Category Archives: Returning to Work

Face Fear: Making Peace With Your Shadow

ID-10033305I’ve recently made a big life decision which involves me facing up to some pretty intense fears, by going back to work. Throughout my life, starting at school, I’ve had fears of being trapped and not being able to get away from a situation if I need to. The underlying fear is of being consumed by some intense emotion and reacting in an uncontrollable way. It is a very child-born fear and, as with many anxiety states, is something which is extremely difficult to rationalise myself out of! Placing myself in a working environment, this fear is precipitated by the need to be in a certain situation/role/building for a fixed amount of time, during which I feel I must “hold it together”. By this I mean be able to show only those aspects of myself that are adult, professional and self-controlled.

The Shadow Side In my spiritual development classes, we talk about the shadow side of ourselves. The shadow is made up of those aspects of ourselves which we prefer not to look at- mainly our fears and past behaviours which we have judged ourselves negatively for. This fear of not being able to “escape” is part of my shadow. I unconsciously judge myself for this fear- that it is silly, childish, irrational. These judgements make me feel ashamed of it, of myself. This is part of me I prefer not to look at. This is only one aspect of my own shadow side.

Accepting Our Shadow. Making peace with these shadow aspects of ourselves frees us from the shame we ultimately condemn ourselves to from harsh self- judgements. We’re aiming towards accepting that this fear exists by feeling the fear (physical sensations, emotions, thoughts), acknowledging it from a perspective of non-judgement and compassion, and then gently encouraging ourselves into situations which may trigger the fear- if this is something which needs to be done: I need to be able to make a living and fulfil some kind of useful purpose in my life, therefore I am choosing to face this fear in order to grow and become stronger as a human being. (Of course, being terrified of snakes is probably a fear we can live with- it affects us on a very small scale, unless you happen to work in a reptile house: pretty unlikely, given the fear!)

Compassion for Ourselves Accepting and making peace with this particular aspect of my shadow can look like a conversation between the Shadow Self (which in this case is the frightened, traumatised child) and the Adult self, who is rational, experienced, capable, strong, comforting and soothing:

Shadow Self: “What if I cry or react in some other uncontrollable way at work? I’m terrified I won’t be able to escape or leave when I need to!”

Adult Self (rational, comforting soothing- coming from our higher selves): “Why do you think that might happen?”

Shadow Self: “Because it’s happened before with really bad consequences”. “I don’t feel safe with people in authority, particularly men”.

Adult Self: “This is completely understandable given the experiences you have lived through during childhood and as an adult. You are doing whatever you can to protect yourself. This is a normal reaction to past events. It comes from that part of you which is still a frightened child and that is ok! I, the adult, am here now, and I can take care of you. I am capable and strong and will not leave you in danger. You are safe. It is absolutely ok to feel scared, but know that you are safe now.”

Shadow Side: “But what if it does happen? I will feel so ashamed.”

Adult Side: “What is so shameful about letting out emotion and expressing our truth?”

Shadow Side: “It’s embarrassing and not accepted socially. I’ll be ridiculed and isolated socially”.

Adult Side: “What if I told you that other people’s reactions have nothing to do with you?! They are as important as the speck of dust on your windowsill. The way other people react is their karma and nothing for you to worry about. You are not responsible for any reaction on their part. How they feel about you need not be a significant part of your life. Free yourself from the belief that it is up to you to keep everything and everyone happy and stable. Is isn’t! If you need to express emotion- then that is what is most appropriate for your healing at that moment. It is safe for you to express yourself”.

43397jx6aupqgejBy this point my Shadow Side (or fearful inner child in this case) is feeling soothed, comforted, accepted for who she is, and supported in moving forwards in facing these fears. Once the judgement has been removed from the fear of crying uncontrollably with no escape, space has opened up for me to do it again if I need to- I’ve given myself permission to express myself. I am safe. If I ban myself from doing such a “terrible” thing, I automatically tense up and restrict my true self- I squash myself into a rigid box, compounding the feeling of being trapped. I feel suffocated.

The freedom I have given myself may be completely invisible to other people, but to me it is a precious gift.

Working through these thoughts as I have done above, forms a script, and one that will need to be repeated on numerous occasions until I have trained my mind to be loving and kind to myself! This is a much better platform from which to go out int othe world and face my fear!

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Back from the Brink of Bipolar!

Song of the Day:  Disco by Dizzee Rascal (sooo not my usual taste, but it’s such a happy song!)

Well, it’s been a good couple of months since I last posted. Thanks for all the visits I’ve been getting whilst temporarily indisposed, I really appreciate all the interest. Thank you.

So I’ll briefly update you: major depressive episode!  ‘Nuff said really! I was off work until late December.

It’s so strange how the symptoms can vary each time I experience an episode. Most frequently in the past I’ve had a prevalence of self destructive thoughts- particularly that my existence in the world is a total mistake and I’m not meant to be here, I’m a total waste of space, etc, etc- you know the drill! I’m glad I don’t take it so seriously anymore, because it’s so easy to be fooled by that ego voice- it seems so real! Yeah, it does still take a hold, but I know not to trust the thoughts of self-destruction and I guess I’m much less likely to act on them than when I was first diagnosed at 18. Actually that’s a total lie- they still seem very real and very scary- it is just that I’ve learned not to act on it and them and that they do go away.

This time the thoughts were veering much more towards paranoia- mainly firmly believing that all my friends and colleagues were really totally against me and all hated me and laughed behind my back as soon as I left the room. My anxiety levels were fairly high, but not as much as in the past, although I did have a few panic attacks. 

However my main symptoms this time have been physical, namely psychomotor retardation and digestive issues- a new one for me! The retardation came on quickly just as I finished my last few days of work before a week off. I’d had mild depressive symptoms for a few weeks, which was why I booked the week off, to give myself a bit of recovery time. But as my week off progressed I was virtually unable to walk, except with a kind of shuffle. I really thought I was physically dying! Horrible.

The positive side to the physical symptoms is that at least people can actually SEE you’re ill. I really hate that mental illness, such as mild-moderate depression, can’t really be identified except by the people close to you. I think I’m especially good at putting on a happy face. I always believe that people think I’m making up the whole thing. Visible physical symptoms at least prove I’m not! I would also say that the retardation is easier to cope with than the intense anxiety, agitation, irritation and anger that you can experience either as part of dysphoric mania or agitated depression (are these two the same thing, or is it a mixed episode?)- particularly with self-destuctive thoughts too.  I think these times are the worst- too much energy focused in a particularly negative and possibly lethal direction.

Anyway, the depressive episode messed up a day at Center Parcs for my birthday, and I cancelled a trip to London too- I knew I’d be a panicky mess on the tube! I’m OK with London when I’m well, I wouldn’t say I enjoy all the people/the tube, etc, but I love all the theatres, concerts etc- there’s just so many great performances and events going on- I’ll risk a bit of anxiety for them!  But I didn’t want to risk panic attacks this time, which I felt were fairly inevitable! I seem to become mildly agorophobic when depressed, I don’t like being away from home/Norwich etc.

Anyway, since New Year I’ve been well on the mend and my confidence with work soon returned, despite all the anxiety of going back. My friend also managed to blag a free day at Center Parcs for us which made up for my birthday, and we had a really lovely Christmas with family. I feel grateful to be better, glad of a bit of sun despite the cold, extremely happy to be singing my heart out with a choir again and soooo lucky that I don’t have to work full-time! To all those Bipolar full-timers out there- I salute you!

Bipolar Disorder: Returning to Work

Song of the Day: What the Water Gave Me by Florence & the Machine

(Photo Credit: Cross Duck available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License).

There are many people with Bipolar Disorder who are currently unable to work (I think most of us have probably been there); but there are also many who do. I have a history of jumping in and out of sales assistant jobs, where I never lasted more than a few months; I was never really well enough to take a job in the first place but I was so stubborn and usually hypomanic when I applied. I would most often leave jobs voluntarily, I felt I could not continue due to panic and crippling anxiety.

However, I have also managed over two years in a sales admin role (1 yr full time, 1.5 yrs part time)- though I struggled a lot; and 3 yrs in my current admin assistant role for a catering company. The success in the latter I attribute to a role where I can pretty much get on with things on my own, far fewer hours (16 per week) and also some lovely, supportive colleagues.

Routine

I cannot stress how important routine is in keeping me as stress-free as possible. It really helps to know what’s coming next. My morning routine consists of the following:

-Getting up at 5.30am every workday morning (bear in mind I’m a morning person!)

-5.45am Walk dog.

-6.15am Meditation/Yoga (just 15mins), then breakfast.

-7am Bus to work

I am lucky enough to have short, regular shifts at the same time each work day (4 per week)- 8am-12pm. The afternoons I’m usually surprisingly tired and often have a nap (not sure if this a meds thing or just coz I get up so early)!

I also have a regular routine at work where I pretty much do the same tasks in the same order every day. This can be dull, but generally I find security and assurance in the familiar works very well for me. I also have colleagues flitting in and out of the office to chat to- so that helps. I find the regular social interaction vital to my mental health (although it can cause more stress than the work itself when not in balance). When I was off work for nearly two years I became too reclusive and started to feel pretty lonesome. But I was also struck severely with anxiety about being “out in the world” again.

Getting out of this rut was difficult. I had to step out of my comfort zone and arrange some voluntary work to improve my confidence. It was also a good-“no pressure”- stepping stone. I worked for a few months in a primary school listening to the kids read and generally helping them with classwork, followed by some admin work in a large company. I think without the voluntary work I would have struggled to believe I could be of use to anybody, so couldn’t possibly expect someone to pay me!

Finding your feet again after a major Bipolar episode can be a scary process, but I think it was important for me to be patient with myself and trust that I would know when the time was right to move forward. Baby steps were important, even little things like going into the city by bus, meeting a friend in the city, going out with a group of people, were helpful. Once these felt more comfortable I moved onto voluntary work and I also tried an evening class. Slow and steady was the key! Also accepting when I wasn’t able to work and giving myself permission to relax and “enjoy” (as much as you can with depression) the time off as much as possible. I deserved time off. I was struggling with a horrible disorder which took me through despair, bleakness, trauma, self-abandonment and the darkest days of my life, and if this is you at the moment- relax, you deserve and need the time off. Be good to yourself!

I have a few more posts on employment to come so keep your eyes peeled!