Well-Being//

Losing My Dream Job Saved Me From Workaholism

After a very difficult period, I've finally picked up the pieces and developed a healthier relationship with work.

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Warning: This content contains sensitive material on topics including suicide and depression. If you or somebody you love needs help, please reach out for support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7, and provides free and confidential support for people in distress. Please call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone now, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.

On June 4th, 2019, my world crumbled.

I knew it was coming, but that might also be due to the fact my anxiety pretty much prepares me for any possible situation in advance. I saw people being demoted without warning, but I thought I would be safe because of all the sacrifices I made for the company over the years. It was a full-time freelance job that I maintained on top of my regular 9–5, just in a different timezone (even my therapist wasn’t able to understand how I made that work for so long). I knew that wasn’t normal, but I did it anyway, for years. I strived for a strange workaholism perfection, defined by praises of being a work superstar.

Sleepless nights. Panic attacks. All-nighters. Endless community management, to the point where I was considered a team therapist. Doing multiple jobs at once. All while keeping my part of the ship afloat. I did it all.

“I know you,” my boss messaged me after he had to demote some members of my team. “Relax. Don’t worry.”

Three days later, I had a three-minute Skype call where I was told it would be my last less-than-two-weeks at my role, a role for which I had sacrificed so much of my time and energy – for a company I genuinely loved and was a part of for almost three years.

It was a business decision. I knew that, but deep down, it still hurt. I felt betrayed that the call to let me know was cold and that it only lasted three minutes. I felt hurt that my role dismissal wasn’t even important — my boss didn’t even have time for a call, and postponed my meeting several times. I felt betrayed because my role wasn’t considered to be an important contribution — nobody really bothered to ask me about my processes and systems implemented to keep my side of the unit afloat.

I was given options. It wasn’t just this or nothing. But I knew my brain could never live with those options due to the nature (and salary) of the role I was demoted to. I’d forever wonder why I wasn’t good enough. It was a me problem.

“You need to quit,” my therapist at the time told me with a very serious face a couple of months before all of this happened. I was crying in her office after having yet another work-related panic attack. At that point, I was seriously contemplating ending my life. 

The first few weeks after the official announcement were even tougher. I suddenly didn’t know how to process the information, hoping they would change their mind after they realised how much they needed me — after all, that’s what they always said. Of course, that never happened. I gave my notice and left after one week to save myself from the dark thoughts that kept telling me I should’ve done something more to keep my job. At that point, I wasn’t able to physically function. I had days when being asleep kept me more safe and alive than staying awake. I struggled with feeling basic emotions, and went completely numb at times. I grieved and I burst into tears at other times. Thoughts that I wasn’t good enough consumed my brain even more than they did ever before.

Later, my therapist told me that the whole thing triggered me. I snapped and burned out. The moment affected me so much that it brought back unresolved past trauma. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. As someone who already strives for perfection on the daily, being demoted made me completely lose my hope and identity. 

I was lost in the dark space of workaholism, convinced that my self-worth, which was always defined by other people’s praises, only existed when I was able to exhaust myself for someone else. I felt like giving everything wasn’t enough to keep me safe within the company. I felt an unbelievable amount of betrayal that left me crying every night. I felt hopeless. I didn’t know who I was without working 24/7. Later, I was even told that this same freelance role was back on the market, but I wasn’t considered for it. Suddenly all those times I was told, “We’ll call you the moment something comes up,” hit like a knife. 

The date that I’d defined the last day of my life was fast approaching. This wasn’t a decision that just happened — I’ve battled depression all my life. This was just the rock bottom. 

I had a couple of weeks to prepare after my very first decision was made: Get my things in order, and sort out a few things I knew would come up after my death. I had nothing left to lose, so I decided to start working on a few things I always wanted to do in the meantime. It also came from the sheer boredom of wanting to keep my brain busy after 5 pm hit. It felt strange to actually not work outside of my 9–5. I was still numb most of the time, but I made a commitment to work on fixing my brain as much as possible, for the sheer fact of being bored out of my mind. 

I wish this story had a straight line to happiness, but it doesn’t. I did, in fact, try to end my life. And I survived it. 

It’s now November 2019. Although I’m more than okay now, I still have bad days. I still replay the conversations, trying to make sense of what happened. And it’ll probably never make sense. But in a way, being demoted saved my life — and saved me from workaholism. I’m focusing more on myself. I continue to do everything I’ve always wanted to do when I was younger. I started painting, doing more yoga, and playing guitar again.

In exchange, my health sorted itself out — I no longer have panic attacks. My IBS disappeared. I have more time. I don’t really have a desire to go back to my freelance job, or to ever hustle as hard as I have. I have a healthy relationship with my 9-5 now, and am able to set work boundaries without needing to compromise my mental health.

Most importantly, I’ve experienced happiness for the first time in years.

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