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Breathless

A workaholic is someone who is so addicted to their job that they do it at the expense of their family, their marriage, their relationships and their health. In our Western culture, which also rewards hard work, over-achievement and financial success, more and more of us are suffering it.

 

One day my doctor told me:

“I’m sorry Anne, You are Workaholic”,

My first reaction was:

"So what?"

"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,

My work.


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.

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