Stress and shutdown

I haven’t blogged for a while or been on Twitter. That’s because I crashed.

Broke down. Refused to work. Rebooting doesn’t help. Doesn’t make the error message go away and the operating system start.

It had been building for a while.

Work has been stressful for months. I’ve been taking on too much for myself and blaming myself for being inadequate. I’m a manager with few managerial skills and poor executive function so I find planning and big pictures difficult.  I am good at figuring things out, completing tasks, creating.

On top of it all there was the referendum and all the bad news that just goes on and on.

Things just built up and built up. I found myself becoming isolated. It was impossible to blog or tweet about it. I just didn’t have the words. I stopped trying to communicate online. I just kept battling on, hoping things would get better.

One day, I noticed the symptoms of an impending shutdown.  Talking was hard – it hurt to find words.  My executive functioning was worse than ever.  I found my morning routine hard to follow.  My spatial awareness was bad, I walked into people on the way to work. The world seemed louder than ever.  The label on the back of my top rubbed against my skin, itched and made me feel sick.  And on top of that my emotions were running high.  I had a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. But it wasn’t a day I could just closet myself in the corner and get on with work.  I had to attend meetings. Talk. Arrange things.

I somehow got through most of the day. Pushed everything inside me. Tried to stim unobtrusively in meetings. Fidgeted, trying to pull my shirt up so that the offending label didn’t touch my skin.

Then at the end of the day, when the meetings were over, I received an email that was the final straw and I had a meltdown.

Normally when I have a meltdown at work, I take it to the toilet where I’ll sit and rock and cry.  This time I couldn’t control myself. I am just relieved I didn’t have a full meltdown. The full blown angry, scary meltdown. I didn’t shout. I didn’t hit myself. I didn’t throw anything. I just cried. Loudly.  And I have nice colleagues. It just seemed like a stress reaction to them.  They comforted me, trying to help.

And then after the high emotion of the meltdown, I felt nothing. I thought I was OK. I felt no emotion. My lovely colleagues were solicitous, concerned about me, but I was fine.  I thought everything was OK again. The situation that had caused the meltdown was resolved.  The only clue I had that I was still feeling stressed was when I closed my eyes at night and my worries overwhelmed me.

It was only after last weekend when Sunday night came around and work loomed again that my mind said NO.  I am not doing it.  I was suddenly overwhelmed by a huge amount of anxiety and stress.  Could not go on.  Could not function. Could not prepare for work, could not go to work.  Couldn’t communicate.

Is it depression? Anxiety? Stress? Shutdown?

I think it’s all of the above. Feeding into each other.

I got anxious and stressed.

When I’m stressed my sensory problems, executive functioning, communication become impaired.

This leads to depression as I can’t do so much. I have difficulty communicating and have more arguments. I also find work gets harder and harder because I can’t cope with any noise and my already feeble organisational skills get worse.

Then if I can’t have a break, I become more anxious and stressed, the world gets even louder, communication even harder. I have meltdowns over the smallest thing, leaving the house is impossible. Functioning at all is difficult. I become more and more depressed, more anxious. And then a moment comes when I cannot go on at all. I just can’t function.

That’s what happened last week.

Total system failure.

I’ve had a week off now. I hid away and didn’t do much.  I’m feeling a little better now. The break seems to have helped a little which indicates that this time it’s a stress-related shutdown, not a full-blown depression. Time to pick myself up, dust myself down and go on. Quitting isn’t an option.  Not yet.

I now have to navigate new stresses. The awkwardness of returning after sickness. I hate being unreliable. I also don’t know how my boss will react to my having time off for stress at an inconvenient time for the business. I don’t know if it will put my job in jeopardy. How can I manage my work better so I don’t get so stressed again?  I am still terrified my mental health will get too bad and I won’t be able to manage work at all.  Been there before, don’t want to again.

All I can do is try and manage my stress. Don’t let work get on top of me. Try and ask for help. Get time alone.  Go to bed early. Exercise. Stim. Spend time on my interests. Look after myself.  Eat well.

I’m not sure it’s enough. I don’t know if more is needed to change to stop it from happening again.  But I also don’t know how to go about it.