This year uprooted the professional lives of so many people that the press coined a whole moniker for the phenomenon – ‘The Great Resignation’.
I always assumed “burnout” was an often-used word, but probably less-experienced thing. I regarded the term with scepticism. I was a non-believer.
I’ve always considered myself a high performance worker (like a high performance athlete but without the fitness part) – I LOVE work, I’d often tell people unfortunate enough to broach the topic with me that I felt there was no such thing as “work/life balance because work IS life”. Verbatim.
What I did was demanding. Media is already an “always on” occupation and at the time I left my job I was managing several news teams across the Caribbean.
I’ve never considered myself a journalist – I managed a digital news product but first and foremost, I saw myself as a people leader so I took a lot of my staff’s personal and professional troubles deeply to heart. I got to learn the system, even the parts that intimidated and overwhelmed me at the start (hello finance) and I built my confidence through just f*cking doing it.
I’m a problem-solver so where I could not find sustainable solutions, it ate away at me. I tried to keep everyone happy while also keeping the machine running. I did several people’s jobs. It was only when I was on my way out, someone said to me that my departure would mean quite a few people would actually need to do the work they were hired to do, and that would likely cause some catastrophe.
And as chaotic as those last few paragraphs probably sounded, the reality is I could have probably gone on doing it forever and kept chipping away at the rock until something gave and my teams and I would finally reach the promised land I knew we all deserved to rest in for a while.
But then…the curve balls came. The gut punches that laid you flat on your back, staring at the ceiling wondering “wtf just happened”. And you stagger to your feet and try to go again and after you round a few more corners, more come.
Then it gets quiet. But by now, you’re so drenched in paranoia and fear that roads you once navigated with ease become minefields, even if only in your mind, and you can’t sleep, you can’t focus, everything paralyses you. This self-professed non-crier cried every. single. day. For the simplest, silliest of things. For messages sent with little thought or care, that probably bore no weight at all in truth, but crushed me under with anxiety and apprehension.
Burnout had reached the non-believer after all.
My body started to react. I often say my body knows before my mind that I am stressed. It’s usually only when I am laid out on the doctor’s table, wondering where the chest pains are coming from, why my left arm feels so heavy, why there are pins and needles in my hands that won’t go away, why I can’t turn my head left or right without my shoulders spasming in pain, and he asks “you under some stress or what?” that something clicks, and I say “yeah…I guess I am”.
It was only when the words “stress-induced fibromyalgia” got thrown out there earlier this year that I realised I was wandering into a place from which I could not easily return.
Nerve supplements, Xanax (but the generic brand) became my panacea for a while…but I knew in my heart that this was not the life I wanted for myself.
I became a version of myself I did not recognise. I did not know who this person was and I did not want to get too acquainted.
I knew I had to leave. I could not see a way out of the situation I was in without doing further damage to my mind and possibly my body in the process. Maybe if I was a different person, maybe if I worked on a different project – one I had not bound my whole sense of importance to this world to – maybe if I had set better boundaries earlier on, maybe if we weren’t in a pandemic, I could do this but I was not and I had not and I could not continue the way I was.
I found a therapist (after a few tries…as it turns out therapists are in high demand these days) and started the very painstaking process of mapping my way out.
What followed was an incredibly painful process of detaching my ego from my job. I said shit to my therapist about myself and to other people that I would never dare say about another person: I was a quitter, I was giving up, I wasn’t tough enough, I wasn’t strong enough. I was letting everyone around me down – my boss, my team, myself – by walking away from this situation.
I remember telling my therapist that I felt this really strong sense of obligation to my job – to our readers, to my team – to always be on, always be available, always be thinking about them and this product that was the “closest thing I had to a child”. She asked me what else I felt that sense of obligation to in my life and I answered without needing to think about it – nothing.
Hearing myself say that was like having an out of body experience. It was an epiphany. My perspective got sharper from then on.
Because of course I love my partner, and my family and my friends, but I set boundaries with them that did not exist when it came to my work. And that really was not okay.
It wasn’t okay to drop everything else I might be doing in a moment because someone called me about work. It wasn’t okay to constantly and compulsively check my phone for emails or messages. It wasn’t okay to work through my vacation unless I was literally disconnected from the internet. It wasn’t okay to live 18 hours a day inside something that did not belong to me.
And boy oh boy was I reminded this year how much it did not belong to me.
Despite all that, I don’t think I really felt any relief from my overwhelming guilt at walking away until I actually left my job. I still felt like a failure. I still felt like I was disappointing everyone even though every person I told was incredibly gracious and kind to me about it.
And I want to focus on that for a moment as I get ready to close. Kindness.
In the midst of all my misery and self-loathing, the one thing that stood out to me above all else was how kind people were to me through this whole ordeal. How many people, some I didn’t even know that well, took time out of their day to listen to me, to empathise, to share their own experiences or just to reassure me that I was, in fact, not overreacting. My mom, my dad, my partner, my friends, my therapist, my co-workers (current and former), people I’d never even spoken to before.
I’ll never forget how people treated me when I was at my lowest.
I’m resolved to pay it forward the next time someone comes to me struggling – to be kinder to them than I was to myself this year.
Anyway, I just wanted to share this before the year turned.
I know a lot of people are struggling and may choose not to open up about it for a number of reasons. I know some people, people like me, may not have come to terms with their unhealthy relationship with work yet. I know some people are probably still grappling with the reality that they are carrying a burden they can no longer bear alone.
I’m here. Many people – more than you can imagine – are here. You are absolutely not alone in this and there’s absolutely no shame in putting yourself first.
This pandemic has made us cut ourselves open and really examine what is important to us. It made us take a long hard look at the way we were functioning before the world ground to a halt but we kept trying to move at the exact same pace, or faster.
In 2022, I’m working on reframing my relationship with work. I’m working on defining boundaries. I’m working on prioritising my own projects, the things that actually belong to me. I’m working on being creative again, for me, not for anyone else.
But mostly, I’m working on loving myself more, even more than I love whatever job I have.
2 responses to “My Great Resignation”
Thank You for sharing this.
Yes, thank you for sharing that, Ceola. You’re a beautiful and brave soul and one of the brightest persons I have ever met. I wish you all the best!