‘Why can’t people leave me alone? I just want to get on with my work. There is nothing wrong with me.’
With hindsight and now being in a better place, I can see that I was, as my GP put it, ‘seriously unwell.’ At the time however I was having none of it and was convinced everything was ok. At work, in particular, I was closing myself off from any type of social interaction. I was fine, or so I thought, when carrying out work related tasks. On a personal level, however, I’d shut down completely. I wasn’t going for breaks or lunch with colleagues but convinced myself this was because I was far too busy. I would wear headphones whilst working so that I could concentrate and wouldn’t be disturbed. My standard answer to being asked how I was was ‘fine’. I believed that this was ‘normal’ behaviour and didn’t see why people were getting in a flap about how I was behaving.
Looking back, however, I now know that these people were genuinely concerned about my withdrawal and had every right to be. Unfortunately nobody really knew what to do about it until I was given an appointment at Occupational Health. At that point I was advised that I wasn’t fit for work and would probably need a spell of time to focus on becoming well again. Even then I was determined I was going from my appointment straight back to work. Fortunately my occupational health advisor was experienced enough to know that the only thing I should be doing was going straight to my GP complete with a letter from herself.
I didn’t want to admit to myself that anything was wrong because I thought I would fall apart. I didn’t want to hear myself saying anything other than ‘I’m fine’. If I said I wasn’t ok and heard myself saying that then I would have to admit to myself that things weren’t ok. And they very definitely weren’t. Other people could see it but I was in complete denial.
I wasn’t interested in speaking to anyone at work about anything other than work. I realise now that I felt threatened by anyone asking me anything personal. I convinced my work colleagues that when I was at work the only thing I was interested in was the work. I couldn’t be bothered with chitchat about what people were watching on the TV or who had been doing what. It seemed to me like a waste of my work time. I became increasingly isolated from everyone around me. But to me that seemed perfectly acceptable behaviour.
When people asked me how I was feeling I discovered that I really didn’t know. There was nothing there. It was as if there was an empty space where my feelings should be. I’d suppressed them for so long that I couldn’t identify or relate to them. I had used ‘I’m fine’ so often to avoid thinking about how I really felt. And now that I really had to think about how I was feeling, I was unable to feel anything. On an emotional level there was nothing there. I was comfortable with ‘I’m fine’ because it meant I didn’t really have to think about me. I could convince myself everything was ok. To consider or hear myself saying anything else out loud was too scary. I didn’t react on an emotional level to anything around about me. But I still thought that was an acceptable pattern of behaviour.
Thankfully I am now in a much better place. With help, I am now able to feel again and identify what I’m feeling, although sometimes it’s a struggle. I still have a tendency to withdraw. But now I am now much more aware of when that is happening and rather than allowing that to spiral, I can take action to ensure that I maintain social interaction or keep active. I can still tie myself in knots by overthinking things but I have also now discovered the wonderful and powerful world of mindfulness that helps a lot.
For me, being in denial was a coping mechanism. It was however something that spiralled out of control. Luckily I had a very supportive GP as well as the help of other people.