Another cathartic post I’m afraid. No inspiring words from me just yet.
I have a counselling appointment on Monday – great! BUT nevertheless my mental health continues to spiral downwards at an alarming rate. Every day I wake up thinking things might be improving but any such relief is short-lived as I find myself caught out and struggling whilst trying to undertake even the most mundane tasks. My enjoyment of my maternity leave is being spoiled by this ever-expanding gloom that is descending on my world. I am fighting, fighting every day to be better. I am trying to utilise everything I have learned over the years to mitigate the effects of my struggle but it just isn’t working. I don’t want to go on medication again; I find it a miserable existence.
So in the spirit of trying everything I can to avoid that eventuality, I have been racking my brains for new techniques to try to see if I can relieve this pressure.
In considering what I would like to cover in my counselling sessions, one thing that I realised that I haven’t tried is to write out some of my recent experiences that have affected my mental health. As a young adult I used to write poetry as a cathartic means to release negative emotions, but it’s not really something that I have the luxury to do these days. I am not well-practised in writing in direct terms about things that have happened to me, but after all, this blog is supposed to be for me to practice my writing – so here goes my attempt…
My job has had me on the brink of a nervous breakdown for over two years. Well, not my job role as such, but rather the toxic environment in which I have found myself working. A lot of people may be fine working in the same environment – we are all different after all – but for me, with my personality traits, it is very unhealthy.
I applied for the role because I was frustrated with my previous manager, who I felt was slowly disempowering me whilst giving the impression of greater responsibility. Also, she was quite emotionally manipulative – she told me that if I left then she would likely have to restructure the team. I believed that I was ready to take on a more challenging role and despite my better instincts I accepted a role at my current organisation.
The reason that I was unsure about accepting the role was because I could tell that the working culture and management style was significantly distinct. I was also concerned that the new role was going to be a ‘step down’, but as I was pregnant with my first child I thought that a slight step back while I trained in new disciplines could be a good thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
One key element in this job change was the fact that I had actually been undertaking some work for the ‘new’ organisation on a regular basis over a couple of years. Although the new role would require me to undertake slightly different duties, some of which I had no experience in, I thought that as I got on quite well with the team I should be able to settle in quickly and was willing to be trained up as required.
The reality was very different. I returned to work six weeks postpartum. I was full of hormones and still slightly traumatised by the birth in addition to the usual lack of sleep and ongoing physical recovery. I was already emotionally fatigued by the rollercoaster experience of the first few weeks of my son’s life. I had been naive to expect that I could focus on work at this point. But I turned up, anticipating the potential successes that lay ahead and excited to start my training.
Training? What training? It was a baptism of fire. Apparently working on a few very specific tasks a couple of times a month had convinced my manager/senior coworker that I didn’t require any support and could just get on with anything with little to no guidance. My manager was totally baffled when I questioned her on this point. She seemed to equate my request for more feedback and support as a need to be micromanaged. Er no, not micromanaged, just managed would do!
As the weeks and months went by, I could feel myself drowning. I was working long hours, barely seeing my baby and my partner and feeling totally inadequate at work and at home. I was angry towards my family (very unlike me), impulsive and moody (more true to form). I felt desperate and spent my evenings depressed and confused. I eventually realised that I was suffering from postnatal depression, but it was already too late as the time for postnatal checks had passed and I had found their scrutiny wholly insufficient in the first place. I had no idea where to go for help.
The job was quite hard. I work in HR, so my role was to support other members of staff, even though I was struggling to hold it together myself. In my role I was exposed to the dismissive attitudes held by my manager and coworkers with regards to mental health. In discussing how she wanted me to essentially get someone with mental health struggles to resign their post (i.e. get them to leave the organisation), she told me to be careful what I said to them ‘as we don’t want to say the wrong thing and then find them hanging from a tree somewhere’. How heartening that a senior HR professional regards those with mental health disability in such a way! I felt sickened by the things she made me do.
I didn’t want to tell my manager about my postnatal depression, but it came out eventually during my performance review meeting at approximately 6 months. She was unimpressed with my performance and felt that I had not lived up to my application and interview. I was ahgast. I am used to receiving high praise at work. I had poured my heart and soul into the job only to be met with a look of disappointment. I reasoned that my postnatal depression must have been impeding my ability to carry out my job to my full potential. She was characteristically dismissive of it. I might as well have been talking to a brick wall.
This pattern continued – me putting my all into my work and my manager being perpetually underwhelmed at my attempts. This seemed odd to me, as the feedback that I received directly from those I worked with in the organisation was very positive at all levels. I willingly threw myself into tasks and situations of which I had no prior experience in order to broaden my skillset and to benefit the team. The message I was receiving back was clear – yes, but why can’t I be more like S?
By my managers own admission, she could not fault me. I was an intelligent and enthusiatic employee who would willingly give anything a go. I was pleasant and well-liked. My behaviours were perfect. But because I couldn’t offer her what she wanted – to tell her own manager that things had been ‘done’ – I was not worthy of her recognition. She had essentially told me to do things less well, just to get them done. Unfortunately this is not in my nature. I questioned my worth, my integrity and and times my sanity.
Then I realised, the system was fixed. I could never win. If the only way to succeed was to be like S (her pet employee), then I was happy to fail. I could never stomach behaving the way that S did, but because she was a ‘do-er’ and ticked things off the list she was respected and applauded. The rejection of my personality and the values that I held dear were painful. I was confused and lost, stuck in a cycle of delusional attempts to fix my broken relationships and self-loathing when they inevitably failed.
Meanwhile, my relationship with S took a turn for the worse and my investment in the job and organisation collapsed.
One afternoon I was in the office with just S and my manager. I was working hard to meet a significant monthly deadline and approached my manager to ask her a question, at which point S pipes up to deride me and publically humiliate me in front of my manager. S has no right to do this for various reasons, but in particular she has not undertaken the task in general for years (so is unaware of the current process). Following S’ sarcastic comments I look at my manager, hoping for some kind of acknowledgment of what just happened. She looked amused, but said nothing. My face burned. I slowly walked to my desk and sat down. I considered walking out. I thought of my family. I stayed put, but silent for the rest of the afternoon. That was the day that they broke my resolve. It was almost a year before my maternity leave began.
After that day (but maybe it happened before that and I didn’t notice?) S avoided any form of communication with me. I gladly reciprocated. Following discussions with my manager, she suggested that perhaps I had done something like failed to meet a work deadline that may have been pertinent to one of S’ projects as a possible reason for this? But S never spoke to me about it and considering my manager advised me to ‘not discuss directly’ any issues that I might have with S, I was at a loss as to how to repair the relationship.
The emotional toll of forcing myself into a job that I hated for so long is still being lived out in my daily life. I feel I am being punished for caring, for trying to do a good job. It eats me up inside that they have made me feel this way as it seems like they are winning. I fantasise about ways that I can passive-aggressively screw things up for them at work so that I can feel like I have come out on top. Then I fantasise about never having stepped foot in that bloody office.
The worst part of this is that I work in Human Resources, i.e. the team that you go to speak to if you experience this type of behaviour! Without my manager to support me I have been powerless to improve my situation at work. I have had no choice but to swallow every bitter pill they throw at me and keep ploughing through, waiting for an opportunity to leave. And this is it. This is what I am working towards. I can’t go back. I won’t.
I have been avoiding communication with colleagues as much as I can whilst on maternity because work is just too painful and triggering to think about. Now I am more removed from the situation, the guilt I feel at expending so much energy on those arseholes rather than focusing on my family is crippling. Each day I wake up hoping that I might start to feel a little better.
Yesterday, I saw S in the supermarket. She saw me too and upon doing so changed her path to join a different queue to avoid having to acknowledge me. The feeling is mutual.