I’m going back to work.
Starting the week of July 25th I will be re-entering the workforce for the first time in over a year. I’m going back to work. The words fill me with excitement and anxiety. I’m excited about feeling like a contributing member of society again. I’m excited about having something that gives me purpose. But I’m also anxious.
What if work doesn’t want me? What if my boss thinks I’m a liability? What if my coworkers think I’ve been faking it? What will it be like walking into the office again after all of this time? Will everyone stare? Will they ask me how I am? Do they even care? What if they try to fire me? What if they like my replacement more than me? What if there’s no longer any place for me there? They’ve done so well without me for over a year.
These are the (irrational) thoughts that are cycling through my brain. I try and remind myself that there are policies in place that protect me from being fired due to illness. I try and remind myself that my boss is a kind and caring individual. I try and remind myself that colleagues are probably too focused on their own lives to even think about me. I try and remind myself that people are generally kind and will have more concern for my well-being than being cruel.
Unfortunately this doesn’t stop the anxiety from creeping up. I’ll be watching TV or riding my bike and suddenly my chest tightens, my throat constricts, and my arms tingle. And yes, I’ve tried talking about my fears with various people. I tried talking it out with my therapist who simply told me, “These aren’t productive thoughts to have.” Like, oh shit, I’m so fucking enlightened now. My husband reminds me of the rational counterpoints to my irrational fears. And although I appreciate it, it still doesn’t stop the thoughts from coming back. My friends, who are also colleagues, remind me of the kindness and understanding that people can have towards those of us who suffer from a mental illness. But these aren’t the people I’m worried about. These are the people who know me and my illness. I’m worried about the people who don’t.
And these are just the tip of the ice berg of fears that I have about going back to work. There’s also the thoughts that are about my recovery and my mental health. What if I’m not ready? What if I fail? What if I go back only to relapse all over again? I don’t think I could take such a huge set back. It’s only been five months since I was hospitalized because of my depression. Only fives months ago I was seriously thinking about suicide. Only five months ago I had thoughts of self-harm.
Then I have to stop and remind myself that that was five months ago. That was then, this is now. I remind myself that my psychiatrist, who helped me through that depression, thinks I’m ready.
I feel ready.
I’ve been stable for three months. My medication is working. I sleep well. I’m working out. I’m socializing. I’m cooking and eating like a normal person. I’m happy and healthy.
I know my anxieties about returning to work won’t go away. Actually, I expect them to increase incrementally as my start date approaches. Despite all of this there’s one major shift that has happened over the past year that I know will ensure that my return-to-work is successful.
I’ve acknowledged that my mental health has to be a priority.
Bipolar disorder isn’t something that I can ignore and expect to be healthy. My mental health is something that I need to work at everyday. I need to find productive ways to manage my stress, like working out and asking for help when I need it. I need to make sure I’m eating well. I need to make sure I’m sleeping well. I need to make sure I’m making time for fun and not working all of the time.
If I can manage all of this, despite my anxieties about returning, I know I can make my return to work successful. So wish me luck!