“But I can’t take time off! I’m ashamed, I should be coping better! I’ll lose my job! I can’t-” I’m sat sobbing to a poor GP at my local surgery who has never even met me before. I’ve barely been in the room 2 minutes and I’m already working myself up into such a state I can barely think straight.
This needs some context, I know.
It’s a Friday and I’ve just dropped my friend back at her flat after helping her home from the hospital. I’m on my last day off sick from a throat and ear infection and just trying to get up and about ready for my return to work on Monday. I bid my friend farewell and put in my headphones to make the relatively short walk back into town.
I turn the music up loud but my skin starts to crawl with what can only be described as an intense feeling of paranoia. I can hear footsteps over the music and my head whips around but nobody is following me and nobody walking the other way is close enough for the footsteps to be that loud. I furrow my brow and continue walking, keeping my wits about me but feeling like someone is watching me somehow.
Later that night, I lie in my bed in the dark clutching my phone. Once more, I don’t feel alone or even safe in my own room. I turn on my fairy lights and watch in horror as a small bug gets up and crawls across my duvet. I recoil but in doing so, I blink. And that bug turns back into a spot on my duvet cover that’s part of the pattern. I text the only person I know would be awake at that time.
My rational brain tries to convince my irrational brain that weird things can happen when you have infections. You can go crazy. And besides, I was so run down my body was probably just crying out for some food and sleep…
I send these two words and get almost an immediate response that leads to a conversation where I start to feel foolish and a bit crazy. I lie awake and try to think of logical reasons but one alarm bell is faintly sounding in my head.
Long story short, I don’t. I bottle it up inside and head to work on the Monday as I’d planned. It’s not the greatest of days but by lunch, I knew I needed to go to A&E. The thought of a full scale mental breakdown scared me so after work, I reluctantly headed off to A&E to be checked out.
To say I was disappointed by the mental health assessment is an understatement. I don’t feel like I’m being taken seriously at all so once I’m discharged, I head home and do what any normal human being would have done first.
I rang 111.
The NHS 111 service has to be the most helpful thing this country has for it’s healthcare. Advice on the best place for treatment? GPs out of hours? It’s the one service I rely on most – I could be dying and still call 111 and ask if I should be in hospital or not
Upon explaining what was going on, the call handler assessed me as high risk of suicide and told me to get to A&E within the hour. My explanation of the evening’s events catches her off guard and she arranges for a mental health nurse to assess me over the phone who also agrees I should be in hospital. I tell my story again. So it’s arranged that an out of hours GP is to call me.
He fairly quickly tells me that I should not have been discharged from hospital and ends up calling an ambulance out for me to ferry me back to A&E.
I’d rung up asking for medical advice, it’s 1am and I have work in a few hours. Now there’s paramedics on their way to my house. I pace up and down in my living room, cursing the NHS out to my mum and moaning about wasting their resources. She tells me to calm down and eventually I do. I pack a small bag with essentials for a trip to A&E (and in case by some horrible twist of fate I get bloody sectioned) and try to fall asleep on the sofa while we wait for the ambulance.
It’s 3am when they arrive and I am fairly delirious at this point. I hadn’t eaten or slept for around 24 hours and my body is close to giving out. A brief assessment is made but as my mum is in the room, I keep my true thoughts and feelings to myself. The paramedics are starting to look like I may be wasting time a little bit so I ask if my mum could leave.
Then I proceeded to have the most graceful and half assed mental breakdown those poor paramedics will ever have to see because I was too weak to cry properly. I scare myself. It’s the first time I’ve felt scared of myself and felt I truly need serious help. The paramedics realise the severity of the situation and it’s deemed I am a serious risk to myself and probably need to go for a crisis assessment.
I could feel myself dangerously close to fainting as the paramedics try to contact the crisis team. I truly felt like I’d given up the ghost completely
The crisis team advise me not to go to A&E because I’d already had a mental health assessment within 24 hours so there was no point. Apparently me needing paramedics 5 hours after a trip to hospital wasn’t enough to raise concerns with them. I’m advised to look after myself and see my GP as early as possible. Now, I don’t ever condone verbal or physical abuse of NHS staff but given the issues I’ve had with the NHS these past few months… the call handler is lucky I was as tired as I was.
My response to basically being told to treat suicidal thoughts with self care was something along the lines of:
“With all due respect” I say, as patiently as I can possibly manage, “The NHS has failed me, refused to listen to me and treated me so bloody badly in the last 5 years that I’ve done your job for you. I looked after myself because you sure as hell weren’t going to. I have had multiple attempts to end my life and still no meaningful care. It was ME who dragged myself back out of a dark place after a suicide attempt last year. I was the only one caring me for me so don’t you DARE quote self care techniques at me.”
I give up co-operating and the paramedics reluctantly leave me at home with my family but urge me to see a GP ASAP because there was nothing they could do. They’d actually done heaps for me. They’d prompted me to open up and realise I’d overworked and pushed myself to seem outwardly OK for far too long. I’d put my mental health on the back burner for too long and now I was broken.
I did note when I saw my normal GP that there was a note on my medical records explaining my distaste with the mental health service… at least they’re not ignoring it anymore
My dad goes to work and I go to bed with mum, cuddled up to her and panicking about losing my job. That same broken record mantra over and over until fatigue eventually knocks me out cold.
I see a GP. I’m totally deflated and don’t feel like Melanie at all. I explain what happened to him and start to cry again. He tells me I cannot work like this. Not with my job. So he signs me off work. And while I stress and panic about the implications after just going back after my infection, it’s a relief and almost motivation to push hard. I have 24 hours of every single day to dedicate time to getting myself better. And I intend to get myself better.
There is absolutely no point in overworking yourself if you’re not well. For months, I’ve pushed myself to just look OK externally and bottle everything up in the hope it’ll all get better. But some issues need addressing and resolving. You’re doing more damage by not taking some time to be OK and get yourself some help.
There is only one you on this planet. Jobs can be replaced. Life will pick back up when you are ready to get back into it. You cannot be replaced. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
It’s taken a while but I’ve come to accept that there’s no shame in taking time off work. My health is more important. I can’t do my job to the standard I want to if I am not in the right place mentally. There is absolutely no shame. If you and your doctor think it’s the right decision, then do it. You would not walk on a broken leg in the hope it would just heal over time so why continue to put your mental health on the back burner?
As hard as it is and as worrying as it is to be off work, when I go back I know I will be in a better place to move forward and start getting my life in check. I will be healthier and happier and in a better place to work to the best of my abilities.
Always look after you. You are the most important thing in your life. As long as you’re still OK and here, that’s all that matters.