This post was inspired by a conversation I had with my line manager during a 1:1 recently. I’m still in my probation period (four months down; two to go) and I get frustrated when I don’t know things. She said that I should remember and appreciate how much I’ve achieved since I started in October, and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
I finally told her about the burnout and subsequent breakdown I had in 2016. How odd to be able to share it with rooms full of strangers at conferences but to feel like I can’t discuss it with people that know me in real life, as it were. Telling people face to face that I had (have?) a mental illness and a breakdown exposes a part of myself that I keep hidden away. I lose a protective layer of skin every time. Writing about it depersonalises my experience in a way that looking someone in the eye and telling them doesn’t.
Recap: In October 2016, after months of gradually falling apart, I broke down at my desk, went home and didn’t got back to work for six and a half weeks. I couldn’t write a simple email. I couldn’t read text longer than a page. I had no concentration span. I couldn’t function on a useful level. At one point I couldn’t see how I would ever return to work again because the idea of doing my job was utterly unimaginable. I’m still amazed that (with a lot of support) I was able to not only go back to work but to achieve everything I did between 2017 and 2019. Every single day I went to work was a victory; a triumph over the inner dialogue that told me I was done, that I should just give up, that I was no good to anyone.
[Side note: I had extensive therapy from an experienced, qualified psychotherapist, which I would highly recommend if you can access it. I don’t hold with anyone without a clinical background offering to help people deal with mental health issues on a one-day course costing £££.]
It would have been easy to settle. Indeed, it probably would have been safer for me to stay at my old job for the rest of my life. It didn’t tax my brain, I knew it inside out and I was entirely comfortable in my role. It was my safe little cocoon and on my down days I miss it, even now. [I’m still angry that someone was able to shit all over my recovery by telling me that I wouldn’t be developed further, that the library wouldn’t change and that if I wanted new opportunities I needed to leave. When I questioned that, they doubled down and made the situation worse, shattering the protective cocoon I’d developed to deal with life, taking me away from something I loved, and probably leading me to leave before I was quite ready to do so.]
I knew that at some stage (ideally when *I* was ready) I needed to test my recovery from everything that happened in 2016. Getting a new job was a huge deal for me because I would be out of my comfort zone. I now perform complex searches on a whole range of systems I’d not used before I started this role. I hadn’t used Endnote before; I now deliver training on it. I’m learning every day. My brain is still capable of learning new things and that’s both exciting and scary. I honestly didn’t think I could deal with this level of change. [Spoiler: some days I don’t cope, and I cry because it’s incredibly overwhelming.]
In the spirit of looking back to move forward, I think it’s important to acknowledge where I came from and where I’ve got to in the last three and a-bit-years. I know I’m incredibly hard on myself. I am my harshest critic and think I will never will be good enough. I regularly tell my inner dialogue to shut up. I still have bad days, but I remind myself how far I’ve come in a relatively short period of time.
In 2016 I thought I was done. In 2020 I know I’m not. I’m not finished yet, not by a long way.