Hey, so here’s a thing. This week, at 44 years of age, I had my very first mental health problem. It was very strange, but thought I’d tweet about it, in case others recognise similar warning signs.
I’ve never had problems with the old noggin before. Sure, I’ve been worried, super-stressed, angry, whatever, but this was a bit different.
I know enough about it, and know enough real-life and Twitter friends who have problems, to know I don’t have those problems (and have been perennially thankful for that).
Obviously, work has been super-stressful, and I’m used to stressful periods of work. But being on COVID response projects since the start of March, has meant a sense of high-alert for 6 whole months. No let-up, no time to think, a new crisis every week.
I’ve read about burnout before, and have experienced many of the signs at different points in my career. Feelings of disempowerment, questioning your value on a project, feelings of dread at the start of the day.
I started to experience these during my time on COVID testing, and was smart enough to request a transfer, due at the end of Sept.
Working so super-hard on something, against the backdrop of *all this*, and trying to ignore all the headlines, whilst also having to react to the things causing the headlines, and do the work to avoid future headlines, yeah, that’s tough.
So then I got my transfer. New team, different project, different pace. Phew, at last. Back to ‘normal’. Though it’s not normal. September was weird. All new routine. Kids back to school, partner finally able to reopen her fledgling business.
So that brings new worries – worrying about the kids being ok. Worrying about partner getting symptoms and immediately having to close her business for 2 weeks. But whatever, you keep muddling on.
So anyway, last week, I got asked to do a simple thing. Draw up a diagram for a presentation deck. Important stakeholders. Got a bunch of info, just needs orchestrating into something coherent. Lovely. In my comfort zone.

Only I couldn’t do it.
I just told myself I was tired. Kept staring at the info, and couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Fine, I’ll sleep on it, and come back on Monday.

Only I couldn’t do it on Monday either.
Now, taking complex info and making it understandable is my bread and butter. Being doing it for over 20 years. This was weird. Imagine not being able to tie your shoelaces up, suddenly. That’s what it felt like. Every time I looked at the work I just wanted to go to bed.
I have half-term booked off, but that suddenly felt like a century away. I flagged to a couple of colleagues that I was not having a good day, and luckily for me they were brilliant, thanks @teropsv and @worddoodles_EP – they took up the slack while I was less than optimal.
But I tell you what was unexpected: the feeling of guilt. I’m Mr Dependable. People come to me with stuff all the time, and I handle it. I’m not supposed to be laying extra work on colleagues who I know are equally as stretched as me.
Being a burden doesn’t feel good. But likewise, I could tell things were going to get worse if I didn’t stop for a bit.
So anyway, enough rambling. This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ thing, and I feel much better already. But this bloody year is taking its toll on all of us.
I know people say “It’s ok not to be ok”, and I’ve parroted that enough to people myself, as someone in a lead role at work. But I never expected it to be me. Not when there’s so much to do, and so much neglected work, because of the COVID response.
I posted a picture of me cuddling a Baby Yoda on the team Slack (present for daughter – honest!), and realised I looked about 80 years old. Me cuddling a toy Baby Yoda
My thing was only minor, and I’m taking a day off sick today to recuperate (apart from tweeting this). Lucky that I work somewhere that lets you do that. So keep an eye on yourself, and for warning signs or odd things that haven’t happened before. And take a break when you can.

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