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.

Dear S,

Image from https://depositphotos.com

It is in my nature to blame myself.

By extension, it is also in my nature to engage in unhealthy levels of self-flagellatory introspection as a means to identify a route out of an unhappy interpersonal situation. Unsuccessfully, of course. Because no amount of intellectual consideration can truly influence the behaviour of other people.

Sometimes, you just have to accept that there are things that you cannot change.

And there it is: I can’t change you.

I can’t change…

  • your negative opinion of me
  • your decision to distance yourself from me on a personal level
  • how sensitive I am to rejection (only how I react to it behaviourally)
  • how I perceived your comments and actions towards me as a personal attack
  • how your behaviour towards me ground away at the limited amount of resilience and self-esteem that I had
  • how you routinely humiliated me in front of others that I respect
  • how you left me powerless to defend myself against you, or to action changes to counteract the damage that you caused
  • how you are so protected by others in power
  • the as yet unspecified incident(s) in which I apparently caused you such offence that you felt the need to belittle and/or dismiss me in every exchange thereafter
  • the lack of recognition of my efforts to make it up to you
  • the consequences of the months and years of holding my tongue, keeping my head down and simply absorbing your shit because there was no safe place to voice my concerns
  • the post-natal depression that suppressed my resources at the time I needed them the most
  • the lost hours that I should have been with my children instead of you
  • the effect that your behaviour has had on my personal life, especially my relationships with my family
  • the guilt I feel that I allowed this to happen
  • the past.

In reading this, I can see that if the names were reversed, you could be writing this letter too.

But the difference is, you are the person in power in this relationship.

You should be better.

You will not win.

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?

Therapy (Version 2.0): Part 1

My thoughts and observations following my assessment session for on 15/10/2019.

Covered in this session

  • Introductions
  • Identified what was to be covered in session
  • Identified main issue to be addressed
  • Established level of immediate risk
  • Next appointment time agreed.

Reflections

Wow, what a difference a change of therapist can make.

Those of you that have read my previous blog posts about therapy will be aware of how negatively I tend to approach it, but despite not having a session for almost a month I have managed to maintain my determination to get better. I’m not saying I haven’t considered giving up on therapy and going it alone – I have, whenever I feel less bad – but my mild panic attack the other day opened my eyes to how much I am struggling. I can only assume that if I didn’t have the benefit of 20 years of experience with mental health issues and various therapies that I would be in a much less functional state right now.

Back to the assessment though. It was a pre-planned phone call with a trainee therapist called Rose. She introduced herself and talked through the format of the assessment, which was undertaken much more comprehensively than for the online therapy.

Most of the session was similar to before, ie. the therapist asking for personal about the areas in which I have been struggling.

I briefly explained to Rose my history of mental health issues. I also explained that I now believe that my current struggles are related to the postnatal depression (PND) that I developed over 2 years ago and never received treatment for. My PND was compounded by interpersonal issues at work (some would say bullying). The bad experiences at work resulted in me feeling such severe guilt, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, depression and low confidence that I believe I am essentially traumatised by these events and that is why CBT isn’t right for me just yet. Rose suggested that a better path for me would be some counselling, followed by CBT once I am in a position to focus more on the here and now.

Finally, I thought, someone is actually listening to me!

In addition to immediately having more of a rappor with Rose, I also had the benefit of a few weeks of soul-searching and reflection on the last therapy to build a more articulate depiction of my current mental state. I felt I had a better grasp of what I did and didn’t want from therapy and therefore felt more in control of the assessment process. I felt that recommendations were reached with mutual input, rather than me being forced along a standard path of treatment, as if that was the only option.

Overall I felt much more was covered in a shorter time than in the online sessions. We overran the allotted time by 15 minutes but at no point did I feel rushed.

Conclusion

I found it much easier to built a rappor with Rose due to the assessment being done over the phone rather than the clunky chatting format. Her approach was friendly and quite passive (in a good way), rather than insisting on validating everything I said in a patronising manner, which is how I felt my last therapist approached things.

I feel so relieved to talk to someone that actually seemed to listen to what I was saying and understood it.

However, I am fairly sure that my positive experience has a lot to do with the therapist undertaking the assessment (Rose), so if I am referred to another therapist for the counselling then I may find myself in a similar position to the last therapy, where we just didn’t ‘click’. This may cause me some anxiety initially, but hopefully it will prove to be unfounded.

Mood at start of session: Anxious

Mood at end of session: Positive

Has anyone else had a similar experience with therapy? I would love to hear from you.

Therapy: A Decision

After a lot of consideration, I have come to the conclusion that CBT isn’t for me.

I started the therapy anticipating that this moment would come, but nevertheless it’s disappointing to be met with another dead end on my route to recovery.

Why wasn’t it working? A few reasons, including the time-consuming format (basically like WhatsApp), limited scope and focus on behaviours/goals.

More specifically, my behaviours aren’t actually an issue on a daily basis. After nearly two years of forcing myself out of bed to attend a soul-crushing job, I am well practised at doing things I would rather avoid. Also, I’m currently a full time mum to two little kids, so I really have no choice but to do everything I have to in order to meet their needs. Failure to do this would represent a much greater problem; luckily I am not in such a position.

So yeah, setting ‘goals’ felt a bit pointless because most of my day is taken up by small tasks that I would avoid (if I had that luxury). I live in a perpetual state of being outside my comfort zone.

I can talk the talk and come up with goals for setting myself more `me’ time or trying to reframe my negative thoughts, but the reality is that life is kinda something that happens ‘to’ me and once my little ones have been considered I have very little control of what I do or think about. Obviously I love them and cherish our time together, but it is rarely time spent in ways that I would choose. Getting to enjoy my children one-on-one is hard enough right now without trying to force in some alone time too!

Did I mention that most of my posts are drafted whilst breastfeeding…?

Anyway, this lack of autonomy will be resolved in time and I know it. But presently I consider that my problems are more emotional than behavioural. I can fight against my ‘flight’ instinct, but am not sufficiently equipped to manage the emotional fallout. I have an emotional resilience issue. And the result of this is my negative emotions spilling out into other areas of my life.

I only had a couple of sessions of CBT, but after each one I felt frustrated, confused, triggered – worse, basically. When I raised this with my therapist she made impractical suggestions like ‘go for a walk’ or ‘have some alone time after sessions’. I personally felt that the issue was predominantly her manner and/or the format.

BUT… rather than giving up on therapy completely, I am going to try getting referred for a different type of therapy next to see whether a change in format and focus will help me to find a more practical approach.

Wish me luck?

Therapy: Part 2

My thoughts and observations following my second CBT session on 20/09/2019.

Covered in this session

  • Wellbeing check
  • Discussed goals
  • Discussed incident where I met up with work colleague
  • Homework set
  • Feedback on session given
  • Next appointment time agreed

Homework

To add goals to my planner and to review/complete the CBT diagram based on my meeting with my colleague (thoughts, feelings, behaviours).

Reflections

I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about the session after the last one went badly, but as I have promised my partner that I would do my best to engage with it I tried to remain open-minded.

During the break between sessions I had struggled with the goal-setting homework as I felt totally at a loss to identify what changes might improve my mental health, so I plucked a few generic ones out of the air – goals that on an intellectual level I thought were probably pitched right. I then emailed my therapist to explain how I had struggled to devise them. I needn’t have bothered; during the session she told me that the goals were ‘great’ and that we would discuss how I get on with them at my next session. Again, she missed the point.

At this point I felt pretty overwhelmed and upset as I really expected that she would discuss how I might go about meeting my goals rather than skip over them so quickly, but I guess there just wasn’t time..? It was very disappointing to receive no advice about how to achieve the goals I had set. This was quite triggering for me as it is essentially what my manager did for two years at my job, before I left to go on maternity leave. I would have pressed the therapist for more support/guidance, but at the time I was giving her the benefit of the doubt (I wasn’t sure if she was going to come back to it)… But then we ran out of time anyway.

The next item on the agenda was to discuss the meeting I had recently had with my colleague, as I had felt pretty low afterwards and realised that it was probably a good example of a situation that I struggle to process. However, rather than offering any advice, my therapist’s reaction was to 1. Offer empty platitudes about how hard I must have found it and 2. Turn it into homework, to be discussed next time! Not exactly what I was after.

Overall I was disheartened that more wasn’t covered in the session. The therapy format seems to be too introspective, with little practical advice. More time was allocated to risk assessment and providing feedback on the session than to addressing any issues I was actually having.

Frustrations

I’m not sure if the problem is me or the therapist, but we just don’t seem to communicate very well. I find her input either vacuous or patronising and considering I have actually attempted to articulate my concerns to her, she doesn’t seem to understand where I’m coming from at all.

Once again I finished the session feeling worse than at the start. I was (and still am) confused about how the therapy will progress in future sessions and at which point it will be determined that the sessions have run their course. A new experience for me is a sense that I might get dropped by my therapist! I fear that as the therapy is ‘outsourced’ they will be wanting to get me ticked off ASAP to keep their statistics looking favourable. This is the opposite situation to when I was paying for sessions privately and was anxious that the psychologist was working too slowly. I’m never happy, eh?

Conclusions

I was left feeling more lost at the end of the session than ever. My misgivings about the type of therapy and this therapist in particular continue to weigh heavily on my mind. I think I need to evaluate the potential worth of continuing with this.

Mood at start of session: Anxious

Mood at end of session: Frustrated/Deflated

Has anyone else had a similar experience with therapy? I would love to hear from you.

Do Compliments Undermine Conversations About Mental Health?

Recently – or more specifically, since giving birth – I have experienced a strange phenomenon.

I keep having conversations with well-meaning people, both friends and strangers, that leave me feeling quite confused and frustrated.

The general structure of the conversation goes like this:

[Friend or stranger coos over my baby]
Friend/Stranger: How old are they now?
Me: About X weeks/months
Friend/Stranger: How are you feeling?
Me: Ok…quite tired…
Friend/Stranger: [interrupting] Well you look great, not tired at all!

So what is wrong with this exchange?

Well, I’m not really the type to talk about my feelings readily – certainly not with strangers – but I will be a bit more open with very selective friends. However, as these conversations keep happening, it has struck me how much harder it is to be honest about how I’m feeling after such a comment. The compliment is almost dismissive of concerns that may have been expressed before it; presenting as ‘happy and well’ is all that matters, not how you actually feel.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have really perfected my facade of emotional stability. I am lucky enough to have remained quite functional even in some pretty dark times, but presenting as something you are not to be more socially acceptable is generally not a good thing.

Today I met up with a friend from work for the first time since my little one was born and we had a very similar conversation to the example above.

While it was nice enough to see them, I felt that their compliment totally undermined any potential discussion of my mental health. They were aware that I have been struggling lately (in fact, this was the reason for them meeting up with me) but when they told me that I looked well, I felt like I couldn’t really contradict them. I felt that to do so would be akin to rejecting their well-intentioned compliment and may cause offence. I mean, how should I respond to that? – “Well thanks, but actually I feel like crap and hate myself like 90% of the time”??

I don’t think that would go down too well.

So, the effect of the compliment is essentially for me to not speak up about my mental health issues. Which is bad, right?

Don’t get me wrong, this is very much one of those ‘first world problem’ scenarios, but our society is currently experiencing a perceived mental health crisis, so maybe it’s worth considering?

Is it just me? Or am I actually making a valid point here?