Doing something for the first time can often be nerve wracking.
First day at school
First sexual encounter
First job interview
First pancake flip
First time using a squat toilet in India
First time watching Die Hard
You get the idea.
The first time you decide to kill yourself takes it to a whole new level as you become painfully aware of the fact that it’s not just the first time you’ll do something but it will also be the last time you’ll do anything.
Thankfully I decided that, ultimately, suicide wasn’t a ‘first’ I actually wanted to experience.
Coming to that realisation and asking for help then led onto a whole new set of ‘firsts’ for me.
First time being admitted to a psychiatric hospital
First time being put on suicide watch
First time opening up to complete strangers in group therapy
First time allowing myself to be vulnerable
First time tackling the root of my depression instead of being a passive bystander
First time daring to hope for a better future
First time believing I was actually worth something
It’s been a real rollercoaster and I’ve gone into great detail about my journey over the last few months.
Today I came to another first in my long road to recovery. It was something I’ve both been dreading and looking forward to in equal measure. Today I returned to work for the first time in six months.
After being away for so long it was no easy task. But I have to say that it was a resounding success. Not that I didn’t have reservations about going back. My inner critic has been quite vocal about my return to work, filling my mind with fear and insecurity. Forcing me to ask lots of questions about myself and setting me up for failure.
It was hard to build up the courage to even get on the train to go to work. The morning rush hour and acute anxiety do not go well together. Thankfully I had my wife there to support me, to talk to me, to distract me from the throngs of harried commuters and (as cheesy as it sounds) to just hold my hand.
We made it to my workplace relatively unscathed and then a brand new set of anxiety inducing thoughts filled my mind. What if everyone stares at me? What if they’re all talking about me behind my back? What if they’re all judging me? What if they think I’m crazy?
In an attempt to tackle these negative thoughts head on I sent an email to all my colleagues prior to restarting. I basically laid it all out for them. My breakdown, my brush with suicide, my time as an inpatient and all the therapy and hard work I’d been doing to get myself back to working with them again. I tried to emphasise that I was still me and that they didn’t have to act any differently around me. I wanted them to feel comfortable around me and not walk on eggshells. I also told them I was more than happy to discuss what I went through if anyone was curious. I wanted to make sure that they knew I didn’t think the subject was off limits.
After I sent the email I started to berate myself. I thought I was an idiot for opening myself up and making myself vulnerable to people. If they didn’t know or think I was crazy before then they definitely would now. I almost convinced myself to never go back to work again.
Then I got my first reply, then the next and again and again until finally all my colleagues had responded.
Every single reply was amazingly supportive. I was overwhelmed by the positive response my honesty had created. The entire team also expressed their happiness that I was due to return. I’d actually been missed. And I could tell that they were all being genuine.
It did a lot to make me feel less anxious about returning but a part of me was still reluctant. Six months is such a long time. It basically felt like I was starting a whole new job.
But I needn’t have worried. Within the first few minutes of arriving I was greeted with hugs and smiles and made to feel completely at ease. My colleagues, and my manager especially, have supported me so much through my recent struggles.
So, with their help my first day back went more smoothly and was far less nerve wracking than I ever thought possible.
I think the thing I‘ve learned from this is that I’m not a mind reader. I can’t possibly know what other people are thinking so it’s pointless living my life thinking I can. Also I now know that no one is ever going to judge me as harshly as I judge myself.
I almost talked myself out of a great job simply because I couldn’t believe that people could accept me after everything that’s happened.
By being open and honest with my work mates I think I gained a lot of respect. I’d also like to think it helped break down the stigma of dealing with mental illness in the workplace just a little bit. And that can only ever be a good thing.
From now on I intend to have a lot more faith in the people around me. And, more importantly, a lot more faith in myself