Anxiety at work
I am female, nearly 40 and married with a child at primary school. I have Postgraduate and Leadership qualifications and was a high-flier at school, university and at work.
I also have chronic and long-term anxiety which led to a cycle over four or five years of being signed off work for periods of two weeks, two weeks, two weeks again, a month, three months, a month again, then five months. There were extended phased returns, Occupational Health sessions, the shedding of work responsibility and worried colleagues walking me, weeping, through workplace corridors.
Today is the three year anniversary of having given up my job.
My illness has been labelled Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Perinatal Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Whatever it’s called, I have suffered since I was 16 with these symptoms of anxiety: panic attacks; irrational fear; confusion; vertigo leaving me unable to walk; intrusive thoughts about harming myself; an absolute belief that I would kill my newborn; claustrophobia; agoraphobia; nausea; migraines; memory loss (of a whole two years of my life); flashbacks to trauma; dizziness; blurred vision; fatigue; loss of confidence in my abilities or self-worth; the inability to care for my baby.
Having anxiety as a new mother
The last three years have been dark and painful for the whole family. I’ve tried to shield my child from the worst of my illness, but inevitably, he’s noticed. Of course he has.
He has cuddled his mummy when she can’t get off the floor. He has tucked his mummy into his own bed with his special bedtime teddy. He has played quietly on his own for hours while his mummy sleeps so soundly that she doesn’t notice him piling his toys on her head. He has watched TV on the tablet next to his sleeping/panicking/numb/sad mummy so many times that he can sort out any technical problem himself.
He has helped himself to snacks. He has entertained himself in the park while waiting for his daddy to rescue his mummy whose coping mechanisms had shut down. He has sat quietly in his buggy while his mummy weeps inconsolably in doctor’s corridors, playgroup kitchens, supermarkets, libraries, churches, soft play centres and children’s parties. He has put up with being collected from school by friends’ parents he wasn’t expecting. He is used to having emergency playdates so his mummy can sort herself out.
Benefits and allowances for anxiety
I was the breadwinner of the family, so we also had to cope with a sudden drop in income from quite a lot to zero. We have negotiated the world of Citizens’ Advice Bureaux, medical assessment forms, doctors’ letters, Employment and Support Allowance, benefits and tax relief, begging the mortgage company, the loans company and the credit card company for payment holidays, cancelling all direct debits and standing orders, trying to work out if we have the right combination of benefits to be eligible for help with school uniform, prescription costs, council tax and dentist bills.
Oh, and there was also the terrible wait for disability assessments that only the nearly dead pass.
My husband went from being a stay-at-home dad to suddenly also having to be a carer for his wife while desperately needing employment to keep us all going. There were many times when he was dragged home at a moment’s notice to look after his child and his broken wife while trying to return to a career that he hadn’t expected to need to do for another two years. He’s had stress and heart problems that he thinks he has hidden from me.
Recovering from anxiety
I’m just emerging from this breakdown.
It has taken:
- a complete change of pace and altered perception of myself
- a new determination and readiness to recover
- the confidence to say no to anything that will either tire me out or freak me out
- reading and learning about anxiety and mental health in general
- huge amounts of support, kindness, love and childcare from friends, colleagues and family
- exercise, time in nature and the exhilaration of learning a new sport
- finding medication that gives me more relief from anxiety than debilitating side effects
- an emergency supply of Diazepam in all coat pockets and bags
- a dabbling in drawing to try to capture my experience in naive cartoons
- individual and group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, group Mental Health Recovery College courses, a Mindfulness course, silent meditation retreats, individual counselling sessions and group psychotherapy
- working out the useful bits from all the therapy and putting them into practice daily
- a husband who has returned to work quickly enough to take the earning pressure off me
- a slow realisation that I have useful, transferable skills from all the years in my former profession that I can apply to a completely new career at my own pace
- going at my own pace even if that is only one or two hours of work (if it’s a good day)
- explaining my anxiety to everyone I meet so a network of people know how to help me if I’m having an anxiety attack
- sleep, sleep and more sleep. I still sleep every afternoon before the school run to cope with the symptoms that still plague me, but are easier to manage if I am rested
- generosity towards myself so I can congratulate myself for coping rather than blaming myself for not
- an understanding that recovery means something different to everyone
But mainly, it has taken time.