July 13, 2014 by marieelia
When I started this blog over two years ago, I was moved by energy and joy. I felt healthier than I ever had. Suddenly my headaches were gone, along with my need for afternoon naps and a general veil depression. I was so excited to love food and cooking again, I was physically active, and I was enjoying honest and fulfilling relationships with people. Within a year, my work life became so oppressive and stressful that my mental and physical health deteriorated to a new low. Not since I had quit smoking and excessive drinking had I felt so awful. In fact, I felt worse, because no amount of healthy eating and exercise could combat the effect of the stress. My stomach cramped in searing pain; I spent my days at work in a prickly sweat, retreating to cry in the bathroom every day; I gained weight rapidly; and I had no energy or love or patience for my friends. I was lost and isolated in a seemingly impossible situation: I couldn’t leave my job, but if I stayed, I would lose my health.
A year ago, things reached a critical point. It’s true that the human body can endure intense levels of pressure when necessary to survival, and it’s true that people live in actual life-or-death situations that require coping techniques that I can’t imagine. I’m not comparing my life to that. But for me, there was no reason to keep drowning in such a psychologically dangerous situation. If I left my job, I wouldn’t die, but I would be unable to take care of myself. And yet, if I stayed, I would watch everything I’d worked for leach out and away from me. In my mind was the specter of my mother’s illness, multiple sclerosis: She spent her whole life working, only to have everything taken away from her. She has a devoted partner in my father and is financially stable, but it doesn’t matter. And this terrified me. Lots of things are mutable, but your health is literally the one thing without which you can’t survive.
I needed an exit plan, and I needed it quickly. My job search became a second job, or rather a third one, as I was already working an extra part-time job to make up for my low salary and to give me an outlet where I felt like my work was appreciated. (Seriously, my waitressing job may have saved my life.) I applied for any job for which I was even remotely qualified. I was willing to move anywhere, any time. In the middle of my last year, I got news that brought both anxiety and relief: My job (a grant-funded project that was scheduled to end but which we’d always been told would be renewed) was being eliminated, and I had until the end of the year to find a new one. In a lot of ways, this was the best news. I was struggling to justify up-and-quitting a salaried job with health benefits, even as I struggled to convey to people around me how damaging the environment had become. At least I now had a legitimate reason to leave, and I felt relieved to know that, no matter what happened next, at least it would be over soon.
I remember the last six months of 2013 in a weird, time-lapse video. I was sending out applications and resumes into the ether, trying to find moments in which to enjoy the life and people I used to love. And suddenly, it snowballed: I applied for a dream job, interviewed for it, and got it. This one change was everything I knew I needed, the answer to a stuttering career and dwindling financial resources. Within one month of accepting the job, we had found an apartment and moved up to Buffalo. The job was everything I hoped it would be; the healing effects of rewarding work and kind, generous coworkers were immediate. And yet.
Spending even a year and a half in such an unhealthy emotional state has had lasting physical and mental effects that I’m still trying to counteract. I’ve spent the past 8 months adjusting to my new job, learning new things, navigating a new work place, and having little energy for anything else. I’m trying to rebuild damaged relationships, including the one with myself. I’m having a hard time forgiving myself for putting past-me through that. I don’t have many regrets, but this is one: I stayed too long. I should have left. If I had known then how sick I would become, how much I would lose, I would have. I would have waitressed and temp-ed my butt off to get by. The timing in terms of the advertisement of and hiring for my new position seems to justify not quitting earlier, but no other professional job offers had come in, so it may have worked out to the same end anyway. Who knows?
This is all to say that I’m rebuilding the scaffolding. I am making my health—specifically a nutrition-centered plan to support physical and emotional—a priority again. I hope this will help me stabilize the guilt, depression, and low self-esteem that lodge themselves in your brain after a traumatic situation. I’ve laid a foundation in the form of a positive and empowering job, but now I have to try to get back everything I built two years ago, and lost, starting with my health, and myself.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
—Emily Dickinson (372)