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How to return from another mental health week? 
June 14, 2010 10:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm a special snowflake going back to my job after absences caused by my funky brain chemistry. How can do this in the least awkward manner possible?

Due to some episodic bouts with anxiety and depression, I'm currently on an intermittent leave of absence from my job.  The days I do make it in are often spent behind a closed door so i can limit my interaction and distraction of coworkers.   

This time around, I've been out six straight work days (during my busy season t'boot)  and i haven't really kept up with my emails either.  But tomorrow, I'm hoping to make a not so triumphant return to work.

My questions to the hive mind fall in the area of, how the hell do I cope with going back? I hate how folks get all inquisitive like, and I'd rather not answer the 'oh, feeling better?' question. But I think my closed door habit just  makes things worse.  To top it all off, prior to this stint, my one good work friend stopped talking to me. Yay work.

On the other side of  my crumbling office social life, there's the actual work. My absences are finally catching up with me and I know that I've been holding up certain projects.  And tomorrow, I expect a line forming outside my door of folks with questions or angry words.  Im going to have to really dig myself out from under the backlog and quick.  Im a procrastinator by nature, have ADD, and am prone to panic attacks so my backlog has snowballed into my own personal Everest. My fear of being overwhelmed is starting to be a factor in my absences in some sick vicious cycle.   Any suggestions in how to tackle a crapload of work without succumbing to my sporcle addiction?  

I have a fab job at a company I can see myself staying with for the next decade or two.  I don't want to spend those years as the weird chick who rarely shows up, I already played that part during high school and college.  Please hope me get through my reintroduction to the workplace! 
posted by mrsshotglass to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
We forgive all manner of "eccentricity" in those who excel at one thing or otherwise make a contribution to the community. Maybe close an inner door to protect the rare, delicate thing the world really needs?
posted by Pamelayne at 10:47 PM on June 14, 2010


Just declare yourself back at ground zero and forgive yourself your backlog. A lot of people take vacations of this length and then have to catch up. It's okay.

my backlog has snowballed into my own personal Everest. My fear of being overwhelmed

Your supervisor should be able to help you prioritize your work. You are not going to be able to catch up immediately, and that's okay.

I hate how folks get all inquisitive

The questions are probably just them showing affection and if you act semi-hostile about their questions, THAT is what might cause you to be viewed as "the weird chick." So I'd come up with some inane but friendly non-answer that you don't mind saying fifteen times ("yup, I got that spring fever!" "guess spring fever came late this year!") before asking about them. Try to head off the angry line by figuring out who might be in it and sending them a quick, friendly email: "hey, lots for us to catch up on, shall we check in Wednesday, say at 10 AM?" if you need to focus on digging out, it might not be a bad idea to limit interruptions somehow, maybe open door hours are 10-2; otherwise you're focusing?

Definitely set your expectations for tomorrow low. Do not expect to dig yourself out quick; unrealistic expectations are a recipe for disappointment, stress, and anxiety. All you can realistically do tomorrow is find out where everything is at, to then later catalog or prioritize what needs done. You're just checking in on the fires to see which need put out first. Let people know that you want to help with the project and that you will be working with your supervisor to prioritize the catching up you need to do but you will help with their effort as soon as you can. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 11:05 PM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's what I would suggest you do, in your mind, not actually in your life: pretend you were out, and behind closed doors, for a very real and specific illness that people would be very sympathetic towards. For the sake of this paragraph or two, let's say cancer.

Do you think people would appreciate knowing you're feeling better, and back? Do you think they'd appreciate having you back and ready to make good contributions again? You're darn tootin'.

Now, your problems are very real, and likely to be misunderstood, but as far as your coworkers are concerned they have no idea what was wrong with you. So, come back into the office, get to being a contributor again (slowly at first, of course, a little more each day), and when people inquire about your health just thank them for their concern and let them know you're feeling better and ready to get back to working effectively. If someone is crass enough to ask specifics about what was wrong with you, just say "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind, but I really appreciate that you care to ask -- thank you."
posted by davejay at 11:47 PM on June 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's silly, and perhaps a bit snarky (but not in the rude way, too much), but you could go for the utterly ludicrous when asked about your absence and say things like...

'I fell in love and we eloped in Hawaii for three weeks.'
'Got kidnapped by aliens, feeling much better now, and what I have isn't contagious to humans.' (the X-Files defense)
'Fell through a wormhole and ended up in a parallel universe, I JUST got back to this one.' (the Sliders defense)
or any number of other sci-fi TV show references.

... with bonus points for saying something different every single time. Tweak them as appropriate for the question asked, and remember it doesn't matter if you can't keep the story straight.

If you make it ridiculous enough, people will realize you're messing with them. When people get so used to hearing the ridiculous that they can't even ask you without laughing themselves sick, it'll make it a lot easier. They'll probably also get the hint that you don't want actually talk about it. Then again, I'm a proponent of the 'take nothing too seriously' school. When in doubt, make fun of it!

Another way to deal with it that involves less silliness is to distract them. 'Hey, are you feeling better?' 'Yeah. Hey did you get new earrings? Where'd you get them?' Engage them in something completely unrelated until they forget their question.
posted by Heretical at 12:30 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you don't already have one, can you get a prescription for Xanax or other fast-acting, as-needed anxiety medication?

When I have a mountain of email to go through I find it helps to sort by the sender's name and then I scroll through and address the ones from the "higher priority" (boss, etc.) people first. It's also helpful to change the view of your email so that it also shows the address the email was sent TO so you can also sort by whether email was sent directly to you or to a list or what.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:04 AM on June 15, 2010


Hey, it's okay. We all go through rough spots. You have to address the mountain that has piled up around your door one bite at a time. Don't put unrealistic expectations on yourself for the first day. Just take it one step at a time, and prioritize your work reasonably.

However, if you want to function in the world, you have to learn how to deal with people. I understand the defensiveness that you might feel at having to face your co-workers after missing so much work, but honestly, everyone has tough times, and people will be understanding. If you get asked the question, "feeling better now?" Just reply, "Yes, I'm feeling better, thanks for asking." and move on. If people press for details, tell them you had the flu, or just tell them you weren't feeling well. Maybe the person asking the question is just trying to relate to you. If you get all defensive to questions like this, you will definitely alienate yourself from your co-workers.

Get past the first day, and the next day won't seem so hard.
posted by cleverevans at 11:41 AM on June 15, 2010


I think davejay's advice is worth repeating:

So, come back into the office, get to being a contributor again (slowly at first, of course, a little more each day), and when people inquire about your health just thank them for their concern and let them know you're feeling better and ready to get back to working effectively. If someone is crass enough to ask specifics about what was wrong with you, just say "I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind, but I really appreciate that you care to ask -- thank you."


To avoid being the "weird girl who doesn't show up", you should not avoid your coworkers when you are there (I know, often easier said than done). There is no reason to get into the specific cause of your absence with anyone other than possibly your supervisor and/or HR. For everyone else, be honest and yet vague...I would say "personal health issues" and leave it at that. Not only should that stop the questioning (because it takes some serious lack of tact to pry once someone has explained that something was 'personal'), but it also avoids going into an awkward overshare.

Really, for the most part, if you aren't best friends with your coworkers, they probably don't really CARE as to the details or where you are when you're not there -- they just care that you (1) are ok or doing better, and (2) aren't holding their projects back.

Also -- I am assuming that you are already working with a psychiatrist or NP or something, so can they help you both in terms of providing some medication in the event of panic attacks and/or some cognitive behavioral techniques to get through the thought processes that are making reintegrating into the workplace so stressful? I deal with depression and severe anxiety, and I often go back to the list of major cognitive distortions when I am having a difficult time facing something. If that's not something you've ever worked on, I'd definitely talk to someone about learning some of those techniques.
posted by tastybrains at 12:24 PM on June 15, 2010


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