I have a good job. It’s interesting and varied work. I get to apply my research skills creatively, to solve real-world problems. I run teams of smart, good-natured and committed colleagues. It’s mission-driven work, and I’m sometimes (not always) able to see the impact of my work. I’ve been at the organization for a long time and had many opportunities to both advance my knowledge and skills and increase my salary and authority in the organization. I didn’t always but now I do earn a well above-average income and have excellent benefits. So why did I give notice this week? Am I crazy?
Well, yes, maybe I’m a bit crazy. But the decision to quit is sane.
I grew up with a fair amount of stress. (Side note: Not as much as some, more than others. I used to think it wasn’t stressful enough for me to have so many mental health issues, but let’s leave the judgment aside. It might be “not that bad” but it was bad enough for me.) An inappropriately sexualized environment. Some early sexual abuse. Loving mom who held herself at a distance. Alcoholic, philandering father. Parental arguments at nights, the pretense of happy family during the day.Parental divorce. Move across country, losing all support from friends and extended family More sexual abuse as a teen. Serious and chronic emotional abuse from my stepfather. Another big move to another state. Alienation at a school in a new setting and culture. Mother increasingly remote and never protective. No respect for any type of boundaries. Years without feeling accepted or approved of.
All those things set me up to walk straight into an early marriage with a narcissistic and controlling man; I realized that a long time ago. More recently, I learned that those early experiences set me up to have a high “allostatic load,” or the wear on the body that grows over time with exposure to chronic stress. It’s basically the physical strain on my body that comes from repeated exposure of my nervous system to situations I wanted to run away from, but couldn’t.
Outwardly, I seemed to cope with stress well. I worked hard, did well in college and then in graduate school. I juggled a million things. I worked and studied and kept house and cared for babies and tended to a husband who oozed spite. It looked like I could manage pretty well, most of the time. Even I believed the farce I was enacting. Little did I know what it was doing to me on the inside, until I collapsed in a suicidal depression. Blah blah blah–I’ve written about this history before, here and here, in case you missed it.
Skip forward four years, and life improved for a while. New husband, new job. But the job stress has increased every single year. Therapy, good. Anti-depressants, maybe helpful. Intensive yoga practice, transformative. I knew the stress didn’t feel good. But I didn’t really understand what it was doing to me. Yes, I saw my waist thickening. Yes, I had trouble sleeping; I’d wake up at 3am with a bad case of busy brain. But I treated these all as temporary irritations that would go away “as soon as I finished this grant proposal.”
Probably a hundred grant proposals later, that approach still hasn’t worked. Instead, I have continued to tick off more boxes on the list of effects of stress: headaches, check. Muscle tension, check. Chest pain, check (meant a trip to the emergency room last summer). Fatigue, constant. Stomach upset, check (had two MRIs to search for the cause). Sleep problems, check, even taking medication. Anxiety, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, depression, check check check check check check. Overeating, sometimes. Alcohol abuse, not really but let’s be honest, certainly more use than at any other time in my life. Reduced exercise, check. Social withdrawal, check.
Add to that prediabetes, kidney problems (hopefully minor), pelvic floor problems, issues with my ankles and one knee. Checkmate. I feel like I am physically falling apart, and well before my time.
My days of denial need to end. I need a slower pace and time to care for myself. I need to go back to yoga. And I need to reread these words every time I start to doubt myself.