When you have been chronically ill for a while, trying to do anything out of a very basic routine is exhausting both physically and emotionally. Emotionally you have to work incredibly hard to listen, engage and respond. Depression makes my concentration dreadful and I lose my train of thought often, and get blank spaces when I should be paying attention. I also forget things immediately and need to be reminded and re-reminded as the information will disappear permanently. Physically, when ill, it feels like you are walking through treacle. My body does not want to move, and almost has a palpable resistance. Getting up, dropping children at school and then driving through rush hour traffic to get to my work destination feels like I've climbed Everest even before I have walked through the door. Then I have to put on my happy face and try to deal with the chaos and politics of the office.
It's at this point I really start to question if I am actually well enough to be at work. When my SSP ran out from my employer earlier in the year, I applied for PIP. The benefit is for disabled folk needing extra financial support long term as their condition is limiting and debilitating. I was called in for an interview to discuss my diagnosis and symptoms with a "Medical professional" who would make a decision about my claim. I drove my car with my friend as I cannot do public transport as the chaos in finding out where to wait, when to wait, the anxiety provoked by missing the appointment, getting lost and being refused as I didn't turn up on time were too great. I did find where to park, but couldn't find the office. My friend helped me find where to go and sat with me throughout the interview for moral support. The "Medical professional" didn't even know what bi-polar was. "I'm sorry I'm not familiar with your illness, can you explain for me what it is?"
Feeling like I was being cross examined as a P.O.W is an understatement. I can only go on my own experience, but quite frankly, even if you paid me, I would never put myself through it again. You are expected to share your deepest thoughts, symptoms and struggles with a complete stranger, whose sole aim is to make you out to be a liar and sponger. I can appreciate that you have to be detached from the emotion of a situation and try and be pragmatic, but she was a piece of work. "So how suicidal do you feel on a daily basis, if it is on a daily basis?" How many days a week out of seven are you suicidal? So it's not all the time? So, explain to me why your intrusive thoughts impact on cooking? Right, so you think you might pour boiling water over yourself, stab yourself with a knife in the stomach or cut off your fingers, but you don't actually do that? So you can make a basic meal. Can you stand by the desk for me and bend your knees?" I cannot remember a time in my adult life when I have been so humiliated. There is an insidious shame attached to mental illness, because it's invisible, and if you cannot see it, it's not real. You feel that people will not believe your torment because it's not always apparent. You feel you have to justify yourself to everyone or they won't see the truth. The general population feel like this and have very little compassion and sadly at this time in my life, this included my boss. I was declined for PIP. Apparently as I can stand up and sit down independently, make beans on toast and drive a car to the interview I am unworthy of support. I am living the dream. Oh and I still cannot do the laundry without thinking I am going to neck the whole bottle of fabric softener!
So, for me returning to work, I had a variety of motivators. Poverty for one, a desire beyond anything else to be well and back functioning as a normal person, escaping isolation, feeling that I am doing something meaningful and generally just trying to be like everyone else in the world. When you have worked your whole life, not being able to do it feels like a travesty. Although I am not completely tied up in work providing me with approval, self acceptance and self esteem, I do still yearn for a chance to do something worthwhile, pay in to society and have a sense of achievement.
Standing outside the entrance to the Church where I worked, I felt dread, fear and massive anxiety. I was being influenced by so many factors, I couldn't see the wood for the trees. It was about to get really horrible.