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Not my first rodeo with anti anxiety, anti depressant meds, so that is not an issue as such for me. When the time is right, needs must, and I have no issue with taking such medications to help. But is that time now?

I am getting ahead of myself here, the last thing I said was I was going to speak to the doctors. Well, that appointment has come and gone. Much to my delight the conversation was relaxed and open, and I felt I was able to express myself clearly. More importantly I felt I was listened to throughout, and the doctor understood where I was coming from. Ironically 2 hours before the appointment I received a call from the surgery informing me that the appointment would now be on the phone as the doctor was working from home! Alright for some eh. 

I discussed how I have been anxiety "free" for a long while now, and how Covid times have shown me there is a way to do my job, and be in a good place mentally too. And that even starting to process returning to an office environment has thrown me into a tailspin, and it is affecting me. I said I have always been bad in public spaces, or crowded environments, and do much better alone or in controllable spaces. From there we moved onto the more general aspect of the issue, and the social anxiety.

Her feelings on the matter were two fold. Firstly recognising that this new episode is triggered by the fear of being back in a space I can't control, and that this has until now been avoidable with no impact to my ability to do my job, or work for a living in general. And that secondly she would like to try and improve my general wellbeing in all walks of life, by getting me help for my "anxiety disorder". Her suggestions being using medication to control the anxiety, and counselling to address the social aspect of it, and help me find ways of improving my state of mind in such settings.

We also discussed moving forward with matters at work, and how I can go about addressing my anxiousness about being in an office again. Going back over how things were before Covid, and how I have over the years learned ways to "cope" with the anxiety it caused me, rather than overcome it and feel normal at the end of a working day. Touching on how mentally exhausted I get when in uncomfortable situations. Using all my mental energy to appear and function as "normal", and when the curtain falls, just crashing and being left exhausted, and totally drained. Not to mention feeling edgy and in a foul mood. Repeat that on a daily basis, and the cycle is, wake up OK, interact with partner and friends, go to work, be drained of all your will to live, come home and be an utter arsehole until you go to sleep....Repeat...

Some would say I am not that bad, or too cranky etc, but even that alone takes all my reserves to maintain. Being aware that you are behaving like a bit of an arse is really upsetting. So you are then left with two options. Hide away, or draw on your final reserve of mental strength to at least be likable. It is a really hard one to explain, everything feels so fake. Oh look, its people, slap that smile on, crack a joke or two and reply to "how are you" with a very plastic "yeah yeah good thanks". Rather than, "well to be honest dying inside right now, this is exhausting the shit out of me".

Having spent so many years with multiple personas (not split personality), switching at will to suit the audience, I have become very self aware, and know the second I am starting to be "fake" . And let me tell you, being fake has an energy burn 10x higher than just ticking along being me. To put it in physical terms, as some people only understand those, think of the difference you feel between walking at a nice sedate pace, and running flat out as fast as you can. Heart rate rises, body temp sky rockets, muscles tense, and energy rapidly drains from your body. Now imagine feeling like that, while still just walking along. It would be alarming right? Welcome to my anxiety mind!

So, here we are, post appointment. Diagnosis "Anxiety disorder", treatment, counselling and medication, prognosis hopeful but too soon to tell. I have sent off my referral to the Mental Health service providers locally, and await to hear back with any sort of waiting time, and suggestion of treatment. I have informed my work of the outcome, and await hearing if there is any intervention at this stage, and I have collected my medication from the pharmacy.

The last two are the important factors here. Work, I am sure there is no need for any intervention at this point for a number of reasons. Firstly there is no official 30 day notice period given to return to the office yet. Just the pre-notice notice, if that makes sense. In the meantime we all await to hear if there is a chance of overturning the decision to end WFH. And secondly, at this point the anxiety has not affected my work. While working from home I am still able to function OK, but can honestly say that my focus and concentration has taken a huge hit, as I have touched on before.  If and when work are to do anything, it will be a referral to the Occupational Health service, to assess my ability to carry out my job, and see if they agree with the GP. The GP has said they are more than happy to work with the OH to make sure the best and most suitable arrangements are made, to allow me to work, while managing my well-being. 

The second factor being the medication, and the point of this blog entry. So the deciding factors here are a bit of a mess, hence blogging to try and make sense of it. Bear with me here. 

My need to go down this whole road, to me at least, has been the anxiety triggered by the knowledge of the request to return to the office coming. Until that point I have felt better than I have ever been before. Sure there have been moments of avoidance and struggling with socialising away from work. That is something I have always lived with, and chosen my battles carefully. Risk vs reward so to speak. Is the end goal worth the use of all my mental energy, feeling exhausted and edgy for the next day or two? As you can imagine there are not too many scenarios which warrant that result. The GP wants to tackle this aspect too, so the medication and counselling is to help with all walks of anxious life. OK, great.

Or is it? In general, I don't like being around a lot of people, fake people, talking shit, all in the name of looking good. No thanks, I will stick with the genuine people I actually like, people who know ME and not one of my personas, and that I can actually communicate with, without becoming exhausted. There is no denying that there is social anxiety for me in both settings, but one is far more manageable than the other. Do I feel the anxiety in the calmer setting needs addressing? Maybe! It would be nice to spend more time with people I like in a wider range of settings and environments, but do I want to medicate to do that? THAT is the question here.

The other half of the question, am I happy to medicate, and have to attend counselling to learn coping mechanisms to return to an office, to do a job I have done without fault for the past two and a half years from home? Well............... errm, no, not really! I appreciate I did it from an office before, but that was before WFH was even accepted as possible for my team, and before it necessitated us being at home to do our jobs, to enable the company to keep functioning through Covid. A change I was willing to make for my employer, at very short notice. A change which proved itself to be beneficial to the company on a number of fronts, and one which showed me that my mental health was SO much better away from an office environment. All very accidental. But when you discover a better method by accident, or through circumstances, do you change back because the old normal is the only right way?

If you commute to work by car and the main road you use is closed, and a diversion is set up. If the diversion it turns out it's a quicker route. When the main road opens again, do you go back to your old route? See where I am going with this? There is a new, proven route / work method, why deviate from it for the same of going back to the "good old ways"?

So now, while I wait to hear about the official line on WFH, if any appeal has been successful, or if indeed we will get our 30 days notice to return. Do I start the medication now, to primarily treat the anxiety caused by the news. Tolerate the side effects as the levels build up in my body, and possibly trigger worse anxiety in the short term, and maybe the need to take time off work anyway. Or do I wait for the outcome, and if it us unfavourable, and the notice is given, THEN start the process of taking the medication, at which point I feel it would be more than needed, as my anxiety will blow up? Feel free to share your thoughts.

I know the idea of the meds is to help with my social anxiety too, but right now, I don't want to take meds, and feel like I have been forced into this by matters at work. Which are the primary reason I am in this situation, and had this conversation with my GP in the first place.

Phew, that was a lot to get out of my little head. Thanks for reading. 

 

It has been a few days, and as the mood continues to dip, so do the energy levels. Earlier in the week I put the lethargy down to the high temperatures, but as the weather has returned to normal, and my sleep periods extended, the tiredness has really taken a hold. Lack of interest in getting up in the mornings, seemingly slipping towards the "just another half hour" of the days of depression. And even once up, unless I am fully engaged doing something, I quickly feel ready to sleep.

Another thing I have noticed is a long background headache. The past couple of days now, its just there nagging away, threatening to get worse. It's not dehydration, caffeine deficiency or anything like that. As usual my fluid levels are sky high, and my caffeine intake has not differed. It is more like a stress/ tension headache, which just doesn't want to give up. 

Speaking of tension, the lower back muscle tightness and pain still doesn't seem to want to ease up in any way, and it spreading into my shoulder and neck. Just feels like I am turning into a big ball of stress right now. Which in some respects is hardly surprising. The discomfort, combined with the tiredness I have been feeling are starting to leave me less and less able to focus on tasks. Instead becoming distracted by either symptoms, or starting to put things together in my head, and worry myself into a deeper state of stress and anxiety. 

I have the doctors in a couple of days time, and already that is starting to worry me too. Going over the consultation in my head over and over. What do I say, how do I explain why I think I am feeling this way. Will I sound bone idle and like I am trying to pull a fast one. What is deemed a "disability"? Dare I even utter those words? It just seems such a crass thing to say, when others around me suffer much more in different ways all the time. 

In reality, I am hoping I will see a decent doctor, who I will feel comfortable explaining my symptoms and situation to. Hopefully I will be able to discuss the past 15 or so years, and how I have slowly learned what I can and can't do. Periods on medication, total periods of depression and anxiety on record. And somehow get across how different the past two years have really been for me, until now anyway. 

In the meantime I am trying to keep up with my exercise, and stay active, to at least get a mental boost that way. But I can't deny being distracted while I exercise now. Morning runs and rides are thwarted with thoughts of "I might not be able to do this soon", which really kills the mood I have to say. Not to mention the back pain too, which kinda makes riding and running that bit more difficult. A 40 odd mile ride yesterday wasn't too bad, and thankfully I managed to lose myself for a bit. But by the end I was truly exhausted. A run this morning, first in a while was uncomfortable to say the least, pressure around the hips and pelvis from the muscle tension made it a bit miserable. 

One thing the ride yesterday helped me with though was reminding myself of the difference between mental and physical exhaustion. Are highlighting that what I am feeling at the moment, during a working day is mental exhaustion. My brain absolutely running at full speed, some on day to day work stuff, and the rest seems to be preoccupied and bunged up with worry and overthinking about what is going on, and what lays ahead. 

Boy oh boy, I am getting tired just thinking about it all to write this, so I am gonna go and write myself a list to take to the doctors with me on Wed. Part of me is hoping they don't suggest meds right now, but the other part realises that at times like this, I am not great at judging my own state of well-being, and have turned to a doctor for a reason. I think I would like to stay off meds at least until any discussion between my line manager, HR, and the seniors has taken place, but who am I to judge. 

Right now I am 99.9% positive it is the news of the return to the office that is the cause of this. Over 15-20 years of mental health issues, there have only been a handful of times I feel I can put my finger on the trigger. It always amused me before when I was asked by doctors, and I had no answer. On this occasion, I am pretty darn sure of it. Now I just have to wait and see what everyones opinions of my thoughts are, and how it is treated.


*sigh* Right, back to the real world. Thanks for reading. 

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.