I have been working non-stop for the last 10 years. I’ve taken few vacations (maybe one or two weeks per year) and have always been accessible through my phone, just incase my 60 hours at work weren’t sufficient and I need to answer questions or provide support during the little free time I have. Seven out of those 10 years, I was also in school. I’m so used to just going, doing, and pushing through. Turns out that this wasn’t a sustainable strategy to get through life. I’m only 27 and I’m already burnt out and because of that, my life seems to be crumbling around me. Seems a bit early for my mid-life crisis, but here I am– unable to keep going, doing, and pushing through.
I dropped out of my MBA program after completing my first year. I have been told this was an impulsive decision. My job was paying for a majority of the cost, I was getting A’s, and I was halfway done with the program. I was drowning and I had to let something go, I chose school. Mostly because I couldn’t figure out why I was doing it, but it definitely didn’t feel like I was doing it for me.
I also took a leave from work– something I won’t recover from politically. Anyone that has done the corporate America tango, gets it. I was trying to negotiate with my therapist about postponing the leave. Not because I don’t think I need time off, I just couldn’t let go of all the things I needed to get done at work. I have to prepare for this, create a plan for my absence. I also felt hesitation about being placed on a medical leave for mental health because it makes it official, I’m nuts and now everybody knows it. We’re talking clinically unstable, baby. I should just rock a t-shirt that says “Do not approach, SHE IS UNSTABLE.” There is now a paper trail of medical paperwork, leave applications, and emails explaining my difficulty functioning– tangible evidence.
Honestly, I haven’t fully accepted whatever it is that is going on with me. Having my therapist tell me that I am unwell and he is taking me out of work scared me. I’m used to people not understanding it or downplaying it. I can’t find the right words to describe it and how I feel trying to navigate life with it. So the few people I feel comfortable enough to open up to about it, I don’t even have the vocabulary to explain it. Since I struggle so much just communicating about it, I often wonder if it‘s even real. I was gaslight by my previous partner and I still do it to myself which makes me think that I want it, deserve it, and can make it stop. Am I just making this shit up? If I’m not, why can’t I find the words to talk about it?
I should feel relieved to have finally experience the moment when someone is getting it, but there was a brief moment when my therapist was explaining the action plan to get me back on the strait and narrow, that he sounded alarmed. Step one, take a leave from work effective immediately. Step two, referral to psych for med evaluation and probable dosage adjustments. Step three, follow-up appointment to continue our quest to find the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Step four, the step he broke from his normal stoic temperament, socialize as much as possible and under no circumstances should I isolate myself in my apartment. Now, I’ve talked about some crazy shit with this guy before, and this has been the only time he ever sounded alarmed. It was the wakeup call I needed.
I’ve been distracting myself with work, just going for promotion after promotion. When I couldn’t move up where I was at, I’d move up at a different company. Same with school. I was getting my MBA to prove that I could. If I can do my intense corporate job and get my MBA, there is obviously nothing wrong with me. I am fine. I don’t need help. I have the titles and degrees to prove that I am successful. That’s all that matters, right?
I started losing the willpower it takes to be successful. It started slowly and then all of a sudden I didn’t have any of it. I came clean with my therapist about this feeling and that I needed help. I’ve been seeing this therapist for a year on a twice a month, sometimes once a month, but sometimes not at all because I cancel last minute basis. I finally felt safe enough to have a full breakdown in the middle of our last session. I don’t remember everything that I said, but somewhere between all that sobbing and yelling, I made it clear that I needed immediate help.
Once I caught my breath, I said “I need you to figure out what the fuck is wrong with me and if you can’t do it, I need you to find me someone that will because I can’t do this anymore.”
“This?” A good clarifying question.
“Yeah, THIS. I’m just too fucking tired to keep doing this.”
That is how I got myself in this weird space. No work, no school, and no fucking idea what to do with time off. The whole process has been more overwhelming than relaxing. I’ve also only missed five days of work, so maybe there is an adjustment period I need to go through. Thus far, I haven’t been able to do much more than walk my dog, sleep, and cry.
I don’t have anything to distract me from it now. I understand that was the reason for taking a leave, but this is fucking scary. The only coping mechanisms I have for racing thoughts, suicidal ideation, and the rest of the long list of things that make life hard is to bury myself in projects at work and school. I used be able to pretend everything else isn’t happening or that it is at least manageable. But again, I lost the willpower.
I’m terrified that my racing thoughts or suicidal ideation will pick up and take up the space that work and school used to occupy. I got stuck in my suicidal thoughts on day three of this leave. I was taking a bubble bath, my favorite self-care routine, and I started thinking about killing myself. My internal dialogue was a debate on if the pain or discomfort I would have to go through, depending what method I would go with, would be bearable or not. STOP! I have to interrupt my own train of thought when it starts going down this path. A wave of fear always crashes over me when I catch myself thinking this way. I pulled my knees to my chest and started crying. Thankfully, I was able to remind myself to take deep breaths and that this feeling will pass. Sometimes it passes quickly, sometimes it lingers. I spent the rest of the day walking on egg shells because I was so nervous I would get swept up in suicidal though if I let my guard down and tried to relax.
I can’t afford to wait for my upcoming appointments that will adjust my meds to start feeling better, I need to find things to fill this extra space before the scarier parts of my mind become all consuming. To help take up this space, I’ve come up with a short list of things I used to love doing but haven’t been making the time for: reading, writing, creating new cooking and baking recipes, gardening, and hiking. These are all things that typically make me happy. Therefore, if I do these things, it will be easier manage. Right?
I might not have solid plan for how to spend this time or know what I am going to do when this leave is up, but I guess I’ll just try to take it one day at a time.
What if I don’t do any of the things on my happy-things-to-do list? What if all I can do for the next 25 days is walk my dog, sleep, and cry? What if none of this makes anything better? What if it gets worse?
I guess this is the part where I do something on the happy-things-to-do list. I’ll start by making cookies. Maybe some s’mores cookies.