I have severe panic attacks and some pretty bad paranoia. But I manage to keep a job. They don’t get too bad until after dark. It’s like a switch goes off for me. The sun is shining and I’m OK, but as soon as it sets and darkness fills the sky, I turn into a different person. The strong, confident woman I was is reduced to the shell of a tiny, scared little girl. It doesn’t matter where I am. It will happen at home when I’m sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I see the sky and suddenly I can’t breathe and my body goes numb and I know a panic attack is about to start. It can happen when I’m driving and I have to pull over so I don’t crash the car. It can happen when I’m at work and I need to care for my clients. It’s an everyday thing for me I do my best to deal with.
I work first shift because of this. I am always home by 4 p.m. to see my kids and at least be safe in my home for the night. It has been working out pretty well for me. Because even though it happens anywhere, it is easier to deal with when I’m in my own home around my family who can help comfort me and calm me down. I’ve worked second shifts at night before, and they did not go well. I was a mess. I couldn’t handle it. What should have taken me 20 minutes to drive home, took me an hour because of having to pull over and calm myself down. When I finally made it home, I was just frozen and unable to get out of my car to come inside, so my husband would have to come outside and physically walk me in and sit me down on the couch. I explained this to my supervisor, reluctantly, and got her to agree to only schedule me during the day.
Recently we hired some new employees at my workplace, and the schedule was going to change. I was going to have to work second shifts again. I immediately went into a panic. I can’t do this. I can’t handle it. I can’t put myself through that kind of stress and pain again. Especially since I’m 25 weeks pregnant now. I know it can’t be good for the baby. I spoke to my boss and let her know it wasn’t going to be possible. She brushed it off and told me that it’s what she needs me to do and I would have to compromise. She didn’t understand. I went to my psychiatrist the next day in tears, telling him everything. He increased my medication and sent me home with a medical note saying I could only work during daylight hours because of my condition.
The next day, I took the letter to my work and gave it to my supervisor who said she’d send it to Human Resources (HR). I was relieved at first. This was over. I wouldn’t have to go through it anymore. I wished someone would understand how hard it was for me and what I go through, but I knew they wouldn’t. At least I had my doctor on my side and he provided documentation for my
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My boss looked at it and said, “Well, we’ll see if this gets approved, it’s up to HR. If not, you will continue to be scheduled for second shifts when needed.”
I almost cried. I almost screamed. Why would this not be accepted? It’s medical documentation of an illness. But they can’t see it. And if they can’t see it, it doesn’t matter. Right? That’s how she made me feel.
I tried to not think about it and continued to work and do my job. But I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
“We’ll see if this gets accepted.”
What if I had a visible, physical illness? You’d see if my excuse got accepted? No, you’d understand and you’d make sure you were helping me with whatever accommodations I needed. But this isn’t visible and physical. So it doesn’t matter. Right?
The next day we had a department meeting. Beforehand, she took me to the side and showed me next month’s schedule. She thought I’d be happy because she only had me on second shift for five days. She said, “I just wanted to show you the schedule and reassure you. I only have you working five second shifts. It’s really not that bad, I don’t have you on second everyday.”
I looked at her and almost started laughing. In fact, I did chuckle a little bit. That’s not the point. Five is too many. Three is too many. One is too many. I cannot do any. I do not want to put myself through those terrible times for any amount of time at all. I couldn’t see why she didn’t understand. If I had a broken arm, would you ask me if I could carry just five heavy boxes? It’s not many, so I should be OK, right? No. You wouldn’t dream of it. Why is my condition different?
I tried my best to explain to her that no, I could not do five shifts. I can’t do any shifts. I have documentation from a physician saying I can’t do any shifts after dark. I was almost in tears. No one was taking me seriously. No one believed me.
So, here I sit. Waiting to see if HR accepts my documentation about not being able to work after dark. Waiting to see if I can keep my job or if I have to quit and start over somewhere else. Waiting for them to decide if my condition is real or not. Waiting for them to decide my fate.
If you struggle with an illness that isn’t seen all of the time, I see you. If you have panic attacks at night when no one is around, I am you. If you feel misunderstood, I understand you. If you have mental health issues people don’t believe, I believe you. If you try your best and you know it’s real, it matters. It is real. Don’t stop fighting. Don’t give up. We are going to make it through.