The Anxiety of Absence

Time off makes me anxious. Luke and I have booked a week off for some much needed R&R so from tomorrow I’ll be a lady of leisure for a whole seven days. But the list of worries passing through my mind is stressing me out.

First of all, there’s the concern that I’ve been cocking up my work for the last 6 months. You might think the reassurance of the half-year of few complaints would be enough, but it really isn’t. When I’m here I rarely doubt my ability to do the job and succeed at it. I think I’m just that much of a control-needer. ‘What if something comes to light and I’m not here to explain the mistake?’ and so on.

The issue that underlies all this anxiety is the events of three years ago when I first took time off ill because of a psychotic episode. I had continued to work right up to the point that my psychiatrist threatened to have me sectioned if I didn’t take two weeks off. I know some of you will have experience of what it’s like to try to continue living normally when your mind is rebelling against you. Little wonder then, that I made some mistakes. Amazingly they were not big bucks mistakes; simple things like forgetting to send an order confirmation or return a phone call. Shouldn’t really have been much of an issue, except my manager at the time didn’t see it like that. Whilst I was away on sick leave she got access to my computer from IT and went through to find anything that I had made a mistake on. When I returned to work, these were presented to me as a significant failing. It was horrible, I felt terrible; despite my illness I had worked hard – so hard – at that job despite being over-worked and under-staffed.

So that’s why I get nervous about time off. I know for a fact that I have been doing a good job here. The figures and feedback reflect that; I’m on target and have built fabulous relationships with my accounts. I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s going to be something I don’t even have the first inkling of rearing its ugly head to ruin my life.

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The Anxiety of Absence

OMG – Colleague X is a nice person!

It’s amazing what a heart to heart over a few drinks can do for a relationship.

I’ve written a bit about Colleague X and our differences. She is blunt, quick to judge and gives off a tough-gal exterior. By contrast, I am milder, don’t take criticism well and only get riled up when it’s the last option. At work, I think I’m seen as a bit of a door-mat, but that’s ok. I’ve developed my style in the workplace over the last almost-ten-years and I know I get results. In the time I’ve been working, I’ve only ever had one major row and that was with a supplier who had truly screwed me over. I like to think I’ve perfected the ‘nice guys don’t always finish last’ approach.

On Friday, our new line manager invited the whole department for drinks to welcome her to the company. Pretty quickly we all migrated out to the pub garden; warm night plus a lot of smokers plus alcohol. Somehow a group formed away from where we were sitting, and Colleague X and I found ourselves alone together with a silence between us.

Now, it’s important to know that I don’t make a secret of the fact I suffer mental health issues (hence this blog, hence Twitter, hence Facebook!). Pretty much anyone I’m on chatting-basis with in the office knows the rough outline of things; as does Colleague X – in her case it is because I ‘came out’ to the team as I felt it was unfair to leave them in the dark as to the reasons behind my changeable moods and mid-afternoon disappearances.

Colleague X and I tentatively began talking; we were both drinking ales and, like any passionate ale aficionado, we started comparing tasting notes. We decided the one I’d picked was the nicer one. We decided to head inside for a top up. What surprised me, though, was that once we’d got fresh pints, neither of us made a move towards re-joining the group. The ice was broken!

That night, we spent five hours in deep, meaningful conversation. We talked about our childhoods, our upbringing and our current struggles. In my quick-defensiveness, I’d totally missed out on the fact we have a lot in common at the moment. We discussed coping-strategies, I told her about the course of my mental health journey. She admitted she is afraid of pills-and-professionals, and I waxed lyrical about making the path as smooth as possible.

What we realised is that we need each other. Instead of being two solo artists competing for the top-dog spot, we actually complement each other. Colleague X is methodical, detail orientated; I am the kind of person who learns a process and then looks to improve it/speed it up (read: I find shortcuts!). We agreed that we can learn from each other. I need to improve my eye for detail, and she needs to improve her efficiency.

It feels really good to have cleared the air between us now. This morning we were collaborating and communicating. When giving me some criticism I appreciated the way she approached it; she took a softer approach than before. I really do feel we’ve turned a corner here, and together we can be truly awesome.

OMG – Colleague X is a nice person!