Why I Can’t Work

More than once I’ve found myself in a conversation where I have had to defend myself for currently not working. One of the biggest stigma’s associated with mental illness is that that if we aren’t well enough to work we should be hospitalised, or that somehow our illness should be visible. As it is Mental Health Awareness Week I felt it was an appropriate time to broach the subject here and try to explain it as it is from my experience.

People get confused because they can’t see anything wrong with me, they think because I ‘look’ OK, or because I can smile or laugh I’m not sick. I’m afraid this isn’t the case. I wish it was, wouldn’t that be simple.

Most mornings I have to convince myself to get out of bed, when I wake up I’m normally disappointed, sometimes I even cry. I don’t want to deal with the day, to struggle through to have to take on the stresses and battle anymore. But somehow I find the strength.

I’m terrified of leaving the house, my anxiety levels are high, just putting washing on the line is a huge deal. I do it because I have to, but I sometimes stand on the inside of the front door for 10-15 minutes building the courage to go out.

I often to forget to eat or drink, sometimes I forget to take my meds. I have reminders set up to remind me. But now and again I miss them.

The meds I take I need, they make my illness easier to deal with, they make life easier to deal with. But they make life fuzzy, they make it hard for me to think and function. Things which would normally take half hour will take me three.

When my Husband comes home from work at lunch time it’s not unusual for him to find me in floods of tears about something, or equally in a bad temper about something. I find it hard to cope with anything which doesn’t go according to plan. If something goes wrong I can’t process it properly. It’s something I’m working on but right now I need help to do that.

I don’t go places on my own. I always go with my Husband, or someone I really trust. I’m also very good at putting a face on. So people don’t realise what’s wrong with me. The last thing I want is for people to see how I’m feeling. I might be a gibbering wreck on the inside but I’m going to have a smile on my face and look confident on the outside. I can’t keep it up for long though so I don’t go anywhere for long. I avoid social situations, crowded places etc.

Nights are terrifying for me, I don’t sleep well, when I do have nightmares, awful nightmares. I feel tired all of the time as a result.

I do talk openly online, here for example, and on Twitter, and I don’t hide who I am. That’s not because I’m not terrified or anxious about it. I am. But I believe in trying to reduce the stigma around mental health and so this for me is a first step in talking openly. I don’t have the courage to go out and talk to people face to face at the moment. I don’t have the courage to pick up the phone or go on a TV show. But I can say my piece online.

Just because I can find the words, and I can say things doesn’t mean I’m not sick either. Some of these posts take me hours sometimes days to write because I’m struggling so much to get past a mental block. I used to be able to write a blog post in less than an hour before all the meds and before I got really sick!
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with Doctors is I’m able to put into words what is happening to me. They struggle with the fact I’m self-aware, as if that is supposed to disappear when you are really sick. But I know from ‘meeting’ others online that many people with mental illnesses are self aware and eloquent, they are also very sick.
I dream about going back to work, what I will do, what it will look like. I hate being home all of the time like this. The one thing not being able to work has taught me is that I am a worker bee. It’s made me determined to get well so that I can get back to work in some form or another. I don’t know when that will be but I do know that it won’t be until I’m 110% ready.
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3 thoughts on “Why I Can’t Work

  1. It's sad that you feel you have to justify why you don't work. Who are these judgemental busybodies who are asking you such intrusive questions? I've always considered people's finances and medical issues off-limits for conversation unless you know them extremely well and/or they bring the subject up. The world would be a much better place if everyone learned when to mind their own business!

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  2. I'm glad you said that! I was well enough to work for around 20yrs and it never crossed my mind to ask people who weren't working questions about why they didn't work and what benefits they were on. I've met some people though who feel they are justified because they “work and pay taxes” (like I didn't for 20yrs as if that matters) who think it's their business to know the ins and outs. Now I don't tell them what I've written here, just that I'm sick but you are right about people thinking they have a right to ask questions when they don't really. I wouldn't ask them what their annual salary is and how much debt they have for their mortgage, or that nice car they drive for example. Common decency!

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  3. “I've met some people though who feel they are justified because they “work and pay taxes” (like I didn't for 20yrs as if that matters) who think it's their business to know the ins and outs.”

    Interesting logic. Well, we all pay taxes, if only VAT, and the NHS is taxpayer-funded, as are schools and many other things. Perhaps next time they trot out that line, you should ask them what medical procedures they've had over the last five years and what their kids' teachers said at the last PTA meeting. As a taxpayer, you have a right to know!

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