Once, not too long ago, I was at the top of my game. There were still promotions to be had, but I was comfortable as head of my department. I ran my own show and my boss left me alone. My people were happy, my family was happy and I was earning well. Life was good and a comfortable (early) retirement was a few short years away.
My organisation had four such departments each run by someone like me. Kind of, go-get-her types. You know? – a bit headstrong, a bit “fly by the seat of your pants” – but ultimately, people who delivered, in charge of highly performing teams who over-delivered. I loved it. Then came the mental breakdown.
No not me, you understand, I’m too strong for that😜. It was a colleague, the head of Team A. It was completely out of the blue. He thought he had IBS or some such thing. He had a load of tests done. Nada, Zip, all was good. One day whilst on his way to work he had (what we now know was a panic attack) and crashed his car. Luckily only minor injuries and a large repair bill. However the panic attacks continued. Crippling his confidence until he couldn’t even make it into work. He left the company a broken man. No employment prospects and a big mortgage to pay. He eventually lost the house.
Rather than hiring someone to replace him, the company decided “downsizing” “streamlining” etc. etc. was the way forward. What actually happened was his team were split amongst the three of us who remained. Day to day nothing much changed. The management of a larger team took a little bit of extra juggling, but no great shakes.
A year later the lady in charge of Team C was overheard screaming at the boss. A short time later she stormed through the office, grabbed her coat and left. Everyone was intrigued. It turned out that the boss had been undermining her in meetings, taking credit for her achievements and this had been going on for ages much to everyone’s surprise. She had never told any of us. She subsequently had a full breakdown and spent a year not leaving her house. The boss was fired and she received a “please don’t take this public” settlement.
Replacing her wasn’t seen as a priority and her team were divided against the head of Team B and myself. We both protested. This was a 50% increase in management duties, with no recompense. The new boss was weak. He wouldn’t fight head office on our behalf. His stance was “please don’t rock the boat”. I fronted him up on numerous occasions about his lack of balls. He basically admitted it and said he wouldn’t challenge his boss. If I didn’t like it, I could always leave. Brilliant! Team B’s head and I struggled on for six months like this then BOOM!
The head of Team B had a heart attack on his way into work on the bus. An ambulance crew took him to hospital where they decided it wasn’t a heart attack but a stroke. He was moved to a stroke unit. Loads of tests later showed – guess what – not a stroke… not a heart attack… No a giant panic attack, brought on by work related stress. I went to visit him a week after he came out of hospital. He was a wreck. Incoherent, jabbering, not making sense. This wasn’t the strong confident man I knew.
Things had gone crazy (excuse the pun). I was promised new managers would be forthcoming, not long now, don’t worry we are all over it. I remember when I told my wife about Team B leader’s condition, she said “What does that mean for you now”? I said ” Well I expect I’ll be doing 100% of the work now”, “NO” she replied, “Now you will be doing 400% of the work”. That statement knocked me off guard with its truth punch. But they promised – more managers were coming.
I kept believing them when they said I would get help, seven months later I was still on my own. I was cracking up, and I knew it. The pressure was continuous, I hadn’t had any time off. I was working at home on the weekends just to keep my head above water. My wife was angry, I was angry, my people (all of them now) were angry. Performance dropped, everything took so much longer because all decisions were now coming across one desk instead of four. I kept going, I couldn’t let the team down. My anger was rising and rising until one day I screamed at my top performer for a minor indiscretion. She looked at me – not with anger, nor with resentment – but with pity. As she left the office I broke down crying.
The next morning I got to my front door and enjoyed my first panic attack. It truly was the most scared I had ever been. I thought it was a heart attack. For about two minutes I thought I was done for. Then abruptly it stopped. Adrenaline was still coursing through me, but the difficulty breathing and the vice like grip in my chest had gone. I opened the door, stepped outside, locked the door and BANG, it happened again. This time it floored me. I sat on my front step gripping my chest, trying to breath. I remember shaking, I think I shouted out, I can’t really remember. After about five minutes I had recovered enough to to stand up. Decision made, I walked to my local doctors.
It was 7am and I sat on their step until 8am when they opened. The receptionist was the first to arrive. She was bemused as to why I was there on the step. I told her I needed to see a doctor. “No free appointments today” she said, in that way that only a doctors receptionist can do. I said “You don’t understand, I need to see a doctor and I’m not leaving until I do”. I must have looked the part, or she took pity on me, because twenty minutes later I was talking to a GP. I told him what had happened and I had a complete breakdown in his office. He signed me off for a month and sent me home with antidepressants.
As each month passed, I got worse and worse. Panic attacks were followed by extreme anxiety, which led to sleepless nights, then agoraphobia and finally major depressive disorder. Antidepressants were changed and then changed again but nothing was working. It was the worst and most horrible part of my life. But even though it was, I had never thought of hurting myself. I was lucky enough to be able to afford to see a counsellor and a psychiatrist. However things just got worse and worse as the months wore on. Then came the nightmares began. All very vivid and all about work and being trapped. I was trapped. My whole life had been about retiring early and enjoying travelling with my wife. It was all slipping away. The nightmares became so bad I had to move into the spare room because of the thrashing about and screaming. Night after night they came, then one day I saw a rope and I knew I could make the nightmares, and the anxiety and the depression stop. Just one action and it would all be over, I could have peace. Peace was all I wanted. I was on my own in the house. No one could stop me.
Luckily I lifted the phone and called my counsellor. A short time later I was having a very matter of fact conversation with my psychiatrist who in a very gentle way suggested, with an undertone of demanding that I might benefit from some time in the hospital. The next day my wife took me to the psychiatric ward and kissed me goodbye. I was a high risk patient on suicide watch in an anti-ligature room for four weeks. On my first night I cried myself to sleep. A year ago, I was at the top of my game and now I was in “The Unit” as it was called.
I arrived at “The Unit” in pieces but I left at Peace.
I learned that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
If you want to know more about my story please visit www.Madd365.com
If you have even thought about harming yourself, please call out for help. You are loved by somebody and no one should go into the darkness without giving life another chance.
Here is my doodle but it is no substitute for professional help.