Health Anxiety & Working from Home

7 March 2021


 Upon returning to worth three months post-stroke I had a plethora of emotions. The first being that it was too soon and it was, but I also knew deep down that if I didn’t go back there and then that I would never work again so I bit the bullet and headed to the office. Whilst I wanted my colleagues to treat me as though nothing had happened and ignore my crooked face and barely-there memory, I also wanted them to wrap me up on cotton wool, preferably sit right next to me and check my blood pressure all day and tell me it was going to be ok. 


Neither happened, I was met with stroke jokes, called Picasso (it was genuinely the reaction I needed) and I was treated as though I was capable of everything and I sort of was but my crippling health anxiety was holding me back, big time. At this point, I was terrified of the embarrassment of it happening again, in front of people who I didn’t know that well. You see, being wheeled off in an ambulance in front of my mum wasn’t that bad (for me, she found it harrowing) but the thought of it happening in front of other people terrified me and the fear of having a stroke and dying at my desk was all I could think about for months.

 

This didn’t pass, but I soon found confidence in my colleagues and was able to express my concerns and let them know when I was having a wobble or a funny turn and was comforted and reassured to a point where I could cope again. The misconception thanks to the glamorisation of anxiety is that we sit and hyperventilate but my panic attacks are silent; to an onlooker, I’m sitting at my desk calmly typing away but I can feel my heart palpitating, my left arm going numb and my vision blurring and all I am thinking is that it's happening again. Cruelly, the symptoms of panic are similar to those of a stroke or heart attack both of which I am at risk of. 


For over a year I took regular trips to the office toilet to breathe myself out of panic, I googled heart attack symptoms, ran outside for fresh air, and got my blood pressure checked on my lunch. All these things seem somewhat dramatic but they were my coping mechanisms. I became comforted in the fact that should the worst happen there were people around me who would act instantly, they’d comfort me and get me the help I needed, whilst the office became a trigger for my panic it also became a place of safety. 


And then we were sent home. 


Working from home was a novelty back in March 2020, I didn’t have to get dressed, do the nursery run or have to do the “how was your weekend” chat every Monday morning over and over. I could work in bed, on the sofa, and even in the garden on the warmer days. My Mum was living with us and Fred wasn’t at nursery so the house became a little hub of activity and I look back at the first lockdown with fondness at the memories we created and the fun we managed to have. But the reality soon kicked in that this working from home lark was anything but, it was the new normal, we were given new devices, headsets and the days of wandering around the house with my Macbook were long gone, we have designated, risk assessed work stations, Teams meetings, instant messaging and the “how was your weekend” in-office chats are a thing of the past. 


Along with the acceptance of change and an enthusiasm to crack on and make it work came the anxiety that I’d thought I’d left behind but this time it had mutated into ‘you’re all alone at home for eight hours a day, If anything happened no one would know’ and so the palpitations, cold sweats, numb arm, and blurred vision ensued and with that came the challenge of finding new ways to cope. Weirdly, housework became my coping mechanism - not in an obsessive-compulsive way, if I felt my chest tightening and my heart racing I'd quickly go and wash the dishes or give downstairs a quick hoover or start sorting - because you can't run around and clean your house and have a stroke or heart attack, it's just not a thing, at some point, your body would make you stop and mine never did. My house has never been as clean and tidy and I'm yet to have another stroke. 




Working from home, not seeing anyone in-person during the day, having meetings via Teams, and pretty much living in isolation soon became the norm but so did the cold sweats, palps, and pains, it amalgamated into my daily routine and I forgot what it was to feel 'normal' but I soon understood that my brain was tricking me; the anxiety would only rear it's head once I was home alone and never when Fred was around. It would always come around mid-morning ad just after lunch so I began to anticipate it and in doing so, it soon backed off to live in the very back of my head where it's sort of allowed to be. There was a shift after Christmas, the time off allowed me to relax, properly relax and my only concern was whether we were going to run out of cheese or batteries for the many, many battery-operated toys Fred had been given for Christmas and when I returned to work I felt restored and refreshed. It's now been 2 and a half months since I last felt chest pains and I've realised that I need a break, I can't burn the candle at both ends and do the Mum stuff and the work stuff continuously and forever. 


Working from home gives the illusion that we're not working as hard as we would in our usual setting but if anything most of us are working harder than ever, the pressure of doing enough work to make sure our bosses don't think we're skiving and the inability to escape our homes all mounts up and not to mention the complete loneliness and lack of in-person human contact is enough to send anyone's brain a bit squiffy but the one blessing that working from home has provided is that I've been able to prove to my employer that when I really have to, I can work from home and take care of Fred which has allowed me to have enough annual leave leftover at the end of the year to take a couple of days off for myself and rest and actually relax. This time last year I was burning out, my leave had been taken up by time off to take care of Fred and there was none left for me or both of us to have fun with and my only option was to keep going until I physically couldn't which in turn affected my sickness record and caused more anxiety. 


My message to anyone who is struggling with lockdown and health-related anxiety is to allocate your time wisely; you cannot do and be everything, it's just not possible. Where you can, take time to rest do things for yourself, and find a way to distract your body from tricking you - I know it's easier said than done, Jesus it's taken me long enough to get here but it is possible. No matter how ridiculous you think your coping mechanism might be, just go with it if it works and remember that despite feeling alone there are loads of other people sitting at their make-shift home desks, feeling clammy, faint, and breathless. 






1 comment

  1. I love this post! I started my job after college virtually and I am still working that way to this day! While I enjoy being at home and not having to go to the office, I have definitely noticed that I have more social anxiety whenever I need to leave my apartment (grocery shopping, dentist appointment, etc.). I am hoping that this settles down once things start to reopen, but it is definitely a new part to my anxiety that I haven't had to deal with before.
    Jenna ♥
    Stay in touch? Life of an Earth Muffin

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