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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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