What I said:
I’ve been struggling the last few weeks, particuarly with mornings and getting out of the house. If there’s no additional work expected in the next couple of days would it be OK to work on the spreadsheets from home for the rest of the week?
What I want to say but is too much to expect a colleague to deal with:
Emailing across the office feels a bit daft, but it’s something I find very difficult to talk about and it takes time to find the right words. They call it “smiling depression” when it doesn’t show, sounds about right for how I try to present myself to the world. I end up with no words to actually express how I feel when everything I have is going into just carrying on and seeming normal. I don’t know why it matters to keep pretending it’s all fine and I don’t feel like life is all getting on top of me and hard to keep up with. When I’m feeling more positive I can discuss it all I want… I think it’s all part of the depression, the lower I feel the more the emotions seem locked away – I can feel them in a remote way but I can’t let anything out, even when I feel like crying. I keep hoping I’ll pick up from this particular depressive slump but it just seems to be getting harder to keep going and stay on top of everything.
This morning it was a real battle to not just turn around at the end of my road and go home because for a moment the whole commute and day just felt like too much to have to deal with. I sit on the stairs in the morning to put my shoes on, and some days I’m staring at the front door for far too long, gathering my energy and motivation. Can other people really get out of bed when the alarm goes off, have time for everything they plan to do in the morning, and get to work on time? Is it just me that takes half an hour to even be able to keep my eyes open then stares into space halfway through getting dressed until I realise I should have left 5 minutes ago? I struggle to describe or remember how I’ve felt before – am I really worse now than I was this time last year, or just lazier, or missing some essential factor?
Depression is an illness that doesn’t feel like an illness. It feels much more like I just need to try harder, give myself a stern talking to then get out of bed on time and keep up with the laundry. It’s hard to receive a good self-lecture when most of your brain already feels bad for ‘failing’ and already knows all of the areas requiring improvement – some of them probably not even noticable to anyone else. When I already feel that I’m different and doing badly it makes it very hard to judge how I’m really doing in comparison to everyone else, if I look like a swan gliding along or a small creature that fell in and is trying very hard not to drown… or an otter drifting with the current, holding a favourite rock for comfort and hoping nothing nasty comes along.
Do you know how hard it is to press send on this sort of message? Whether it’s internalised stigma against mental illness, a fear of admitting to failure or being thought less of, or just the upright piece of me that says you don’t call in sick or ask for concessions unless you absolutely need to and is this really bad enough? If I’ve written this and thought of just going home then maybe I have reached that point, but then again I’m not sure I trust my brains assessment of itself anymore. I have this internal debate everytime I think of calling in sick. My last few sick days have been complete crash-and-burn stay-in-bed-all-day can’t-cope-with-the-world days and I want to avoid that in future. I’d prefer a few low functioning days to a completely incapable of functioning day. Let’s hope a day at my own desk will help me reset…