Mental Health Day

There’s a misconception that depression is just feeling really sad, but it’s not. I don’t feel sad. I feel worthless, small, insignificant, and hopeless. Things I ordinarily enjoy doing don’t excite me. It’s like a cloud of numbness settling in on my life. Deep in the rut is completely numb and isolated. For me, sadness is fleeting in comparison to depression. – Amanda H.

Depression is a total physical shutdown where your body and mind no longer work together. I wouldn’t understand it if I hadn’t lived through it myself. No one going through it would prefer it stay that way. All we want in those moments is to be able to feel “normal”. – Phoebe Z.

When depression rolls in, it doesn’t make me sad, it’s a whole other level. It’s like a dark fog is swallowing my life. I logically know my life is amazing but it’s like everything has become dark. Something has implanted awful thoughts, and they won’t go away. No matter how much I try I cannot think my way out of it. Another way to describe it is like I’ve been pulled down into a dark pool and I am watching my happy life above me. As hard as I can, I cannot get out. It’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that I fight every day. – Brittany P.

In the midst of my progress last year, I became very passionate about poetry and I used it to overcome feelings I can’t seem to shake through venting. As my writing improves, I like to look back on these poems and give them a touch-up. I’ve been avoiding one poem in particular because I’m worried of the impact it’ll have on me. As I read this poem, line by line, my heart grew heavy. The purpose of the poem was to express my feelings of unworthiness. The hardest part for me to overcome is this question: why would I matter to anyone if I do not matter to the ones closest to me? If they are not interested in getting to know me, why would anyone else want to? I realize that I have not overcome these feelings. But how can that be? I’ve made amends with it. I’ve written about my feelings. I’ve created boundaries. I’ve strengthened relationships with friends in order to fill the void. How can reading it resurface the same extent of pain as if I was experiencing it all over again? All the sudden, it’s like the lights have turned off in my brain and everything went dark. My thoughts, my feelings, my attitude. I felt worthless. I felt alone. I felt like I did not deserve life. I arranged a plan in my head to commit self-harm in the evening. I didn’t want interruptions and I didn’t deserve saving, so I told my boyfriend that my day had been great and my best friend that I was low, but did not need her company. I didn’t want to worry them. Hours passed slowly until I came home from work. I prepared my pocket knife, grabbed a few paper towels and bandages, and turned on some music. I sat staring at the supplies in complete misery. I was nervous so I decided that intoxicating myself could help put me at ease. As time passed, rather than growing the strength to do it, I no longer felt the need to and only wanted to sleep. So, that’s what I did.

I open my eyes and like bricks they fall closed again. My heartbeat is slow and faint. My head feels sore inside. I look at the clock and know that if I’m going to make it to work on time, I need to get moving. But I can’t. I roll my head to look out the window, natural light tends to feed me energy. But not today. Not a chance. I realize that 10 minutes have passed and my body has not moved, my eyes are glued to the window. I sigh and roll my head to the ceiling, try to envision something encouraging to help snap me out of this. I realize that 10 more minutes have passed and I’ve been lost in a white canvas. I can’t stop picturing a blank space, I even begin to blur and forget the texture spread across the ceiling. All access to my brain is locked and my heart is growing numb. I receive a text from my friend asking how I am feeling. I reply “Like a body with nothing in it.” I receive more texts, a string of them encouraging me to take a mental health day to take care of myself. I search on Google for possible inspiration, there has to be something out there that could give me comfort in contacting my boss. Instead, I click a link that brings me to a survey. 7 out of 10 bosses do not consider depression a valid reason for taking a day off of work. I reread my friend’s text and it makes me chuckle.  Are you serious? What am I going to do? Text my boss and say “I need the day off to take care of my mental health.” Yeah right. He won’t believe me. He won’t understand. I just can’t do this.

Tears fill my eyes as I get out of bed. This isn’t my body, this is skin that I live in. I’m just the idea of a person within it. I didn’t do anything to deserve this pain. I want to be happy so badly that it hurts even worse. I add concealer under my eyes and eyeliner to my lids, anything to help hide or distract from the dark circles surrounding them. I look for the comfiest sweater I own and dress myself. Life feels so unreal, what is happening to me? I make my commute to work in complete silence. This is going to be the longest day of my life. I arrive at work and I’m nervous of what is about to happen. I walk towards my desk and see a few coworkers. My face feels so lifeless. Everyone calls me the “bubbly one” but why can’t I smile to them? I look to the ground until I get to my desk so that I do not draw concern. I load my computer and feel the same daze, unable to focus on anything. A few coworkers initiate conversation with me about my tasks and I can’t hold back my tears. Why can’t I stop? We’re talking about math. What the heck is wrong with me? I can’t be here. I have a burning fear that I will get fired if I stay.

I contact my Director, she has told me before that her husband is a therapist. I ask her if we could speak and immediately my heart raced. I begin to sweat, shake and feel faint. Why did I even ask? I’m such a baby. We dig right in and she asks me if everything is alright. I tell her about my morning, my struggles to keep composure in the office and fears. She notices my watery eyes and immediately reassures me that I am not alone and that mental health is important. She tells me that she will always be a listening ear if I need someone to talk to and reassures me that she knows that mental illness is real; if it wasn’t her husband wouldn’t have the job he does. She continues by explaining a rough day that she recently had which provided me comfort. I instantly feel relief, but what’s next? She offers to talk to my Manager if I am uncomfortable with it, but encourages me to go home and take care of myself. It feels like this is a step I need to take myself despite how comforting it would be to let her handle the discussion. I return to my desk and draft an email to my Manager. I inform him of my inability to discuss in person without bringing on tears and that I need to go home for the day. Why can’t I push send? I begin to get anxiety about him reading it and questioning me. I wait for him to leave his office in hopes that he will read my email after I leave, I press send and rush out of the building.

I get to my car and instantly feel a sense of relief. I am finally alone again. I travel home and my eyes keep drawing to the cemented railing in the median of the highway with one recurring thought: I wonder if it would kill me instantly, or if I would feel the pain. When I get home, I change into comfortable clothing, place a snack and water near my couch and sleep. It’s incredible how refreshing sleep could be. My friend comes over and keeps me company and in high spirits for the remainder of the evening. The next morning, I feel refreshed. I feel excited for work and the weekend that will follow. I can smile. Oh, I missed this smile. I log onto my computer and check my email in hopes that my Manager has responded. I don’t want to go into work expecting the worst. I need this to be a better day.


That’s it? Really? Anxiety makes me believe the absolute worst case scenario will happen (with EVERYTHING,) but he reassures me it’s okay and a wish well? Now I feel completely silly for letting myself fear asking off in the first place. I understand there are some of you asking yourselves, “Really? This girl dedicated a whole post to asking for PTO? What a joke.” Please catch yourself, if you are thinking this, it’s your judgment that has so many individuals struggling with mental illness keeping quiet and belittling their problems. This is a REAL problem for many. Be mindful of the fact that there are others reading and relating to every word. I think it’s because of the trust I just built with my Manager and Director that I have an ease of mind thinking of asking in the future. However, I understand each job environment is different. There are individuals that took the actions I have or had no problem at all with asking, but who were in turn treated unfairly and unkindly. Going forward, I can guarantee the anxiety will not go away. I will continually struggle with asking unless I build trust.

Before I went on medical leave, I was having tons of panic attacks at work. I was so stressed about going to work because I didn’t know how to hide it and I didn’t want to tell my boss. What if she thinks I’m crazy or I create more work for her? I tried my best to suppress my feelings but it all came spilling out anyway. The pretending ended during our annual employee day/Christmas party. I was sitting in the meeting room with about 50 other people and couldn’t interact. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I wanted to jump out of my skin. So I went outside and sat by myself trying desperately to go back in and be “normal”. I couldn’t do it. I finally had no choice but to tell my boss what was going on. She was understanding and reassuring. After that, I decided I should go on leave to figure this out. Making that decision was beyond scary and I felt so guilty. I felt that I was giving in to my weaknesses and I was letting my job and my family down. I especially didn’t want my husband to be disappointed or resentful. None of my fears came true. My job was supportive and told me to take the time that I needed. They wanted me back happy and healthy. My husband was incredible. He made me feel so loved when I felt unlovable. Our families came to help also. They carried me through the worst of it. When I felt that guilty, worthless, you’re such a burden feeling, they didn’t abandon me like I thought they would. They picked me up and loved me and told me I could get past this. Now that I’m back at work and my job is aware of my situation, I feel way more relaxed. Everyone is supportive and I don’t have to worry about panic attacks at work. If I have one, it’s ok. Everyone already knows. Some of my coworkers have also shared their mental health struggles with me. I’m not the only one! I read the other day that a shared joy is a double joy. A shared sorrow is a half sorrow. So true, lesson learned. I’ve learned how important it is to stand up for yourself and ask for help. If you need a day off it’s ok! It’s not a weakness or a failure. It’s self care. Same as working out, eating healthy, or meditating. All this stress and anxiety had a positive outcome. It strengthened my relationship with my husband and our families. It strengthened my relationships at work and most importantly with myself. I see my progress and I know I can get through the hard times. – Mia W.

When we are down with a stomach bug, we stay home because we aren’t fit enough to work and need to heal. When we are down with a broken leg, we stay home because we aren’t fit enough to work and need to heal. So why is it that when our demons take complete control over us, we force us to go to work? Are we fit enough to work? Not really. Should we do whatever is needed to make us feel better, even just a little bit? Hell yes. For me, this means being able to stay home and sleep or read or watch trash TV. It means not being forced to talk to people. And most important, not having to fake a smile when all I want to do is cry. I know that I’m right, and I know that I only hurt myself when I drag myself to work on those days. But still, calling in and saying that I’m taking a mental health day is not easy. I still feel like a failure, like someone who isn’t strong enough. I feel bad because I know that others struggle too, that they have bad days too. But you know what (and yes, I am aware that this sounds very harsh), it’s not my problem. I had to learn this the hard way: I cannot save everyone. But I can save myself. I can’t take care of everyone. But I can take care of myself. So whenever I need to take a mental health day, I try really hard to keep those thoughts in mind. If they need one too, it is up to them to take it. And the only way I can help in some sort, is to set an example and not feel ashamed when I can’t make it to work because of it. I feel like it is a learning process. Each time it happens, I feel less ashamed, less like a failure. I feel good about it, because I am standing up for myself. I am trying to make myself feel better. I am trying to heal. And if anyone thinks that this is a bad thing, I feel sorry for them. I know that I will always feel bad about missing a day at work, no matter if it is because of a mental health issue or a physical health issue just because it means the rest of the team has to do my work load too. But it’s just paper work. It won’t hurt anyone if it takes a little longer to be finished. My health on the other hand… will be damaged even further if I don’t take actions. I am doing this for myself because no one else can do it for me. Long story short: I know how hard it can be to take mental health days, but it is essential. At the end of the day, your co-workers, your boss, they won’t be there to fix you when you’ve broken down because you did not take care of yourself. You will be left with the pieces to pick up. Remember this: You don’t owe your health to them. – Maddie N.

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