Category Archives: Health

The workplace that almost completely ruined my life

For a long time I’ve been in a work situation that’s not suited me but I’m the type of person who just likes to keep my head down and get on with it. I don’t like to be noticed and my work is not my life so, I thought, if I could just go to work, get my work done and come home, I would be ok.

But things started to build up.

My GP asks me to keep a migraine diary and I realise I was getting a migraine at work every day that meant I was driving home with one putting myself and other road users at risk!

One of my colleagues said “I think you’re being bullied”, it took me aback, but thinking about it this was probably because, the person doing it was so manipulative I couldn’t quite admit what was happening.

I took on other people’s work (more senior than me), I wasn’t thanked by them, nor did I feel boosted, I felt more and more down trodden every single day.

I thought my request for reasonable adjustments was…reasonable but I was made to feel as though I was asking for the earth!

Occupational health asked for the same reasonable adjustments and pointed out I was covered by the equality act but still no adjustments were made.

I’d go into meetings feeling confident and come out feeling disrespected, belittled and devalued.

I started to open up about the struggles I was having to senior management but I ended up feeling incredibly vulnerable and felt like this was then actually being used against me.

This was jus the tip of the iceberg! Things build up slowly over time but little by little the toxic environment takes its toll!

No matter what part you play in an organisation, my opinion is that everyone has the right to be valued, but I felt as though I was being treated like the lowest of the low.

It wasn’t that my employers were passive un-listeners, it appeared that they actively had their fingers in their ears and were saying “no-no, we do not want to know about your needs, your needs are not important to us, it would be better for us if you didn’t have needs.”

I needed support but I felt like they didn’t care whether I was there or not, it felt like I meant nothing to them, it felt like they were saying “you are nothing” and the longer it went on, I started to believe it.

My self esteem has ended up in the gutter.

Something had to change!

I tried desperately to manage things from the inside, I had my union rep on my side. I had my GP advising me on what was best for my health and (eventually) I had occupational health recommending reasonable adjustments as I’m covered by the Equality Act.

Lady suffocating in plastic

But what do you do if at every turn, no matter how reasonable I am with my requests, I’m left feeling as though I’m banging my head against a brick wall?! At points, it felt like I was saying “please can I have air to breath?” and Senior Management replied, “It’s raining today.” Their sentence was accurate but completely unrelated to my request and made no attempt to solve the ongoing difficulties I faced.

I was left absolutely bewildered as to why they wouldn’t support my needs.

There are 3 main causes of workplace stress:

  • A mis-match in skills/knowledge—this is why the application/interview process is so important to match the correct people to the correct role. I may be highly over qualified for the role but I’ve managed this in previous roles by my unique capabilities being valued in other ways. I felt like the skills I offered at interview were ignored and I was left feeling completely exhausted by how they treated me.
  • Lack of support—no matter what level of the organisation you’re at, we all need support. I felt like, if I kept quiet all was fine but as soon as I found my voice (to ask for support), I was severely reprimanded.
  • Lack of control—autonomy is something humans desire for the good of their health. Organisations can become so process driven, they forget about the people doing those processes. I felt like a very small cog in a machine that wasn’t working very well. I have no problem being a small cog but sometimes I had ideas about efficiency or improving the process, not only was I ignored, I was made to feel as though I really shouldn’t have stepped out of line.

At one point, I attended a meeting to ask for reasonable adjustments, recommended by occupational health to be put in place. They were denied. I was slowly starving to death but the “choice” I was then given felt similar to being offered the one food to which I was allergic. Seriously, how was I meant to choose?!

Returning to work after some time off sick I was actually grieving after but I felt I had to hide this due to lack of support. Because I’m such a hard worker, no one noticed. I should never have been in this position!

At times, I wondered if I was losing my mind. Because of my disability I have specific needs. I was asked to work in conditions that I’d explained were inappropriate for me. It felt like my employers were deliberately trying to make my working conditions so impossible that I would choose to leave. Would they really do that? Surely not?!

The current climate is not one in which finding a new job is easy, believe me, I applied to 10s of job and went to a near equal number of interviews! Whenever I was given feedback it was always “we really liked you, there was just someone with a bit more experience…” or similar.

I found it really hard to pick myself up after each interview. My workplace were grinding me down, my self esteem was no where to be seen and at each interview I just wasn’t quite good enough. It’s really hard to go to the next interview and persuade them “I am good enough”!

I even began to wonder, if there’s something wrong with me, even if I move workplace, I will take the problem with me, I will still be treated badly in the next place…

But, I have found a new job and it is with some really wonderful people. The are friendly and kind, I have been made to feel welcome and, although I am a very small cog in a machine, I am already feeling valued.

Question mark

4 essential questions that could literally change your life

No matter where you are in the world, we’ve all been through some sort of lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and these measures are now being lifted. Are you someone who’s desperate to “get back to normal” or did you appreciate lockdown more than you expected?

There’s no doubt about it (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist) we needed the lockdown measures to keep us physically safe from the virus spreading through the population. Some people found the extended period of rest had a positive impact on their mental health while others struggled with loneliness, isolation and increased anxiety.

Everyone had a unique experience – it’s important to remember that and value it. Whether you found it easy or hard, you can’t compare your experience to the next person’s because their set of experiences, no matter how similar they appeared from the outside, were unique.

My lockdown involved experiencing discrimination at work despite me (unusually) finding my voice to explain what I needed. But because of this, I had to look for the positives! Of course I missed my family and friends but I’m an introvert so I loved having some space to do my own thing and I’ve even developed some new skills!

So this brings me to the 4 important questions:

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to keep?

Woman in yoga pose with candles

I’m not talking about any material thing, it’s more likely to be something you spent time doing. What did you allow yourself to do that you didn’t previously? I started practicing yoga regularly and I couldn’t believe how much it benefitted my mental and physical health.

Strangers were more considerate, communities worked together, our church had to start doing a lot of things differently – this wasn’t such a bad thing! We learnt a lot! We started to appreciate the little things in life – we can’t hold onto some of this…

It would be all too easy to “go back to normal” and lose the good that lockdown brought us. Think about the positives that it brought and try to incorporate them into a new normal.

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to lose?

There may be all sorts of things that unexpectedly occurred that we’re hoping to discard now, this may be easier said than done. Some may have had to work from home and want to return to the office (we may not have a say) or home schooled children may be busting to get back to the classroom!

Young woman in glasses, greyscale photograph

There may be more subtle changes that crept in, that you might not have even noticed at the time. With a lack of fresh air, exercise and variety many struggled with unwelcome insomnia. Perhaps anxiety, low mood or other difficult feelings have been problematic. We all have a preferred coping mechanism when things get tough such as eating more, drinking more or have you found yourself surfing unsavoury websites? Some coping mechanisms may be more accepted by society but that doesn’t mean they’re ok – only you can decide if your behaviour is something you want to change.

What did we lose during lockdown that we want back?

Young child being hugged

Obviously we all lost our freedom and we’re getting this back but what else did you struggle without? Most people will want to hug their friends and family as soon as it’s permitted.

Isn’t it amazing how much more we value something once it’s taken away?! If there’s something you now appreciate more than you did before, make sure you don’t take it for granted again!

What did we lose during lockdown that we don’t want back?

Lockdown was imposed on us but there’s no reason why we can’t take advantage of a bad situation! Something I was very glad to lose was the crowded supermarket! I was very happy to queue outside for a short time if it meant the atmosphere inside was quieter and calmer. (Unfortunately, I have no say over this now and the consideration I used to see has all but disappeared.)

Crowded train station

The planet certainly breathed a sigh of relief as we travelled less, any driving I did as a keyworker was easier with fewer idiot drivers on the road – wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn from this and continue in this vein?!

Perhaps homing working has helped you realise that you hated commuting? Or did our I forced shut-down show you that you were doing too much and you need to cut back on your commitments? Do you need to put yourself first a bit more?

Perhaps lockdown has taken its toll on your mental health, as it has done for 80% of the population. If you need help coming to terms with anything that’s happened, help is available – it’s really important to talk. Some people find talking to friends or family really helpful while others need to talk to a professional.

Rememeber, you are not alone, there’s aways someone who can help.

Multiple medications coming out from a pot

Trying new medication update

This blog follows on from one I wrote recently about Weight up the benefits of trying new medication for the severe chronic neck, back, shoulder and arm pain I experience due to spondylosis and fibromyalgia. Short story – it didn’t go well, I was that 1 in 10 who experienced side effects.

Longer story

The medications I tried were a muscle relaxant and an anti-epileptic drug to treat my neuropathic pain. Both of these had a fairly similar side effect profile but had been recommended by my consultant at the pain clinic so I was hopeful.

I titrated both medications up each week and started to feel some benefit. I kept a really detailed diary of my symptoms and possible side effects. Given that the side effects are really similar to the symptoms I suffer day-to-day, it’s very difficult to tell the difference but I had a couple of awful experiences.

At the highest doses I reached I actually started to feel so dizzy I fell over a couple of times and was so sleepy during the day I was falling asleep at work. I considered pushing through because sometimes side effects like this only last a short time and wear off but I couldn’t function so I reduced the dose and realised that at the lower dose, I wasn’t feeling any pain killing benefit.

The worst adverse effect I had was when I had a teeny-tiny glass of wine, I experienced feeling drunk for the first time in my life! Let’s just say, my mind-body connection wasn’t functioning as it should – not something I will ever repeat willingly.

It’s really difficult to have experienced such an adverse reaction like this. Before I had a drink I didn’t feel particularly sleepy so thought a tiny glass would be ok. I rarely drink so I’m always carefully not to have very much. Within about half an hour I was fast asleep and as we were at a friend’s house, my husband had to help me home as I could barely walk. Fortunately, my friends were incredibly understanding and it was a simple case of sleeping off the effect.

It just shows trying medication isn’t as straight forward as thinking does it work or not? We put an extraordinary amount of trust in the pharmaceutical company to ensure they’re safe. These medications have been put under scrutiny in medical trials but new side effects can occur. (Interacting with alcohol is not a new side effect but a strong reaction like this will be very unusual.)

It feels like such a balancing act for me with multiple medical conditions to consider. I was worried about weight gain in my last blog. That turned out not to be a problem – instead, I was plagued with more fatigue, feeling unsteady, nausea and sleepiness that made daily functioning impossible. The trickiest conundrum was working out whether the symptoms were side effects or my fibro playing up?! The only way I knew in the end was that the symptoms improved when I reduced the medication. (But even then, it still could have been a co-incidence because my fibro symptoms wax and wane!) It almost felt like a game but there was absolutely no element of fun!

At the follow-up appointment my GP booked I explained that these new medications had been unsuccessful and I would prefer to be on higher dose opioids despite the bad press they get. She supported my decision because she could see how much pain I was in and having tried the less conventional medications, she agreed, paracetamol and opioids would be a valid choice for me.

There’s a lot of hype, particularly in the US about “the opioid crisis” because of their addictive properties but used correctly, under supervision, my GP believes I’m not in an danger. The side effects are also a known entity and we can manage them.

With the medication I take to prevent my migraines, it appears to work for about a week each time I increased it but then I would stop feeling the benefits. After increasing and increasing…at last, I seem to have reached a beneficial dose (and no noticeable side effects); I’ve only had 1 migraine in the last 2+ weeks… This is a massive improvement on getting them everyday!