Why I’m Not at Work Today. My Mental Health Story

Today I should have been at work but I’m not. I’m not at work because, after ignoring it for months I finally had to admit that I’m really not very well.

I’ve mentioned before that I experience anxiety but there’s been a subtle, almost imperceptible build up to it. I hadn’t acknowledged what was happening until it was inescapable. Following a particularly loud argument with my wife we both realised that my depression and anxiety were operating at levels that needed immediate attention. She scheduled an appointment at the doctors. She called my work and told them I wouldn’t be coming in today.

I spoke to the doctors and am now signed off work with anxiety and depression. I’m taking tablets to level myself out again.

My anxiety is driven by a number of things but the main focus is the death of my mother two years ago. She had MS and despite travelling down the country to see her, then ultimately moving her closer to where we live, I still don’t feel like I did enough for her. I got so distracted with family life and work that I don’t think I made enough effort to go see her. Then one day I got a phonecall telling me to come to the hospital. That was it. She was gone.

In a lot of ways, in my mind she’s still there. Not gone, just waiting for me to stop being too busy and go see her. Another thing on the to-do list that I haven’t gotten to yet.

I don’t know how you’re supposed to get around something like that. How you’re supposed to deal with it in a healthy way. I’ve been to the funeral. I’ve scattered her ashes. But closure, real closure still eludes me. I still have a cupboard of her stuff I haven’t sorted through. It’s been there since the funeral.

If I think properly about it for any length of time it gets really upsetting so I push it to the back of my mind and layer up all sorts of functional, operational stuff on top of it until I can’t see it anymore. That’s really easy to do when you have the distractions of work and three kids demanding hugs and conversations. You can easily fill up a day with the functionality of the office and then carry on doing it blowing noses and pulling arms into pyjama tops when you’re at home.

But, inevitably, the end of the day comes. When everyone else is asleep. I don’t want to sleep but I have to try so I lay in the empty darkness and wait for the demons to fill the void as they always do. Medically it’s called ‘intrusive thoughts’ but that’s a rather clinical way to describe your own mind turning against you for kicks. It’s like an overactive imagination gone haywire. In that silence I can see and hear my mother crying, sometimes screaming. She’s scared and alone. I clamp my eyes tighter shut and it just makes more shapes for my mind to contort into new horrors. I’m often forced to confront my own mortality in several excruciating scenarios.

“Hey, remember that guy that got beheaded on Game of Thrones? I wonder what that would be like? Let’s think about it for an hour.”
“Hey, remember that kid that got sick on Grey’s Anatomy? You’ve got kids, They could get sick. Let’s ponder that until dawn”.

This is why I sleep with a TV on. This is why I can’t even think about trying to go to bed until my body is shutting itself down from exhaustion.

However nightmarish this sounds, the nights are manageable. It’s when it infects the daytime that the wheels really start to come off the bus.

I think I have a kind of ‘high-functioning’ level of anxiety, by which I mean I’m able to ignore it and operate quite successfully if I can just fill my brain with enough things to do that I don’t get chance to actually think. The problem with this is that when you run out of things to do, the thoughts find spaces in which to torment you again.

“You finished that report ages ago. There’s nothing much else to work on right now. I wonder if the kids are safe or if something bad has happened to them? Try calling your wife. If she doesn’t answer first time she’s probably had an accident in the car”.

That’s what I’m keeping at bay. I’ve called my wife in a frantic, terrified frenzy at least twice because she was in an area with poor reception. It’s terrifying for me but it’s also unfair on her.

It began to dawn on me lately that it’s terrifying trying to keep up this kind of pace. It’s not possible to keep cramming your brain too full to think. I once though it was like being chased. Having to keep going faster and faster because it’s always there behind you snapping at your heels.  Lately I realised it’s not like that at all. My anxiety is like floating in a dark, endless ocean with no land in sight. As long as I keep kicking with both my feet I can still see the sun and the birds and everything’s fine. The problem is what’s beneath me. Beneath my anxiety is a leviathan in the dark. If I don’t kick hard enough occasionally my feet brush against it and the fear drives me back to the surface. The longer I kick for the harder it gets to keep going. I get exhausted by it.

That exhaustion doesn’t come without a price, especially with the kids. Although I’m usually in good spirits I can get unreasonably grumpy. I overreact to situations that require subtlety, instead handing out verbal admonishments and early bedtimes. I also tend to fall asleep in the early evening, time I could be spending more quality time with the kids.

Today I realised I couldn’t keep going. That I had to seek help or I would be consumed by it. That I’d become a wreck of no use as a husband or as a father. Today, thanks to my wife, I stopped treading water and got some help (and some sleep).

It’s early days but I’m feeling positive for the first time in a long time.

I have to consider how lucky I am. I know some people would not have had the same experience.

  • My wife took me seriously and called the doctor and my boss
  • The doctor took me seriously and took me off work
  • My boss took me seriously and told me to focus on getting better.

These things are important. Without this understanding I might have carried on the way I was and that doesn’t lead to anywhere good.

So, right now I’m medicated for the depression and anxiety. I’m also on mild sleeping tablets. I’m not currently going to work. I’m concentrating on getting better.

I wanted to share this with you because I worry there might be people out there that don’t have a wife, doctor or boss like mine. People that might just keep trying to tread water until they break and sink into that blackness. People that don’t get taken seriously until it’s too late.

I’m not fixed yet but I feel like I’m pointed in the right direction. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going. If you’re reading this and you’re struggling like I was, let me know. Message me here or on Twitter. Even though it feels like it, you’re not alone.

Thanks for reading,



Need to talk to someone? Try visiting BetterHelp to see if their services can help you find someone to listen.

15 thoughts on “Why I’m Not at Work Today. My Mental Health Story

  • 7th October 2017 at 9:08 AM

    A brave and honest account of the darkness that can consume you. Have you looked into counselling alongside your medication? Might help. Good luck

    • 7th October 2017 at 9:36 AM

      Thanks Charlie. I’m considering approaching wellbeing services to see if that helps alongside the medication. Early days though!

  • 7th October 2017 at 11:37 AM

    I’m really hope you feel better soon, I know exactly how you feel ands such a hard thing to go through. I’m always here if you want a chat x

    • 8th October 2017 at 7:10 PM

      Thanks Becca! Always great to hear from you. Will hit you up for a chinwag soon 🙂

  • 7th October 2017 at 9:53 PM

    Thank you for sharing. My husband has been battling depression and anxiety for over 7 years now. At its worst he has attempted suicide, at its best he can just about function day to day. He hasn’t been able to work in nearly 2 years.

    Sending you strength to carry on and get through this. Sending your wife strength because she will need it, to be able to carry you and the children while you get better. X

    • 8th October 2017 at 7:09 PM

      Thanks for commenting. I hope your husband’s situation improves. Support is everything.

  • 9th October 2017 at 9:26 PM

    This is a really honest and brave piece. You’ve put into words what a lot of anxiety sufferers including myself would struggle to describe, and all I can think to say is I really hope with self care, “me time” and medication you can begin to shut out the horrible intrusive thoughts. Best wishes xx

    • 10th October 2017 at 12:16 AM

      Thanks Stephanie. Really appreciate the kind words 🙂

  • 10th October 2017 at 9:49 AM

    Hey Leigh,

    I didn’t want to read and run. This is a really well written honest post which really resonates with me, I have similar issues with anxiety and OCD and this rings so many bells. I just wanted to say that, having hit a really hard patch myself a couple of years back following baby loss, I did get through it and come out through the other side… Off the back of that I wrote a post on online resources for mental health support for mums (sorry… obvs a bit Dad-ist in retrospect!) but you might find some help in some of those resources. I wrote a personal blog about my experiences too which might help. I don’t want to hijack your post, but do get in touch if you need more support. I hope things start to ease off soon,

    Kate x

    • 10th October 2017 at 1:18 PM

      Thanks Kate,

      I’ll definitely have a look at your blog and see if I find it useful! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  • 11th October 2017 at 4:39 AM

    Leigh this is a great post.
    I suffer with anxiety and always thought my only symptoms were shortness of breath and a twitch i developed at primary school. After ready your post so many things you describe are familiar to me.
    My hubby went out shooting the other evening (like he does often) but when i tried to call him there was no answer. I started worrying and all sorts of thoughts raced through my head, totally irrational but i couldnt shift them.
    I wrote a post on my anxiety for World Mental Health Day and i found it quite theraputic. I hope this helps you.
    Love Kate xxx

    • 11th October 2017 at 11:24 AM

      Thanks Kate. I think writing it down and seeing the responses helps to feel a lot less isolated. Also, the people that say the post has helped them in some way is reassuring that talking is better than hiding a lot of the time.

  • 11th October 2017 at 7:57 AM

    Hi mate

    We have all been there, I have had depression on and off since I was 18 and I didn’t even know until about 10 years ago. I am through the other side and have been off all medication for about 3 years. Lynne lost her mum and she was going through similar things to you up until about a year ago. We are both now depression free and enjoying the best relationship we have had in probably 20 years. You can to. Any time you want to talk I am just a desk away.

    • 11th October 2017 at 11:20 AM

      Thanks man. Really appreciate it.

  • 8th May 2018 at 10:18 PM

    Courageously written and wishing you the best….


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