Page last updated at 08:42 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

'The room fell deadly silent'

Emma Lindley, 30, returned to work after a period of leave with an episode of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.

Here, she explains what is was like to come back to the office.

Emma Lindley
Emma was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000

"My first day back, I stepped into a room of 28 people and the whole office just fell deadly silent.

"I had never experienced anything like it.

"I had been off work for six weeks from my job in educational advice and guidance at a higher education college.

"In many ways, the managers had done everything by the book for my return.

"There had been conversations with my community psychiatric nurse to organise a gradual return to work. I was to start off with a couple of hours, then build up to three days per week.

"But my colleagues simply did not know how to behave around me.

"People dropped their eyes when I walked past, or moved to the other side of the corridor.

"My work was picked over in a way it hadn't been before.

"My expectations were totally at odds with theirs: I felt they were waiting for my next swerve, waiting for me to become ill again - whereas I was expecting to be well."

Rumours spread

"It's tricky to know exactly what might have been done better.

In retrospect, it perhaps would have been better if people had received a bit more information while I had been away

"One of the problems was that people didn't really know what was wrong with me when I was suddenly gone, apart from the fact that I had been admitted to a psychiatric ward.

"There was a lot of gossip, a lot of speculation.

"I had never really told anyone at work about my condition - partly because I didn't feel at the time it was an issue.

"In retrospect, it perhaps would have been better if people had received a bit more information while I had been away.

"Perhaps my nurse could have come in and held an informal meeting, for people to ask questions. Perhaps the message could have been driven home that when I came back I wouldn't be different, and wouldn't need to be treated differently.

"I felt incredibly uncomfortable and after a few months I started to look around for other jobs.

"I was in my mid-20s and had been in that job for two years, so it was time I looked for a promotion anyway - but when one came up at the college and I was invited to apply, I decided against it.

"I am now studying for a PhD at a university where my own mental health experiences actually inform the research I am doing. I have been more open about the disorder, even though I feel an episode is now highly unlikely.

"But if it did come to that, it wouldn't come as a surprise to my colleagues and I am sure I would receive nothing but their support."

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