When “how are you doing?” are the last words you want to hear…

Here I find myself in an unexpected set of circumstances – signed off work from stress, and experiencing anxiety over the whole situation.
I know this isn’t something people really talk about, but that’s part of the problem, and why I wanted to write a blog about it! Nobody seems to know how to treat me, what to say to me, or even whether to talk to me. And to be honest, the idea of people talking to me has raised my anxiety levels, so really, we’re all in the same boat. No idea what’s going on, or how to deal with situation at hand. So I thought I’d share my thoughts…
I am going to be quite candid about the detail, as I don’t think this is the place to really get into the nitty gritty of the circumstances.
I have been struggling to keep my head above water for the last year and a half at work. It’s been difficult, but external things have kept me going – wedding planning, moving, organising our home, applying to move abroad, going on holiday… I’ve been so busy keeping my mind occupied with other things that I burnt myself out avoiding thinking about the problems and addressing them.
My husband and I went on holiday in September for two weeks, when we arrived home, we had a day and a half to recover from jetlag, which for me was not enough – jetlag hit me hard. So I returned to work exhausted and with holiday blues – as we all usually do after a great vacation. Within days I realised how much stress I was under at work. My immune system was shot from the jetlag and I ended up with a horrible cold all weekend. By Monday morning I was still feeling awful and dreading going to work given how I was feeling from the cold, let alone the stress that had hit me the week before.
I set off a little late, struggling to motivate myself to get moving, and not even 15 minutes from my house I found myself bursting into tears and having to pull the car over.
I couldn’t bring myself to continue the journey. I wasn’t really sure what was particularly wrong either so calling in to say I wouldn’t be there made me more anxious. All of these feelings suddenly flooded through me that I couldn’t do it, and that it was all too much, so I texted my boss – avoiding the conversation.
I got home, sat on the sofa and cried some more, trying to work out what it was that was making me feel this way. I couldn’t put my finger on anything in particular. It was just this overwhelming feeling of being overwhelmed. The more I thought about it the worse I felt.
Over the last few years, since becoming a Christian and discovering more of my personality and what makes me tick, I’ve become quite a strong person. I used to be such a push over, with no self confidence, so I feel proud of myself for the back bone I have grown and the strength of character I have developed. However, suddenly I felt every part of this was challenged. Where had my strength gone? It literally seemed to have vanished!
Thankfully, I had a doctor’s appointment booked that afternoon for a different reason, but I figured I could mention the situation and see what they suggested. I had a thought maybe some medication could sort this out?
Now that I was at home, I decided I’d have a chilled day – cheer myself up. I did a good job of it too – I started to feel a bit stronger mentally. However, that meant by the time I got to the doctors, I did that very British thing of the stiff upper lip – downplaying how I’d been feeling, and feeling stupid for having felt like it at all.
The doctor told me that there were three options in my situation:
  1. Anti-depressants.
  2. Anxiety medication, to take when I knew I was entering an anxious situation.
  3. Counselling – either group or individual.
That was the end of the conversation – over to me, with that lovely lucky dip!
So I went home. Sat on the sofa to think about my options, I’d kind of got the answers I wanted, and yet I found myself in tears again.
What was up with me?! My emotions were all over the show, and my strength of character was found streaming down my cheeks – fleeing my body in a bid for freedom, to find something to latch on to that could actually hold it.
I really didn’t like the idea of going on medication. I knew the problem was stemming from this stress at work, so going on medication would only be a plaster over a deeper wound. I needed to actually address the problem.
Sure enough, the next morning I found myself in the same state and frame of mind as the previous day (overwhleming overwhelmedness) – I hadn’t had a great night’s sleep either, worrying about going back to work, which obviously didn’t help. I called in sick again (well, texted… chicken.), unsure how I could face it, and booked another doctor’s appointment for that afternoon.
I explained everything to this doctor, she listened, I told her I didn’t want to go on medication and she supported my decision. She told me she would recommend time off work, and said she would sign me off. She said it sounded like I needed the break and time to figure out how to overcome it and move forward, and to come back at the end of the two weeks for a follow up.
I felt this weight lift from my shoulders. It was literally as though the stress had picked itself up and realised it was no longer going to have it’s fun with me so was time to move on. Over the next few days I became myself again. I didn’t even realise I’d stopped being me, but sure enough, my mind was clearer, I was more fun, and my husband noticed I was a lot more upbeat. I wish that was how it’d stayed. Soon enough the anxiety of facing reality caught up with me, and plonked itself back down on my shoulders.
It has been such a bizarre thing. I feel absolutely fine in the day to day – when I’m at home, or out getting groceries, or visiting my parents, but as soon as it comes to thinking about work and things related to it, I get a pain in my stomach, my heart starts racing, and sometimes a headache comes along too.
It’s as though something horrendous has happened at work and my mind can’t bring me to go there, either mentally or physically. But nothing did happen, it was a normal work week, nothing bad happened, no particular deadline or project cropped up. Absolutely no trigger. It just seemed to come out of left field and BAM suddenly I’m rendered incapable and a total mess.
I’m still trying to work out what’s going on. I’ve never really suffered from stress in my life. I’ve always been a very easy going person, with everything being like water off a duck’s back to me. In hindsight, I think a couple of years ago, when I began to get a bit of stress, rather than deal with it, I learnt how to hide it, smile and carry on. So as the stress increased, my capacity of pretending everything was ok also increased.
So whilst I’m trying to work all of this out, people are either asking “How are you doing?” or avoiding talking to me altogether because they don’t know what to say… Well. “How are you?” or variations of it are literally the last thing I want to hear. It’s really nice that you are asking, but I have no explanation. I don’t even know how I am or what’s wrong with me, so please don’t expect me to be able to tell you. Ask me something else instead – “what have you been up to?” for example. (Just don’t say it in a judgemental tone…)
I’ve avoided certain social situations – anywhere that people might ask me the dreaded question. Just because I don’t know what to say, and I don’t want to randomly cry on people. I’ve not really been that emotionally unstable, but I think that’s because I’ve been very much in control of who I’ve been seeing and when. So if I’m suddenly amongst people and that overwhelming feeling comes over, who knows what to expect!
So there we go.. my trip into the land of anxiety and stress.
Not sure when I get to leave. I hope it’s not through a gift shop, I can’t imagine I’ll be wanting a souvenir…

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