Returning Back to work …

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…

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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!)

Gossip is gossip. It’s the product of another’s insecurities and really, it makes you so much better of a person than them. If people find out what’s going on, wear it proud.

“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.

19 thoughts on “Returning Back to work …

  1. I love your answer, “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.”

    When my daughter was hospitalized in high school someone told me to lie and say she had gone in for her epilepsy. My reaction was to look at them and say “Why?” Bipolar is an illness just as much as her epilepsy is. I’d rather people know the (downplayed) truth from me than spread rumors. I am VERY matter-of-fact about it. And it turned out people were helpful and kind. many people had mental illness in their family and could relate. Many people suffer unipolar depression. I think this matter-of-factness helps break down stigma. Good luck.

  2. I think a big issue that society faces is immaturity, even at ages 25+. There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to anyone willing to get help for whatever illnesses they may have. I remember my crash, and while not diagnosed with bipolar (instead, dysthymia), I can tell you this…it is far easier dealing with my illness out in the open than behind the curtain. Those individuals that shunned me because of my illness, well, what sorts of friends were they to not support me in my hour of need? Gossip, labels, blank stares, superficial relationships…they have no business participating in my fabulous, albeit complicated, life.
    Mary, you are the greatest inspiration a big sister could have. You found your courage and strength. You decided to share that with the ENTIRE PLANET, and for that I have the utmost respect and admiration for you. I hope everyone that reads your blog finds their own strength and courage to speak out about their illness, get the support they deserve, and continue to live life, no matter how complicated. You have made the difference in the world that we all strive for.
    I love you.

  3. I took a 30 day leave of absence from work in may 2008 because i kept hiding in the bathroom at work having anxiety attacks, and having bigger issues at home. i knew i needed some time to myself….so i took some time off. only my supervisor knew why. but when my time was up and i had to go back i walked in sat down at my desk, took a call (i worked in a call center) and within 5 minutes of the first customer talking to me i knew i wasnt ready to be back. i put the lady on hold walked up to my supervisor looked at him and said simply “i can’t do this,” with tears in my eyes….i told him about the lady on hold grabbed my stuff and left. I havent worked since…..i lost everything…..i lost my apartment, had to move in with my mom, lost some friends. now its been 2 1/2 yrs….its taken me that long to rebuild myself and my life….i hadnt even considered going back to work until last week. a lady called from a temp service i worked for like 7 yrs ago looking for me….she has a job in a call center she’s looking for a few people and she thought of me….I’ve got to go interview with the company next week and i am nervous….i am in the same perdicament you have Marybeth….i have a resume with a 2 1/2 yr gap and what am i suppose to tell them when they ask…..”oh i took a sebatical because i was mentally ill” really?! i dont think so….lol….So i am really nervous….i am nervous about going back to work after so long….how will i handle it? will i be able to handle it? will i even get the job? i’m pretty confident….sandy wouldnt have called me if she didnt have it lined up for me….but seriously what am i suppose to do now?

  4. Angel, is it possible to say your daughter was ill and you needed to stay home with her? I always say day care costs became too much, which is totally true 🙂

  5. Very well-written Marybeth. I remember the first mental health leave I had to take. It was hard to go back and face everything. I just told people I was sick and didn’t want to talk about it and moved on. I ended up working for that company for 10 years. I had 4 mental health/hospital leaves during that time. Now, I stay at home but I tried and tried to go back to work and I am on Social Security Disability. I was embarassed about it for the first few years but not anymore. I can’t change my disease and I can’t change that I can’t handle a job, a mentally ill son, husband, home, etc all at the same time. So press on I do.

  6. I have had many jobs in my short life, and I’ve quit all of them because of my mental illness… I always have some sort of break down, end up in the hospital, and to scared to go back to work… The most recent job I had I worked for about 3 or 4 months before I had a break down… They let me take some personal time (about 3 months!!!) Then I went back part time (REALLY part time…) By my choice… I started at 1-4 hour shift a week, then they gradually gave me more hours-before I was ready… I know I could’ve told them to cut back my hours again, but I was too scared… So I started calling off a lot, going in late, leaving early… I was probably one of the worst employees there… I stuck it out for about 2 or 3 months, before I just couldn’t take it any longer and quit… In retrospect, I know that going through all these jobs is a very bad idea, but, I don’t know, I guess I just have a hard time with work… When I am asked about the gaps in between jobs, I simply say it is medically related, and they leave it at that… I am now trying to be more open about my MI, though… At my last job, before I quit, I actually told a few people that the reason I took that leave was because I had a mental breakdown-and they were pretty cool about it… Don’t get me wrong-I don’t go telling anyone and everyone… Just a few that I know won’t take it the wrong way… The one person I worked with actually helped me get through some difficult times and gave me some easy work when I needed it!!! Anyway, that’s just my input…

  7. I saw this on reddit. I concur completely that you should be as honest as possible with people who can take it. Different countries/cultures/people have different views on mental illness (whether it’s real or not, etc) but if you have the time to talk about it then share away. That’s what I do in general. Very seldom do I skirt the subject. It’s not like talking about having some surgery or something gross. It’s more interesting and almost fashionable these days. 😮

    The truth will silence the rumors… not that we usually hear rumors about ourselves.

  8. I have a slightly different perspective. My boss has taken periodic time off over the years (at about 3 months at a time each) to treat some sort of mental illness. I think I would be alot more understanding about it, were it not for the fact that when he comes back to work, he makes everyone’s life a living hell. And its not an overt thing…its the periodic rants and raves, the overcompensating amount of self control, and subsequently micromanagement, and lastly just the overall general vibe. He unusually comes back from these stints abnormally subdued, maybe even medicated.
    Dealing with his mental stability is difficult, at best. There is a tremendous amount of resentment among his staff, and also a lack of sympathy.

    I understand why people would not want to be open about mental illness at work. The stigma and question of competency would come up. However, if he was a little more forthcoming, it would help his staff maneuver and navigate the drawbacks of his illness with more kindness and compassion.

  9. Once diagnosed with bipolar curse, thanks tobour technology of EMR/MIB and. Risk managemnt, your job situation has forever changed…because you cannot conrol gossip from the top down. Good luck.

  10. Hi I’m about to face the same situation after 3 months off, a diagnosis of BP2 & GAD, and starting to take Lexapro & Lamictal. I discussed it with my psychiatrist & have decided to say that I’ve had burnout with some mood problems, and ask to work from home for a couple of days a week until I’m fighting fit. I’ll be monitoring how I cope with stress & anxiety to see whether I need to review my role & responsibilities. Good luck!

  11. When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar II (already had untreated Generalized Anxiety Disorder for years), I was in one of those high octane, high travel, high salary jobs that a minor manic period is perfect for. It’s hitting my first big depression that led to my leave, and diagnosis of bipolar.

    I shared everything with my boss (except for the stupid thing I did that landed me in an ambulance and ultimately the mental hospital). I told him my diagnoses, called him from the hospital…

    When I came back to work, all of my projects had been reassigned – I was out on short-term disability for 5 weeks, and I had worked on those projects for many months/years. I asked to start back on them and was told it would confuse the customer to change the project leader now (ummm, I thought someone was just covering for me until I returned). I was strung along for a month, then let go due to “downsizing” – downsizing by 1.

    My lesson: NEVER tell your company about your illness. 3 years of unemployment/underemployment later, I got a large promotion in my new job – bringing my salary to around 50% of what it was 3 years ago. Unfortunately, I’ve had to take STD again, but all I told my boss is that my doctor advised I go on disability. My company has an HR department and consults doctors of their own, so they can all sort it out without me facing repercussions of the stigma of mental health disorders.

    Good luck to all of you.

  12. I got laid off from my dream job when the economy went downhill. I am so sensitive about it that 6 years later I can’t handle going back to the company to work there again. I now teach accounting at three schools, but I barely make $30,000 per year. My husband is ill with a neurological illness and works contract jobs. I have bipolar 1. It wrecked my confidence and opinion of myself. I love teaching but need more money, so I take on as much extra work as I can. I look at friends, and how successful they are. I had so many expectations. But this year we had additional medical and financial problems and lost our house. My son now is being treated for depression. He is on the same meds that I am on. I am 54 and have taken my meds religiously for over 25 years. My family is intact. I just feel that I have fallen short financially and professionally. I have isolated myself from friends. How can I feel better enough about myself so that I can move forward into something better?

  13. I apologize for my delay in response, but I will definitely put this question in our queue to be answered by myself or one of our other authors. Thanks again!

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