Mental exhaustion - my lockdown experience - Natalie Geraghty
Kier Head of Customer and Communications Natalie Geraghty speaks about her own troubles with mental health during lockdown
Head of Customer and Communications
It’s been difficult to find the time to write a new blog lately. My energy is taken up throughout the week being creative for work so during my spare time I seem to have found myself pottering and reluctant to write. Yesterday though, Sunday morning, slightly hungover and emotional I thought I’d get to it.
At the beginning of July I was signed off sick for two weeks for stress and mental exhaustion. I’m very open about my issues with mental health and wellbeing as most people will know, I’m a mental health first aider in work and for the most part, believe I do well in spotting the signs that something isn’t quite right. This time I didn’t spot any signs before it was nearly too late.
I know this horrible Covid situation has been difficult for everyone in many ways, and in no way do I believe that I am any more worse off than anyone else. My experience was this…
Time became irrelevant. When you can’t see anyone, go anywhere or do anything outside of your own home, what is the point in time? I have worked from home since the beginning of lockdown. So I still had a bit of structure during the day but everything around that was falling apart. I hadn’t physically seen my friends and family for too long – I’m a people person and I thrive on being around good people. My cat looked after me but she doesn’t talk back! I tried to maintain relationships the way I usually do with calls, texts and Facetime but the reality was everyone else was struggling too. Or my friends who have families were busy juggling working from home and home schooling. How could I break through that and try to get the positive energy that I get from being with my friends without coming across as whinging and taking my lovely friends away from their priority – their family.
When I’m not doing so good, I take things incredibly personally. My belief is that I’m a chore for people to be with/talk to, people forget about me and I’m just not anybody’s priority. When I’m in a good place, I don’t feel that at all. I feel content and happy with my place in the world.
Over the last few months, I’ve battled with probably the same anxieties most other people have. Everything I was looking forward to was cancelled. I work hard so I can afford a few holidays a year, I love going out for food and drinks a lot and I enjoy gigs. As a new singleton, I had planned to make the first half of 2020 amazing so that I didn’t have time to sit and wallow in any pity. Look how that worked out!
So, all this was building up in my head and taking it’s toll on my body physically. I had thrown myself into work determined to make an impact with what I do. Communications is an important function within a business, but the last six months have shown just how much of a priority it is. With every ounce of energy I had I was thinking of how my team and I can do things differently and keep delivering. I stopped sleeping in the night. I started working at 2am or 3am because my brain would not shut off. I stopped eating proper meals. I love cooking but cooking for one person for months on end with no real inspiration to do anything special really is crap. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else other than work.
I stopped finding pleasure in the little things like reading or the great outdoors. And I became consumed with thoughts about whether life will ever be normal again, if I will ever find peace in my head and if I disappeared would anybody really care.
At the same time my periods became hellish. Now I know they’re not nice anyway, but they were unbearable. This is a subject for another blog but I had spoken to my doctor about a possible diagnosis of endometriosis and while on the call she asked me if I was OK because I didn’t sound it. Then it all came out. Why do you cry when somebody asks you if you’re OK?!
She actually really told me off for being that person that didn’t spot the signs of burn out. Medically known as mental exhaustion, this is when you are experiencing a prolonged period of stress. And usually somebody else spots the signs you are not well before you do. It can take weeks, months or years to recover.
A quick Google search will tell you what the signs are of mental exhaustion. But like many things, it’s different for everyone - your experience may not be the same as mine. I tried to challenge the doctor and not be off sick. I felt I’d failed and became seriously worried about work and all the things I just “had to get done”. The reality was and always is, work can wait, my health can’t. I also had a bout of gastric flu, I had a water infection, my body felt fatigued and aged, my palpitations were so powerful and I was obsessing over what my temperature was in case I had Covid.
For the two weeks I had off, I just slept most days, tried to get outside a bit more, cook a few nice meals and be with my family. I’d missed my mum and dad so much and just sitting with them to watch TV was all I needed to feel secure and safe. Safe being the operative word here. I had gotten to a point where it may not have been safe for me to be alone and one night took a drive out somewhere. I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do but my four walls had become like a padded cell. I was living in solitary confinement, or so it felt like it. In a moment of clarity, I realised that I was being an idiot and got back in the car and went straight home to bed.
I'm by no means fixed but I'm now in a better headspace than I was. I'm an empath, a people pleaser and have high functioning anxiety, three things that do not work well in a Covid world!
I've included a pic from Saturday night when I was out with my oldest and bestest bud, Vicky. Life felt normal for a few hours and I thoroughly enjoyed my time out hence the hangover yesterday when I started writing...