Blogconfidential: Body, not mind

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Body, not mind

September 16, 2010

I have worked at the same university for 19 years and have given a great deal to the institution. My problems started with a sudden and unexpected divorce three years ago. I reacted badly, felt very down and became lethargic.

My line manager was very supportive and understanding, but is a stickler for guidelines. I went to occupational health and was referred for a set number of cognitive behavioural therapy sessions. This did not seem to help.

On two occasions, I was found sleeping at my desk: on one of those, it was my line manager who caught me out. She had been alerted by a colleague that I had not turned up for a teaching session. She woke me up, stating that I was a "hopeless case" - her earlier patience had run thin.

I reluctantly went on Prozac. It had little effect and I went off sick for three months. I don't want to go into the details, but for three years I went back and forth to occupational health and, last June, there were discussions about supporting me to "exit" my job.

However, while on holiday this summer, someone recommended that I submit to a range of medical tests because my symptoms could be physical. I paid for a private consultation and discovered that I have a severely underactive thyroid. My condition was diagnosed only in the past two weeks. After being prescribed levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone, I am feeling incredibly well.

Perhaps I should count my blessings, however I can't help but feel very angry with everyone who played a part in my "depression". I want retribution: people were laughing behind my back, claiming that I was lazy and sleeping on the job, when all along it was a medical issue. A friend who is a lawyer has looked at the paperwork and thinks I can sue.

This is a most upsetting tale and I empathise with your position. You are rightly angry. However, you have your life back and should celebrate that.

You want retribution, but if you attempt to sue the university, the process may take many years and you will probably be caught in a protracted legal battle.

As a starting point, you should have your diagnosis acknowledged formally - in team meetings and at the school level - so that your reputation is repaired, so to speak. The opprobrium heaped on your head was unfair - outrageous behaviour given that this is an institution of higher education.

In terms of compensation, you should proceed with caution. Lawyers will promise you the world, but you may be left with a rather large legal bill and nothing to show for it.

What does your union say? It has a legal department but would probably represent you only if your case was 95 per cent certain of success. But do you want to go down that road?

You have your health back. Your colleagues, however, should acknowledge their part in your near-downfall, so I suggest you concentrate on that.

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