In May of this year I woke up in a cold sweat and tears running down my face. It was 3 AM and I was frozen in fear and terror. My chest felt like a weight had been placed there and my body was cold and clammy. I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t move to ask for help because my jaw was locked. It was terrifying. I thought for sure my family was going to wake up in the morning and realize I had not been up hours before them already working but was instead lying in bed dead. This was it.
As I lie there in shear fear for what was happening I realized my mind and heart were racing. Everything was a blur but I knew the scene. It was all about what had been going on at work and how awful it was there. The tears running down my face were from emotions I had been holding in trying to tough it out. My family and I needed that income, It was important. The problems I was experiencing was the wrath of the corporate bully that no one seemed able or willing to manage. She had her sights on me and I was exhausted from it and now I felt I was literally going to die from the stress it was causing to pump through my body at 3 AM.
In the morning, I told my husband what happened. I explained I didn’t know how much more I could endure. What was going on at work felt like a 4-D chess game mixed with Hunger Games. This corporate bully was the gaudy dressed announcer wearing weird hats. I was in the arena dying. We talked about our finances and what it would mean if I walked away. There was no good answer. No, it wasn’t ideal but neither was me dying or something else happening to my health as a result of this job. He forced me to take the take day off and go to the doctor for a check-up. My mind was numb from it all so I didn’t push back.
My sweet doctor supports my use of natural supplements and oils. She knows when we talk care that my preference is always going to be natural first over prescription and she respects that about me. We also share a common understanding that all options are on the table when I need care and sometimes that’s natural and sometimes it’s a prescription. It has been a great relationship having her as my practitioner and her willingness to help me find cures and not just covering up symptoms through lifelong prescriptions.
That day in the office when she opened the door, I broke down. Tears just kept coming as I mumbled out what was going on with work. This is the same doctor who just 2 years prior had to stop me from leaving her office to get on an airplane for work because I had some type of weird infection that caused half my head to swell and put pressure on my glands in my throat. I couldn’t see out my left eye from swelling due to an infection in my left temple that was spreading across my face and down my neck. It required emergency surgery and I was sitting there that day telling her to give me a steroid and antibiotic because I had to get on the plane. Work was important I said. Today I had none of that vigor and stubbornness. Instead I sat there and crumbled with nothing left in me.
I have come to appreciate how much I shock my doctor as she never knows when she walks into the room what she will find with me. That day it was tears and pouring of my soul that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was letting my family down, putting our financial future at risk and scared as hell where I was going to find another job. Bless her heart she listened to me for an hour rattle on about all the failings I felt led me to this place of waking up in a panic attack at 3 AM. It was all my fault of course because this was corporate America and we’re responsible for our own results.
After providing the check-up of taking my blood pressure and realizing it was way higher than normal, seeing my weight had increased significantly and that I couldn’t stop crying it was determined I had stress. It’s comical to even say that as a diagnosis because who doesn’t have stress? The stress of my job was now officially impacting my health though and had led to panic attacks. Those attacks would keep coming and things would get worse if I didn’t make changes. As scary as it was to acknowledge the risks to my family and our livelihood the alternative was also severe.
I already knew what she was going to say. It didn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that my eye twitching, weight gain, sleeplessness, poor diet, lack of exercise, non-stop exhaustion and fatigue and now panic attacks were the result of my job. I knew it. My husband knew it too before he ordered me to go see her that day. The problem was what do we do about that? I’m not the only one in a crappy job situation, dealing with assholes and bullies all day. I’m not the only one that has to earn a living for their family and keep doing things that don’t feel good to accomplish that. That’s adulting right?
So seriously what do we do?
Well, we go back to work usually. We suck it up, eat a salad, try to sleep better and take an anti-depressant and sleeping pill. We apply these tiny band-aids to a larger problem that is literally killing us. It is sometimes all we have as an option out there in battlefield of work. Ok in fairness I don’t know that a panic attack can kill us but it definitely felt like it could that night. Here was my doctor telling me exactly this too. It just might kill me and was it worth it? She pulled up her little rolling stool right in front of me and said, “Amy, you know better. You’re a good momma and have a beautiful soul. Why are you letting these fools abuse you like you’re not worth anything? You know the right thing to do here. Stop putting yourself at risk for things that won’t take care of you when you need them to.”
This of course made me cry harder and she gave me the hug I needed in that moment. No longer just doctor patient but rather two women sharing a hug trying to help one stand back up. It was words of encouragement with a mix of the kick in the pants in her kind supportive manner. She gave me two prescriptions knowing I wouldn’t fill one of them. Instead of sending the one she knew I wouldn’t take through the computer to the pharmacy she found an old prescription pad and wrote it out. Her direction was I could fill this one or not but if I didn’t it was to serve as a physical thing for me to see where I was headed if I didn’t take control of this situation. The other one I had to agree to fill and use as needed.
Ok so now what did I do?
I didn’t go back to work. Ok I did but to tell them I was taking time off. I was using 2 weeks of my over 200 hours of stocked up vacation time to address a medical need. Then I turned my phone and laptop off. It was scary. It was also liberating. I knew it was the first step in reclaiming my life and putting work back into the corner it belonged so I could see what state the other areas of my life were in. I felt that space of simplicity overwhelm me in that moment and I was uncomfortable.
For the next 2 weeks, I applied for lots of new positions, scrubbed the house and slept. As a family we took walks, visited the library and ran errands. I was trying to hold back how scared I was about what was next but at the same time trying to breathe. I also spent time working on Dragonspit. Maybe through this time I would find the answer I needed to know what was next. At the very lease I could begin to clearly define what I didn’t want and that was the corporate job I had piling up emails and angry texts from my manager waiting for me. I found the disconnect between the corporate cultural messages and what was occurring and the company’s unwillingness to address it. It was not healthy which is ironic being it was a healthcare company.
I think there comes a time when we have to take that brave move into the unknown. It is entirely unsettling and uncomfortable. The alternative is doing what we have always done and putting up with abuse and bullying trying to detach for the sake of a paycheck. There is more to life than paychecks. There is more to life than watching our health deteriorate and our mental health crash because of toxic work environments. There is more and we deserve it. That’s where I was and whew it was fully in my mind about what that freedom was going to cost me.
I’m still figuring it out but it took a 3AM panic attack for me to realize it was the nudge to do something about it rather than take another day living in a toxic work environment. As I told my doctor that day I think we tell children the wrong thing about bullying. As children we teach that they should get help from an adult to deal with the bullying and we will keep them safe. In corporate America bullying runs rampant and no one comes to help. Certainly not the HR department or those that you would think are there to help prevent and control these situations. The only recourse is usually just to find another job and pray someone else doesn’t experience the same but you know you they will because the problem was not fixed. It never goes away on its own.
What happened in this experience is I found my voice. I found my courage to say n