I returned to work twice in the same year.
I had been experiencing growing symptoms of a mental health issue and didn’t understand how much the condition was affecting me. Things were building up. A colleague with her own experience of mental health issues suggested that I might need to take some time off to recover, but I felt pressure not to be away from work. I had already used quite a few of my sick days and had been told indirectly that I shouldn’t be off so much. Despite this, I took some time off and hoped to return to work as soon as possible. I felt as though being off from work was a weakness because my health issue was not a visible illness. When I returned to work, my employer acted like nothing had happened and there was no plan or transition process. I felt ok but soon had to resolve an incredibly challenging work situation with no support. My workload increased. It was difficult to cope without practical support. This was a tipping point for my mental health and I had to take a leave.
My second return to work was very different. A colleague informally told me about our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which became very helpful in my recovery. My employer involved a professional with knowledge of mental health accommodation and we developed a return to work (RTW) plan. We developed a RTW process together that included different accommodation like starting part-time, having a buddy, building in breaks, and more supportive supervision. There was some trial and error before I found out what really worked for me. Workload imbalances were finally addressed and a plan was developed to handle the type of challenging work issue that arose. I finally had a realistic workload and peace of mind that there would be support for handling difficult work situations. This was significant to my overall mental health.
My workload issues really added to my mental health issues and made my first return to work incredibly difficult. Some of my sick days and time off may have been avoided if my workload issues had been monitored and addressed all along,
Besides support at this level, there was much more caring and compassion from colleagues and my employer. Everyone was welcoming, supportive and non-judgmental when I returned. I got hugs instead of critique, which was huge.
At the peak of my mental health challenges, I felt like I was in a hole of despair with no way out in sight. It was my circle of supports who threw a rope down to me to get out. By no means was it an easy journey. And although it was tough, I am happy to say that I am now in a better place. Challenges still exist but I am more able to manage things. I am stronger than I was before.