Mental Health Crises Aren't Convenient

Mental Health Crises Aren't Convenient
Photo by Tangerine Newt / Unsplash

Or: That One Time I Went Crazy (again)

I'm thankful for the existence of FMLA knowing that my job is protected (or at least as protected as possible under the law).

I'm worried about the fact that my only advocates are myself, my supervisor, and my doctor.

I'm more worried about the fact that I have to rely so heavily on the company that my employer pays to manage leave and minimize risk.

It seems, based on my experience, that such leaves are definitely better handled with care and planning.

But what could I do?

I had reached the point where I was dealing with executive dysfunction, I was fully overwhelmed by even basic decisions, could not focus, and was struggling to find any sense of balance or calm. It was spiraling into the depths of the depression fast.

I was struggling to react and respond appropriately in the moment, and it was not just in crucial meetings but was also spilling over into my home life as well.

I was burnt out.

What happened?

I had been talking with my boss about trying to find a way to take a break, but I couldn't wait and it was becoming more and more obvious to the people around me that I wasn't okay.

My boss recommended a conversation with HR. So I told them I was dealing with the effects of burnout and needed some space. The HR representative I spoke with reminded me of our in house "counseling" service through LifeWorks, and encouraged me to immediately open a claim with Unum with no other guidance.

I first contacted LifeWorks in the hopes to get some immediate assistance but when I explained my situation I was told that LifeWorks counseling could not help at all with leave claims in the work place. The person I spoke to seemed to be encouraging me to find alternative solutions.

I opened a claim with Unum, which was "easy" but also completely devoid of any real information related to what I was doing and navigating their services and website was a challenge. I was left feeling uncertain if the choices I'd selected during the process were correct but with no obvious way to ask for help.

My boss encouraged me to take the time off. We'd talked about taking 3 weeks off but only had enough PTO for about a week and change. It was recommended that I at least take the week.

Now I had turned off notifications on Slack, set out of office on my email, and said I was ':palmtree: Vacationing' as my Slack status. I stepped away from work.

How did it get to this point?

I have been with my company for 4 years and few months. I started with them as they were embarking on the journey from startup to corporate, and it was pretty clear they were still well on the startup side of the equation.

This is a fun stage for an organization and this place was a fun place to work in a reasonably affluent Chicago suburb. I was in the first couple hundred heads of this place which was in major growth mode trying to keep up with the demand for their product.