A shining message of hope from The Step Up Network: you don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to ask for help.
When lockdown was announced in the UK in March, society was asked to spend more time at home with our partners than ever before. Whilst some couples have undoubtedly grown closer as a result of lockdown, others have suffered the darkest depths of loneliness despite never actually being alone. For some, lockdown has intensified pre-existing mental illness. This is the anonymous story of one such colleague, who has benefited from PAM Assist and now urges others to use this free, confidential service.
For four years my marriage was in trouble and I just kept plodding on. I’ve struggled with mental health issues for a while, and two years ago I tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as an alternative to taking anti-depressants. It definitely helped, and my relationship with my husband improved for a bit. But we soon slipped back into old habits.
“I found myself plodding on – just existing, without really living.”
When my grandfather passed away last August, I was devastated. I’d been very close to him, and my six-year-old son was close to his Great-Grandad too. Cranfield were hugely supportive of me at this time, but at home I felt my husband wasn’t. I convinced myself not to be “the nagging wife” and tried to get on with it, gently guiding our son through his first bereavement.
We spoke openly and honestly with our son about what had happened to Grandad, and he was allowed to see him in the coffin, which is customary in my culture. I feel very proud of how he coped with the loss. But because my husband was emotionally absent when I needed him, I turned inwards to deal with my own grief. It was a very dark time for me and I began to consider leaving our marriage.
Whilst trying to come to terms with my own loss, I was shocked by the revelation five weeks later that my husband had been undergoing medical tests and had hidden the extent of his ongoing health issues. Out of the blue, he announced via text message that he was due to have major surgery. It is hard to put into words the melting pot of emotions I felt. Boiling rage and deep sadness that he hadn’t told me, alongside the duty of care, loyalty and love I still felt for him.
Thanks to Cranfield’s amazing support, I was able to work flexibly from the hospital following my husband’s operation. Each day after work I would collect my son and drive for an hour to spend time with my husband. Every time that I made that journey I would take my son’s toothbrush and pyjamas with me to the hospital, so that I could get him ready for bed before driving home in the dark. Each night I carried my sleeping child and my heavy heart back into an empty house, struggle to fall asleep, and then get up and do it all over again. My colleagues checked in with me daily, and – prior to social distancing – offered a much needed source of hugs. Being physically apart from them during lockdown has really made me appreciate how much I love my work family.
“There is no way I would have got through this time if my wonderful team hadn’t rallied around me”
Once out of hospital, my husband had limited mobility which meant that as well as working, parenting and running a house, I assisted him whenever he needed help. This situation would be difficult enough in a happy marriage, but in our strained relationship it was more than I could take. For years I’d felt worthless and useless at everything; from not keeping up with the chores to my role at work, and these feelings intensified.
Two months after he was admitted to hospital, my husband told me that he wanted to separate once we had “got through” Christmas. I suggested we try counselling, but he was adamant he wanted to leave. We’d tried over many years to repair our marriage, but it was time to call it quits. Each day I would “put my face on” but my self-esteem was at an all time low and I knew that I needed help. It was a close colleague at Cranfield who finally made me see it was time to give medication a try and seek counselling through the Employee Assistance Programme.
I would love to think that another Cranfield colleague who is reading this might feel brave enough to shake off the stigma of mental illness and allow PAM Assist to support them through getting the help they need. It was the right decision for me and at the start of 2020 I was finally able to break the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings.
“People around me have really noticed a difference; if only I had asked for help sooner it would have been so much easier to cope”
When my manager heard me laughing with my colleagues for the first time in months, she told me she hadn’t realised how much of “me” had been missing. I’m back! I feel more motivated than ever in my role at Cranfield and in my personal life I am finally free to rediscover my adventurous side.
“I found myself asking why I’d waited until I hit rock bottom to share how low I’d been feeling”
Lockdown has presented new challenges which have affected my mental health and my focus on work. But I feel blessed to have continued to receive some very valued support from my team, my family and friends. I’ve also benefited from telephone counselling sessions through PAM Assist.
No one had any idea how dark my thoughts had got, but when I reached breaking point, the Employee Assistance Programme was there. Cranfield has been a wonderful source of judgement-free support, and as we went into lockdown that support continued virtually. I’ve had regular support meetings online and my colleagues have continued to check up on me in the evenings, reinforcing that they are there for me. Friends and neighbours outside of work even started turning up on my doorstep, offering their support too.
My ex and I are successfully co-parenting from our respective homes, and I am thankful to his new girlfriend for the love that she has shown to my son. He knows that he is our priority, that he can be open about his feelings, and that when he chooses to share them he will be loved unconditionally. That’s how I feel about my network of support at Cranfield, and I’ll always be grateful.
“Once you open up, you’ll be amazed at how many people are there for you.”
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this blog and would like to speak to someone in confidence, help is waiting for you at www.pamassist.co.uk. You can find the Cranfield log in details on the intranet, or call the 24 hour helpline 0800 882 4102 to receive free confidential support for all of life’s ups and downs.
For members of the Step Up Network, if you would like to share your story, or just to have a chat, we’d love to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Step Up Blog was launched in celebration of our connectedness and Cranfield’s unwavering commitment to support its staff through Covid-19 and beyond. Cranfield’s Employee Assistance Programme ‘PAM Assist’ exists for each and every one of us, and this story reflects how fantastically the scheme works.