IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had a Breakdown Two Weeks After a Doctor Declared Me Fit to Work

I struggled into the office with last night’s mascara clinging to my eyelashes and a stomach heavy with nausea and hungover shame.
Publish date:
December 15, 2016
depression, anxiety, breakdowns

Trigger warning: self-harm and suicidal ideation.

After years of interviews, internships and rejections, I finally got a paid job in my dream industry: music publishing. Though the work would be mainly administrative, I fantasized about the opportunities this role could bring, the friends I would make and the private industry events that I would appear on the guest list for. There was just one little obstacle: my ability to work had to be approved by a doctor as I had owned up to my long-term depression and self-harm on my HR forms.

The truth is, I know I’m NSFW. Open-plan offices, retail checkouts, and reception desks all come with their own triggers for my anxiety and depression. But I have to work, so I have to lie. I was hopeful that this job would be different as I had been trying to get into music publishing since college. I thought that by working somewhere that appeals to my interests, I could maybe start going to work without being sick with panic every Monday; without self-harm feeling like my only means of control. I had been working part-time for the last two years, though, and this new job would involve almost doubling my working hours and the time in which I would need to be "on."

Getting the approval from a doctor turned out to be a cake walk, even after bearing my literal scars and being frank about my suicide attempt three months earlier. This came as a relief as I wanted the job, but it still surprises me every time a professional can’t see through my well-rehearsed high-gloss filter that depressives are known for applying to get through the day.

In the beginning, I coped by taking one day at a time and being mindful of this. It got harder, though. I struggled to fit in. I was seated on an open plan floor with 80 other people, in a ‘team’ consisting of just myself and my manager, meaning interaction with everyone else was at a minimum. I stopped taking lunch breaks just so I didn’t have to sit on my own. When the hunger came too much during the day, I would go to an empty meeting room and eat privately.

Two weeks after my assessment with the doctor, I talked myself into attending an industry event that was hosting an intimate live gig with three artists from the UK grime scene, one who I was particularly excited to see. She seemed to be an absolute badass. A brash, lyrically adept talent who had gone viral on YouTube with a DIY video without a label. I went with the hope of being able to finally break the ice with my colleagues, who up to now had probably only noticed me as a new face in a room of many. I also decided to do something completely out of character once I was there: I was going to talk to her.

The exchange of words we had would have been insignificant to any passerby. No doubt they were to her. But to me, it was catastrophic. After telling her I enjoyed her performance, and felt inspired by her work, she flashed a strained smile and then raised her arm and called security.

I fled the scene immediately. I was too embarrassed to see what would happen and I could see the security dude eyeing up the room for an obvious offender.

I lost myself in the crowd with my boyfriend, who I had brought along with me as my plus one. He whispered CBT style mantras in my ear as I cried without anyone noticing as their gaze was fixed on the next performer.

I decided to drink. Heavily. So much in fact that I only remember the things after this point that I’d rather forget – such as falling out of the taxi when we arrived at my door and throwing up on my living room carpet.

The next day, I overslept and was awoken only when my boyfriend was leaving for work at the same time I usually would. I struggled into the office with last night’s mascara clinging to my eyelashes and a stomach heavy with nausea and hungover shame.

I walked to my desk feeling everyone would know what had happened just by looking at me, even though half of them weren’t even there. Within moments, I was in one of those vacant meeting rooms, dry heaving and hyperventilating, which is actually pretty hard to do at the same time.

I decided I’d email my manager, who wasn’t yet in work, to say I had gone to our other office in central London for the day. I went home without waiting for a reply. Once I had made it back to the safety of my sofa with my cats, I sobbed – half as a result of hungover depression, half guilt for lying to get out of work and the consequences this could bring.

Between dry heaving on an empty stomach and some superficial cutting, I felt the only resolution was to complete what I had attempted those three months ago.

I live right by a level train crossing which you can easily trespass on to. Because of this, posters with a suicide prevention number frequent the train platforms in my area as a sort of final offer of help. For some reason I called it.

Rachel spent two hours speaking with me on the phone. She tried to get me to gain some sort of perspective on what had happened, and more importantly, what hadn’t happened. It’s a habit of mine to ruminate on conversations. Tear them apart in my head for hours, maybe even days, after they have occurred. Sometimes the line between what went down, and the subtext that I, essentially am guessing, is hard to tell between.

Rachel arranged for someone to call me the next day which was a crutch I held on to while I considered my options. Though the suicidal thoughts did persist, when I hung up the phone, I felt like I could maybe see the day through.

I went back to work the following Monday, fearful of being confronted for going home, for getting drunk, for shaming myself. But I sit here now, somehow still in the job, with the whole event confined to my own memory which had no long term consequences.

I avoid industry events now at all costs though and no, I can’t listen to that artist’s music anymore. I don’t think I’ll confess to my depression and meds when I start a new job, either. I feel the less people who know, the better, especially in the workplace. And when the professionals can’t tell what’s really going on anyway, it probably won’t be that hard to continue to hide the fact that I’m not safe for work.