the winter blog

Work Trauma: How I Found Myself On Mental Health Leave For 6 Months

laptop, computer, portable
Posted by Amber Corinne

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention. I’ve just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story. I need all of you, to stop what you’re doing and listen. Cannonball!

Ron burgundy

Hello, my lovelies! Thank you for being here because I have a super important, super exciting announcement to make. I am nominated for Blogger Of The Year at the MH Blog Awards this year! But there is a catch, I need your help! From now until June 4, you can go to the MH Blog Awards website and vote for Amber @ The Winter Of My Discontent for Blogger Of The Year!

It’s a true honor to be nominated with some of the best MH content creators on the web and I can’t wait to find out the results. As always, thank you so much to all of you who do and have supported me. You all mean the world to me and you just keep pushing me to be better and to keep fighting the good fight. It means everything, truly and I hope that I have earned your vote over these months.

A Quick Story

woman, laptop, notebook
work

I’ve been back and forth with myself about whether or not I wanted to write about my experiences with my day job. The truth is, I need that job to take care of my family and I’m afraid that writing about my experience there will endanger my employment status. That said, it is really very pertinent to the story that I’m trying to tell you.

So, here goes…

I’ve been with the same company for the last 13 years. In the beginning, it wasn’t too bad. There was a lot of restructuring of the company during that time so I was often transferred to other departments and was always learning new information. When one job would start to feel mundane or boring, I would find out that they were making more changes and I would be moving again.

I’ve been in the same job for the last 7 years and, honestly, things are not going well. For the first couple of years, things weren’t too bad. Then I went through several years of really bad mental health and I got a new manager around the same time. The thing with the new manager…they are a micromanager. There is nothing and ADHDer hates more than being micromanaged.

Suddenly, my low-pressure, enjoyable job because extremely high pressure. They immediately implemented production benchmarks that we had to meet every month and I immediately started struggling to keep up with the demands. The new manager and their cohort (team lead) pounced on the opportunity. I hadn’t told anyone, but I had been trying to work through a serious mental health episode for several years. My production numbers weren’t as good as everyone else’s.

They seized on my low production numbers and started harassing me about everything. Little things. Most of the time it was things I didn’t do. It got to a point where they were trying so hard to find things to reprimand me for that they would scold me for things that weren’t wrong or had rational explanations and would have to back down and apologize.

Nevertheless, the stress became thick. I was having anxiety all of the time because I never knew which direction they were going to come from next. I was trying to get my production numbers up, but I was distracted by anger and fear of the next time. Every time they’d call me in, I would sit at my desk and seethe with anger; unable to concentrate or work, therein negatively impacting my production numbers and giving them more fuel to harass.

Over the course of several months, maybe a year, this behavior toward me continued and escalated. I tried going over my manager’s head, but nothing ever got done. It got to a point where I was having severe anxiety all of the time, even when not at work, and I was starting to lose sleep at night because I couldn’t shut my brain off. My OCD was in full gear, but I didn’t know it.

A Breaking Point

Things finally came to a head one July day. I had taken a few days off to go see my dad (we live in different states) and on my last day there, I said, “I took some PTO, which means I’m sure I’ll be in trouble for something when I get back. They look for stuff to punish me for when I’m gone.” Sure enough, I logged on the next day and had an email that my manager needed to meet with me.

This time, though, I really knew I was in trouble because she was making me come into the office. My team works from home and we never get called into the office unless we are in big trouble. To top it off, she scheduled the meeting for a week out, with no discernable reason for meeting with me in person. The anxiety that I felt shot through the roof.

I called her immediately and told her that I wasn’t going to sit around for a week with severe anxiety wondering what I was in trouble for this week. I would come to her meeting, but she needed to tell me what it was about immediately. It was a sham. It was something that happened before she left and her minion had lied about what happened to make me look bad. I had already explained to my boss that what she was told wasn’t true before I left for vacation, but she wanted to rehash it anyway.

I have a good report with her boss, so the Friday before the meeting, I sent him a message telling him that I would feel a lot more comfortable if he were there. His response, “I can’t make it.” My heart sank and my anxiety ratcheted up, but I somehow made it through the weekend. The night before, my anxiety became so intense that I vomited.

On the day of the meeting, I dissociated. Honestly, I was way past the point of a breakdown. I had almost no control over my brain, at that point. The drive there was a blur; like I was watching my life happen from outside of my body. I got to the office and my boss met me in the lobby. We walked to the conference room and, when we arrived, her boss was sitting in the room waiting for us. Relief. Even if just a bit. My adrenaline was pumping and my hands were shaking.

We got into the meeting and the most amazing thing happened…I started standing up for myself. I started pointing out the many times that I had been lied about or picked on for things that had rational explanations. Times when only half the story was told…only the half that made me look bad. I told them they were gaslighting me. I told them they were making me sick and that if it didn’t stop, I was going to start looking into “my options” with my therapist.

Throughout the entire meeting, my boss continued to try to gaslight me. When I would prove her wrong on one accusation, she would move to another. When I would point out the lies and falsehoods, she would feign ignorance. She eventually whittled it down until she found something that she could give me a verbal warning for.

But her boss was watching and I could see his mind working. He’s a rational and reasonable man; kind and understanding, too. There were times that I would tell of an incident and I could see the shock visible on his face. I was calm and professional the entire time and I stated my case clearly. He saw it. Asking him to come to that meeting was one of my best decisions yet.

I don’t know what happened after that meeting; what was said or discussed. All I know is, she backed off of me a bit. For the last 2 years, I have been making production each month but mostly by the skin of my teeth. The numbers are hard for me to reach and I destroy myself and the end of each month to make sure that I come in just under the wire. Even though she stopped stalking me, the stress of everything happening all over again has been tremendous and I’ve barely kept it together.

Toxicity

businessman, angry, man

During those first couple of years under my boss’s tutelage, she bred an environment of competition and back-stabbing. It became widely understood that if you were in trouble, you could get out of trouble by throwing others under the bus. So that started rifts between coworkers that will probably never heal. Our team is a toxic cesspool.

This brings me to last year. To say morale is low among the team members is an understatement. Most of us were exhausted and miserable; fed up with the status quo. I was still struggling to make numbers, treading water, month after month. It was becoming harder and harder to keep up. I knew it was only a matter of time before I couldn’t do it anymore and the bad behavior toward me could be justified again.

Toward the end of the summer, my mental health started to suffer again. First came the anxiety. Severe panic attacks for 12 hours a day, especially when I was working. It would be so bad and it would feel like static in my head; unable to think or work. It was disabling, to say the least. I would sit at my desk shaking, sweating, heart pounding, and hands trembling. Ruminating for hours on end.

By Fall, the intrusive thoughts started. Not long after my diagnosis in September, they became severe and scary. My brain kept telling me that I wish I didn’t exist; that it would be easier on everyone if I just blinked out. Logically, I knew this wasn’t true. I would never leave my child willingly. She needs me and I will always fight to stay with her. Nonetheless, the thoughts kept coming.

The fact that the team had turned toxic weighed on me heavily and there was constantly one shenanigan or another that regularly had one, some, or all of us angry and unable to concentrate. The constant wonder if we would be the next person on the shit list was such a heavy burden to bear; knowing that eventually, the bullies would get back around to you. An ax, hanging above our heads.

I was still trying to find a doctor to manage my medications at that time. I had been on the same antidepressants for several years, but they were seemingly no longer working and they were doing nothing for my anxiety. I finally went to my boss and disclosed. I told her that I was struggling, that I was in treatment and had gotten a diagnosis, and I was working hard to try to get better. I had started missing a lot of work; mostly leaving early on days that the anxiety got so bad.

Here’s the thing. I would have sat there all day with severe anxiety and tried my best to get some work done, but it makes you feel guilty. People often think that others are being dramatic when they miss working for mental health issues. The truth is, we feel bad about it. It makes us feel worse. The truth is, though, we feel even more guilty sitting on the clock when we know we can’t work efficiently. It’s a lose-lose situation for us.

I digress. I told my boss what was happening to me and I disclosed my diagnosis. All of them. I honestly wasn’t sure what else to do. I was drowning. She was extremely sympathetic and kind. I don’t know what I expected but, because of our past interactions, I wasn’t expecting that. Then she said, “You’re going through all of these things and STILL MAKING PRODUCTION. You are so strong.” I knew then that things could get very bad for me if I didn’t get it together.

A Needed Reprieve

I finally got on some medication and I started to feel a bit better. My anxiety was finally calming down and I wasn’t ruminating quite as much. After a few weeks, though, something stopped working. I started getting horrible intrusive thoughts. This was the first time since my diagnosis, so the first time that I actually understood what was happening. The thoughts were no longer in my own voice, though. Inexplicably, they sounded like the actor Robert Carlyle.

This scared me at first, hearing someone else’s voice saying these awful things in my head. That I didn’t want to be alive. That my daughter would be better off without me. That I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life like this so what was the point of living another day. But I fought the Robert Carlyle voice. I told it to shut up. I told it to fuck off. I told it that it was a lie. It helped, but things just kept getting worse.

I started to feel real fear because I felt in control and because I could feel the control faltering. I could feel the voice getting stronger and I wasn’t sure if I could overpower it on my own. Within a week of the symptoms starting, I was in my doctor’s office, getting my medications adjusted. The intrusive thoughts resolved, but I still wasn’t feeling better.

I still couldn’t concentrate at work and the anxiety was on and off. Ruminating for the full 8 hours of work; frustrated that I couldn’t make myself focus; scared that I was eventually going to get in trouble and it was all going to start all over again or, worse, I was going to lose my job. The trauma from the things that happened in the past was working me.

Finally, at the end of November, Dr. W suggested that I take some time off work. I almost cried with relief. Not only did I know that I desperately needed some time to heal, but it was the first time I felt like anyone, especially a medical provider, had acknowledged the struggles that I have been fighting for so many years; all of my life really. Someone was finally saying, “Yes. This is really bad. It’s really as bad as it feels and you deserve to get better.” I was validated.

So, on December 1, 2020, I started my medical leave. I have been going to therapy at least twice a week, sometimes three, for the last 5 months. I have been working with my GP to get my medications right. My intrusive thoughts started to come back for a while last month and I had to get a med increase to get my brain under control. It’s a slow boil, but I’ve been busting my tail.

Of course, as you already know, I got serious about the blog and writing and advocating. This has helped me to heal more than I ever realized it would. Not only because I’m writing again, but because I’m connecting with so many of you over shared experiences. Through this blog, I am showing other people that they are not alone and they are doing the same for me. This part of my journey has been a beautiful experience.

Now Days

So that brings us to today. I’m still very much on the path to healing, but my leave will be winding down soon. I go back to work in about a month. I’ve gotten so used to chasing my passion full-time that I feel my return will be a rude awakening. I wish that I had a life that allowed me to write and advocate full-time, but I do not. I wish I could be on leave until all my treatments are over and my medications are on track, but I cannot.

As the date looms large, it has weighed heavily on my mind. Due to updates from colleagues, I know that nothing has changed; it’s still as toxic as ever. The same people are getting away with murder while the rest of us suffer under their feet. There is still no accountability and the best way to get out of your own trouble is still to make trouble for someone else. It’s unhealthy.

It makes me nervous because I have worked so hard over the last few months to get to a better place. I feel strong, content, and self-aware. My confidence is at its highest in…maybe ever. My resolve to get better and to be successful in the areas that I’m passionate about is soaring. So what happens when I return to the cesspool? What happens when the hawkeyes start picking again.

I feel certain that, as retaliation for taking time off, they will ride me hard for quite a while when they get back. Even if they don’t, I can’t stop myself from anticipating it, which causes more anxiety and rumination. I haven’t fully recovered from the trauma that they steeped on me for so long and I honestly don’t know if I ever will. It’s a shame too…I used to really love working there and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feel that way again.

So, I’ll bide my time. I’ll keep working on healing myself. I’ll keep struggling to make my monthly production at work while also trying to be a parent and a wife. And I’ll keep writing and speaking out in my free time. I do worry about the impact on The Winter Of My Discontent when I go back to work. I’m going to try my best to keep writing three posts and the podcast each week.

I think about how exhausted I used to be when I worked; it was so emotionally and mentally draining. I rarely had the energy for anything more than the bare minimum at home. I only wrote a post every couple of weeks and once went several months without posting anything at all.

That said, The Winter Of My Discontent has become so incredibly important to me. You have become so incredibly important to me. My recovery depends on a lot, but my ability to chase this dream is part of it. I can’t let myself sink back into that stuck hopelessness that I let envelope me before. I have to keep pushing forward to the next chapter.

I’ll keep you all posted on how things are going. Career is one of the aspects of recovery and I clearly don’t have that part down yet. I’m trying. I’m busting my ass to heal. I’m striving to live as my authentic self. I’m feeling more confident in my ability to set and enforce boundaries and to stand up for myself when I need to. I’m stronger than my worries and that is something that I have to remind myself always.

Miserable people are miserable people, but I don’t have to let their vibe be mine.


If you’re still reading this tome, I appreciate you being here. It is a long, but important, part of my story and it’s not over yet. One month left and then we’ll see how it goes.

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5 thoughts on “Work Trauma: How I Found Myself On Mental Health Leave For 6 Months

  1. Giulia

    My goodness, this story so resonates with me. I experienced a ton of workplace stress a few years back in a workplace that was extremely toxic and unsupportive. I hated going to work, I was always in a fog, I was tired, my heart would pound, I would cry, I would ask for help and told there was none to be had and to this, that or other impossible thing to “help the situation.” I had no one to even vent my frustrations too. I felt isolated, alone and trapped. Finally, I too had take a leave and I decided during that time to try and change my circumstances. I applied to work at another school (I’m a teacher) not expecting even to get an interview, but just applying made me feel a little more in control. I got an interview and the job and let me tell you, it felt so good leaving my boss high and dry like I did, having to hire a replacement for me at the last minute. And I love my new school. Best thing I ever did was leave that toxic place. Thanks for sharing. We are not alone, too many of us are in similar situations.

    Giulia, tidbitsofcare.com

    1. Amber Corinne

      It is so miserable to feel like you’re stuck in a toxic situation. I am so glad that you were able to get out and find something that makes you happy. I’ll get there one day, too. This time off has made me realize that I have to keep doing the things that make me happy, no matter what, and that I have to let the job just be a job.

  2. Victoria St. Michael

    This really speaks to me. I mean, most of your posts do, haha! But this one especially. My last workplace was extremely toxic and abusive. I’ve been wanting to speak out about it for a while but they made me sign an NDA when I first started there (now I know why) and they never gave me a copy so I don’t know what I can say and what I can’t without getting into legal trouble. Which is a shame, because I feel bad for the next person they hire. Anyway, all that to say… toxic workplaces can absolutely cripple you and ruin your whole life. ESPECIALLY when you live with mental illness. I totally understand why you have reservations about going back, I would be dreading it too.

    1. Amber Corinne

      I do hope that one day you have the ability to talk about your experience. They shouldn’t be able to muzzle you like that. I was nervous about sharing what I have, but it’s so important to my story and I know so many people have the same experience.

      I’m so apprehensive about going back, but I’m also feeling really good about my ability to set boundaries and stand up for myself. My job is my job and I refuse to let it ruin my mental health. I’ve worked too hard to backslide!

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