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.