“Please don’t take my work away from me”

Some of us, when dealing with mental ill-health can be signed off work by our doctors, this may be to adjust to medication, or because our mental illness renders us too unwell to focus on work, or too exhausted. But for others staying in work may be part of a structure and sense of purpose that is vital in managing our mental health conditions. Emma lets us in on how work can be a lifesaver.

As I sit and write, it is a glorious sunny day. The house is clean, the washing is hanging out to dry, I have nothing to do today. I have taken a few days Annual Leave, some time to rest and recuperate, some time to myself without the pressures of work, some time that most people cherish and look forward to. 

So why am I feeling so utterly miserable? It is because I have nothing to do!

I work full time. It is often a hectic and high pressure environment, there is a constant stream of deadlines and as a manager the buck, more often than not, stops with me. To many this may sound stressful but to me, it makes me feel alive. My job gives me a sense of purpose, it makes me feel needed, it distracts me from the constant barrage of negative thoughts that would otherwise whizz endlessly around my head like fireworks inside a tin shed. Work distracts me from the negative, the intrusive and the obsessive thoughts. Work keeps me well and it keeps me alive.

There is, of course, a danger here and that is Overdrive. I am at risk of working too hard, working too many hours, the effects of which are that I may become mentally and physically exhausted, I may not share sufficient time with my family and I may, in fact, be avoiding facing that which troubles me. But for me, the benefits far outweigh the risks and I do enough worrying without adding “Am I working too hard?” to the list. Besides, being well is of significantly more benefit to my family.

In my role as an advocate of mental wellbeing, I am often asked by line managers, “How do I reduce the workload of my staff? How do I encourage them to work part time?” to which my response is, “You don’t, unless you have ascertained between you that that is what is needed”. It does highlight however that there seems to be an overarching impression amongst today’s society that one needs to “put their feet up” in order to maintain a healthy mind. I beg to differ. 

Many mental health services are focussed on getting people back in to work. I can understand why. It benefits the individual and benefits the community. In the past I have been refused access to services because I am already in work and at the time I thought this was desperately unfair however in hindsight, I can see that in a financially stretched health service, priorities have to be set somewhere and I am all for boosting confidence and self-esteem because in all honesty, is there anything better for one’s mental health than a sense of value and self-worth?