Following 3 weeks’ sick leave and returning to work, I was eased back into things on restricted hours and duties until I was ready to go back to my role as Maintenance Support Superintendent. During this time, I had a work colleague that was assigned to act in my role until my recovery time had been completed. In my mind this wouldn’t take too long however my mind and body would remind me otherwise that it wouldn’t be as easy as having a positive “push through” attitude.
At this point in time I had the all clear to work from Doctors and my Employer for I had only been diagnosed with work stress and exhaustion. The prescription for this was the good old recipe of rest and slow things down which made perfect sense given the workload and hours of work that I had been enduring.
It was only when my body started to give me warning signs that I started to question why such things were occurring.
Sweating of the palms and feet, excessive beaded sweat on the forehead whilst in an air-conditioned area was frequent. Obviously sweating in the Pilbara region at 45 degrees in the shade is perfectly normal but within an air-conditioned office raises questions. At this point in time my mind is saying I am ok and just push through…and so I would.
My nerves were also on edge for I was finding myself on a daily basis shaking, nervous when in a meeting with other people and very jumpy. Even at home if a family member were to walk behind me in our house, not knowing that they were present I would be startled to the point it would take my breath away. I did not like these feelings however once again my mind would override the need to flee the scene if you like and just push through…and so I would.
Hearing or the process of noise and conversations had also changed. Multiple conversations going on within an area I found to be very overwhelming. Instead of being able to focus in on the person that was speaking to me I was hearing all conversations within the immediate area. My focus was alternating between each conversation until all were at the same noise level and talking over each other. The only way I could describe this would be for you to imagine a fusion of television, radio, music and people talking all at the same time and at the same frequency. In short it becomes a jumbled mess and is very difficult to focus on the one sound. This provided a pathway for frustration and anxiety in which my nerves would just turn me on edge. In such cases I would have to stop the conversation and leave the room or area for a period until a return to a single conversation was present or as best as it could reasonably get.
Eyesight for me had always been good and still remains to this day however I noticed a change in my tolerance to objects that reflect light. Bright light or as I would call them “flashes” from objects such as car windscreens, tin roofs or anything that would catch the sun and flash would affect my eyes. A roof mounted fan spinning that would reflect on the mirror of an object such as a knife and fork on a table would also affect my eyes. Once I had taken a flash or a reflection, my eyes would maintain this spot image and would take some considerable time to go away from my eye sight. Yes, we all get this when we have such things flashing into our eyes but in my case the spot appeared to be worse than what I have experienced prior to my incident. If it didn’t go away, then a migraine would follow.
My temperament had changed considerably since the day of my incident. I am known to be a person within the high end of humanistic skills, able to get along with just about anyone for I have a happy energetic approach on work and life. Unfortunately, a new Mike would appear every now and then which exposed verbal anger such as under breath comments that were not quite low enough to not hear them. I have always been a reflector, think before you speak and make your voice be heard for the right reasons whether it was a good comment or one of those hard conversations one has to have at times. When the new Mike would appear there was no reflection just an action of words with a remorseful apology to compliment the sandwich dealt. My mind in this case was saying well, we all know this isn’t normal but our strategy will be to walk away, disappear, cover your ears for if you don’t hear something that isn’t right you wont have feelings to react to. Great in theory but you can’t walk away from everything at work for you have a job to do. So, my new strategy was to push through and absorb all that comes to me for the new Mike is in town. At home I was just very short and snappy at times. The disturbing thing was sometimes I knew I was short or snappy so I would apologize immediately after. It was a feeling of disbelief that you knew what you had said but couldn’t believe you would snap at one of your own family members, the ones that were loving and supporting me through this recovery journey. On the other hand, there were times where I was oblivious to my actions so my family would have to tell me what I had said. I believe after a few times in this type of occurrence I asked my family to ensure they pull me up and tell me if I have said something that was out of order for it was important that I know such things were occurring. More importantly I wanted to be able to apologize for my actions and hopefully learn from these.
Problem solving or processing verbal or written instructions would be one of the greatest changes that I was to identify. Whilst I would never say that I was as smart as a Rocket Scientist, I could hold my own in the problem solving and processing department. Unfortunately, I could not absorb or execute some of the simplest instructions given to me and if I had a problem that required analyzing and solving problems it was like the lights were on but nobodies home. It wasn’t that this was the case 100% of the time for if it was I would not have been able to get out of bed in the morning and do all the basic things we all do on a daily basis. Processing information and coming up with a solution was to be extremely difficult both at work and at home. My new strategy for this was if I couldn’t understand it or solve an issue I would just walk away…don’t do it. Why not just ask someone for help you say? Well I would regularly ask for assistance but there comes a time where requesting assistance for the simplest of tasks becomes too embarrassing and demoralizing. Such things as forgetting how to change out a battery on a hand held two-way radio. I spent 1 hour on my own one day at work trying to change a battery until I had not other option than to get assistance from a Supervisor.
My memory would also raise concerns for I was forgetting more and more things as time went on. Whether it was forgetting verbal instructions given to me by someone, remembering my own list of instructions of a task in my head, remembering where I was going or confused over the location I went to as appose to the location I was meant to be was nothing short of upsetting. The more I would forget the harder I would concentrate on what needed to be remembered. This would drain all of my energy each day just to ensure I would get through the day at work safely however with the combination of the short term memory loss, inability to process and problem solve my efficiency at work was not desirable…in my standards anyway. I would say to my wife and work colleagues regularly, “I’m tired of thinking about thinking”.
Sentence fluency was another area that I had difficulty with for I was forgetting words, sentence structure, word meaning to a point where there were times where a 30 second conversation turned into a 2-minute sound of silence as people would wait for me to get to the point or at the very least just get the words out. I always thought that if I was listening to someone like I was sounding I would have made the assumption that they were making things up as they went along. In a way it was, I knew the content I just didn’t know how to articulate it in a way that would flow naturally. This would bring out other frustrations for when I couldn’t get a sentence together people would fill the gaps before I got them out. On many occasions they would say words that I wasn’t trying to say or it was out of context. So my strategy for this was not to talk too much if not at all. At home was somewhat different for I had an agreement with my family that if I am taking time to get a word out not to prompt or correct me for I would never know what’s going on in my mind. You have got to love family for as time goes by we tend to make jokes of others misfortunes (in a nice way). In my case, as the family were waiting patiently whilst I was going through my private game of family feud or charades they would either yawn or hum me some elevator music. Got to love that!
Word and letter mixing, I always thought was something to do with Rap music or something of the sort however I was becoming increasingly good at mixing my words whilst having no pre-warning or control prior to the words being spoken. Things such as saying things are hot when they are cold, yesterday when its today, John when it was Phil, I think you understand where I am coming from. Another example would be, “I’m just going down to the chops to get some shops for dinner”. Letter mixing is also a frustrating occurrence that raised its head regularly such as “that vehicle is missing it mar cats”…..and the list goes on. At first it is funny but as time goes on and it is a regular occurrence it becomes an anchor that drags you down.
So to go back to the title of this entry “what is happening to me”.
As time passed, both at work and at home I was noticing more and more health and mental wellbeing issues that raised the alarm for me that something’s not quite as it should be or used to be. It was then that I took my questions to my workplace and health professionals in an attempt to investigate why I am going through these changes.