Why I Need to Leave My Job

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.

/rant

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.

Therapy: An Intermission

I had a follow up with my therapist/assessor today, Rose. Essentially the purpose of the call was to confirm that she had obtained approval for me to be referred to their counselling team.

I am now on the waiting list.

So yeah, that’s all for now. Just waiting. It could be weeks or months before they get in touch to offer me an appointment. I did ask whether there was a ball-park suggestion for how long I would have to wait, but she really didn’t want to commit as there were ‘too many factors to consider’. That’s ok, I get it, mental health services are understaffed and underfunded. It is not unusual for people to wait over a year to receive treatment. My only concern is that I am hoping to move out of the county in that timeframe.

At the end of the call I felt more depressed than I had in weeks. I had the dawning realisation that I was on my own again, albeit for more positive reasons than last time. I had the distinct feeling of my hopefulness from the last session being drained out of me. I went for a walk. It was raining, of course.

I was actually planning to work on a more positive blog post tonight, but when I sat down in front of my laptop to type I realised that I really needed to clear my head of this gloom before I could focus on happier things.

So, back to getting by then. All the more reason to set time aside to write. Right?

Twittering

So I’m finally jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, only a decade too late but hey-ho.

I thought it might help to have somewhere to share my little nuggets of wisdom (ha) as well as keeping me in the loop on online trends so that I can better respond to my potential audience.

I’m not gonna lie, I don’t really ‘get’ it and never have, but perhaps it’s time to change that.

Anyway, if you would like to follow me or give me feedback on my blog or tweets, please feel free! I will happily follow you back.

@girlvstights

Giving Up (Caffeine)

Apparently, if caffeine was discovered today it would be considered a highly potent drug and would be unlikely to be legal in most societies. I can believe that. I am currently in the throes of a caffeine detox and my goodness do I miss it! Parenting small children is rather less fun right now.

Despite the obvious health benefits of this dietary adjustment, my main motivation for giving up caffeine is actually for the purposes of investigating potential causes of stomach irritation for my breastfeeding son. Following a bit of online reading, I have also cut out cow’s milk and my postnatal multivitamins in case they may be exacerbating the issue.

Tea, I love. Tea of all sorts. But coffee has become something that I ‘need’ to function. I know that it is essentially a psychological quirk, but the physical effect of imbibing so much coffee since giving birth has surprised me. I mean, it’s only been three months!

The last few days have been a blur of pounding migraine-like headache, irritability and feelings of total exhaustion – oh, the exhaustion! I’ve been going to bed at like, 9pm just to try and feel some kind of normal when my usual 6am wake up call from the toddler comes around. The withdrawal symptoms are just horrendous considering caffeine is so readily available. I mean, even hangovers usually subside after 24 hours! [Besides which, a hangover is more a collection of side effect symptoms rather than withdrawal symptoms, so that was a bad comparison anyway.]

Day three of ‘caffeine-free me’ is now drawing to a close and I think I’m over the worst of the withdrawal now. Luckily I wasn’t drinking quite as much coffee as I used to. The last time I went cold-turkey on caffeine a few years ago, I was having at least one coffee shop beverage per day, whereas it’s the granules that have snuck up on me this time. So rather than a week long headache, I was lucky to get away with 48 hours – not bad eh? Not good either, by any measure.

The addictive nature of caffeine is quite apparent. Ever since I gave up, I have been craving coffee all the time. Visions of sweet creamy caffeinated goodness plague my thoughts! Adverts really don’t help.

I’m not really a ‘foodie’, but I do enjoy my teas and coffees a lot – especially when they are paired with a sweet food. However, I have noticed that I don’t really enjoy eating those foods as much without a hot drink to complement them. Perhaps I will eat less junk food as a result of this purge? I already am I suppose, by ditching the lattes in the first instance.

Perhaps I will set myself a minimum goal of working my way through the various herbal and fruit teas that I have in the cupboard before allowing myself to indulge again. At least that way I will reclaim some of my kitchen storage space…think of all the new teas and coffees I could buy!

Feel free to share your experiences of cutting out caffeine or dairy below. Did you find it helped you? How long did you stick with it?

Poetry: Hello, my shadow

Hello, my shadow, I see you’ve returned,

lurking in corners, awaiting the night.

Frustrating escape from darkness once spurned;

watching for flickers of hope’s dimming light.

Hiding inside, out of sight from the rest,

for down in the depths is where you belong.

To blacken the soul is what you do best –

deafening my ears to life’s joyful song.

But wait! Remember we’ve been here before.

Your lies less pervasive this time, than last.

I’ll cast you out in three months, maybe more;

shunning the sad silhouette that you cast.

You are my midnight; the darkness in me,

but morning, not night, holds my destiny.