whoopsie due to my mental health. Do with that information what you like, but its not holding me back anymore.
nb – I did an experiment with one girl, I didn’t tell her why I was off. I just said I took months off because I wanted to. This was the worst decision I made, and every time I had to conjure up an answer I felt like just admitting to the truth. But I continued for science sake and I found that as the questions continued and my responses lacked any substance, her attitude towards me altered, and I could see in her face her befuddlement at my lack of motivation to do anything, her disgust and confusion that I would just not work for two months. She was utterly bemused by my decision, and because I had no real answers to give her that had any valid point or made sense, she just kept asking, questioning, poking. See having a reason for being off sick, even if it is embarrassing is actually far better than not saying anything at all. As soon as I gave a reason, the judgement stopped, but with no reason, people are able to let their imaginations and ideas about you run wild. Atleast by saying, hey I was ill because I’m mental, you are controlling how they perceive you and not letting stigma alter that. I wouldn’t recommend lying about why your off, no matter how scared you are as to saying why because honesty really is the best policy.