I am a 27 year old female bipolar who has recently been through a 4 month depression along with a break up, about two weeks ago I requested medical leave from work and during this period I sought psychiatric treatment started medication , started psychotherapy. I am both a student and work full time, I struggled to finish out the semester and after that was done I had no more energy to even get up to go to work I was also self medicating with alcohol and sleeping pills. I am now returning to work on Wednesday and am unsure how to deal with all the questions of whats wrong where have I been …etc…..I don’t want to lie and I don’t want to seem like I’m hiding something. I do work in the ER and the girls I work with gossip, gossip, gossip i don’t want to feel paranoid that people know whats going on with me. How do I handle this situation, also I work 12 hour days how do I not break down!?!? Because really deep down inside I don’t want to feel alone I want to tell someone but I know this is probably not the smartest idea at work…
So about 3 1/2 years ago I went through a similar situation. My depression was going on about 3 or 4 months by the time I finally sought help (AFTER going off my meds for a month and self medicating with sleep!) I had lost about everything. (Which is what really sent me over the edge) My house was in foreclosure, my credit was wrecked, I wasn’t talking to any of my friends, my job was on the line and my marriage was hanging by a thread. So one night I drove myself to the hospital.
I took a 2 week medical leave for some inpatient and outpatient therapy. (Where I was finally diagnosed with BP) and by the end of week two I was flipping out. How the heck was I going to return after a two week unexplained absence? The only people who knew what was going on were my manager and my friend whom I worked with at the time, and was no longer speaking to. The chances of having the proper support at work were very low!
And then add in the anxiety of how everyone would react! How would I explain my leave? I’m a horrible liar and I tend to partake in a bit of verbal diarrhea so I’m bound to let it slip that I spent two weeks in a mental hospital. Then my competence would be questions. Gossip would run. Nobody would treat me the same. And the shame and embarrassment alone would probably put me right back where I began!
So I talked with my husband about it, flipped out about it, conjured a million excuses and finally came up with a couple that I could rationalize for quitting my job. We rationalized that returning to work would only feed my instability and now was the perfect time to try out the whole stay at home mom gig. It would save us shit loads in day care costs! My excuses were so good they even had ME convinced.
I walked in on my first day back, grabbed my manager and took her into the conference room and spun my story about day care costs and blah blah blah, grabbed a box, packed up my stuff and walked out without saying a word to anyone.
If I could go back and do it all over again … I would do things SOOOO differently!
I didn’t quit because I was not stable or day care costs were too much. I quit because I was a coward and I was ashamed of who I was. As if acting upon that shame was actually going to help me heal! Not so much.
If I could have done things differently, I would have walked in on my first day back, grabbed my manager and taken her to the conference room. I would have TALKED to her about my fears and anxieties and asked her how she thought I should go about it, what she thought I should or should not tell people, and let her make the decision of whether or not I was really ready to return.
Things that happened as a result of not doing things that way …
My husband got fired a month later. I couldn’t collect unemployment because I had quit and it was a month before Christmas. Three kids, no money and no presents!
I now have a 3yr gap in my work history and have to come up with some sort of story as to why I left the best career I ever had after only 9 months of employment.
The friend that I had worked with … the two of us were pretty much THE department. We got all the big stuff, everyone came to us, and we were the best. So after I left, ALL of my work got dumped on her. Fuel to the fire of her hatred. We tried to mend our friendship, but it never worked.
I had to live with the fact that I threw my career away. I’d worked hard to get there and considering that I had no schooling, I’d done a damn good job. Now with a resume that has no degree and a 3 yr gap, I appear pretty unhirable.
My marriage continued to deteriorate. I was used to being the breadwinner. I held the family together with my job stability. Now I had nothing. He was able to secure a great job, but I had to live with him making all the money now. It’s caused some major issues.
The shame of having not had the courage to stick with it, and instead running away, is far greater than the shame of having a mental disorder that I have absolutely no control over. I had control over whether or not I stayed with the job.
So my advice … go back. Talk to your manager, tell them your concerns. Ask their advice. Let them know that for awhile (until you get back into the swing of things) you may need to take a few more breaks than usual. Not long ones, just 5-15 minutes to catch your breath and gather your bearings. They SHOULD be understanding. (and if they aren’t … well that’s a problem … and we may need to have a conversation about when to talk to HR about being treated unfairly!)
“Yeah, I had to take a leave of absence. Yeah, I’ve got bipolar. I’m getting treatment for it. If I took a leave of absence because my diabetes got a little out of control and I needed to stabilize it, would you still go spread rumors? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
Ok, well I wouldn’t say it like that, but I’d get across the same point.
It’s ok to be bipolar. It’s ok to fall down sometimes. Even people without mental illnesses up taking leave of absences due to mental breakdowns caused by stress and anxiety. It just happens.
Once I got up the guts to start telling people about my illness, I was astounded. Where as I thought people wouldn’t want to be my friend or they might think I was crazy, I got such a different response. Instead I got tons of sympathy. And after telling some people, I found them opening up to me and telling me their stories. Like they were so relieved to find someone that might understand the things they or their family had gone through.
Depression and mental illness is more common than you might think. If a person does not suffer from it, I can almost guarantee someone they know does. So don’t be scared or worried about what others might say. I think you might actually be surprised by some of the reactions you’ll get.
I hope this wasn’t too preachy and at least a little bit of help. You really are not alone. And if you EVER need someone to talk to, you can always get in touch with me.