Friday, September 25, 2015

Stress

I've been back at work for a full week now, but prior to that I'd been signed off as unfit for work (it's quite odd seeing yourself described as such) for four weeks with what was essentially stress, though the Doctor initially used the euphemistic descriptions of insomnia and carpel tunnel issues. 

I had been in two minds about writing about it here; I see this blog as something, or somewhere, that I can ignore the tedious everyday stuff and concentrate on things I'm enthusiastic about in a fairly uncomplicated way (so no politics or religion either). On the other hand there's a particular attitude I've encountered when I explain why I've been off work that makes me feel I probably ought to add my bit to the mental health conversation. 

I suppose 'stress' is a bit of a catch all description, and there are so many underlying causes - for me it's been a series of not serious but nagging health problems over the last couple of years (slightly anaemic, vitamin d deficient, glucose intolerant, tennis elbow, carpel tunnel... and so on) coupled with all the normal crap that comes along, and a physically demanding job selling wine (I shift between two and three tons of the stuff around a day, along with being nice to customers - most are lovely, a very few are not). It's all very ordinary but at some point I got out of balance, started with headaches, continued with an increasingly poor sleeping pattern, and from there on in found myself in a spiral of lack of sleep making everything harder to handle and that making it harder to sleep and so on. In the end the why's don't necessarily matter though, it's that lack of balance that makes it hard to cope properly. Before I went to the doctor it felt like my day consisted of trying to stay awake, not cry, and not shout at anybody. This is not an ideal state to be in. 

The moment I spoke to the doctor I felt better, and then wondered why on earth it had taken me so long. The doctor said rest and so that's what I did. I slept a lot, read a bit, knitted a bit, spent time with my mothers new dog, got lots of fresh air and generally had a very nice time of it. Enough sleep stopped the headaches, made me less forgetful, less clumsy, less emotional, and put everything else back into perspective. It's basically all good, a story with a happy outcome instead of one where I get sacked for snapping and having the kind of open and frank sharing of opinions that employers find hard to overlook, or for assaulting a shop lifter, or insulting a challenging customer. Tired and overwrought people are not after all particularly well known for making good decisions. 

What does bother me though is an insidious implication that stress is something to be vaguely ashamed of. From the doctor asking if I minded it as a description on the sick note, to every lovely work mate who has reassured me they won't say anything to anyone else it all feels like this is something that nice people don't talk about. It's not that people have been anything other than supportive, it's just that so many of them seem non plussed by that word stress, and yet it's such a common thing.

 So here I am saying okay, everything got on top of me and I wasn't coping with it very well. If I hadn't stopped and asked for help I would almost certainly have got myself into a real, proper, hard to fix, mess of some sort. As it was taking a few weeks to step back has made a world of difference to me and I would (strongly) encourage anyone that feels they're in a similar situation to do the same - ask for help, it really isn't anything to be ashamed of. 

18 comments:

  1. Thank you for your post. I've been in exactly the same position re stress, and your comment that "stress is something to be vaguely ashamed of" really struck a chord with me. Unlike you, I let it rumble on, and it became a lot worse; until I finally gave in when reaching out, and getting help made such a difference. So thanks for your post. It's not something that everyone would feel comfortable writing about, but I really appreciated your honesty. And am so glad you're feeling better.

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    1. Much better, much more myself. I'm very lucky to have some friends with a bit of experience of stress, anxiety, and depression, who were prepared to give me a bit of a push to talk to my gp. It really does help to realise it's quite a normal thing.

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  2. I'm glad you're feeling better & glad that you got some help & the time off you needed. Much better to do that, as you say, than struggle on & have a major meltdown. Just getting out of the stressful situation for a while is half the battle, isn't it? Perspective is a wonderful thing.

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    1. It really is, both the perspective and removing myself from the one stressful environment (work) that it was easy to take control of. It feels great to be back and not want to cry with frustration or stamp my foot other something.

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  3. The restorative powers of sufficient sleep can never be over-estimated!! Thanks for sharing this - I work in HR, and we do have staff off with 'stress' from time to time, (not often, I'm glad to say, but sometimes). It's all too easy to be cynical about it, and, as you say, it's a bit of a catch all description which can mask a range of underlying issues - the impact of physical poor health on our mental health is also easy to under-estimate, I think. So glad you're feeling more robust, especially with Christmas approaching, which I think you've said before, can be enormously hard work, in every way, for someone in your profession! Really enjoy the blog.

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    1. The restorative powers of sleep are incredible, and I totally agree about the impact of physical health on mental health. One of the good things about working for a big company is that they have plenty of experience of dealing with people like me and good mechanisms for doing it. It would have been a much tougher process in some places I've worked. Christmas can be challenging... But for the first time in years I'm not dreading it and that's quite something to say.

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  4. I'm so glad you were able to get the rest your mind and body obviously needed in time. Thank you for sharing it with us too.

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    1. It doesn't feel like an altogether natural thing to talk about which is one very good reason for bringing it up. I assume there are a lot of people like me who would benefit from realising it's perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed at times, and sensible to ask for help when they do.

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  5. I'm glad too that you were able to take the time, and to get so much good from it. I can testify to the awful effects of insomnia and bad sleep. Adding my thanks for sharing this.

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    1. It's awful. I have no idea how new parents cope!

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  6. Thank goodness you are OK now, and that you asked for help. Good for you for sharing! People need to read things like this. Stay well!

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    1. It feels like it was another person who had got so wound up now, so I'm really glad I took some good advice when I did.

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  7. The first step is always asking for help. I was in a similar situation at work last Christmas,due to some bullying. I had a reduced hours fitnote and luckily the support of some good people.
    Looking after ourselves is so important and reading, knitting, baking is all part of doing that I am convinced.
    Glad to hear you are getting back on an even keel.

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    1. Support makes all the difference, I'm glad you got what you needed as well. Its awful when something like that happens and so completely unnecessary.

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  8. So sorry you've been ill, Hayley, but at least this great post came from it. You're definitely right that this is nothing to be ashamed of (I remember feeling this strongly when I was about 10, and somebody told me how embarrassed somebody would be that their illness turned out to be stress-related - and even at 10 I thought 'well, they're ill, why would that be embarrassing?').

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    1. Thanks, Simon. With a bit more perspective on how wound up I'd got and now even more empathy for others in the same boat, I whole heartedly agree. Something as simple as being overtired all the time can have such a rotten effect (as I guess any new parent can confirm). I also think the earlier a person accepts they aren't coping particularly well the easier it can be to get back on top of things - depending on what the problem is of course. For me it's all been fairly plain sailing but I was lucky to have the support of some very good friends and family who have had much the same experience.

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  9. I think sharing is important, as it is part of the process of getting better (I don't think that's quite the word I mean, but 'back to normal' isn't what I mean either, as these things change 'normal', generally, in my case at least, for the better). You did make me smile though re the "open and frank sharing of opinions" at work - this is such a constant danger for me.

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  10. I think sharing is important to help make a normal experience (who doesn't find everything to much to handle sometimes?) normal. I know what you mean about 'better'. I do feel better - more myself as well - but it mostly comes down to rest and a better perspective. Recognising stress for what it is makes it better too, and part of that is definatley being able to talk about it.

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