Liptember: a word about mental health and work.

I missed out on doing a Liptember update last week because I was just too exhausted.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about how having a mental illness affects my ability to work.

For a long time I was only able to work part-time jobs.  A couple of hours at work with a constant stream of customers was enough to leave me drained and exhausted.  By the end of my shift I would be too anxious to talk to anybody.  I’d be watching the seconds tick down until I could finish up and go home.  As I left the store, I would screw my headphones tightly into my ears so that I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone.  I felt horrible for being anti social, but the truth is that interacting with people puts a huge strain on me.  I’m extremely sensitive to noise and conflict.  If I had a shift where a customer got angry or frustrated, I would feel agitated for ages afterwards.

This year I took on my first full-time job.  I’ve always felt extremely nervous about working full time because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to handle it.  I was worried about getting tired and run-down, as my depression gets worse when I am burnt out.  I was also very concerned about the limits on my time, because I do a lot of self-care activities to help keep my mental health on an even keel.  I knew that with less time to spare, I wouldn’t be able to do those things that allow me to function on a day-to-day basis.

More than anything, I was concerned about whether I would actually be able to do my job well.  I’m a clever, well-organized person and I am a very hard worker.  But when I’m depressed, I find it hard to concentrate.  My memory suffers and I can get quite snappish with people.  I become very tired and jittery.  I find it difficult to cope when new tasks are thrown at me while I’m still working on old ones.  I don’t work well under time pressure.  I was concerned that my depression would mean that I wouldn’t be able to do my job well and that I’d be fired.

I do struggle working full time with my depression.  Lately I’ve slipped backwards because the demands at work have been high and it’s been eating into my spare time.  I had a melt-down at work a few months in when my boss kept piling more tasks into my inbox.  I feel frustrated with myself.  I worry that people think I’m lazy.  I can’t stress enough that depression has nothing to do with laziness.  I like working!  I’m a very hard-working person. It’s just that I get too tired and brain-fogged to do a lot of the work that I have to do.  It’s maddening.

But I plod on. I feel proud of the work I’m doing and the way that I’m performing at work. I try my best to make time for those things that keep me going, like my family and friends, my yoga practice, my blogging and crafting.  It’s hard, but I feel proud of myself for achieving what I have so far.

And so with that in mind, here are my liptember selfies for this week.

On Friday I wore pretty florals and Avon’s “Kiss of Pink” lipstick.

On Saturday I tried out Revlon’s “Ravish Me Red”.  It’s a lot more orange than the reds I usually go for, and I’m still not convinced that I like it.

On Sunday I didn’t take a selfie, because I spent the morning in bed and the afternoon bombed out on the couch watching The Walking Dead.  I was just too exhausted to do anything else.

On Monday I went for hot pink and my PacMan earrings to cheer me up.  It wasn’t entirely successful though.  After spending the day fielding work calls, I had a meltdown at my parents house and spent the evening in bed, crying with frustration.

I struggled to get dressed on Tuesday morning for work.  I ended up wearing a  much more casual outfit than usual and a slick of Rimmel’s Hot Fudge lipstick.

By Wednesday I was feeling  a lot better.  I’m wearing another Rimmel lipstick.  This one is Bright Spark.

Thursday was snakeprint and Chinatown Chase from Lipstick Queen.

On Friday I wore fire engine red and my Nana’s black pearls.

I celebrated my last work day of the week with pretty florals and Choccie lipstick from Rimmel.

On Sunday I wore no makeup, but I did manage a swipe of nude lippie.  This one is Glinda from Urban Decay.

And by Monday I felt recharged and refreshed and ready for a swipe of Liptember Red.

If you would like to donate to Liptember to help raise money for women’s mental health research, please visit my fundraising page.  All donations are greatly appreciated.  You could also buy something from my Etsy store, as 10% from each sale will be dontated to Liptember.

Do you have a mental illness?  How has it affected your ability to work?

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6 thoughts on “Liptember: a word about mental health and work.

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. My boyfriend has anxiety issues, and while his challenges are different from what you face, this served as a great way for us to have another conversation about what things feel like for him by using your experiences as s starting point. I think it’s wonderful that you make self care such a priority and share with us here.

    • Oh that’s awesome! I’m so glad that you were able to chat with your boyfriend and that I was able to provide a starting point for a very fruitful conversation. I’m so pleased about that.

  2. On one occasion, I was so depressed, I legitimately forgot to go to work. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go or that I was too tired. I just honestly forgot. Luckily my boss was very understanding.

    • Oh, that’s awful. I can totally understand how that would happen though. My mind is so fogged when I am really depressed and I have serious trouble remembering even the most basic things. That’s awesome that you have such an understanding boss.

  3. I was first diagnosed with depression in 2011, at the age of 24, but had probably had two episodes prior to that, the first being aged 16, during which time I once walked alongside a main road, wanting to kill myself by jumping out into the traffic but being too scared to follow through with it. After being diagnosed, after a week off work, two weeks of modified duties, six months of therapy and a year of antidepressants we (me, my partner, family and GP) all thought this was over and all behind me. I came off medication (Zoloft) and life was good.

    My depression came back earlier this year, much more severely, so much so that I wasn’t able to work because I simply couldn’t function. Simple things like getting out of bed, showering, dressing and eating became so difficult. I became suicidal and actually made a plan of how and where I would kill myself, right down to what combination of substances I would overdose on and where I could do it without my partner being the one to find my body.

    I went straight back onto Zoloft, almost to the maximum dose, saw a psychiatrist at the urging of one of my bosses, and had three weeks off work. The psychiatrist told me that because I most likely had melancholic depression, and had had so many episodes, starting when I was relatively young, that I would be best off staying on medication for at least 3 years, possibly longer. When I went back to work, I had two weeks of modified duties and then was right back in it.

    Things went ok for about four months, but then I had a relapse. I started not being able to sleep again, waking up early in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep, I couldn’t concentrate, getting anything done became a huge effort, and my mood plummeted. My bosses insisted I go back to the psychiatrist, who switched my medication to Cymbalta. Since then, I have done pretty well, and am pretty much back to “normal”.

    I work full time. Having depression doesn’t affect my ability to work when I am well, but definitely has a massive impact on my ability to do my job when I’m unwell. I’m a doctor. Some of the things that are very difficult when I’m unwell are talking to people and making decisions – when I’m unwell, I don’t want to talk to anyone, and my brain is so fogged that decision making is sometimes completely beyond me.

    I am very lucky in that I work in an extremely supportive workplace, and my bosses keep a very close eye on me in terms of how I am feeling, and how I am doing. One, who is my team manager, happens to be a psychiatrist. I am a bit of a workaholic and tend not to refuse extra tasks at work, especially since I am one of the more experienced junior doctors and things often come my way. My job involves an almost full-time clinical load as well as additional research projects, which I have to work on outside of work hours.

    My bosses are very aware that I’m quite good at hiding how I’m really feeling, and will sometimes look like I’m functioning completely normally on the outside but not coping and melting down on the inside. Two of the hardest things that I have had to learn in order to be able to cope with working full time with depression are to be able to put my hand up and say that I’m having a bad day, or that I’m becoming more unwell and need to slow down, and that if I’m not feeling well I do not have to do ALL of the things – some of them can wait, and if I’ve had a bad day, then it’s okay to have a bad day, and not doing any more work when I get home is the best thing to keep me from overtiring myself.

    The hardest thing, by far, was learning that telling my bosses if I’m not feeling 100% does not mean that they will judge me and think that I’m lazy, and that they need to know so that they can make accommodations and make sure that other people don’t bombard me with extra tasks – they genuinely want me to be well.

    I can’t finish this (very long) comment without mentioning my partner, without whom I would not have come out the other side of my depression. He looks after me when I am unwell, helps and encourages me to look after myself, and helps monitor my health and whether or not I need to slow down.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story and being so frank about your experience. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is for me to read about other people who manage to work full time with a mental illness.

      I agree with you that it’s so difficult to learn to speak out when I’m having a bad time, or if I notice myself slipping. When I’m unwell, I think to myself that I should just get on with things and that I shouldn’t bother the people around me with my problems. But speaking up really is one of the best things that you can do. If the people around you know that things are rough, then they will be able to accommodate your needs and give you the support that you require to get better. It’s wonderful that you have such an amazing team of people around you to help out.

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