One year ago, my life looked very different. Having recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, I was working as a consultant at a small boutique firm staffed with lots of millennials. We were working crazy hours and enjoying each other’s company at parties on weekends. I was living with my then long-term partner in a beautiful townhome, and spending my free time doing contract gigs and running a knitting business — Kelsea Knits — on weekends. From the outside my life looked like every other busy millennials — I was constantly seeking validation for being busy and maintaining all my side hustles.
By December I ended my long-term relationship, moved out on my own for the first time, my sister moved across the world (literally, to Australia), and the consulting firm I loved was going bankrupt. The work environment became hostile, friends were being laid off or forced to leave through constructive dismissal. Any of these things would be enough to turn someone’s world upside down, but experiencing all of these over a three-month time frame sent me into a Major Depressive Episode. I sought medical advice, and six-months ago, I was put off work as a result of being burnt out, depressed, and having daily panic attacks. Two months later, after some rest, I was lucky to switch employers and find a more secure, stable job.
Three weeks, and a crappy relationship later, I experienced another downturn in my mood and, again, was put off work.
Six months after being on short-term disability, I’ve learned a lot:
1. Employer Benefits are Meant to be Used – Guilt-Free
Let me start by saying I am incredibly privileged. I was lucky that both my previous, and current, roles have disability benefits. Here in Ontario, that means I am eligible between 60-85% of my regular income, and I have my job protected for a certain period of time.
I’ve held a job since I was 14 years old. A lot of that time, I held two jobs and went to school full time. Being off work was a weird adjustment. I wasn’t seeing people every day. I couldn’t talk about my job anymore, and I had time to myself. It’s still been difficult for me to explain to people that I’m off sick when my sickness isn’t on the surface noticeable. It’s also been difficult not to feel guilty for taking this time off to address my mental health. It’s something I’m lucky enough to be working with my therapist in addressing. Employer benefits are part of your compensation package and are meant to be used.
2. Employer Benefits Can Take A Long, Long Time
Taking short-term disability sounded easy when I read about it in my benefits booklet. What wasn’t easy was the mountain of paperwork I had to get completed. Doctors notes, statements from my employer, and letters from my therapist. Demonstrating a mental illness, I learned, was much more complicated than a physical illness. I spent countless hours on the phone with my insurance company to understand what paperwork I needed completed, by who, and what information they were looking for. I went on leave on December 3rd and did not receive my first insurance payment until April 25th. Being sick causes enough stress without having to worry about how to pay your rent, dealing with no income for an extended period of time can no doubt make things worse. This leads me to point #3:
3. Emergency Savings Are Key
Luckily I had a small nest egg stashed away for emergencies (thanks to TFD for preaching this) that I was able to use to bridge the gap between my last paycheck and my insurance payment. What I didn’t account for beyond my usual expenses were all the additional expenses associated with being sick – doctors notes, therapist visits, pharmacy costs, parking at the hospitals and doctors offices. On top of these costs were costs associated with being depressed – I didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t want to cook, and I didn’t want to clean. Grocery and food deliveries are convenient when you don’t have the energy to leave the house, or to cook, but can be costly. I spent nearly $700 over the course of two months on food, compared to my usual $250/per month on food expenses.
4. Good Days and People Should be Welcomed
To anyone out there also dealing with mental health issues, I applaud your bravery. Good days, as I refer to any day I’m able to get out of bed, I soon learned needed to be welcomed, and used to the most of their potential. If I have the energy to cook, I make sure to make large portions, keep leftovers in my fridge or freezer to eat on the days I couldn’t be bothered to do much more than microwave something. If I have the energy to grocery shop, I made sure to have easy to grab snacks – hummus, bagels, lunch meats, cheeses, fresh vegetables — to make sure that I can at least eat something over the course of a day.
I learned to ask people for support to achieve my basic level needs. I’ve spent nights at my parents’ house when I needed to feel safe somewhere. Friends asking me to go for coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed and shower. Having other people around to remind you to eat, cook for you, or send you heartfelt care packages can make a huge difference. Anytime someone in my life shows me support, I take the time to write them a thank you note. Gratitude can really change your outlook on a bad day, help you practice mindfulness, and work to help meet your relationship needs.
5. Personal Care Takes Work
I’m not talking about taking a bubble bath and doing a facemask, though I do each of these weekly and they are heavenly. Personal care involves getting your body moving each day, even when you can barely get out of bed. It involves attending medical appointments regularly, and following the doctors’ orders. Since December, I’ve been on seven different medications, and have had to keep detailed records of my mood, sleep, and appetite each day. Believe me, it’s work. It also involves taking stock of your health as a whole, and reaching out to others when you can no longer take care of yourself.
Kelsea is a reality TV junkie and recovering overachiever from Canada with an affinity for knitting.
Image via Unsplash