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I have news, and had a meltdown.

And just like that, WFH was over!

OK, slightly exaggerating there maybe. However, the outcome of the meeting I blogged about the other day did indeed say that our workgroup is "not in the scope for WFH", and therefore must return to the office full time after a 30 day notice period.

To say my reaction to this news was bad would be a serious understatement to say the least. Sleep has gone out the window, constantly dwelling and over-thinking the decision. Mind filled with worry and genuine fear of the idea of returning to working from an office, and anxiety off the chart. To such an extent in fact, I have made a doctors appointment for next week to discuss it.

So much on my mind right now, I don't even know where to start, but will try at the beginning, to try and get some of this out of my head.

When you suffer with severe anxiety, it is not so much about curing, but learning to cope. Over the years I have removed myself from situations which cause me anxiety, becoming quite anti-social which is fine by me, avoiding unnecessary contact with people. Obviously avoiding work, unless having a serious bout of anxiety was never an option. So each time I recovered, I would make an effort, and learn ways to cope with the office environment. However, Covid changed everything.

With Covid, and the introduction of working from home, my life changed, for the better. Now I have to say, a lot of people saw the benefits such as being home for deliveries or work on the house. Childcare became easier for some, and many others saw a huge improvement in their work/home balance. No commute meaning time and money saved, and so on. But for me there was one other thing, a huge reduction in anxiety, and a massive improvement on my mental health. Seriously, you could measure it on so many metrics!

Better sleep, more relaxed mood, more engaging with others, healthier state of mind, almost no anxiety about issues at all. I have become fitter both mentally and physically. I have a better relationship because of it. I am able to deal with lifes little worries in my stride now, rather than falling apart about how I am going to pay a bill for example. I am a better me! And its all thanks to working from home. Plain and simple.

So to suddenly be told that it is coming to an end has thrown me into a tail spin. Was it ever said it was permanent, well no. But as time passed and there was talk about the new way of working, caring about peoples life balances, learning from having WFH, etc, it started to feel like it for sure. Of course, that is just an assumption, and a big one at that, so shame on me for hoping. But as groups started to find out their fates moving forward, people in groups which function similarly to ours were told they were at least working hybrid, so the assumption continued. Then BANG!

Knowing what lays ahead at least removes the uncertainty. But it also in turn replaces it with dread, fear and so much more. My mind is manic right now, concentration on simple tasks is impossible, to the point for example, cutting chicken for lunch earlier, I had to put the knife down, step away and take some breathes, to stop myself from frantically rushing, and possibly hurting myself. It sucks, and I hate feeling myself drop into this mindset. One which is all too familiar, and I know where it goes from here. The only way is down. 

Desperate to get a grip on things before it gets out of control and messy, I contacted my GP surgery today, to try and get an appointment. Of course they were all gone, but after a minute of speaking to reception, it was obviously clear to her that I was in a bad way, and she managed to get me in to see a doctor next week. This is really a situation I hoped I was over with now. Quite a while without seeing a GP about anxiety. In recent years my coping mechanisms were enabling me to work without too much drama. But WFH showed me just how much of a compromise I was making to do that. A level of compromise I cannot even imagine returning to. So much so, I am almost positive it will lead to an episode for me. 

The idea of speaking to the GP now, with the possibility of going back onto medication I have managed to stay off for a number of years now, just to be able to function normally enough to go back to working in my office. All while I have continued to be able to do my job for the last two and a half years, without issue, and in fact with increased productivity, just seems barbaric! If someone said to you "sure, just take this medication, and the job is yours".... Would you?

I know I am asking a lot, I know in a lot of cases people are asking to remain working from home for much more "trivial" reasons. I use that phrase with caution, as I appreciate we are all different, and our reasons are personal to us. Mine just happens to be a well documented mental health issue. Working from home has highlighted to me how much the "toxic" environment of an office was affecting me, even when I thought I was doing well. Only to discover how much better off I was mentally away from that environment. 

I have spent a few days now thinking things over, and trying to work out where my good place is mentally, and have come to the following conclusions.

  • I feel happier and safer working in an isolated environment. Be that a small office, or working in my home office. Preferably the latter. 
  • I am not adverse to being in larger groups to attend meetings, or training.
  • It is not about any person or individual, I simply don't do well around other people. 

This is not about being work shy, trying to have my cake and eat it, or any other head shaking, finger wagging reasons some might like to think up. This is about me being able to do a job I have done for over two decades now, one I enjoy very much. But without having to take medication to do it, and have a "normal" life. 

Without having ever known what it felt like to work from home, the idea of asking to be allowed to, and expecting mountains to be moved to facilitate me would have seemed like a bit of a stretch. But then along came Covid, forced the hand, and made changes no one could have anticipated. For some departments like the one I am in, on the surface it seems to have been a success. Sickness way down, productivity up, engagement up, communication up, and so on. So to upset the apple cart as a whole seems a bit counter intuitive. But on an individual basis, for me, is a cataclysmic blow to my life balance. 

By this point, some are starting to think I am being a bit over dramatic I am sure, and others noticing the repetition in the paragraphs, but it is with reason. Those thinking its dramatic simply do not understand the implications on day to day life living with severe anxiety has. And the repetition, well that is just to get my message across. I cannot even start to comprehend working back in the office with a group of people, without having a complete meltdown, and taking a huge dose of medication to numb my mind a bit.

What a great balance, taking medication, dulling my thought process, but being able to work, before coming home completely mentally drained from work, then starting all over again after a crap nights sleep.  

I have to say of course, that this is a fluid situation, and at this point I have NOT been given 30 days notice to return to the office. If this is to happen, it is estimated we will return for some time in September. In the meantime I have my GP appointment, have begun some online counselling with AXA provided by work, and have spoken to my manager and HR about my concerns. Which are in turn being addressed. 

With the disability act in mind, I have asked for some consideration to be given to my situation, and have been advised I will need to see Occupational Health for an assessment. I will also raise this with my GP. All I can do now is hope that my appeal is considered fairly, and that I can continue in my role, and without medication for the foreseeable future. 

Right, am back to find a cold damp rock to hide under until I hear more. In the meantime, thanks for reading this ramble. 

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