Returning To Work After A Mental Breakdown

returning to work after a mental breakdown

It’s been four months since I made the hard decision to leave full-time work and focus on my mental health.

Over the past month, I have felt somewhat ready to head back into the workforce but it was super important to me (and my mental health!) that I found the right job first.

I’ve lived and breathed customer service for the past 13 years – it’s what I’m good at, but it is absolutely soul-destroying. So many times I was told not to let a bad customer get to me or to not take it personally but there was only so much this highly sensitive gal could take. As time went on, I couldn’t even pretend to be empathetic towards self-entitled douche bags. I dreaded picking up the phone, anxious as to who or what I could be dealing with next. I tried to block out the negative energy but in the end, it got me.

Unfortunately, my dream of people paying me to write for them in the comfort of my own home was just that…. a dream – so I had to think a little more realistically about what I could do with the skills and experience I had. Working in mental health interested me but sadly, many of the roles required qualifications and experience in the industry. This gave me the idea that I could use my customer service skills for good and work in an industry that benefited the community rather than a role that paid me to make more money for the big guys.

Other important factors I had to consider in my job search were how many hours I could handle working per week as well as ensuring that the commute to and from work wasn’t going to be a struggle for me, especially since I started getting anxious about driving.

I’m not ready to get back into full-time work. I don’t know if and when I’ll ever be ready again but I’ve come to terms with that. Since leaving my job, I’ve realised that life isn’t a competition. These days there is a huge emphasis on going to uni, making a career for yourself, landing that full-time job and making a truckload of moolah. It’s absolutely okay to not want to be a part of the rat race. The most important thing to me right now is looking after my health and if that means taking a little longer paying off my debts or sacrificing an overseas holiday – that’s okay. I am fortunate enough to be in the position where I can decrease my work commitments at this stage and have a wonderful partner who supports me 100 per cent.

Commuting to and from work used to be the most dreaded part of my day. I lived just 8 kilometres away from work, yet it could sometimes take an hour drive (both ways!). There was nothing more frustrating than wasting so much of my day, stuck in my car, crawling at snail’s pace, sharing the road with arrogant and impatient drivers who thought their life was more important than everybody else’s. Melbourne public transport during peak times was just as bad. Crammed into carriages so tightly that you’re forced into awkward, intimate positions with fellow passengers. And there’s always that one person who hasn’t quite figured out that headphones exist, instead, preferring to share their musical preferences through the tinny speaker of their mobile phone. And don’t get me started on manspreading, the inability to blow one’s nose when it’s runny or placing a hand over mouth while coughing, the fear of forgetting to ‘tap on’, the lack of personal space and, when all are combined, make the perfect recipe for a panic attack.

Finding a job that fit all my criteria wasn’t easy. I spent my days and nights trawling every job advertisement website that had ever existed. I was worried that if I didn’t find something soon, Centrelink (or social services for those overseas) would force me into the job provider network, who are notoriously known for finding people full-time work with little to no regard for their circumstances. Even though I felt ready to get back into the workforce, I wanted to do it on my own terms and at my own pace. My medical certificate, which exempted me from job search activities, was due to expire soon and this added even more pressure to my job hunting.

I’d applied for a few jobs but heard nothing in response. Time was running out and I started thinking I’d have to apply for jobs that would end up making me miserable again. Unexpectedly, I received a call about a position I had applied for a few weeks ago and was offered an interview – the next day. I was unprepared, anxious, and had very little confidence going into the interview. I’d had no prior experience in the role I was being interviewed for and it seemed unlikely I would be offered the position.

To my surprise, I was offered the position and I have just finished my first week there! It’s a part-time role and the hours suit me wonderfully. I’m there 3 days a week and start after the morning peak traffic and finish just before it starts again in the afternoon. The commute is pretty cruisy, no public transport required. It’s a 40-kilometre drive each way but takes me half the time it took me to drive the measly 8 kilometres to my last job. The best part is though that I’m working with kids! They don’t think health insurance is expensive (nor care about it!), or get upset because that dress online is now out of stock (which was somehow always my fault!) – they just want to be my friend and that’s what makes it easier to get out of bed every morning and go to work!

If you have any tips on returning to work after mental illness, I’d love to hear from you!

SANE has a very informative guide on working and mental illness, check it out here!


  1. August 5, 2017 / 11:59 pm

    Congrats on the new job! So glad your loving it 🙂

    • Sarah
      August 7, 2017 / 4:43 am

      Thanks so much Alison! x

  2. August 6, 2017 / 2:38 am

    Congrats Sarah on the new job. Very brave but you’re taking control and the future looks bright for you

    • Sarah
      August 7, 2017 / 4:48 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words Zaynah x

  3. August 6, 2017 / 4:18 am

    Yay Sarah! I’m glad you were able to find something new and enjoyable! Congrats on the new job 🙂

    • Sarah
      August 7, 2017 / 4:48 am

      Thanks Amanda x

  4. August 6, 2017 / 4:49 am

    I’m so pleased to hear you’ve found a new job that suits your circumstances!

    Job searching with a mental illness is SO difficult. Like you say, the government bodies eventually force you into a job with no regard for what your doctor recommends and that can be really upsetting.

    Onward and upwards for you babe!

    • Sarah
      August 7, 2017 / 4:50 am

      Thanks Fiona! It’s so difficult – I wish there was more help (and compassion!) for job seekers with mental illness. x

  5. Naomi
    August 7, 2017 / 12:23 am

    You write beautifully Sarah very inspirational. The job sounds amazing – so proud of you for taking the plunge into something new. Can’t wait to hear the updates and progress, I wish you all the best.

    • Sarah
      August 7, 2017 / 4:51 am

      Thanks so much Naomi, I really appreciate your lovely words x

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