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Returning to work after time off for anxiety

(37 Posts)
KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:21:55

Hey. I wonder if someone can help / advise / handhold / sympathise / chat / whatever?

I've had a very stressful year. I managed to hold it all together until 6 weeks ago when I just crumbled. The doc signed me off immediately. I am due to go back next week, and I really want to go back. But I had a completely sleepless night last night thinking about going back and seeing everyone again.

Now don't get me wrong. My team are amazing and supportive. I've had many messages from them asking how I am. They have been brilliant. Including my boss.

Some of them know the reasons why I'm off, others don't.

The problem is I don't know how I'm going to face everyone. I feel silly I guess. Or maybe people think I'm taking the piss for being off so long. They will ask questions. I will probably be hugged by a few of them (which is lovely but I might end up crying or at the very least embarrassed for all the attention). And those who don't know my situation will ask why I was off so long. What do I say to them?

I know I am going to feel sick on the morning I go back. I probably won't have slept a wink.

I have cancelled the last 3 counselling sessions as I just couldn't face it. I only ever went to one, and after that one I cried solidly for 3 days.

I have another appointment to see my doc on Tuesday. We have discussed anti depressants but concluded that I'm not depressed, just anxious and stressed out. So I'm not sure if he can prescribe me something for that?

God sorry for the length. Thanks if you got this far.

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:35:58

Anyone? I'm working myself trying quite a tizz confused

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:36:15


Wolfiefan Thu 16-Jul-15 11:38:15

This could have been me a couple of years ago! You may find that most people don't know what to say so avoid talking about it.
If people just ask you just say you were unwell.
If you can't face counselling are you sure you are ready to return?

Wolfiefan Thu 16-Jul-15 11:38:48

Oh and when are you going back? Can you visit beforehand?

toastedcheesesandwich Thu 16-Jul-15 11:42:29

Hi Kwak

I'm in a very similar situation to you, was signed off work six weeks ago for depression plus stress and anxiety after a very difficult year. Like you I managed to hold it together until about 7 weeks ago when I just crumbled under the strain. I'm also due back at work next week, and although the depression has lifted I am still very anxious and am handling stress very poorly. I've had some counselling which was helpful in having an outlet but it can't change the core problem. I'm here to handhold and chat!

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:42:40

Wolfie thanks for replying.

I do feel ready to return. I feel that this time off was very much needed and that I am stronger. I want desperately to get back to normal, do my job again, speak to my colleagues about work stuff and stupid stuff.

I think it's just the initial going in on the first morning that makes me feel fearful. I know in my heart that I'll be fine after that.

Wrt counselling. I think it's because I know I'm going to have to face some demons. We brushed upon them at my first session and it was just too much. I think I need to leave it a while.

Viviennemary Thu 16-Jul-15 11:46:15

Your work colleagues sound very sympathetic and understanding. So I don't think you'll face any hostility from them. Six weeks might sound a lot but it isn't really in the grand scheme of things. Just take one day at a time. Or even one hour at a time.

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:46:35

toastedcheesesandwich sorry you're going though similar. It's vile isn't it. We can help each other through it.

And take comfort in Wolfie, who has been where we are and came through it. We know we can do it, it's just so hard.

I can't really visit beforehand but what I might do is send a few people at work a text to let them know I'm coming back. I know I'll get a positive response so maybe that'll help. Could you do that too, toasted?

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 11:49:30

Thanks Vivienne. No I definitely won't get any hostility. It's just the people who don't know why I've been off will ask quite innocently where I've been. It's an open plan office and everyone hears each others conversations. There are a few well meaning colleagues who I just know will do this, and I don't know how I'm going to reply. We are usually chatty and I can't imagine just saying I was unwell will really cut it, if you see what I mean?

Bragadocia Thu 16-Jul-15 11:54:29

I've found SSRI anti depressants have really helped with anxiety. Lots of people find them very effective treatment, who don't actually have symptoms of depression. However, a downside is that they can make you feel worse before they make you feel better, which can be difficult with full time work. Counselling can feel very gruelling, and it's understandable that you have had such a strong reaction to it.

Would you consider allowing someone to accompany you to work on your first day back - would that help?

MargolottaOfUberwold Thu 16-Jul-15 11:56:48

I had a practiced answer for "I haven't seen you for a while type questions". I just said "I wasn''t very well, but I am much better now thank you, how have you been doing?"

Inevitably that led them to talk about themselves and we moved away from me very quickly. Bear in mind people rarely consider us as much as we think they do.

Good luck

Wolfiefan Thu 16-Jul-15 12:00:10

Not well and better now normally shuts people down. They may already have an inkling. If you are concerned is there anyone who can warn people you won't want to chat about why you were off?
Get a new scarf (or some such!) and a nice lunch. Think of all the things you have missed and what you will enjoy.
Do you have a return to work interview?
I got a reading prescription when I was ill. You go to the library and can access books that may help. Quite a few were on anxiety. Worth a look?
Any plans to restart the counselling?Doesn't sound like the issues will go away on their own.
FWIW two years ago I was crippled with depression and anxiety. Today I am actually happy and looking forward to the chaos of the summer holiday!
Good luck x

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 12:00:25

Hi Brag I will speak to my doc about the anti depressants. I was hoping we could arrange for me to be prescribed something that I could take as and when though. So for example, on the morning of my first day back, if I'm feeling anxious, I could take something. Do beta blockers do this? Sorry I'm not clued up on medications.

That's a good idea about bringing a friend. I have a friend who travels in the same direction as me in the morning. I can ask her to get the bus with me. And then ask my colleague to meet me outside the building so I don't go in alone. I also think it might be an idea to go in a bit early so that I'm first in. That way I'm not making a 'dramatic' entrance

ARunOfThings Thu 16-Jul-15 12:01:33

I was off for about 4 months in similar circumstances. To manage going back, I first went in for an hour one day, and then a half day. Both were arranged so that I went in at about 11am, so people were already working away and I could just quietly go in and start working. I found that helpful - would it be an option for you?

In terms of questions, I'd have a generic answer ready, as suggested already. People will realise you don't want to talk about it and will move on.

Hope you feel back to your usual self again!

penguinsaresmall Thu 16-Jul-15 12:02:48

Hi OP - I know a couple of people who have taken anti-depressants for anxiety, rather than depression, and it's worked for them. One friend took them for a few months whilst she was having counselling too, and she said they really helped take the edge of working through her problems.

Best of luck OP flowers

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 12:05:59

MargolottaOfUberwold and Wolfie, perfect replies. I will practice that in my head. Make sure I steer the conversation away from me. Brilliant. Thank you.

I will have a return to work interview and also occupational health. Who tried to call me last week but I was too anxious to pick up the phone.

I just got a text from my boss to let me know she isn't in next week so will miss my return to work. I am actually massively relieved. Although I love her to bits it just makes it that bit less intense with her not there. So that's a bonus.

There are a lot of positive things about returning to work. Loads. I am going to concentrate on them. One of my colleagues has replied to me saying we can have lunch together for a catchup when I get back and that she's missed me. Feeling quite emotional now. She is lovely and I can't wait to see her

Wolfiefan Thu 16-Jul-15 12:07:32

You sound so positive. You can beat this! Do let us know how you get on. Xflowers

toastedcheesesandwich Thu 16-Jul-15 12:08:13

Could you speak with a friend at work and mention you're anxious about coming back and all the attention and maybe they could support & look after you on that first day? Plus maybe a short week back - Start on a Thursday then there's only 2 days until the weekend as it may be emotionally tiring?

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 12:10:34

Can't keep up with replies ! Thank you everyone for posting.

Wolfie, so glad you've found happiness. I hope I will get there. In fact I know I will, it's just the getting there that is a struggle at the moment.

Thanks ARunOfThings. My boss didn't mention me coming in gradually. I didn't think about that. However I do think I need to throw myself back into things. And getting in before everyone else I think is best for me too.

penguinsaresmall I'm definitely not against taking anti depressants, maybe I will need them through counselling.

KwakShoo Thu 16-Jul-15 12:13:40

I'm going to text a very good friend and colleague in a bit and tell her how I'm feeling. Not that she doesn't already know.

I do know how lucky I am, in that I have such good support at work. I feel silly for feeling anxious about going back.

I do feel tons better for posting here though. It's made a huge difference. I love mumsnet.

Lottapianos Thu 16-Jul-15 12:15:32

Absolutely tons of sympathy and a massive hand hold.

I suffer from depression and anxiety and I hear where you're coming from. The negative thoughts you're having about whether people will think you're taking the piss or are otherwise judging you - understandable, but all part of the anxiety and highly unlikely to be true. It sounds like your colleagues have been supportive of you so far and there's no reason to think that won't continue.

Good idea to have a line or two prepared. Moving on quickly to asking people how they are usually works a treat - most people are only too happy to answer that one at length so it takes the spotlight off you!

Concentrating on the positive things is a great idea if you feel like you can. Its ok to be nervous on the day you go back, totally understandable. The first day will probably be the hardest so once you get through that, you'll be fine.

Totally fair enough if you feel like it may not be the right time to re-start counselling. It sounds like that one session may have slightly prised the lid off something very painful - I think of it as my 'box of pain' smile Taking the lid off will be very painful indeed and yes, you will cry and feel utterly dreadful at times. I cannot emphasise how totally normal this is. It feels awful at the time but its a healthy process - letting out the pain and all the shit means you can start to move to a place where you're not carrying it around with you all the time. I've been in therapy for 6 years - its been by far the hardest thing i've ever done but also by far the most rewarding.

Very best of luck to you, it sounds like your'e doing a lot of positive things for yourself x

HawkEyeTheNoo Thu 16-Jul-15 12:19:34

I'm off with work related anxiety, only been off a week but have been back at work for 18 months (20 year long career), however I returned to work a couple of years ago after a year off. I didn't really remember if it was hard or not until now when the thought of going back actually paralyses me. However, what I do remember (and mine is a massive organisation) that people were really happy to see me, I had to take one step at a time and went back phased return of 4 hours a day to begin with and then built it up to a point where it was almost back to where I enjoyed going into work. I don't use tablets either, I just didn't think they helped me much so decided to come off of them (although I did take some to help with flash backs and night sweats).

(I'm rambling. I know) OP once you walk in the door the first ten minutes are the hardest, then it will be like you have never left. People will be curious and if your not willing to chat about why you were off, just say, I feel much better now thank you for asking. This made the nosy ones totally "get it" and the ones who really cared usually said, you know where I am if you need to talk. I wish you all the best OP, and I might be back here in a few weeks asking for the same support (although right now I am panicking about going on to half pay! Even though I've only been off a week, I may have to look for another job!)

WaverleyOwl Thu 16-Jul-15 12:20:28

I don't know if this helps, but in our office, whenever people have been off for extended periods of time, people have been sensitive enough not to make a big deal about it when they come back. I've also never heard anyone being questioned as to why they were off - that is just so intrusive!

I second Margolotta's suggestion of practicing a pat response so you don't feel backed into a corner or surprised into answering too honestly. Something that makes it clear that it is not a topic to be discussed.

I'm currently thinking about whether I need time off for anxiety or depression - like you, a combination of stresses over the last couple of years have taken their toll and I'm not coping. My problem is that it's not really work that's the issue, it's personal stuff, and it seems wrong to take time off work for that. So as ever I struggle on.

What did you find most beneficial about your time away? It sounds like it has really helped? Sorry if that's too nosy!

FinallyHere Thu 16-Jul-15 12:23:20

Its a big step to go straight back to full time. It probably won't be anything like as bad as you may think now. I know i did, when I first went back. There is lots of good advice here, especially about deflecting questions. Useful in lots of situations.

When you talk to HR, could you suggest a phased return to work, so that you start by going in for a few hours and then build up? Do you know anyone well enough to go in just to have a quiet lunch together and catch up. Its a bit lower key to know that its only a few hours, say on the fri, then you get a break again before the next week. Ideally, then, mornings only or tuesday to thursday the next week followed by return to full time.

This almost always happens in our place. You could suggest a planned way forward and see how it is received.

Have you tried any mindfulness or other relaxation techniques? We often hold our breath when fearful, subconsciously, and that makes the fear build. A few conscious reminded to breath out and relax your shoulders might also help.

Hope you find what works for you. xx

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