IT is, without doubt, the worst job I’ve ever had. Sometimes I still wake up in a cold sweat, only to feel overwhelming relief when I remember I don’t still work as a press officer at the Home Office under Theresa May and her advisors Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.

Hill and Timothy were forced to resign at the weekend as the venomous post-election recrimination process continued to engulf the Tory party. And my experience of working with the trio tells me that Mrs May might also be looking for a way out. For without her heavyweight political bouncers the PM is a rather empty vessel, as many in the Westminster bubble have known for some time, but the public are only now finding out.

I applied for the job at the Home Office on moving to London in 2009, a journalist and politics junkie attracted to the idea of working at the heart of Westminster. I naively thought it would be like the West Wing. In fact, it was more like Armando Ianucci's satirical sitcom The Thick of It – but without any jokes.

Within a few short months I realised to my horror that as press officer at the Home Office your main task, day in, day out, is to defend the indefensible – cuts to policing, terrible immigration decisions – while simultaneously trying to avoid the ire of the “Spads”, the special advisors (aka spin doctors) who run the show at big government departments.

The atmosphere at Home Office HQ had been grim enough when Labour’s Alan Johnson then Jackie Smith were Home Secretary. So, when the Conservatives were elected in 2010 and Mrs May got the top job, many staff thought things might change for the better. Instead, an already embattled department was put under even more pressure.

Hill and Timothy exuded confidence and control from the off. They trusted no one. No information was allowed out without their say. The journalists we were supposed to assist, who we’d spent time and effort culturing relationships with, became frustrated and dismissive. My colleagues and I soon had a reputation with the media for being the slowest, grumpiest and most-tightly controlled press office in Westminster. And, thanks to the immense pressure put on us by our bosses to please Hill and Timothy, we were also the most paranoid.

At the same time, our supposedly impartial civil service managers became increasingly politicised, confused about where the line should be drawn, pushed ever further by the Spads into ideological territory. I tried to point this out on various occasions but was told in no uncertain terms to do whatever Hill and Timothy wanted. I increasingly felt like a fake and a phoney and started to dread going to work.

Meetings with ministers would fill you with anxiety because you knew at least one of the pair would be there, waiting to jump down someone's throat at some perceived inadequacy.

I smoked at the time – no bloody wonder – and sometimes used to share a fag outside the office with Hill. She was very intelligent and could be extremely funny, always full of gossip. The former journalist from Greenock and I, who were of a similar age, would talk about Scotland, the people we both knew from Glasgow. She could be affable and warm. Then, at the next meeting I’d be friendly and she would cut me dead. It was disconcerting and wearisome, especially as I was much lower down the pecking order.

Mrs May, meanwhile, always let Hill and Timothy do the talking. She rarely smiled or offered an opinion. At first I thought she was playing her cards close to her chest. Soon, however, I wasn't the only one questioning whether there was any substance beneath the veneer. I was once sent to accompany the now-PM to a radio interview about a new immigration policy. When things went off-script she was lost, and with no personal charm or warmth to fall back on there was nowhere to hide the awkwardness. It was painful to be a part of.

But as Mrs May’s personal inadequacies became clearer, the air of invincibility around Hill and Timothy only grew. Soon everyone in the Home Office, from admin assistants to senior policy officials and statisticians, did their jobs in constant fear of getting on the wrong side of them. It was, quite frankly, a miserable place to work. And it became untenable.

Seven months after the Tories came to power I quit my job and returned to journalism, a decision I’ve never once regretted. I sleep much better these days. I doubt, however, whether Mrs May is getting much at the moment.