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Depression / anxiety and returning to work

Discussion in 'Personal' started by sophie85, Aug 16, 2015.

  1. Hi,

    im not sure if I'm posting this on the right forum but here goes...,

    I've suffered from depression for a few years which has been kept controlled by citalopram to help me live a "normal" life. As I've learnt about myself recently, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and have spent the last few years constantly striving for more in my life,never happy with "good enough" paricularly career wise. I'm now a deputy head (I sometimes think if I'm actually meant for this job and whether it's the school for me and whether I need to leave the job but that's another discussion).

    Earlier in the year I started having panic attacks and having to leave the classroom to cry/shake/hyperventilate in the toilets (am an in class deputy). I didn't want to tell colleagues/my boss about these as I felt it would look badly on my ability to do my job. Anyway to cut a long story short, these panic attacks got worse and more frequent and I ended up being signed off work for anxiety. I was off work for a few weeks before this got worse and spiralled into severe depression leading to an admission to hospital as an inpatient. I was discharged a few weeks ago having spent a month there. I continue to attend some group sessions there as a day patient. I have very low energy levels, everything exhausts me and I do still get quite anxious but this is improving.

    I'm due to return to work in sept on a phased return (although the logistics of this have not been discussed with work yet) as recommended by my consultant. I'm unbelievably anxious about returning and really don't know what to do about it.

    Does anyone have any tips/guidance of things that might help make the return to work easier? I'm so terrified of relapsing and want to avoid a relapse as much s possible. I know work will want to know what they can do to help but I honestly don't know myself! I'm desperate to show I can still do my job but want to avoid throwing myself full into it and exhausting myself. How do I get back into it at a good enough level to keep going? Is it just best to start again at this role at a different school for January?

    Hope this has made some sense. Thank you.
  2. Dunteachin

    Dunteachin Star commenter

    Could you step down from being Deputy Head? That would relieve a lot of pressure.
  3. grandelf

    grandelf New commenter

    You can't you either teach at 100% or you don't...phased returns in teaching is like a desk job.

    Having seen people go through with this, stay signed off till you are100% happy to return.
  4. doomzebra

    doomzebra Occasional commenter

  5. Am aware this might come across as a bit negative but nonetheless.

    You reckon you are a perfectionist. Me too. I don't want to do anything unless I think I can do it right. By which I sometimes mean "better than the people around me who also do it". It isn't an actual competition. I just think I am good at stuff, as you evidently do. You certainly are, or you wouldn't be where you are today. But to maintain it involves effort, which can be disregarded if the rewards appear commensurate with the effort and sacrifices you make to acquire it.

    What I'm reading suggests a mismatch.
  6. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    '85? I am inferring from this that you are (or about to be) 30?

    OK, not the youngest DH there ever was but still fairly young.

    Sorry, but you have had a nervous breakdown. Broken. Broken down. Teaching has never been harder or more stressful. Well, not since I started in '80.

    You're not ready. Maybe you never will be.

    What d'you mean? "...that's another discussion..."

    No, it isn't. It's crucial. You're earning a good salary and you're reluctant to give it up but THIS job is not for you. You're not fixed. Sorry.

    And why has this phased reintroduction not ALREADY been charted with HT? September? No.
  7. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter


    I am so sorry to hear that you have been unwell. GDW is correct in that teaching has never been so stressful and there are many people anxious about their futures in teaching.

    You should not return to work until you are, as post above have suggested , 100% well. In order to get 100% well, you have to follow your consultant's advice. I would think that would include going to therapy ( you mention group sessions), getting proper rest, exercise and eating correctly and all the other things he/she has told you to do.

    If you decide you will return to your job, you need to think about what brought you to the place you are. Was it working 60+ hours without having time for yourself? You've seen where that kind of life has brought you. Were you trying to work, study and do other things on top of that? Whatever it was, you have to decide to make a plan to change things.

    I believe you can go back, but you have to make changes to the way you think and the way you organise your work and life. Easier said than done I know but it can be done.

    You have to be serious about making changes to your life for it all to work. You have to make a routine and stick with it. For example, you will only work between the hours of x and y and will get z hours sleep taking N day off completely each week to do something entirely for yourself not connected to school. You don't say whether or not you have a family so I am thinking you are single or don't have any children.

    After you get well which you will do, you may decide that being a deputy is not for you and you would like to have a different type of job either in teaching or elsewhere. There is no shame in that. Many people leave, take a break, come back, open up businesses and other things besides.

    The last thing I would say but the most important, is to take ONE day at a time. Don't worry about tomorrow but just today. Enjoy today's blessings. You will get better and there is a good future for you no matter what you might think/feel now.
  8. Doesn't sound to me like your school is that committed to your safe and fully-functional return. Have you considered the independent sector? Not saying it's not pressured, but you may find the pressures are different in a way that works for you.

    The only person I know who has successfully come back from a situation like yours to full-time fully-functional teaching, had her breakdown as a result of an unbearable family situation, which, when resolved, left her as strong as ever before.

    If you were my daughter I would be encouraging you to investigate other career paths. There will be people out there keen to employ you, with the raft of skills you'll have built up on your way to deputy headship. Teaching's a bad job for someone with anxiety, and with being in and out of school you'll know you're not serving your students well, which surely can't sit well with your perfectionism. A non-school-based job doesn't have that rollercoaster effect, where you have to earn all your money in 35 weeks of the year, that's a tough ask on someone with mental health issues.
  9. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter

    "You have to be serious about making changes to your life for it all to work. You have to make a routine and stick with it. For example, you will only work between the hours of x and y and will get z hours sleep taking N day off completely each week to do something entirely for yourself not connected to school. You don't say whether or not you have a family so I am thinking you are single or don't have any children."

    This from pepper is spot on. BUT few teachers seem to be able to discipline themselves to adhere to this kind of regime. Or their 'inner martyr' creeps back in. Little by little. You will be the one to save the children/school/curriculum/community where all others have failed. No, you won't.

    "Teaching's a bad job for someone with anxiety, and with being in and out of school you'll know you're not serving your students well, which surely can't sit well with your perfectionism. A non-school-based job doesn't have that rollercoaster effect, where you have to earn all your money in 35 weeks of the year, that's a tough ask on someone with mental health issues."

    And this from rustybug.

    As well as all the other great advice you've been given. Probably not what you want to hear but it's the truth.
  10. lindenlea

    lindenlea Star commenter

    Teaching does not match well with perfectionism but it can work. It's better though to learn to compromise and to take on the disciplines that pepper describes. I love the way she has repeated "You will get better" and I would 2nd that. Look after yourself now, that's the most important thing.
  11. Jonha

    Jonha New commenter

    It seems late and unhelpful that the school has not given you a clear schedule yet. And I would think it is without doubt your relationships with colleauges that will help or hinder your progress right now.

    Think you have to be honest about how you know they will be, how you will be. For example, if they still do not know why you are suddenly 'part time' then it could lead to resentment and gossiping....not what you need if anxious, I would think.

    If they know but still cannot be ar sed to give you a schedule very soon, be wary.

    Tough one, my natural reaction is to say stuff the school and any who are negative, just do your own thing and mix with your more positive colleagues. But I appreciate it is not always that easy when suffering from anxiety.

    As for being a perfectionist, you must drop that in the world of teaching. For even if you single handedly rewrite the curriculum and get kids reading and writing novels at 6 years old, OFSTED and their clones will tell you that you are underperforming.

    I only guest taught in the UK and have no idea how anyone can teach there full time.

    Anyhow, hope you feel better soon. Don't rush it - work matters little to nothing in the big picture.
  12. Hi all,

    Thank you very much for your advice. I'm glad you've been honest, that's why I posted on here, I needed honest advice.

    Re my perfectionism, it's to the point where I have to put in 100% speed and effort into everything. I run at 100mph trying to get everything done and end up not actually getting it all done at all because I'm spreading myself too thinly. And yes I feel too young for this to all happened but it's totally because I've pushed myself too fast and too much. I try to have this "perfect life" which of course I know is not possible.

    I don't want to start again in a career, I haven't worked this hard to just let it all go. I know some of you have said I should try a different career or step down but as toxic a thought it is, I'm actually proud of where I've got to. But I don't know how to hold onto it without breaking down again? Would a different school/independent sector be better?

    To be fair to work, I was still in hospital as an inpatient at the beginning of the summer holidays so school was closed and therefore not an opportunity necessarily to discuss my return.

    Yes pepper you're right in that I need to set myself rules about making changes about life. But I don't know that I'll be strong enough to keep those going. What's to stop my inner martyr (which is very strong by the way) telling me otherwise?

    thank you all
  13. pepper5

    pepper5 Star commenter


    I can understand completely why you would not want to give up a career and position you have worked so hard to get and besides that teaching when it is going well, is one of the most rewarding jobs to have.

    If your school is mismanaged, then yes another school or the independent sector may be better for you. Without knowing the exact pressures you were under, it is hard to say. There will always be pressure as leaders of organisations, but some schools are run better than others and to answer your question yes...it might be better in the long term for you to find another school.

    Yet "to hold on" without breaking down again, you must find a way to discipline yourself to work efficiently. Part of that is working as far as possible reasonable hours ( of course what is reasonable? Maybe say 9 hours a day. Having Saturday or Sunday off work where you are not working on school related matters but resting your mind. Eating properly is also important. You can ask your doctor also about taking supplements to increase your energy levels.

    You have a choice: if you want to continue to lead, you must gain the wisdom to lead. Other posters have given you some of their very sound words of wisdom gained from being where you are right now and through years of experience.

    You are very determined and you have worked hard. Now take that same determination and put it towards getting well and staying well. Later when you are better, get some books on time management and teach yourself to time table proper rest times and times off which are important for you and your job. Your mind is the main tool you use when doing our job. Doesn't it make more sense to take care of your mind by resting it one day a week? If you are able to time table your work to get it done the rest of the five or six days then you will have that one day to take off completely. Time management books will teach you how to prioritise and delegate leaving you time to do the important tasks within your allocated working time.

    Are you eating properly? The brain uses an incredible amount of energy during the day and if you are not eating well, this will affect your mood and energy levels thereby affecting your brain and reasoning ability.

    Continue to listen to your consultant's advice since he/she will know how to help you best. If you go back to school in September under a phased return, then hopefully people will help you and perhaps you can gradually build up to your duties again.

    Remember, a school is a team; it is not a one woman show. You can't do everything and no one should expect you to and you should not expect yourself do it either.

    I know this sounds very simple, but go out and buy yourself some flowers and gaze on the beauty of those flowers. Look out a window and at the beautiful sky. This last suggestion might be completely off the wall for you, but do you have a cat? Cats do have a soothing affect on you after a hard day's work: if they are affectionate, then they will jump up in your lap and buff your face with purrs. My husband and I have a cat and our cat has seen us through a lot of stressful situation through the years. Also, having an animal and thinking about the animal helps you to take your mind off work.

    In the end, you may have to examine the culture of where you work. Is everyone encouraged to work long hours even though it may affect their health? If this is the case, then you may have to think about finding another school - one where a healthy work life balance is encouraged.

    In the meantime, continue to get well over the rest of the summer break. If funds allow, you still have time to take a short break somewhere if your doctor allows it.

  14. grumpydogwoman

    grumpydogwoman Star commenter


    I would expect a good (or barely adequate HT) to have been in touch with you re your plans for September. Or even just to wish you well! I find it astonishing that you're talking about a phased return at this point but haven't seen whatever/whomsoever passes for HR in your establishment. The HT has not accorded you much sensitivity or respect. Particularly in the light of your very serious ill-health.

    You really have to tackle this perfectionism of yours. It isn't a strength. I think it's based on a fear of failure. I don't want to work with someone as driven as you because it's not good for my health either!

    This is not to say that you are not a good teacher or could not be a good manager. This I don't know. But something has to change, do you not think? You really do need to work on your approach to life. I'd suggest a retreat (doesn't have to be religious). Mindfulness meditation?

    No sooner are you tentatively emerging from the black hole than you are planning to rush headlong back into the very morass that has swamped you so recently.

    Stop. Think. Do something differently.
  15. I think the advice re taking one day a a time is excellent as regards the treating of your depression, stress and anxiety. Unfortunately though, the nature of your job requires a great deal of planning and living in the future whilst dealing with the demands of the present.

    I think the longer you can stay right out of it until you are properly well, the better.
  16. Thanks Pepper and GDW. Realistically every school has its pressures, and leaving this one would not necessarily solve my problems..

    GDW, I'm not sure whether I'm a good leader or not, one would need to ask the other staff! I'm new to the job (have only been deputy for a year) and almost feel I want to "start again", almost to have a fresh start as I feel I've kind of messed up the first time. But I know that one cant mess around with children's education and this wouldn't be possible unless I look elsewhere.

    Pepper, yes there is a culture of working hard where I work, for the children, to give them the best chance but I think I took it too far and made myself ill with it. Thanks for the cat suggestion, unfortunately I'm allergic to feline friends but I definitely like the flowers and nature idea. GDW, yes I do mindfulness meditation at the hospital and have been trying to practise it on my own too, and will continue to practise it.

  17. Thanks for your advice lindylou. I know I need to wait until I'm 100% ready but I'm not sure I'd ever know that I'm fully ready to return and so I guess I need to try at least and take it slowly. Otherwise I'll end up off work forever.
  18. felltogroundinberkeleysquare

    felltogroundinberkeleysquare Established commenter

    There is an alternative of doing a different job, if you are not suited at 30 to the teaching profession. I didn't see that you had any other responsibilities such as children of your own or an absent partner, so it is difficult to know. However, you will not get so much time off in other fields of work.
  19. I'm married but no kids. Don't want to leave teaching as a profession if I can avoid it.
  20. felltogroundinberkeleysquare

    felltogroundinberkeleysquare Established commenter

    Oh OK, just trying to warn you the other side of the fence isn't much easier. Take your time. I used to get panic attacks when doing my job as a Probation Officer in the latter stages when I was teaching practitioners in training ( as if the whole past of those offenders was on my shoulders), and I had three kids under 12 at the time. It was too much, and I went to do free-lance work, which worked better for me.

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