How do you know when you're ready to go back to work after a nervous breakdown?
December 14, 2006 12:09 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when you're ready to go back to work after a nervous breakdown?

A few months ago, I had a nervous breakdown due to job stress. The big factors were that I had been assigned three projects that could have been full-time jobs for someone (plus some smaller workitems), and a bad management situation (the boss's motivation technique was to randomly pop into my cubicle and yell). At the time of the breakdown, I'd been working pretty much constantly for several weeks and hardly sleeping because of the anxiety.

I was put on antidepressants (a SSRI) and I've been seeing a therapist since before the meltdown. Both have been helpful and I'm doing pretty well with day-to-day things. I quit the job that was causing the problems.

The problem is, a friend has a job opportunity for me that sounds interesting and that should have much more reasonable stress levels. I think it's probably a good place, but every time she emails me about it, I freak out. The last email made me burst into tears.

Have you been in a similar situation? I can't decide whether my reaction to the emails mean that I'm too fragile to start work, or whether this is a situation where it's best for me to just take the risk and see how it goes.

I'll be discussing this with my therapist this week as well.

If you'd prefer to reply in private, you can contact me at
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Anecdotal evidence from people I know suggests that staying away too long from a work environment makes it harder to start working again. I guess your best bet would be to start working, but part-time, with not too much stress.

In other words; maybe you get more anxious the longer you wait.
Get back on you horse and all.
posted by jouke at 12:45 PM on December 14, 2006

You are having posttraumatic stress over the previous job (been there, done that, got the wardrobe.)

If you are already on medication that helps. There are some meds out there that help specifically with posttraumatic stress, btw.

In my case, I kept working but was moved into a different department, away from the evil boss. (not just my assessment, btw. My predecessor also had a breakdown.)

Once I was in a more stable environment I was fine (till in my case it was discovered I was bipolar but that is kinda a different issue.)

You are on meds and have a therapist, so I think it is worth trying this job, particularly as you think it sounds interesting. It is true that the longer you stay away from work the harder it is to go back.

If for some reason the therapist feels you need more time, (this person knows you better than we do) perhaps you could consider some volunteer work to get back in the swing of things.

I wish you the best.
posted by konolia at 1:26 PM on December 14, 2006

Exactly. Maybe the emotional reaction is to the reason why you have to look for a job rather than the act of actually getting a job that won't stress you out.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on December 14, 2006

Drugs and therapy are awesome and are the best first steps.
The next step to getting over the hump is to get your feet wet. Take some kind of action for yourself. Check out recruitments in your field. Do things that help you feel positive about your life. Gear yourself up and prepare to take the plunge.

That advice may sound tired and cliche, but that's what I had to do. Years ago my wife died and I lost my pretty well paying job in the same month. It was devastating. I spent about two weeks doing absolutely nothing, aside from drugs and counseling. The next thing that I did was to apply and interview for jobs that I didn't even want. That way there was no pressure on me to succeed. I just got my feet wet and worked up to where I am now, happy and mostly succesfull. I hope this is helpful to you.

Now go kick some ass!
posted by snsranch at 2:15 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Having held a job which caused regular (albeit well-masked) meltdowns due to the long hours, stress, and feeling that I could never take a day off, no matter how sick I was, or the world would as-plode and it would be All! My! Fault!...

Not all jobs are like that. Most jobs aren't like that. You'll never take or stay in a job like that again. If you don't end up liking a job, you now know that you can just quit. How neat and empowering!

Everything I've experienced employment wise afterwards has felt like the easiest thing ever. The feeling that you have been through far, far worse helps put the occasional difficult situation which comes up in perspective.
posted by Wavelet at 11:10 PM on December 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had a similar experience--quitting a job very suddenly because of a 'nervous breakdown'. After that I went to school for a while (but failed miserably) and had a fear of jobs in general for quite a while. Only recently have I started working again--it's freelance work and I only work about 5 hours a day at the most. But I guess the best option would be to find another job that isn't so stressful as the other one. An understanding boss would be helpful--I've never really disclosed my depression to any boss but at least if they understand that you need a few 'personal days' once in a while, and are not always hot on your back about projects, then maybe that's a good job for you.

A change of scenery (i.e. different job) might help, but it also might take more like a doctor's help i.e. drugs or some therapy. I've done both and they have both been helpful in their different ways.

I guess I would say just try to ease yourself back into work--start part-time if you can, and then increase your hours as you get more comfortable with the job.
posted by theposterboy at 12:41 AM on August 16, 2007

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