Keep calm and carry on?
April 19, 2013 8:41 AM   Subscribe

I'm going through a bout of depression and while it isn't affecting my work, it is affecting how I behave at work. I realised today that some of my colleagues have picked up on this change in behaviour. How can I maintain my dignity and privacy?

I've been undergoing treatment for depression for over ten years, though I've been depressed since I became a teenager. I've had great success with my medication (escitalopram), but suddenly it seems to have stopped working. I'm doing everything right to manage this: my GP is doing tests to rule out other factors; I'm seeing a great personal trainer several times a week to get active; I'm seeing a clinical psychologist to talk things through; and I'm currently organising an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss medication options. I have wonderful support from both my partner and one of my parents.

I work in the sciences. As soon as I get absorbed in my work, I'm fine and work well. There are no problems with my productivity (in fact, we have two people away at the moment and I'm covering both my work and theirs successfully). The problem is that sometimes I know I'm about to start crying out of the blue, and so I need to get out of sight of my colleagues until I have it under control. Sometimes I'm exhausted and I just can't get up in the morning (even though I'm getting enough sleep). Sometimes I just feel so very dull and stupid. The outcome of this is that I've often being getting in half an hour late and leaving an hour early so that I can have the privacy I need to cry etc. I'm still doing the work, I'm logging my hours, and I let people know that I'll be working from home (I don't just disappear), but these absences are noticeable.

Today I had a meeting with my manager and I had a feeling that something was up. So I brought this issue up by saying "I just wanted to talk to you about the fact that I'm feeling like I'm not doing my best work at the moment". I explained that I was feeling very tired and that I was having blood tests to rule illness out. I also brought up my concerns about overwork. My manager was really, really understanding and we discussed ways to manage the excessive workload. I said that I thought I had everything under control, but that I would keep them posted on how I was going.

I don't want my colleagues to know that I suffer from depression. For me, this is something that my friends and family can know about, but not my colleagues. I've always been able to hide the extent of my depression really well, but clearly I've slipped up here. So, metafilter, tell me:

1) How do I manage my depressive symptoms at work;
2) How do I get up in the morning? Should I prep coffee the night before? I keep sleeping through my alarms :(

Thank you!!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
(1): I actually think you are doing all right handling your symptoms at work. You did a great job talking to your manager, and you are doing a great job of handling your need to spend more time at home, by working at home and communicating with your co-workers.

I might recommend practicing some relaxation exercises. Some things, like deep breathing, you might be able to do unobtrusively at your desk.

Is there any place you could go at work to get a little privacy? A conference room, a bathroom, an office supply closet? You might be able to go there, calm yourself down using relaxation techniques, and then go back to your work, without having to go home.

(2): This one might be hard. Your sleepiness might be a side effect of the escitalopram.

I had serious hypersomnia while taking escitalopram. Struggling to get up in the morning, and feeling dull and stupid all day, sound very familiar to me. Do you struggle to stay awake during the day? Feel like you really need to take a nap? How do you score on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale?

The bad news is that I never found a way that worked to get up on time while taking escitalopram. The good news is that when I switched to a different anti-depressant, the sleepiness went away and I could function again.

So I would strongly prioritize seeing the psychiatrist about medication options. It might be as simple as switching to a different med.

In the meantime, you can try things like setting up coffee the night before, especially if you have or can get a coffee maker with an automatic timer. You might even try putting it next to your bed, if you can -- so you can mainline caffeine immediately, rather than having to convince yourself to get up to make or serve yourself coffee.
posted by snowmentality at 9:07 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know what I'm about to say doesn't answer either of your questions, but I think it's worth adding into the melting pot of advice here.

I don't think you should be afraid to tell your colleagues that you suffer from depression. My opinion is that being open about these things is important because it gives your colleagues a better context for knowing who you are and why you act as you do.

I don't believe in the idea of rigidly separating every personal aspect of yourself from your work environment. We spend much of our lives at work: we owe it to ourselves to make it a place where we can be comfortable being who we are.
posted by qivip at 9:26 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAL but there are LOTS of good reasons to keep your medical issues to yourself even if you don't mind sharing. Personally, I'm usually very candid about mental health issues because I hope my voice in some small way will help combat lingering stigmas, but I certainly choose carefully where and how I speak of it.

More concrete advice:
Do you have the option of scheduling small breaks throughout the day (such as a "smoke break," but you take a ten-minute walk around the building instead)? Do you take your full lunch break away from your desk/work, or do you work straight through your lunch? It might help your mood/stamina and your motivation if you schedule in structured breaks every 90 minutes (or whatever works for you) to get some sunshine, move around a bit, eat a snack with some protein, have some tea, etc.

I'd make sure to switch to non-caffeinated beverages by 4pm, just so that's not interfering with your sleep schedule, and to stay away from sugary food (in case a sugar crash is contributing to the afternoon low).

Would it help the work load if you were able to return to work after a cry break, rather than leaving early? Maybe keep some kleenex, eyedrops handy. Just think of it as another sort of "call of nature" and don't be too hard on yourself about needing the break. If anyone asks, you can blame it on allergies.

It sounds like you are doing a lot of good things to care for yourself-- keep it up and best of luck!
posted by Schielisque at 9:45 AM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Sleeping well: the usual tips, get to bed early, no computer/tv screens for 1h before bed, keep the animals out of the bedroom if you have any.

Waking up: curtains open and let the sun wake you up. If you naturally wake up at say 6am but then go back to sleep and oversleep your alarm, don't go back to sleep. Get up when your body naturally gets up, even if it doesn't fit the time you think you want to get up.

I hope you feel better soon.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you should be afraid to tell your colleagues that you suffer from depression. My opinion is that being open about these things is important because it gives your colleagues a better context for knowing who you are and why you act as you do.

I really REALLY disagree with this. Best case scenario, you will be the person they don't give projects to, because they want to be nice. Worst case scenario, everything will end up your fault because, you know, mental illness! Unless it's something universal and temporary (dog died, broke your leg, getting a divorce) keep your personal life personal or you will regret it in the long run, and maybe in the short run, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

What about disclosing to your manager or colleagues that you are working through some drug side effects? People take ongoing medicine for various reasons and people can really identify with side effect issues. Say that you are working with your doctor and let them know it is a temporary but necessary part of treatment. It would be extremely rude for anyone to ask what the med's are for.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:47 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, sympathy; it's a hard thing to feel like you are making progress and then take a turn for the worse. So discouraging. Hang in there!

In the meantime, some suggestions:
1. You say you can work from home sometimes - can you set these up ahead of time? Knowing that you have a day/morning where you don't have to get it together, but are still working and everyone knows ahead of time and is cool with it can be very helpful. You've had some conversation with your manager about it, which is great, maybe ask if you can do a bit of flexitime - put in X many hours a week, but might involve coming in late and working late. This can fit in well with mysterious illness, blood tests, etc. The bonus of this is that if you wind up working when people aren't around, it's less pressure to "keep it together" when you are there. Make sure you take some time out during the day - I agree with "smoke breaks" which can actually be spent in the loo crying or just breathing quietly, just sitting with what you're feeling.

2. Set multiple alarms, in different rooms. This works less well if you live with anyone else. Set them well in advance of when you actually need to be up. Decide on things like what you're going to wear/have for breakfast the night before, laying things out if possible. These kinds of things won't help much if you just keep sleeping through, but do help with the actual dragging yourself out of bed part.

Good luck!
posted by Athanassiel at 8:55 PM on April 20, 2013

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