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The Best (and Worst) Parts of Going on Work Leave for Depression

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Editor’s note: This post has a mention of self-harm. If you struggle with self-harm, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“You’re unfit for work. I’m signing you off for four weeks. I’m doubling your medication. I’ll see you in four weeks.”

I looked at the doctor as though he’d literally shat in his hands and told me he was making a pie. I told him four weeks was way too long, I have so many responsibilities and you know, I’ve coped this far, I’ll be alright.

No dice. His word was final.

Now, I know many people would revel in knowing they’ve just been given a get-out-of-work free card for four weeks, but I actually fell into a state of panic.

Two weeks in, and lying in bed, I’m ready to share what it’s like being a workaholic blocked out of her work emails, mixed with a double dosage of anti-depressants. Because my concentration is limited, I’m going to share with you in bullet point format the best and worst things about my last two weeks:

1. Being brutally honest with people is hilarious.

Now, I work for a mental health charity (ironic, I know) so of course my work understands where I am and what I’m going through, but other humans I need to come into contact with have no idea. I’ve stopped telling people I have a flu akin to ebola when explaining why I can’t play or human today. I’ve been brutally honest. And it’s hilarious.

To my drama teacher for example, who told me if I didn’t go to a make-up class for the class I missed I wouldn’t be able to continue the course. I responded, in a text message: “Hi David, I lied, I didn’t have the shits. I actually have chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and an increase in my medication meant I couldn’t walk in a straight line last week. I also couldn’t bring myself to shower, and I didn’t want to upset you all with my drunk, dirty and disorderly behavior. I also tried to learn the script for the lesson, but every time I got to the third line I forgot what I was doing and fell asleep for three hours. So, it wouldn’t have been productive for me turning up. But I’m getting better, I’ve been awake for at least 10 hours today, so I hope you will let me continue with the course, because I like acting a lot. It helps me be other people who don’t have chronic depression and I like that. Thanks.”

His reply was simple, “Bless you. Please stay with us. I will wait to hear when you’re better. David.”

I’m  unsure if his “please stay with us” meant in the class or in life, but I’ll do my best to do both, David, thanks.

2. I forgot how many days were in a year and had to Google it.

I then went on with my business (learning the same three lines of script and sleeping) and forgot again, so had to bookmark the tab for the rest of the day. Writing this now, I still think it’s 352. I don’t know why the Prozac is preventing this knowledge sticking in my brain, but it is. Sorry, world.

3. I’ve lost all coordination when crossing roads.

Like, they don’t write this on the “side effects” bit of the patient information booklet, but it’s a serious side effect for me. I stand at the side of the road, looked left and right, and instruct my legs it is safe to walk. But nothing computes. And I don’t walk. I panic, I stumble, I try to walk but there’s cars so I jump around a bit, turn back and go home. It means I don’t go out much at the moment without another human to push me along.

4. When I do manage to cross roads, I can’t human in supermarkets.

I went to Tesco yesterday for milk. I’ve also just come on my period which was a lovely surprise to add to the ailments of life right now. So I needed lady supplies. I managed to not get hit by a car, but I also couldn’t take my eyes off the ground as walking was hard to fathom and I was worried I was going to trip. I went into Tesco, and went to self-service with the following items:

  • A reduced pack of chicken
  • One avocado
  • One large pack of mango
  • Fabric softener
  • Yogurt
  • One pack of Crumpets (despite being “buy one get one free)
  • One pack of pads
  • One apple

I had no need for any of the above.

I had my own bag. I didn’t tell the self-service, so I had to pile everything up in a mountain on the bagging area and support the avalanching items with one arm whilst I paid with the other before packing into my own bag.

Now, I have a pack of pads when I needed tampons.

I have a pack of crumpets, which my boyfriend has been eating just to justify my purchase but secretly I know he doesn’t really like them.

And I have fabric softener with no washing powder.

I’m a life failure.

5. The more you try and convince your boss you are fit for work, the less you appear fit for work.

6. I have horrible urges I can’t shake.

I’m not going to act on them, but I have an overwhelming urge to stab myself in the stomach. Something is telling me I need to do it. I know it’s just the imbalance of serotonin right now, but I lay in bed until 3 a.m. this morning reading stories of people who have done it and what happens to try and tell that voice in my mind that it’s the worst idea ever.

7. Buying self-help books in public is a huge mistake.

I went to a store to pick up some books to try and improve my attention span and ensure I was still able to read. So I thought I’d look in the self-help section too, to see if any books can help me through this period of ill health. I ended up buying a book called “Reasons To Stay Alive” (which I would recommend to anyone, it’s great) and a few others, like “Everything You Need You Have” and “At Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.” Now, looking back, it probably wasn’t the most optimistic combination of books to set upon the cashier’s desk, but I expected people won’t judge you on your purchases. I was mistaken. The gentleman behind the shelf launched into what I can only describe as a make-shift therapy session, and led me around the shop for another half an hour recommending more books that will make me “not want to die.”

8. Losing a sock you just had on can instigate breakdowns.

My feet go from being really hot and uncomfortable to being super freezing. So I put socks on and take socks off at least nine times a day. So, casualties will occur. However last night I just took my socks off, to realize I was too cold and went to put them back on again. And I could only find one. That was it. That was the end. I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t remember how many days were in a year. I hadn’t eaten a real meal in two weeks. I had the worst panic attack I’ve had in ages. Over a sock. My boyfriend had to take me to bed to calm down. Then he pretended to be a turtle for a while and things got better.

So, it’s Friday. Two weeks since I’ve increased my medication, and it’s been really hard. But I’ve learnt some valuable lessons.

Socks should have those strings on them like children’s mittens have to stop you from losing them.

I shouldn’t make snap decisions while I’m on Prozac.

Always say you’ve brought your own bag with you.

You know you’ve got a keeper when your boyfriend eats crumpets to make you feel like a worthwhile human, and turtles around to calm your panic attack.

Tomorrow, I’m hosting a party. Something I don’t even like to really do when normal. However, lots of people have RSVP’d, food has been paid for and maybe being around humans will help. But I’m concerned at how this will go. If I at least make it there with all the roads I think I will have done OK.

Follow this journey on Life on Laura Lane

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Originally published: April 18, 2016
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