Sunday, September 28, 2008

How I Left Work

Sara, over at "My Sad Alter Ego", posed a couple questions to me in the comment section of my last post.

She asked:
" you have a post on here about when/how you decided you needed to stop working? How do you get to that point, and more importantly, how do you know when you do? I always am wondering this. "

I do have some information willy-nilly throughout my postings, but nothing in one post. I will try to provide my experiences about trying to leave work in this one post.

First, some background about me. It is important to know who I am, because it plays into the difficulty I had leaving work. I am a worker. My entire life I identified myself as a worker. I AM what I do. Even when I worked at a fast food restaurant in high school, or was a chambermaid when I first left home. I always work exceedingly hard and take pride in what I do. Even when I hate my job/s I always give 160% plus. So leaving work was an incredibly tough decision, and remains a difficult and guilt ridden decision for me. That being the case, it was imperative that I leave work. I would have killed myself if I had not.

Second, I joined the organization I worked for out of university, because I had acquired a huge debt load going to university. I am terrified of ending up homeless, or having absolutely no money. This has much to do with my parents divorce and the subsequent difficulties my Mom had finding a job and affording to live the first few years after my Dad left. I would say I have phobia of being jobless, homeless and penniless. Because of these "phobias, I took a job that had nothing to do with what I was educated in. I cried almost everyday on my way to work for the first few years. I knew I had "made a deal with the devil" to pay my bills.

Third, As I stayed with the company, because of my work ethic and my creativity I began to work my way up the corporate ladder and started to move into corporate teaching. The money became better and better, the challenges more exciting and I found my real love was teaching. The problem was I did not fit into a bureaucratic organization. The structure and bureaucracy were overwhelming and soul sucking.

The problem was, by the time I recognized this I was making so much money that for the first time in my life I felt fairly recognized financially. I am definitely not a material person. It was not material goods I was seeking. It was "financial safety"
Also, I had experienced several depressive episodes, and began having anxiety attacks partly due to, and I would suggest increasingly due to, some of the organizational behaviour I was experiencing within the company. My self esteem was getting worse and worse and the "financial security" I felt I was experiencing was not true.

The problem was in the corporation I worked for there was no such thing as financial, or job, security. I believe, and I still believe, that the organization had a "plot" at it's core. The plot was to make every employee believe they were expendable so each employee would work harder. You may think this sounds like paranoia, but the company would restructure jobs and positions and departments, and lay off people so often, yet pretty much keep everything the same and then hire new people after all the kerfuffle, that it really seemed like they were trying to bully people into working harder.

Bullying terrifies me and I spent almost the whole time I worked there afraid I would lose my job, and for good reason. The organization restructured and cancelled positions I worked in on a regular basis and then made me "apply" for the new...almost identical job. The underlying message was always that I may not be the successful applicant. I stayed though because of my financial phobias, but also because in the last 6 or 7 years the jobs I took were so interesting at least 1/2 of the time.

So... After several MDE's that lasted months, to up to two years, with some stretched of good times in between, in 2001 I became more depressed than I had ever been. For the first time in my life, despite seeing several therapists and my family doctor finally trying to prescribe anti-depressants, I was finally referred to a pdoc, because nothing was helping me. That was in 2001.
I spent once a week going to therapy with him. We tried several medications while I was working. I became more and more despondent. It was increasingly hard to work while trying to find medication/s to help me. I had been having a lot of suicidal ideation the entire time, but by 2002 and early 2003 the ideation was turning into clear plans, and was getting worse and worse and more violent. Dr. X and I discussed my leaving work over and over, but he never pushed, because he knew work, even though it was stressful and much of it was not "me". There was a huge part that helped me thrive.

In early 2002, through to 2003 my job position was restructured, and I was forced to apply for the newly developed positions each time. I managed, despite increasing depression, because in the building I worked in there were approximately 400 people I knew very well, having trained most of them. I had a really tight group of people I worked with, my boss was amazingly supportive, I was allowed to lower my work week to four days which seemed to let some pressure off as I could sleep/wind down for 3 days on the weekend.

In late 2003 I applied for and received a new (read old) job. It was highly stressful and included travelling and working with upper management, executives and the V.P. I was told to move to a building where I knew know one except my boss. Suddenly I was extremely isolated and so stressed out I began planning my suicide. I planned to hang myself in the handicap washroom (because I could lock the door). Everyday I would go to the bookstore near my work and look for books on how to commit suicide. I would surf the net at work trying to find ways to commit suicide. I walked into my coffee shop before work one day and the band Nirvana was playing on the t.v. screen. I was sure Kurt Cobain was telling me to commit suicide. After many weeks of this increasingly suicidal ideation I managed to tell Dr. X what was happening.

In that appointment he said: "what do you need to leave work? What forms need to be filled out? I will fill them out right now and we can fax them." I declined. Work was so busy and I cared so much for my boss. I could see she was overwhelmed and I could not leave her in a lurch.

That week I almost (purposely) stepped out in front of an oncoming bus. The only thing that stopped me was my compassion for how the driver would feel. The thoughts and plans of hanging myself became unbearable and obsessive. On top of that, I suddenly stopped comprehending anything at work. It was as though my work was written in some other language. I also became increasingly afraid to interact with people at work. Literally, so afraid, to the point of that I became increasingly paranoid that everyone was out to hurt me, or make me feel stupid, embarrass me, or that they were ridiculing and talking about me behind my back. I sat there almost all day, crying, distraught and unable to do anything.

Then I had a dream. I wrote about it in the post "Transformational Dreams" People who have followed my blog know that I take some of my dreams very seriously. Some of the most important revelations in my life have come out of dreams. This was one that told me to leave work.

The dog in the dream, the one I first kicked and then later saved from drowning had the exact strawberry blond colour hair as me. I was the dog I was kicking and watching drown. I had to be the person who saved myself. At first I heard the messages in the dream. Then a few weeks later I listened to, and acted on the messages.

The next appointment I had with Dr. X asked me if I thought the whole gigantic corporations was going to collapse if I left? Suddenly, I saw the absurdity in my fear of leaving the organization. There would always be someone to step in and do my job. Dr. X told me I needed to tell my boss exactly the types of thoughts I was having. It would be hard to say, and harder for her to hear, but she needed to understand how sick I was.

Three weeks prior I had made an attempt to tell my boss I needed to leave work due to my illness. She felt I simply had to much work on my shoulders and volunteered to hire a previous, trusted coworker to help me. I thought that might be a viable solution, so we tried it. It did not help. My thoughts of suicide did not dissipate. I was too sick to keep working.

The next three weeks I slept all weekend, every 3 day weekend. The second I got home I went to bed. My body was shutting itself down.

So I wrote in my journal: : "I will tell [my boss] I have to leave work tomorrow" (Monday). I wrote exactly what I was going to say over and over and over. I got to work and thought I was going to throw up. I couldn't do it. I tried to push myself again the next day. Couldn't do it. The next day I was determined. I walked in the door straight up to my boss. I told her I needed to talk with her privately. I sat down and then I told her I was going to commit suicide if I did not leave work. I told her about all my thoughts and that my pdoc was insisting I leave work.

She seemed really mad at me, and I was devastated. She wouldn't talk with me all day. She was one of my favourite co-workers and I had so much respect for her. I was devastated.

The next day at lunch I sat down beside her and apologized for having to leave. I told her I cared so much for her and the work, but I needed to protect myself. I said I was very sad she was mad at me. She began to cry. She said she was not mad, she was afraid she would never see me again. We both cried. I promised her she would see me again. I left two days later thinking I was just taking a few weeks off. However, I remained, and remain, to ill to return to my workplace.

On top of everything else I had so much external which made it an easier transition (albeit still year and a half decision). My pdoc was and has remained, unconditionally supportive. My Mom, when she was alive, and my sister's were very supportive and pushing for me to take care of me. Also, my workplace also has a Long Term Disability program, and I qualified for my country's disability program. Knowing my financial situation was going to remain stable until I was able to work again helped me take the leap and leave to take care of myself.It was the most difficult decision I ever had to make. It was life changing. I have spent many, many hours thinking I did the wrong thing. I know however, that I would not have survived had I stayed a week longer. I was too sick.

That was in early 2003. Five and a half years later I still struggle with wanting to work, but slowly I am learning to believe I am building a life that is better for me. I would never have discovered my love for art, or that I could draw, let alone that I was a good drawing instructor. I would never have learned that I loved to paint. Had I not made the decision to leave work I know I would either be dead, or even more severely depressed than I have been (I cannot imagine what that would look like?).

The pressures and responsibilities of work were incompatible with working towards becoming more emotionally resilient. It took a long time for me to get beyond the loss of my work, I still have moments where I feel guilty about having to leave, but I know now, in my heart, it was the only decision I could have made. The dream I had a couple weeks ago: "The Wolf Returns" reinforced, I am hoping for good, that I made the right decision. The recent dream told me my old life is over. It has ended. It is time to look forward. The black wolf in the dream ended my old life. My new white puppy is the beginning of my new, improved, and desired life.

Until leaving work I have never, ever had the opportunity to learn what I loved to do, to actually decide what it is I want to do. Leaving work woke me up to a difficult and terrifying existential search; an existential journey that has challenged my inner being to the question "Who am I". I am not sure about that answer yet, but I know the answer is important to my well being. My leaving work allowed me the opportunity to move closer towards the discovery of who I am and who I am meant to be. These have been questions I have struggled with since I was a small girl. These are the most important questions in my life and I know the answers will be the biggest catalysts towards wellness I will ever achieve.

Sara, I hope you are able to take care of you better than I was able to take care of me. Your health is more important than any job in the world. Without your health you have nothing. That much I know.


s said...

This was really interesting. I identify with a lot of it, especially the soulless type of bureaucratic work environment. However, I suspect I will be one of those people who works like normal until the day that she totally unexpectedly jumped off a building.

I also have the money issues, the student debt, etc.

I probably should call my shrink today - but it's a holiday tonight and all can wait, I suppose.

Aqua said...

Hi S: I forgot to mention in my post that the reason work was not good for me was that it added extreme anxiety and stress to an already precarious mood situation.

Please rethink being, " of those people who works like normal until the day that she totally unexpectedly jumped off a building."

Debts arene't worth a loss like that, work isn't worth it either, but you are worth the risk of taking care of yourself to the greatest extent possible.

Leaving work seemed like an impossible task for me, like it would destroy me and my life, but I am better off and alive because I took the chance to care for me.

Please sit down and really think about how your life is about you, and you alone. It is too precious to waste pleasing others or to live with a facade surrounding your self. You have a serious and potentially deadly illness. Treat you, like you would any high risk patient.

Please call your pdoc, and show him what you wrote. I do not believe " can wait, [like you] suppose"

Gilbert Chapman said...

Anxiety disorders, in addition to generalized anxiety, include phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For millions of sufferers anxiety disorders are disruptive, debilitating and often the reason for loss of job and serious problems in family relationships.

Border Life said...

Thanks for this post.