The guilt from being signed off work is adding to my mental health issues

‘I’m signing you off work for two weeks’. 

As soon as my GP had written the note to my manager, I felt a huge sense of relief. 

Up until that moment I had found myself falling out of bed 10 minutes before the start of my shift at my call centre job, before crawling back into it as soon as the working day was done. 

Outside of work, I – like many others – was feeling the mental health impacts of the pandemic and the isolation of lockdown. And during my 9-5 the verbal abuse of customers, high call volumes and the pressure of targets were starting to wear me down. 

But the relief of receiving the note quickly subsided into worry. Part of me wanted to take the time to relax, work out a plan for what I wanted to do and find some techniques to best help me cope. 

The other part demanded I end my sick note early and slap myself out of the funk of despair. 

It felt like a constant tug of war between the two, listing the pros and cons of both scenarios over and over in my head. 

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. 

I knew how I was feeling wasn’t normal and that time off work would only help – but I still felt extremely guilty. I have found that one of the hardest parts of being signed off with a sick note is the feeling of letting others down.

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. Image credit: Jack Wynn.


Initially, when I first delivered the news to my colleagues, I could barely get the words out. My manager was surprised, as they noted my positive character, but supportive – as were my other colleagues. 

Yet I knew that by not being there, other members of my team would have to pick up some of the slack until my return. 

I felt massive guilt at the thought of letting people down. In these incredibly challenging times, I wanted to be considered a strong character of support to my friends and colleagues. 

When I compared my depression to the severity of what frontline workers have been facing since the pandemic started, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. 

I despise being seen as weak – even though I know mental illness doesn’t mean you are less strong. 

The first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time hiding under a blanket on the sofa watching real crime Netflix documentaries, occasionally mustering the energy to go to the local shop and trying not to bump into anyone I knew in fear of having to make small talk.

It’s upsetting to know that I’m not alone in reaching a crisis point. Forecasting by the Centre for Mental Health last October predicts that up to 10million people in England will require either additional or new mental health support as a result of the pandemic. 

The Office for National Statistics found 69% of the UK adult population are worried how the pandemic will affect their lives, with 56% feeling anxious or stressed.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health

I’ve since had a few catch up calls with my manager and I’m now approaching my seventh week of being signed off – on my third note – and am still terrified of going back.

I’m mentally preparing by reminding myself there will be better opportunities to come. During the time off I’ve made some improvement with my overall mood with the help of some telephone counselling, short daily walks and even doing activities I wouldn’t normally have much time for, such as reading.

I’ve also been able to reflect on happier times and make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and family members I have not been able to see since the beginning of the pandemic.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health.

To keep pushing through and suffering in silence at work is certainly not the answer. Not only will it affect your performance, but you will begin to destroy relationships with your colleagues as you become unapproachable.

The pandemic has brought with it so much uncertainty that it feels as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I can no longer just rely on stronger medication, a few days completely shut off from the outside world, and more rest to get me through this challenging time.

Don’t be afraid to contact your GP for advice. Despite the evident strain on the NHS, they are there to listen and offer the best help.

But being signed off has taught me that my mental health has to be my top priority. I shouldn’t feel guilty about putting myself first – no one should.

Article originally published here

The Work-Life Balancing Act

Setting up early in time for the daily 9am conference call, meetings with clients to discuss potential new projects, the agonising ordeal working out the monthly expenditure and – most importantly – the 6pm curfew to have dinner with the family or make a friend’s birthday party can certainly take its toll and prove challenging.

Managing a business and doing everything in your power to be involved in all aspects of your family’s and friends’ lives is overwhelming for anyone. Here, Penarth View speaks with Steve Morgan, a Caerphilly-based father-of-two and owner of Morgan Online Marketing to find out first-hand how he juggles the problematic task of separating his business and family lives.

1. What does a typical day look like for you?

I know it sounds cliché, but there’s no typical working day. I’m a freelance digital marketing consultant with a focus on search engine optimisation (SEO) so my usual day-to-day work mostly involves tasks and activities for clients based around that. I also juggle running the Cardiff SEO Meet via Meetup and promoting a book that I recently self-published called Anti-Sell (although I try to do those activities during evenings and weekends) to do billable client work during office hours, corresponding with my clients’ working patterns – mostly because I do my best work during mornings and afternoons.

Where and how I work varies, though. I have a home office but also work out of a co-working space (Welsh ICE in Caerphilly). This depends on whether I’m doing the school run that day, or whether my wife is going to her office or working away. I also try to work four days per week instead of five, so that I can spend more time with my two-year-old son.

2. What would you say is the hardest part of maintaining work-life balance?

Getting the balance right in terms of how many clients you work with at one time. I try and aim for four to six billable hours in an eight-hour day, but that doesn’t account for holidays, or sick days, or if I under-quote a project (and therefore it’s bigger/longer than I expected). Despite having been a freelancer for over six years now, I still under-quote projects: the last two took longer than expected. This meant I had to work more during the evenings and weekends to make it up, placing some strain on social and family commitments.

3. What challenges did you face with maintaining a social and family life at the start of your freelance career?

I’m very lucky in that I did a lot of my networking pre-freelance and I didn’t start a family until one or two years into freelancing. It’s a lot more of a challenge now that I have two children ages five and two. That said, I thankfully can still network with people via social media and also at my co-working space, so there’s still some social aspects even if I have less availability to attend networking events.

4. Now that you have children, are there any added pressures to maintaining work-life balance?

Absolutely! Things like the school run and doctors appointments can eat into my work day. There’s also the guilt that comes with thinking, “should I be taking more time off to spend with them?” despite mostly work four-day weeks. I’m already spending extra time with them than I might not have done otherwise. And if I take any time to myself (which is important to do) I feel guilty that I could be working or spending time with the family.

5. What advice would you give to other business owners that struggle with separating their personal and work lives?

Separate your home life and your work life as much as possible. Try and get yourself into an office or co-working space that’s separate to your home; that way, when you get home in the evening, you can try to ‘switch off’ from work. If having an office/co-working space is not possible, at the very least make sure you have a separate room in your home as a dedicated office. I made the mistake years ago of working a full-time job from my living room coffee table and I felt like I was there 24/7!

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South Wales is full of entrepreneurs! What advice do others have to maintain a good work-life balance?

“As a mum of five (and a self-confessed workaholic) I often find it hard to switch off from work, particularly as I work from home. I now have a schedule that I stick to religiously, to ensure I have the perfect work/life balance. Housework, children, work and ‘me time’ is all divided up into equal measures and it works wonderfully. My advice to anyone running their own business is to make sure you take time out for yourself and your family – children aren’t young forever, and it goes by in a flash!”

Claire Roach, CEO of Cardiff Web Services and Founder/Blogger of Daily Deals UK 

“You work to live, not live to work. So the work has to be enjoyable, but if it’s your own business it easily becomes your life, and all consuming. It’s important to set defined time for life outside of work. Technology means that you can work around the clock, but the same technology lets us leave a voice message saying, “I’m not available, but will get back to when I can”. The rule to balancing work and life is the use of technology and learning when to be, and not to be, available. Honestly, people will not mind!”

Peter Ibbetson, Co-Founder/ Director of JournoLink

As the owner of an HR consultancy, I advocate flexible working and work-life balance to our clients. I set up the business four years ago and I truly believe I have achieved what I set out to do. With the help of my team (who also work flexibly) I am now able to balance both worlds effectively. Sometimes I find the work has to take a priority, and other times childcare and home matters take over, but it is important to recognise that both exist and need to work in harmony. Over the past two summers, I was able to take off a large chunk of the school holidays and will be doing the same indefinitely during term time to make sure that I enjoy the best of both worlds.  

Caryl Thomas, Director of HR Dept Cardiff

Article originally published here