I sat beaming on my therapists couch as I recounted the final days at my job. I put 17 years of growth, failure, tears and triumph to bed. As a fresh faced 25 year old I bounded into work each day because my clients needed me. Going full circle, in my mind at least, I was bounding out the door having given guidance and direction to the eventual service providers that would care for those clients 24 hours a day. I shared all my historical knowledge w the “newbies” in my unit. I bid my colleagues goodbye. Handed in my keys. Drove slowly out of the parking lot. The view in the rear view mirror bittersweet.
How do you feel, she said, bringing me back to the present. With only two days of “freedom” under my belt, I wasn’t sure I knew. It was all still surreal. I had worked really hard over the last two weeks to close out projects, so my final days (Monday & Tuesday) allowed me some space. I didn’t want to be riddled w anxiety and running around frantically. I also didn’t want to just stop being productive and leave things to other people. I was successful in my endeavor. Even solidifying one last project only hours before my departure.
As an Air Force Brat, saying goodbye was commonplace but I never became good at it. I work with some wonderful people. Not Spending 40 hours a week w them was hard to imagine. The laughter. The shared frustrations. The collaboration. The cohesiveness. All will be missed.
I reported that I learned a valuable lesson. Since my dramatic fall into bipolar disorder and subsequent diagnosis in the last 4 years, I have had to take significant time off. If I had to guess, all told, I would say maybe 12 months worth. I would hold on to the idea they absolutely need me at work and I couldn’t possibly go to the hospital. Inevitably I would push myself too hard and symptoms would become too extreme to stay safe. Hospital here I come, again and again.
The lesson, as I cleaned out my desk or passed along projects to coworkers, was the agency will most certainly go on without me. It never stopped while I was gone. The phone still rang. Emails were sent. Deadlines were met or they simply weren’t. I was but a spoke in the wheel. Helpful. Well liked. But at the end of the day, not necessary. So, in my wake, if any projects fall apart or if they are heralded, it’s not my fault.
A new work week has started. Here I am sitting on the couch drinking coffee when normally I would be checking emails. I feel a little empty. I had a massive panic attack over the weekend..seemingly out of no where. It was a great week of goodbyes, my birthday, sunshine, spending time w my husband. Saturday rolls around. Another good day. Did some gardening, some errands. Plans to make dinner. In the midst of that dinner making, my brain flipped.
The music was too loud. The lights too bright. The kitchen fan sounded like a helicopter hovering. I was dizzy. Seeing black. Breath shorter and shorter. Panic. Pure panic. Now on the floor trying to bring air into my body slowly. My husband was talking to me, but it was muffled noise. I was so confused. What had I done wrong? Everything felt right. Of course, it passed. 20-30 min later. I ate a bit of dinner and then my husband put me to bed..at 8 pm.
I have a month off in between jobs. Most people marveled at that. I mean how often does this opportunity present itself. I was so proactive. I restrung my tennis rackets as I used to be quite a competitor, until Bipolar came along. I fixed up my mountain bike. I made some plans with people. I bought some new running shoes. Got my paints out. This is my time to “figure out what I like to do.”
Yet, here I sit. Alone. Not moving. So scared. Scared of what? Time. Empty space in the minutes, hours, weeks and month ahead.
I kid myself. I set myself up with an art project and put on a favorite record. What could be more soothing, right? Connection. Connection with another human being. My curtains are drawn. Doors locked tight. I’m alone. And lonely. Isolation is dangerous. I can keep writing. I can wipe away the tears. I can take the razor blade to my wrist and numb out for awhile. But the fact remains my world is too small.
I went back to work yesterday after 2 weeks of outpatient treatment. I felt a flood of panic and overwhelm. I fought back tears in the restroom. At lunch I called my husband and the tears ran loose. I fear I can’t do this job anymore. I fear I have known that for some time and just keep pushing myself to the brink. What would it mean if I can’t work? I’m weak? I’m pathetic? I texted a friend who is distant but have some issues like me. He suggested I talk to a friend about it. While that’s what I thought I was doing by reaching out to him, it was yet a reminder I have no friends. My world is too small.
I’m entertaining changing jobs. It’s still in social services, which is all I know. But this would be part time. A good friend of mine left my agency and she is recruiting me. Truth is I already work with this agency as they are a vendor. So, there is some comfort in already knowing people. Plus my friend knows of my mental health issues.
Trust in myself is a big concern right now. I don’t trust I know how to make a decision. I don’t trust it’s not just the depression talking when I think I no longer can handle my current job. But, history speaks and I go out on leave about every 5 months and the trigger is often work stress. The trouble is I think it’s my own fault. I get in my own way. I care too much about my job performance. I have too high of expectations for myself. I don’t allow myself mental health days. It’s almost as if I push harder to prove I’m still good enough despite a mental illness. Funny thing though, almost no one at work knows of my diagnosis. So, who am I proving it to?
The constant chaos and chatter in my mind is overwhelming. I can’t collect my thoughts. There is “safety” in my job now in that I have been there for 16 yrs and have quite a bit of seniority. They have worked w me over the last 3 years since my bipolar diagnosis. My longest leave of absence was 3 months. It can’t be easy for an employer. But more often I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. Would this feeling exist even if I didn’t have a job? Are the symptoms solely because of bipolar or exacerbated by work stress? How do I find the answer?
Uncertainty then fuels my anxiety. What an uncomfortable existence. Sometimes I think I want to run away. Pack a bag and drive. Sometimes I think I want to jump off a cliff into the ocean never to be found. Yet here I am trudging through the mud trying to figure out what’s best for me. If I do a face plant, my husband will help me up. He is my world. Something else I got to work on.
One step at a time with his hand in mine we are going to figure this out. He promises. If I can’t trust myself, maybe I can put my trust in him.
It’s not uncommon, to be afraid. In certain circumstances it is certainly warranted. It’s just that when I try to settle down at night, get cozy under the covers, take a few deep breaths, the wolf seems to come alive. I flip from side to side. Pull the covers up and down. Sometimes I even get up and pop another sleeping medication. The wolf waits my restlessness out. He pounces once again as I try to sink into the mattress.
Any and every scenario I had with a person at my job will get played and replayed. Any and every scenario I can think of for tomorrow or for two weeks out will get played and replayed. I can get lost in it. For example, I skipped therapy last night. Normally I have it every 2 weeks but yesterday I was just not interested in talking. So, obviously in 2 more weeks I would be scheduled to see her. I was hosting a full on tirade in my mind. How I was going to burst into her office and have oh so many rational things to say leaning toward opting out of therapy. I shake my head and yell stop. Turn over and fix the covers again. The movie reel spins and I’m thrown into yesterday when I was semi laughing about a very stressful situation I’m facing. Trying to make light of it I made a joke of channeling my boss, which to me is a good thing. Yet, as it plays and replays, I’m uncertain my choice of words was understood. I’m uncertain that I didn’t, quite accidentally, drenched in sarcasm, insult her. Did anyone notice? Did they talk about me and my betrayal of my boss when I left the room? I scan my mind for faces. Reactions. My mind churns and churns. The clock turns and turns. The wolf paces. On and on it goes.