Panic at the Workplace.

I can confidently say that 90% of my anxiety these days is associated with the workplace.

I can also confidently say that I spend about 90% of my waking hours at the workplace.

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It’s funny because it’s true.

If only this meme weren’t so fucking accurate for so many people. Workplace anxiety is something I obviously have strong feelings about.

Something that’s been bothering me lately is the lack of mental health support at my workplace. It’s been hitting very close to home, since that’s why I’m at home for the next 6 weeks (if I can handle being home that long – I am only on day 6 and I am feeling very unsettled and restless). Coincidentally, my company’s director/shareholders recently revealed that taking on the title of one of “Canada’s Best Employers” (or something similar) is high on their list of goals.

To me, providing a mental health program would be an enormous step in the right direction for them.

My boyfriend’s workplace, for example, provides better extended benefits in terms of psychotherapy than mine. But they take it a couple of steps further and will pay for a number of psychiatrist appointments outright. They also top up their staff’s pay if they do have to take sick leave. I feel that just knowing this support is there would make a big difference for me. But to be honest, it’s not something I inquired of my company when I took the job.

There is a bit of a catch 22 when you accept a position with any company. Do you ask about mental health benefits specifically so you know what your options might be? Or do you avoid drawing attention to yourself, and risk it? How do you learn the work place’s policy on mental illness without outing yourself?

There is obviously still stigma attached to mental illness – any “invisible” illness, actually. People might have some form of it themselves, but it won’t necessarily stop them from hiring someone they know is prone to some kind of issue. I mean honestly… what’s the better choice: someone who might have an emotional breakdown and leave? Or someone who’s stable and can power through stressful times unaffected? Hiring someone without mental illness is the easier choice. It’s the safe route. It’s less complicated.

I recently read a news article that suggests that 60% of Canadian employers do not have any sort of mental health plan for their employees. That sucks. The odds are that if you are working, you don’t have a resource.

Mental health support is fucking expensive. Seeing a psychologist in my city is anywhere from $150-$200 per hour. Prescription drug costs of course vary, but I know they are prohibitively expensive if you don’t have extended benefits. And the cost of being away from work due to mental health? Oh lord. Depending on your situation, that can literally put you on the street.

My current situation is not the worst, but that’s only because a few well-dealt cards. I’m just lucky. I cannot fathom how difficult it must be for single people, or for those who don’t have a higher income, or those who don’t get paid sick days.

I may not be getting paid right now, but I was granted a free week off a few months back (in addition to my vacation days). My employer doesn’t seem to have a limit on sick days, so I’ve always been paid when I left early or took a day off. I also make a decent-enough living that I will have maxed out employment insurance and will get the maximum amount available. My country also has free healthcare – I wouldn’t have visited the doctor as many times as I’ve been able to (at least once a month) if I lived in a country that didn’t have that.

But despite these advantages I have, it’s still not easy. I’ve made a psychotherapy appointment for Thursday that I cannot afford. It is $168 per hour. This is why I have held off on seeing one for so long. My current extended benefits plan only covers up to $300 of counselling – so that’s less than two appointments.

If you know anything about therapy, you know that two sessions is far from adequate. $300 towards therapy is a slap in the face. It’s insulting. Honestly, employers? Don’t bother.

So how am I paying for this? I’m going to run out my benefits, and then my spouse is going to pay for it for me. I’m also trying to get onto his work’s benefits plan, which might add a little more to my $300 cap.

Dude, that is fucked up. That is not fair. That is not fair to me, not to my partner, and not to the community of people who need help. It’s also not fair to my country.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I had the option to go to counselling months ago, somewhat preventatively and before things got as bad as they currently are, I would not be on medical leave right now.

I would be at work, I would be contributing to society, and I would not be accessing social assistance. Feeling like a societal hindrance is something that’s adding considerably to my unease these days. I feel like a lazy piece of shit, to put it bluntly. It’s a confusing feeling. No, I am not a lazy piece of shit, despite my love for naps. And a percentage of my income has been paid into the insurance program for about 15 years, so I cannot consider myself a leech. And this is temporary.

But that feeling of being some kind of freeloader usurps all those rational responses. I still feel very, very guilty right now.

I’m trying really hard to be rational, know that my anxiety is what’s making this harder, and trying not to blame my workplace’s lack of options and resources for what’s happening to me now.

This morning, I emailed a local women’s shelter and offered my time. Giving back may be the only way I can perceive balance and justify taking from the limited funding.

I’m also going to put my nose to the grindstone when it comes to my counselling. Therapy, as I touched on in my last post, is not magical and is a two-way street. I need to do the work to see the results and get better. I’m going to make sure that the investment into my mental health that my partner is making is going to be worth it.

There is a lot of change needed in our society (I’m talking North America, since that’s all I really know) when it comes to mental health. And I can point fingers in the direction of employers and governments that can make a difference. And I believe I am right in doing so.

But I’m also slowly learning that I also have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to take the advantages that I do have, and make the best of things.

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