One day my doctor told me:
“I’m sorry Anne, You are Workaholic”,
My first reaction was:
“Who doesn’t work too hard these days?”
It could not be a medical diagnosis,
It seemed ridiculous, I thought.
Anyway my doctor was adamant.
I enjoyed overworking
Sending 200 emails a day,
Living off coffees and no sleep.
But my manic habits for years had now taken their toll.
I remember that fateful morning
I was 31, I had woken up and was literally unable to move.
For five hours I just lay in bed in a near-catatonic state.
When I was finally able to drag myself to see my doctor,
He was unequivocal.
“You had a real problem”, he said.
All my health issues; chronic eczema, mouth ulcers, bloated tummy,
Depression and panic attacks were caused by my addiction to work.
I was working myself to death and I needed to stop Immediately.
So how did I get to this state?
I started working in an office administrative role when I was 19.
I came from a family where praise was rare.
As I plunged into office teamwork,
I finally felt accepted and part of something.
My boss praised me continually for my hard work
And gradually my self-esteem became dependent
On the judgment of my colleagues.
The adrenaline got me high,
So as well as working 11-hour days
And I had irrepressible energy for nights out at restaurants and bars.
Anyway I felt warning signs,
They were already present.
When I was just 23, I walked to the office one day
and felt an abrupt pain in my lower abdomen.
It was so severe that I doubled over, my hand pressed to my stomach.
My colon was inflamed, said the doctor.
It was down to stress.
But I thought I was invincible and I ignored what happened.
That year I moved to Boston,
where I managed to get a job in a financial corporation.
I worked every hour I could,
And I was quickly promoted to project manager.
Years went by and my job continued to swamp my whole existence.
I sent nearly 200 emails a day, and attended countless meetings
In between making dozens of telephone calls.
I worked at weekends, was always late when meeting friends
and I was never away from my phone.
Health problems were still lurking in the background.
I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know why.
My stomach was constantly bloated even though I barely ate.
I had eczema all over my body, mouth ulcers and acne.
Dermatologists kept diagnosing stress,
But once again I ignored them.
After a few months panic attacks also arose
The first time this happened I was about 27.
Suddenly I couldn’t breathe.
My face went numb, as though I was having a stroke,
I gasped for air and felt my heart pounding in my chest.
I had these attacks more and more frequently,
Even in front of my colleagues.
After telling my doctor about these,
I was put on antidepressants and tranquillisers.
But anyway I threw myself back into the only thing which had any meaning for me,
After that fateful morning
When I woke almost paralysed two years ago,
I was admitted to a mental health hospital.
While I was there,
I started to understand the nature of my addiction to work.
It was an addiction just like any other to cocaine, alcohol, sex, or gambling.
I was addicted to highs and to constant stimulation that came with my job.
I substituted the word ‘narcotics’ for ‘work’,
And the underlying need to numb myself was the same.
I was also diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome,
And this, along with my severe depression and anxiety,
Has put a stop to my career.
I no longer work because I am not well enough.
My life as I knew it has been taken away from me.
Now I live from day to day.
It is hard for me to do much.
If I walked into a office room now,
I could immediately identify the workaholics.
They are the ones who won’t stand still.
I see elements of myself at my worst reflected in them.
They are like zombies,
They are already dead and they do not know that.