Newport State of Mind
Newport, South Wales, UK 2011-2013
My worst moment of anxiety, unlike the previous four posts, did not take place on one day.
It took place over a 20 month stretch of my life, the first 20 months I had as a Graduate from University. It was perhaps one of the darkest times of my life, and my mental health suffered so much that for the first time I had to seek medical attention for it, and it was when I first went on medication.
But to tell the story I have to go back to April 2010.
In April 2010 I started my second ever job, my first as a University student. And it couldn’t have been more convenient, it was at my University!
I started working in the canteen at my University as a catering assistant. Not the sexiest job ever, quite frankly between the catering hat, the apron and the steel toe shoes it couldn’t have been less sexy. I would stink of chip fat at the end of a shift. But I was earning much needed money and the hours were flexible and for the most part social and I got fed on the job. It paid above minimum wage, all in all it was a pretty sweet job to have as a student.
I was so happy to be earning money that I actually stayed in my University town over the summer between my second and final year at University, I liked being independent though it was financially more of a struggle then I thought.
The trouble started when I graduated.
I had decided that I would move to Cardiff, just a short trip on the train from Newport, with my boyfriend (the one I am with today) as he was working closer to Cardiff than he was Newport and I was doing Roller Derby in Cardiff so it seemed to make sense. At this point in time there was no reason for me to leave my job at the University as it was a guaranteed income to help us set up our new lives, and they let me come back after a summer away.
The summer between finishing my final year and graduating in September 2011 I went to Los Angeles for two months.
Whilst there, and there is no way to sugar coat it, I put on a bit of weight. Enough for it to be noticeable (I had been a healthy/slim size at University).
When I started my job again at the University I began to notice the cracks appearing.
First of all there was a colleague who, whilst not being a dissimilar size to me, began making fun of my weight. Even after I lost a lot of it and was hardly fat (to be honest I wasn’t even that huge after I did return from L.A.).
She also asked me on pretty much a daily basis if I had found a job.
This confused me as, well, I had a job. I was working with her.
I think she meant had I found a permanent job, as I was on a casual zero hour contract at the University, or had I found one relevant to my degree, which was in film.
This was right in the midst of the recession that had affected the entire world, so even the most simple of jobs was still highly sought after, and I didn’t think it was unusual to be working there after graduating and living independently rather than so many of my friends who had returned to the family homes.
Getting asked on a daily basis whether I had found a job was very demoralising, as it made me wonder why she was so insistent on it and why if this job was fine for her it wasn’t ok for me.
This was just one element of what happened.
What also happened is I had almost immediately gone from having a fair level of responsibility at work to having none. I was almost exclusively relegated to the dish washing area, which had no interaction with customers, or really any other members of staff.
I was rarely working front line service after graduating.
They turned the dish wash job into a permanent position, which I didn’t apply for as I wanted out of the dish wash area and back with responsibility. What happened was they hired two new people to work in the dish wash area and I either had my shifts cancelled as they no longer needed me, or I was the back up dish wash person.
I also once found a critical note about me.
I was not allowed into the staff meetings.
I know this is one person’s word against another, but I think it was safe to say I was being bullied. In fact after the note incident I went to my manager about what was happening and asked for things to be done so that I could gain more respect and kindness from the colleagues who didn’t seem to feel the same about me (I am happy to admit that I wasn’t being bullied by all the colleagues).
I was barely 23, and to be honest I did lack the emotional maturity to handle what was happening to me. But I ask you if you were that age and you were suddenly being ill treated by your colleagues, and you had mental health difficulties would you have acted in the best way?
I became miserable. I became so utterly depressed and anxious that I stopped doing Roller Derby as my anxiety had eaten it’s way into every area of my life. I couldn’t leave the house. I would go to bed at 8pm as I found living so exhausting and unbearable. This did mean that all I did was work and sleep, meaning I seemed to spend the majority of my waking hours in a job from hell.
I had to psyche myself up to get to work. I would often get into work about an hour before my shift and hide somewhere at the University (like the library) to work up the courage to work.
I was in a state of panic or had a panic attack before every shift. Every single shift.
This is when my stress induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms started rearing their ugly head and I suffered pretty badly and started vomiting and having other gastrointestinal problems.
This meant I would have to miss more work because of the health and safety policy around working in catering and illness incidences relating to that type of symptom.
All in all, and I will be honest, I missed a lot of work. A lot.
I went to the local mental health clinic in my town in Autumn/Winter 2012 and this is when I first went on medication for my mental health. I had never been on medication before for that.
It’s about to get worse.
In early 2013 I went on a holiday with my boyfriend’s family. As a result of recently having my trial of the medication end, and my despair over working a terrible, terrible job my mental health took a nose dive into a black abyss.
I was in such a state on that holiday that I pretty much ruined it. I barely spoke and would spend whatever spare second I had to myself staring into space on my bed.
I’m not sure if it is fair to say I was suicidal, but I definitely felt very clearly that my life had no meaning, my situation would never improve, that my life had no value and suicide would be a release from my pain.
Ok, that is pretty much the definition of suicidal.
You might be at this point thinking ‘Why didn’t you get another job?’
But I lacked all confidence and felt so bad about my life that I didn’t believe any other job would be any different, that all jobs would bully me and destroy me.
And whilst I have never, and will never judge a single person on benefits of any description, I didn’t feel leaving my job and being on job seekers allowance was an option for me.
In a perverse way maybe I was too scared to leave my job because it may have been hell, but it was a hell I knew, and my fear that another job would be worse was over powering me.
I quickly went back on medication.
I was still depressed and anxious.
Then I made a mistake at work. It was a mistake, I wasn’t even disciplined, we just had a chat about it, but I felt like I could never return.
I told you I lacked emotional maturity.
I pretty much went on sick leave almost immediately after that until eventually I officially handed in my notice explaining everything.
I thought that was it.
I thought I was free.
I found another job after that, and in September 2013 I began my first and at this point only permanent job.
But that is not where the story ends.
It’s about to get a whole lot worse.