“One morning on my way to work, I stood at the street corner waiting for the ‘Do Not Walk’ light to change so I could cross the street. I felt disconnected from my body as if a hazy screen had been placed in front of my eyes and I could only see through a dense fog.
When the opposite traffic light changed from green to yellow, I took a step forward.
I didn’t see the transit bus that came speeding through the yellow light.
The bus blew past me as I stood at the edge of the curb. It was so close I could have reached out and touched it. Had my steps been a second or two quicker, I would have stepped right in front of the bus and not even known it.
My brain didn’t register what had nearly happened until seconds later. When the realization struck, I began to shake all over. The only thought running through my mind was, ‘Oh my, God. Oh, my God. I could’ve died! What the hell is wrong with me?’
That morning was the first time I finally acknowledged I wasn’t okay, something was severely wrong, and I needed to book an appointment with my doctor as soon as possible.
It took years of untreated chronic stress and mental illness to reach this point where I was standing at the curb with my foot ready to step out in front of a bus.
I wasn’t even aware of its presence at first. Stress crept in little by little, one incident at a time—such as by a death or illness in the family, a tight deadline, an argument with a family member, or an incident at work. With each stressful event, my stress levels would spike and my panic brain would react, but then I would come down and things would go back to normal.
Or so I thought.
What I defined as ‘things going back to normal; was actually me pretending it didn’t happen and trying to forget about it. But no matter how hard I tried to forget, I couldn’t stop the constant replay of intense feelings and traumatic memories. The event may have long passed, but its after-effects were still fresh and real within my mind and body.
That’s when fear began to creep in and wreak havoc in my brain.
I worked in business finance and, like any other job in this industry, my position involved high volumes, fast pace, and tight deadlines. It was stressful at times, but overall, the stress was manageable and the job rewarding. Except when Christmas holidays rolled around and seventy-five percent of the department went on holiday, which doubled or tripled the workload for those of us left behind.
Add the crunch of year-end financing needs for the businesses we served and financial reporting we had to complete to meet our own company’s year-end requirements, plus the expected Christmas parties, family gatherings, Christmas shopping, Christmas baking, and whatever else that had to be done in December, and it was no surprise I began to dread December.
This dread soon progressed into fear and, by December of 2017, fear progressed into crippling anxiety and depression. And that’s when the panic attacks started.
On one especially stressful day in December, a colleague found me in the bathroom curled up on the floor and sobbing. She patted me on the back and said, ‘You’ll get over it,’ then left without any words of sympathy or an offer to help.
I had never felt so alone in my life. I felt like nobody cared about what I was going through. That day, I wanted to pack up my stuff and walk away from it all—to hell with everything. It took all the strength I had left within me to convince myself to stay.
Work in my department usually slowed to a standstill in the months of January and February before it picked up again in spring and summer, which gave all of us much-needed reprieve after the craziness of December.
But in January of 2018, the work didn’t slow down on my desk. The volumes kept pouring in and the tight deadlines became even tighter. Since this was unusual for that time of year, I assumed it would come to an end in February, so I hunkered down and worked even harder.
I worked overtime, skipped lunches, stopped drinking water, and didn’t take bathroom breaks. I also increased my sugar and caffeine intake to keep myself on high alert and to increase my performance. Soon, I began to withdraw from my colleagues as I put in earbuds and listened to heavy metal music to drown everyone out. I cried at my desk as I worked.
But the work still didn’t slow down.
In April, my manager noticed the exhaustion on my face and asked what he could do to help. ‘The volumes are too much. I need more support,’ I said. He replied, ‘How about you take a couple of days off? You’ll feel better after you get some rest.’
Rest for me looked like crawling into bed and pulling the covers over my head as huge racking sobs reverberated throughout my body. Rest looked like bingeing on Netflix shows and Stephen King horror novels. Rest looked like sleeping for fourteen hours a day on weekends and days off.
And when I returned to work after ‘resting,’ the workload was still there, untouched and growing like a weed I couldn’t uproot.
The chasm of darkness continued to widen as I progressed towards having a mental breakdown. It wasn’t dramatic, not like you might see in the movies. In fact, having a mental breakdown was so gradual, I didn’t recognize it for what it was until I nearly stepped in front of a speeding bus.
That morning on the curb finally woke me up to what was going on inside of my mind and body and I went to see my doctor to find out what was wrong with me.
As I read the list of symptoms I had typed out on my phone, my doctor pursed her lips in disapproval before interrupting me with her instructions. ‘I’m writing you a prescription for the panic attacks and depression, and before you leave, I want you to go down to the lab for blood tests.’
‘Okay,’ I said, nodding.
She continued, ‘Starting today, you will exercise for thirty minutes a day. And you will call the employee assistance program through your workplace and book an appointment for counseling. I want you to do this today.’
‘Okay,’ I said again. ‘I will.’
As she typed her instructions into the computer, she added, ‘And I’m writing a note to your employer to excuse you from work for two weeks.’
I bolted upright, startled. ‘You want me to take time off?’
When she looked up from her computer, her eyes were soft and concerned. ‘Yes. You need time off to rest. And don’t do any housework while you’re off. I want you to rest for two weeks.’ With that, my doctor handed me the prescriptions and the note to excuse my absence from work. Then she asked me to come back in two weeks and left the room.
I sat there for a moment in stunned disbelief. I hadn’t asked to go on stress leave. I had so much to do. Who was going to do the work while I was gone? What would my manager say? I had threatened to go on stress leave if I didn’t get the support I needed, but I didn’t really intend to go through with it.
But now my doctor said I had to go on stress leave.
As I walked back to the car, I began to feel lighter and hopeful for the first time in a long while. I didn’t have to do this anymore. It was over. I could finally stop and rest.
My life changed the day I started treatment to help me manage chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. This treatment came in multiple forms, including faith, medication, lifestyle change, and therapy—and it taught me many valuable lessons.
Not only did I learn how to set boundaries to ensure that my basic needs would be met and to defend those boundaries at all costs, but I also learned how to have greater respect for myself and to put my health and wellbeing first above everything else, including my job.
It has been a long road of recovery and self-discovery—over two years, in fact—but during this time I decided to pursue what I have been most passionate about, which is writing.
So I quit my job in finance and started a faith-based, holistic mental health and wellness blog to help others like myself learn how to navigate and live with mental illness in order to live the best mentally healthy life we can possibly live.
If my story resonates with you today, I want you to know you’re not alone and there is hope. Whatever is going on in your life right now, it doesn’t have to stay this way. You have the power to change your situation, and it starts with reaching out for help.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Charlene Parsons of Small-Town Girl at Heart from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. You can follow her journey on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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