As you probably know by now, I'm pretty open when it comes to my health issues, and it's a mission of mine now to break down the walls on Mental Illness, in particular, depression.
My mental health has taken a turn for the worse recently, and this culminated in me being referred to a Mental Health Clinic for a full consultation. This took place yesterday, 4th November.
After an emotionally gruelling 75 minutes, the specialists had a diagnosis. They told me I had Major (Recurrent) Depressive Disorder. Now this is a pretty serious and at times debillitating mental illness, and I've been put back on anti-depressants and will be taking part in Talking Therapy (counselling to you and me).
The whole day left me feeling incredibly emotionally exposed and feeling very vulnerable, weak, unsure of myself, unsure of what to do in the immediate future with regards to work.
I don't mind admitting I am really struggling to function at the moment, I'm hanging on to normality by a thread but feel it's important to carry on fighting and keep on going as close to normal as it's possible to do so. It's not the right course of action for everyone but I feel it's the right thing for me. However, things in life are rarely straight forward, and whatever control you have over yourself is often dependent on how you're treated by others.
So, I went to work today, with that feeling still raging inside me. As you will know from my previous posts, I see that inner battle as a second person inside me, trying desperately to derail and debase me. I often give it a voice.....I guess that is what people mean by the voices in their head.
I opened my emails and set about reading a few of them. I saw one from my line manager asking for a meeting. Not a problem, I thought, I've always been up front with him about my health and it's important to keep your boss informed.....how else are they supposed to know of things that may be affecting your work, right?
The meeting started pleasantly, with him asking me about the assessment yesterday. I told him I was glad I took the full day off, that yesterday was a harrowing experience and that I was feeling very raw indeed. I added that the treatment for this was medication and therapy, and that as this would likely be covered by The Equality Act 2010, I would be looking for time off for any treatment relating to this illness. I did however tell him that if I could, I would arrange this in my own time, although it may not be possible.
Then almost without a pause, I started getting questioned about my work and my time spent on union duties….again. I told him that I was working mainly on an 'off line' project last week and that I'd only worked 14 hours anyway due to child care. I'd kept my union work to a bare minimum as I knew my time in the office was going to be so heavily restricted.
I was getting questioned about what I spend my non-union time doing, I have acknowledged that I'm currently running slightly over the 50% limit but as I have repeatedly reminded my manager, this is for the year as a whole, not just a part of it. I know that my manager is getting leaned on from above and from those who want to see the end of union reps.
I am convinced that this is now co-ordinated tactics by the employer. It's an attempt to make the lives of union reps so incredibly stressful that we walk away from the union stuff. I am feeling victimised and harassed, and as the law is written, that means I am being.
Every time I mention doing PCS work now, I get a reminder about the 50%, or some comment about the time I'm spending. I'm well aware of the restrictions and don't need the constant reminders.
No one else in the office is asked to account for every single minute as I am. No one else in the office is expected to be purely doing their job for 100% of their time. There are always group discussions, Intranet reading, 1-2-1 meetings, Team Meetings, Whiteboard meetings, aspects of union work that count as FT etc, Toilet Breaks, time away to grab a cup of tea etc.
Yet I am constantly being harangued and harassed over my time. I sat there, took my glasses off, head in my hands and said I can't take this any more.
My boss then started saying how flexible he was. When I asked in what aspect, he said that he allowed me to work short days last week for half term. I was furious! Allowing people to take their own leave or flexi for childcare purposes (or any other reason) is not being flexible, that's allowing people to take time off that they're entitled to!!!
It's not even as if this was short notice leave, this had been planned for weeks. He then cited that he was allowing me to do PCS work without challenging it. Again I pointed out that this was a legal requirement and I always gave him as much notice as possible.
He then said that as far as he can see, all I do when I'm in the office is sit and answer emails. How he can say this when he sits at the other end of the office from me and rarely if ever ventures to my end is beyond me. I told him that I did not like having my integrity questioned in this way. He denied he was doing this. but then said he had to be satisfied that the time I was recording my time correctly and that he couldn't be satisfied at this point. The conclusion I drew from this is that he thinks I'm fabricating either my flexi records, my union time, or both.
Then......the final breaking point.
He asked me whether I felt guilty about leaving my colleagues in a fix by not doing anything. I'm sorry, but laying a guilt trip like this is totally unacceptable, and even more so when you're a manager sat with a member of staff who's just told you that they're suffering from what is a serious mental health issue. It was at this point I walked out.
To suggest that it's my 18 hours a week that are the make or break issue here and not the fact that we work for an employer with 40,000 fewer staff than we had 8 years ago is clearly laughable....but I wasn't laughing. If he's taken on work that needs more staff hours than he has at his disposal, isn't that just poor planning on his behalf?
I probably came over as being really defensive, but given the condition I have, and that I had literally just minutes before told him about it, is that really a surprise?
So now the dilemma. I have to take my illness seriously, and this may involve minimising my union involvement for the forseeable future,
Whilst part of me is screaming that I shouldn't let the b*****ds grind me down like this, there is another part.....a massive part of me that is thinking I should do just that anyway. I'm no good to anyone if I'm ill. I've got to seriously question whether I'm in the write frame of mind to continue with things as they are, or whether I need to simplify my life a hell of a lot.
I am now going to spend a couple of days thinking about what I'm going to do next.
The reason I'm blogging about this is that this episode shows just how far we have to go when it comes to understanding and dealing with hidden disabilities and mental illness. I'm not a weirdo or a freak, I have a problem that needs support from all sides. I get that from my wife, my family and friends.....shouldn't I get it from my employer too?