When you’re stuck in a job that you hate, you start to feel like a small part of you is being chipped away every day. The routine is the same: You clock in, get your work done, get yelled at for not working harder, blow straight through your break, clock out and repeat.
Your entire day is spent walking on eggshells, which doesn’t leave you any time to focus on your mental health. Some days feel like they’ll never end and you’re miserable but trapped by fear and exhaustion.
You’re so used to having mental breakdowns, that this becomes the new normal. When you finally get the courage to vent to close friends and family, you’re told to, “Stick it out” or “Use this experience to make you stronger.”
So you decide to put their advice on replay. When you’re called into the office for yet another mistake, you remind yourself that work is supposed to be tough. When you hit your deadlines and are immediately given five more tasks to complete, you tell yourself this is just something everyone has to go through. Suck it up and stick it out. It builds character, right?
Sticking it out took an irreversible toll on my physical and mental health.
I internalized that advice. I was the first person to come in and the last to leave. I worked through my lunch. I worked at home. I even checked in on my rare day off.
Putting in all of this extra time wasn’t explicitly required, but it was understood that dedicating anything less than 125% of yourself meant that you didn’t take your job seriously. Or you weren’t being a team player.
So this became my routine. I hated myself for staying, but I hated the idea of being a “failure” more. I leaned on my co-workers a lot on those days where all I wanted to do was cry in the bathroom.
I was burnt out, but I had to keep going. I found myself giving more and more of me until there was nothing left.
I had my first anxiety attack on the ride home. I was convinced I was having a heart attack. It felt like someone had a vice grip on my heart and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t breathe or see anything in front of me. I found myself hyperventilating to the point where I had to pull over to regroup and get some air.
I spent eight hours in the emergency room, convinced my heart was failing, only to be told that I was having muscle spasms in my chest. I could barely hear the doctor as he asked me, “Do you have experience with anxiety? Is there anything you’re stressed about?”
My body was having a physical reaction to my poorly managed work situation. I didn’t even think this was possible. I went back to work the next day and began a new routine. Work hard, experience muscle spasms, slow down, experience muscle spasms, repeat. I was in and out of the hospital before I knew it. This happened three more times before I realized that I needed to do something about it.
Grinning and bearing it wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I still hated the idea of letting my family (and myself) down, but I knew leaving this job was the best thing I could do for my mental health.
Although I’m in a much healthier place now, I still experience physical stress symptoms whenever I am overwhelmed. Spending years in a toxic environment had done its damage. More work needs to be done around mental health awareness in the work field. The biggest lesson I got out of this experience is the importance of a healthy work-life balance and surrounding yourself with a supportive team.
From now on, I’m putting my mental health first.