Disability and employment (here we go again…)

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I’m working from home today after an anxiety-ridden night & vivid, lucid dreams. The dreams were more nightmares to begin with and felt very intense. The last bit of rest i got this morning, however, they’d changed to more pleasant dreams, thank goodness. Still exhausting though!

I searched online for why this is happening. Apparently stress and my medication (Escitalopram) can both cause it. Hopefully as stress winds down in the new year and spring begins I can taper of the medication and it’ll help. I’m on the verge of the winter crazies (S.A.D) though, so no medication reduction for me just yet!

I’ve also found out at work that redundancies are happening – my role is up. There’s another role to apply for, but there’s competition from other colleagues, people I’m very fond of, which just adds to the stress.

My head is just whirling with thoughts around how the hell am I going to get anyone to employ me again? I have to disclose and I need reasonable adjustments. This is the only place that has accepted all of that and let me do my damn job.

After the fuckery I went through at my last job, it’s understandable I’m freaking out a bit about what comes next. After finishing there, I had a long while to find anyone willing to take on someone they view as damaged goods or extra expense.

Just look at the employment campaigns from two major disability charities right now, Scope’s Work With Me and Leonard Cheshire’s Untapped Talent. Look at the stats around disabled people in work. It’s disgusting that whilst the government are claiming they’re helping people back into work by slashing their benefits, they’re doing fuck all to impose greater restrictions on organisations to stop them discriminating based on disability in the hiring process.

I literally wrote a blog for work yesterday (for World Mental Health day) stating that no one I know is aware of Access to Work help, unless they’re a disability rights campaigner themselves or work for a disability charity. Wtf? Talk about a carrot made of more stick.

For anyone reading who is not aware, Access To Work is a fund to help you into work as a disabled person. It can help fund adjustments and equipment you need as a disabled person to level the playing field at work. They assess you and make recommendations then help/completely cover the cost. Cynical me imagines there’s deliberate reasons why that’s not common knowledge.

Anyway, I’m in full on feeling sorry for myself mode, before I need to give myself a kick up the arse and find a new job. There’s a slim chance I’ll be kept for the newly created role, but I’ve very capable colleagues also going for it and there’s no guarantee the same won’t be the case in another 3 months time.

I’ll end on the chirpy note that’s it’s hard not to internalise this shit when your work just keeps going wrong. I know redundancy is no one’s fault but hard not to feel there’s something wrong with me when wherever I work something goes horribly wrong. Just ARGH.

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It’s OK to not be OK…

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My mood has dipped and I’m not feeling like doing anything. Not leaving the house, not doing the work I need to do, not doing anything in the house, nothing. I hate this. I’m on increased meds and I’m looking after myself on the whole, but I think the shorter hours of sunlight are getting to me, despite using my SAD lamps religiously.

It’s annoying as I should be happy. Many of you with mental health conditions know this feeling. The ‘Why the hell am I feeling miserable when I have nothing to feel miserable about?’ feeling. Then the beating yourself up about it because you can’t be happy and grateful, beaming from ear to ear swinging around lampposts and singing. ‘OH THE JOY AND WONDERMENT OF LIFE!’ This is how sometimes I feel I’m expected to feel by constant positivity propaganda. I’m vary wary of it at best and other times it makes me want to spew.

Well aren’t I a little ray of pitch black? My friend sent me this image macro used in this post recently and it did make me chuckle. I think it’s important to remember sometimes that we don’t need to positive ourselves out of feeling crappy, we are allowed to just feel crappy and sit with that rather than glossing things over.

‘It’s OK to not be OK’. In fact an image macro of just that is something that helps me when I feel rubbish rather than overly motivational thanks-giving claptrap on days like today. I am trying to remember today instead of beating myself up for rainbows not beaming out of my ass.

I got great news, which is that I have landed a job with a disability charity who I disclosed to and who have taken all of my reasonable adjustments on board. Which is why I’m feeling extra guilty for feeling rubbish. It’s like I’m not allowed because I have this great news. Which sounds ridiculous now I type it. Great news doesn’t change the fact I have mental health conditions which means to an extent I can’t control how I feel. Sometimes typing this stuff out help me realise this. Still that voice says ‘Why can’t you just be happy about this and enjoy the moment?’

I’m also really scared about it. After my last hideous experience of employment, who can blame me? It’s hard not to have reservations and expect the worst. Also, it’s been 10 months since I’ve had to deal with people in a small noisy office and despite my reasonable adjustments to help that, I’m really anxious about it. So yeah, that’s what’s going on in my head about all of this. ARGH.

Also a large chunk of it is fear of the unknown. Wish me luck.

 

Work are treating me unfairly because of anxiety

[Content warning: sui (non-graphic, just mentioned), graphic description of anxiety symptoms]

Sound familiar? I’m putting together and sending someone I know a bunch of resources I found helpful in challenging my last employer – to help them fight their case with their company.

Like me, they’re sadly having to educate their employer about their rights under the equality law. Cue a massive sigh from me – when the fuck will employers take this seriously?? Anyway, I thought it’d be useful for others if I posted those resources I’m sending to that someone – and give a bit of advice at the same time. Beware of the colossal length of this post!

Without wanting to sound like one of those hooky adverts for workplace accidents… are you constantly in fear of going to work? Do you dread going back because of the way you’re being treated? Have you tried to speak up about your mental health concerns and ended up penalised/demoted/had responsibilities stripped away from you because you’ve owned up to feeling anxious/depressed or having other symptoms of mental health problems?

Then the chances are your employer doesn’t know shit about mental health, the equality act, and their responsibilities under it when you’ve expressed concern about your health, and they don’t support you.

Here’s some advice and links I’ve thrown together so you can defend yourself, avoid further penalisation/demotion etc – and make them realise they’re treating you unfairly because of your health – which is illegal.

[DISCLAIMER: If you have read my past blog posts, you’ll know from my experience that I still had to leave my last place, because they were still shit even after I challenged them.

But there is a chance that with larger companies and HR departments who do know their responsibilities, these tips may help – i.e. you may just be dealing with a few ignoramuses who manage you, who haven’t been trained properly, whereas getting HR involved may help.

Either way if you feel strong enough, it’s worth building your knowledge – you’ll feel more confident about not letting them get the better of you, and find out if they really are just ignorant – or if they’re negligent. So if you feel you can, tool up and fight, you Mental Health Warrior!]

1. Join a union

I’m a member of Unite. I’m not sure what the policy is if you’re not a unionised workplace, I had to go through a rep at my workplace. Whilst they didn’t have great knowledge about disability law, they certainly were supportive and sympathetic, and having them in meetings made HR take me more seriously. But Google ‘unions uk’, and find one suitable for your employment. Unison is another that springs to mind.

What this advice boils down to is, if you have grounds for constructive dismissal or unfair dismissal, you can’t afford lawyers’ fees unless you earn below £10k (thanks, Tories!) If you’re part of a union, you’ll get legal assistance if it comes to this. Membership is worth this alone.

2. See a doctor.
I can’t express enough how clear you have to be about what is bothering you and what you need. As soon as I did that, I got what I needed. But save yourself wasted trips beating around the bush like I did at first.

I only got signed off when I bought up needing it myself, which is ridiculous considering how ill I was & how many times I’d been in before specifically saying that my employment and the way I was being treated there was a contributing factor.

Be explicit and specific. So how exactly do you feel emotionally and physically? What are your symptoms? Are you sick, nauseous, can’t sleep, can’t concentrate? Can’t eat? Can’t leave the house? Do you feel suicidal? Or at least, do you wish you were dead? If work is causing it, how?

If you feel like going back to the office will trigger panic attacks or worse, tell the doctor in those exact words. Be specific about the fact that work has caused it. This all will help defend you if things escalate. And doctors won’t try and read your mind, especially if they’re under time constraints, so you need to be really specific. Say ‘I think I need to be signed off’ if it needs to be spelled out. Your mental health comes first, fuck the guilt around this condition.

3. Learn to advocate, and stop being pushed around

One the best pieces of advice I was given at my old job (was lucky enough to work with an awesome couple of disabled people also being treated crappily because the culture/structure there) was, ‘if you don’t know your rights and don’t learn to self-advocate, they’ll think they can get away with doing nothing.’ Basically ‘self-advocating’ means understanding disability and employment law and using it to kick an employer’s arse into action.

Time To Change has this helpful blog article which discusses how ‘capability [disciplinary] procedures aren’t supposed to be used in cases of long term illness’. There’s lots of other stuff on that site to help with workplace stigma and discrimination – try this article on Where Do I Stand Legally? It’ll let you know what you can do about being treated unfairly.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau has everything more generally employment related. Here’s some facts about being treated unfairly at work when you have stress and anxiety. Dig around the employment section for more advice relevant to your situation. I found ACAS really useful too. Because I was fighting for reasonable adjustments like second day working from home, I found their stuff about discrimination and flexible working helpful.

A lot of the above should cover you even if this is your first bout of depression and anxiety. However if you have ongoing (I’ve had it about 15 years +) and it’s severe or you have Schizophrenia, Borderline, Bipolar and other disorders, you are classified disabled. Read ACAS’ guide to disability discrimination to help you determine if what your employer is doing counts as that.

If you have any doubts over whether or not your mental health condition is protected by disability law – read this brilliant MIND website piece that confirmed it for me. It’ll help you feel empowered by that piece of your identity, and be confident you’re protected by disability law. (Interesting point in this article, even though I’m much better for taking my crazy pills – I am still considered disabled because of my poor health without them.)

If this is your first bout of depression and/or anxiety, you should still be supported not penalised, and should not be treated unfairly. Therefore even if you’re not sure your MH condition classifies you as disabled, you are still entitled to support – and bullying/harassment is still illegal.

I will do a separate post on the practicalities of requesting reasonable adjustments of your employer, but for now, I hope the above helps. If anyone wants to email me to ask about their specific situation, I’m more than willing to try and help where I can.

I’m self-taught, and not the final word on the law by any means (!) – but I’m willing to offer rough advice if it’s helpful. My email is Moody Crazy Lazy [at] Gmail [dot] com. Or pop a comment on this post and I’ll reply.

Power to the MH clan! 🙂

~ MCL x

I feel worthless

CW: sui thoughts, worthlessness – descriptive thoughts

I’m not sharing this to FB. If people stumble on it, fine. But this is for me, to try and vent how I feel. Not for anyone else. It’s got to be better than bottling this stuff up. I feel worthless.

I have been for a fair few interviews in the last few weeks, and got none of the jobs. I’ve started CBT therapy, and one of the things recognised is that far too much self worth I feel is wrapped up in my employment status. That’s such a cultural thing, another damaging side effect of capitalism. It’s not uncommon, I know that. But I reject it – it’s not who I am. Yet there is a voice in my head who very much agree with this – and it is making me feel like shit.

I have another interview tomorrow. And I feel sick. I just keep thinking, why face the humiliation again. Just to be turned down again. I’m no good, I’m useless, I’m worthless. Putting myself through all this stressful shit again just to be turned down again. I really can’t do this much longer. I’m really struggling to pick myself up again after each rejection.

I’m then worrying that because I can’t focus because I’m too busy worrying/wanting to die, I won’t prepare well enough and I then I’ll definitely fuck it up. And I have no concentration to do anything. Then I hate myself more.

Today and yesterday I’ve just been having suicidal ideation again. It’s less upsetting and scary than it was before because of the medication I’m on that I’ve up the dosage of.. which is good in the way that it freaked me the hell out before, but then suicide seeming less scary is not necessarily a good thing.

I still don’t think it’s active. It’s not gone beyond vivid thoughts of how I’d do it. I’ve made no plans, and haven’t started assembling anything to do it. And that’s what doctors monitor this by (whether or not you need more serious help) so I’m guessing it will pass. It’s probably more just not wanting to be alive, and feel some relief from my thoughts troubling me than it is actively going to do anything.

I just really feel like I can’t take this any more. I’ll probably be OK though. I’m just speaking out about how I feel – and often that diffuses it somewhat.

~ MCL

 

I’ve just handed in my notice…

*Content warning: mentions suicidal thoughts*

After nearly two years of a high stress environment at a workplace where staff’s mental health is never openly addressed because of stigma amongst other things – I’ve just resigned. I feel so relieved.

Beyond their overall neglect of overall staff mental health, they’ve been particularly bad dealing (or not dealing at all, basically) with my declining mental health condition.

Let me be clear when I say this a structural/cultural, not a personal failing. Making this about a couple of individual staff members who are insensitive and/or ignorant on disability doesn’t tackle the wider dominant culture where ableist language and exclusionary behaviour is normalised.

I’ve been signed off work this last week & the doctor has me started back on meds, because of being in the worst place I think I’ve been in close to ten years.

Whilst everything is starting to seem less scary inside these four walls, my biggest fear was dealing with work again today. It was made clear there’s no back to work interview, no phased return, and all my workload will have been backed up and I’ll be expected to finish it in the time left over. This is just standard – no support after periods of serious illness like this.

Oh and the other day I found out my serious complaint against my Occupational Health Assessor, in the true style of my workplace, has been done fuck all with. Thanks again, folks, for taking my disability and your problematic culture of ableism, so seriously.

So I decided to resign electronically today, and tell them I’m not coming back in. Seriously, health first (the thought of going back to that office makes me feel physically sick with anxiety). I’ve said I’ll work my notice from home, and my awesome friend and colleague has gone to grab my computer for this morning, and I’m meeting her this afternoon to collect it.

Oh and I sent a litany of complaints detailing my experience to HR. So I’m hoping they won’t contest my working from home this next month to finish up, after everything that I’ve listed that has happened.

I got an amazing (as in, I was literally amazed) response back from a quite senior member of staff last Monday. I had to contact them letting them know I was off sick, because of various people in the chain of command being away. I said I feared for my safety, so had to go to an emergency doctor’s appointment. I said my graphic suicidal thoughts had become more active/prevalent.

Based on my previous experience, their response was ‘utter lack of give a shit’. It’s seeing staff as a piece of the organisation’s productivity, instead of a human being suffering with potentially life-threatening illness.

‘Thanks for letting us know. Let me know if anything needs picking up. Take care.’

WTAF?! I didn’t just tell you I’ve got a cold! Do you really think that when I’m battling with my own thoughts about ending my life, I’m going to be like ‘I’ll just pop those on pause, shall I? Whilst I think about my To Do List, and ping that right over to you in a jiffy.’

Christ, if it wasn’t so disturbingly ignorant, it’d be funny. The problem is for me, if I don’t try to believe that’s just ignorance, it comes off as disbelief. Mental health stigma fun times.

No ‘If there’s anything we can do…’ OR ‘I’m sorry to hear that…’ or any vaguely quasi-human response. ORG BOT’s reliance on its ORGANISATIONAL LENS™ is outdated. It need reprogramming with AI so they can feel – like a real human! (Other more direct managers have been more sympathetic on sick days, but this example is to demonstrate wider organisational culture/Senior Management view, so again let’s not focus on individuals – it’s STRUCTURAL not PERSONAL. Side note: I’m going to get this tattooed on my forehead.)

The awful temptation has been to internalise all of stigma & oppression now I’ve feeling slightly better (‘that didn’t just happen’, ‘it’s not real’, ‘you’re making it up’, ‘you’re attention seeking’, ‘they’ve not done anything wrong – it’s you’). But fuck that, that’s not my reality.

I won’t be shamed into silence after all of this. My experience is valid and real.

I’ve just written my resignation letter…

I’m off sick again today. I spent two weeks over Christmas (mostly) relaxing in my hometown, taking it easy, repairing the damage to my mental health from the last few months.

My first day back, I worked from home. I planned to ease myself back in, before coming back into the office the next week. I took Mon – Wed as annual leave. I have an interim arrangement in place of working Thursday and Friday from home (after much challenging of my organisation, and having to educate them about what reasonable adjustments are and how I’m eligible for them… which has been super stressful in the midst of one of the worse bouts of mental illness I’ve had in a long time).

Morning of the first day back, I’m asked if I’m coming into the office. I respond that these are my working from home days, and then it’s bought up I had annual leave the last three days so it’s presumed I may be coming in. Cue my explaining I was very sick at the end of 2015, and need to ease myself in, and these are my agreed days – followed by a lot of backtracking the other end.

Point is, after fighting for getting reasonable adjustments made – in order for me to be able to continue to do my job – a stressful and ableist Occupational Health Assessment I was made to endure before my reasonable adjustments would be accommodated (until I challenged this, explaining an interim arrangement is a reasonable adjustment, and I shouldn’t be made to wait until afterwards when my health was declining) – I don’t then expect to have them questioned, again.

Seriously, the arbitrary insistence on my arse being on a seat in a specific geographical location is NOT more important than preserving my sanity. Soz.

So that had me nearly having a panic attack on Thursday, before I’d even got back into the office.

Monday, first day back, was full of a load of ableist BS, that whilst wasn’t directly about my issues, serves to further alienate and undermine my being there. Basically, it makes you not feel welcome there as a disabled person – it’s like saying ‘this work place is for the able only’. It feels so excluding.

Tuesday, second day back, I feel excluded again, get unrealistic requests made, start feeling really low, go out on lunch and get really panicky, end up in tears on a bus. (Super embarrassing). I went back to work and hid in meeting rooms the rest of the day, avoiding a meeting I didn’t have the energy to attend.

Last night I slept awfully, as my anxiety was at super high levels. So instead of dragging myself in, I’ve called in sick. Because, self-care. I’d only end up feeling shitter again for being there.

And now I’ve written a resignation letter. I’m printing it, putting it in my bag, and hoping knowing it’s there will make me feel better next time I have another awful day.

My fiancée made a good point about me seeming happier over the break, then first day back I’m in floods of tears when he gets home. We discussed it, and worked out we’d be able to just about cope financially if I quit, as long as I get something down in my hometown ASAP that just covers my bills, and I’d have to not be fussy.

Is there a job where I get to look after/play with animals all day? I think I prefer them to humans.

I’m hoping I don’t have to hand it in before I find another job, but right now every bit of energy is being sapped by having to constantly deal with some shitty thing at work to do with my mental health. (I.e. I’m currently writing a big document of things for colleagues not to do because they exclude me. A lot of which are common sense/courtesy – but because of our work culture no one has time or energy to bother thinking about being sensitive to or respecting all of their colleagues.) So there’s no spoons (energy) left to deal with job searching.

It feels like the only option may be to quit, and as I have a surge of energy (fantasising here!) and when the anxiety is somewhat dissipated – begin to job search then. I’ll just have to take it each day at a time, and see how it goes. But staying there is making me sicker, and I have to put my health first.

Isolation

Is the dominant thing I’m feeling right now. So cut off.

*TRIGGER WARNING* – feeling isolated, details of severely depressed and anxious feelings*

I’m at home, off sick, because of depression and anxiety. This has been triggered by employment stuff, which was really the final nail in the coffin of me managing this worsening bout of it.

Ironically, this stress was caused by an attempt to make reasonable adjustments that would prevent the worsening of my illness. I can’t talk too openly about it whilst it’s still going on as I don’t want to face repercussions – or for it to make things worse for me. But by god we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of the way people with mental health are treated.

If you can’t see a flesh wound, it’s not there, right? And if you’re high-functioning like I am, and have built up a cabinet of armour to defend yourself and hide behind, your illness is even less visible. So you’re a good actor until you hit the point at which the cracks start to show. Which doesn’t help you any, because you’re presumed to be fine, even if you’ve written reams detailing exactly how you’re not fine, and sent it to the relevant people.

Having done that in itself, and having it not prioritised, and not even being treated equally to others, makes you feel so vulnerable, and isolated. The very fact that I’m the kind of person who learned to bury all the crazy beneath layers of defences and ‘acceptable behaviour’ means it took a hell of a lot to even put a case together to demonstrate how my illness is affecting me on a daily basis.

It’s hard being so open about that stuff, and emotionally draining writing it, reliving it, having to explain it in terms people who don’t have mental illness understand – and having to have your brain/psychology picked apart by others for them to decide whether or not they believe you or deem it as proof. To do this and then be treated unfairly, and be dragged through more processes than seem to be required of others, just makes you feel untrusted, undervalued – and so very unsupported.

When it’s a bunch of people doing that to you, it’s fucking horrible. It’s part of the reason I can’t face the world today – and why this blog has fallen silent for some time.

I just feel like I’m out of mentally out of touch with other humans right now, no matter how physically close they are. Alone, on the other side of a frosted, a pane of glass that’s sound proof to you. Like I’m trying to say I’m ill. I’m trying to say I can’t cope with things that you deem as easy. And I’m not being heard – and what I am feeling cannot be seen – from the other side of this glass.

The one thing I can hear is you telling me how it’s not practical. It’s not convenient. It’s unfortunate. That you’re sorry. That policies, procedures and arrangements must go ahead in spite of this. That you’re disappointed in the effect my mental illness is having on these important structures and their ability to be fulfilled. Demonstrating a lack of true understanding, by placing all of these at a higher importance than the actual human being affected. Placing them above my being able maintain a grip on my sanity.

Try to understand. It’s like something dark and abyss-like is attempting to swallow me. And I’m trying with every fibre of my being to keep my head above it, to stop it consuming me. All the while it’s stabbing & clawing at me, from every angle, and it hurts like hell. It’s taking all my energy. And just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean I can’t feel it.

So if you can’t understand why I can’t deal with seemingly small actions or interactions right now, please use the depiction here to try and begin to imagine how it feels. And be patient, whilst I try and figure out how I’m going to smash the glass, and emerge back through to re-join you all.