Buying the Milk: Working with Mental Health Problems

Content Warning: Depression, anxiety, suicide, abuse.

I went to a job interview not too long ago, for a job I thought I wanted at the time, but I now view not getting it as a blessing. I was so anxious throughout the interview that my social anxiety of not wanting to drink the water they gave me for fear of being ‘too much trouble’ gave through to drinking the whole thing and asking for more. My throat closed up, my brain was foggy. I didn’t notice until I got back in the car that I had completely sweated through my dress. One question in particular threw me: “So these gaps on your resume, what happened there?”

There’s no easy way to answer this question. Saying, “Oh, I think that about covers two suicide attempts, three emotional breakdowns, and a general sense of futility about life” wouldn’t lead to them offering me the job. “That’s when I went back to study,” I replied, only partially lying (there was time spent studying, dispersed with depressive episodes).

If the panel knew that my mental health had caused me to abruptly leave a job, that my anxiety about answering the phone meant I wouldn’t be able to be very good at the job they were interviewing me for, that my depression could flare up at any moment and would put me at serious risk of abruptly leaving the position, they wouldn’t have hired me. Well, they didn’t end up hiring me anyway, most likely due to the excessive sweating.

The truth is, the first time I left my job, it was less of a ‘leaving’ and more of a ‘public breakdown on the bus to the point where I physically couldn’t force my legs to walk into the office’. It wasn’t great, to say the least. After months of recovery and therapy, new medication and mental health strategies, I got over the shame, and emailed my old boss asking if there were any new positions going in the team. Lo and behold, there was.

The first day was nerve-wracking, but what was more shocking was the way I fell back into my old team so quickly. It felt natural, as if I had never left. Responsibilities grew, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

Our big boss, in charge of the whole area, remarked to me one day, “Not going to disappear on us again, are you?” and winked. I lowered my head in shame and muttered a quiet, “no” before leaving the room. I couldn’t say what I wanted to: that it wasn’t my choice, per se, to leave. That didn’t he think I would rather have continuing working, functioning like a normal person in society, than not being able to get out of bed every day? Than berating myself about how stupid, how useless, how weak I was? How much I’d let everyone down? Needless to say, thought spirals are especially not great when you have depression, and they all end with, “Well, then you should kill yourself.”

And then, predictably, something happened. Those negative thoughts, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and not good enough, started to bubble beneath the surface. They came back. It felt like all the progress I had made was futile. That this was just going to happen over and over again, and I would never be able to function like everyone else. Like I was in a hamster wheel and kept falling off. Why couldn’t I just be in the wheel like everyone else? I felt like I’d never be able to hold down a job, to get out of bed, to seemingly cope with all the difficulties of life.

I felt frustrated at myself, because the exact same thing had happened again. Another breakdown, another suicide attempt, another not being able to go into work. It all felt very cyclical. There was more berating, more tears, more panic attacks. The pain was inescapable.

So here I am, suicidal ideation at an all-time high, being closely monitored by my partner, who calls me twice a day to check in on me (I actually don’t mind this, it isn’t nearly as invasive as I’ve made it sound). I’m seeing doctors twice a week to ensure that I am ‘safe’. And yet again, I’ve had to leave another job because of my stupid brain, and I won’t be able to go back this time. I’m ashamed and I’m upset.

We’ve been lucky that my partner was recently able to get a new job with higher pay, so we’re skating by for now. Not once has he yelled at me for leaving work, chastised my purchases, or pushed me into looking for work before I am ready.

The thing that has been bothering me lately is: what do I do now? I want to contribute to our relationship. I want to work, to feel useful. But I have an inability to use my previous referee, because me just not turning up to work one day (on two separate occasions, now) isn’t a great look considering they were already understaffed (a factor that increased my workload which contributed not insignificantly to my latest breakdown). The stress of applying for government help negates whatever my earnings would be. I have been and done that, and I have no desire to be treated like that again, even if it means living on the streets. I have no qualifications, just an unfinished bachelor’s degree, and more importantly, I can’t promise an employer that I will be able to get up and go into work each day. It’s difficult to be hired without the one quality an employer needs – reliability.

I could apply for more jobs, go to more interviews, but with the futility depression gives you, these aren’t exactly tasks that make me wantto be here. I need to somehow trick my brain into looking for work, just in case I want to stay alive. I need to buy the milk.

When I had my second (and most serious) suicide attempt, the thing that made it different was the certainty. I didn’t buy milk. Unlike general suicidal thoughts, that whir away on repeat in the background at varying volumes, still sometimes allowing you to get groceries and have dinner and go to work, this was different. I used up everything that was in the fridge. I didn’t repurchase the milk. There would be no point. I wouldn’t be here to use it.

Stopping working is the equivalent of not buying the milk. And I need to find a way to buy it again. I need to purchase it just in case. I need find a job, for the days when I decide that I might actually want to be here.

But what I need is a kind of work that can fit with me. Not something that enables me to wallow, but something that is flexible enough to work around my depression and anxiety. Something that if I wake up one day, and can’t stop sobbing, and reliving past trauma, and saying horrible things to myself in my head the way my abusers did, could wait, just for a little bit.

If anyone knows of anything, please let me know.

August 2019


Lifeline: 13 11 14

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