Why I had to lose my career to save my mental health 

career mental health female help suffer depression

“Do you want a sick line?” the doctor asked me, and as she did so I breathed a sigh of relief.

I had been considering speaking to a doctor for weeks at this point; repeatedly lifting the phone to my ear, dialling the number and then slamming it down in protest, adamant that I’d be laughed out of the doctor’s office and told to stop being so dramatic. I can’t remember exactly what tipped me over the edge and forced me to make the appointment, as a lot of it went by in a blur. I vaguely remember hiding in toilets at work, losing my temper with a team member over something incredibly insignificant and crying uncontrollably on the bus home every night. Not exactly the behaviour you’d expect from a manager who is overseeing 4 supervisors, 20 team members and running several retail outlets and 2 departments simultaneously.

I knew I was stressed. My workload had increased dramatically over the 6 months leading up to this and I was feeling troubled following the death of a grandparent. I knew I wasn’t coping very well. I remember looking at my ‘to-do’ list and thinking that it was too overwhelming. My brain couldn’t process the list into actions, and it was like I was trying to read hieroglyphics. There seemed like no good place to start. I didn’t want to start. I needed a break, but asking for it felt like a sign of weakness. I’d always got promoted on the basis of saying ‘Yes!’ to more work and more responsibility. For a proud career woman like me, saying I couldn’t handle it felt shameful.

When the doctor heard my symptoms she very kindly suggested I take a few weeks off to recuperate and prescribed be some beta blockers as she thought I was having some anxiety issues. Being given that ‘permission’ by an authority figure was just what I had been looking for. I felt reassured.

There was certainly no talk of depression.

I left that day happy in the knowledge that I just needed some time to relax, gather my thoughts and was certain I’d get back to my career in no time at all with the support of my boss to help ease the workload. Just a short break.

After a week, having given my mind and body the rest it had been silently screaming for I was suddenly overcome with the feeling of hopelessness. Darkness. The kind that feels like a dense, damp storm cloud enveloping your whole body to the point of suffocation. From the doctor’s waiting room I stared out at the beautiful summer sky and all I could see was my desolate, pointless existence. Nothing mattered any more. The beta blockers were quickly swapped out for something new and a fresh sick line was scribbled on to reveal the worst. Patient is suffering from depression. 

After 3 months off work I had exhausted the generous amount of sick pay allocated to me and I had to make a decision. I had tried going back to work a day here and there; the HR department were very accommodating and let me try a ‘phased return’ but doing my job seemed incomprehensible. How was I supposed to lead a team? How could I adhere to health and safety standards, deliver award-winning customer service, and control a department budget when I could barely find the energy to take a shower everyday? How could I sit in meetings and listen to company objectives when in my head I was contemplating the very worst, every moment of every day? How could I performance manage staff when I couldn’t see the point in doing my own job? I felt backed into a corner – not by my employer – but by my illness. My job required a certain level of attention that I physically was not capable of offering.

So, I quit.

I had spent 5 years in the industry; on my feet for 50+ hours a week, doing all the shitty jobs, late nights, early mornings, working for pennies, and finally I had landed the highest earning job of my career. I was in a desk job with sociable hours, stability and lifelong prospects. Then I lost it all.

Through no fault of my own, all of a sudden had no ability to do the job I had worked so hard to secure. Even now – 4 years later – I feel totally incapable when it comes to the tasks I used to complete with ease. There is an entire skill set on my CV that I may as well just delete. I have the experience, but I believe I’ve lost the capacity.

I’m not trying to encourage people to quit their jobs as soon as they’re diagnosed with depression.  Not everyone will be affected the same way that I was. A lot of people find their job is the one constant in their lives during a depressive period, and it gives them comfort to focus on something other than their own mind. I just want to be completely honest about my experience and what I personally had to do to get better. Of course I feel angry that I had to lose my career to save my mental health. I feel like I had this enormous setback in life where all my hard work had been for nothing. This stupid illness came along and it took over my life. The honest truth is that it still does. I’m almost certain it’ll control me for the rest of my life. Is this the way it should be? Should we feel forced to be unemployed, feel unable to contribute to society because of our brain chemicals? Absolutely not, but it’s the situation many of us find ourselves in.

Today, I have no confidence in my ability as a manager. I’ve worked in middle management roles during my recovery (which is ongoing, by the way) and although I can do it, I seem to have a finite amount of energy for jobs involving leadership. It eventually takes its toll on me and I either have to quit, reduce my hours or hand over some responsibility to others. So unfortunately at the moment, I only feel capable of doing a job which as no responsibility and pays minimum wage. Some people would find this humiliating, and I did too at first. The alternative is to earn more money and compromise my future and I’m just not willing to go down that road again. Its simply not an option.

There’s a certain freedom that comes with working in a less pressured work environment. My job no longer defines who I am, but that’s a good thing. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to have the career I thought I once deserved. What I actually deserve is a healthy, happy, fulfilled existence. My career did give me that for a while, but I couldn’t continue. Now I’m on the road to discover what else I can do, what else I can create, experience and give to others in order to get some sort of satisfaction whilst maintaining a balanced head. Having a less stressful job has given me the thirst to explore the creative talents that I always thought I would pursue after university, but never did.

Creating content for my blog is one thing that I really look forward to doing. This thing came to exist because of me. Does it pay the bills? No. But I’ve learned stimulating my brain is incredibly important to my own well being; so if waitressing everyday allows me the opportunity to share my thoughts on here the rest of the time, then I think their are worse things I could be doing, don’t you?

32 thoughts on “Why I had to lose my career to save my mental health 

  1. WoW
    I had to wait a year before i cut myself to stop being angry and calm down. Yeah it was stupid i know and admit it
    Now im signed of for a week possibly more (i will know today). But my work needs to assess me before i return as well

  2. Thank you so much for this. I recently received my diagnosis, after five years of living with undiagnosed Panic Disorder and PTSD, and one thing I realized is that there is no way I can go back to the 9-5 world. I can’t imagine what would happen trying to call in due to panic attack or severe depression, and although nobody notices when I’m having these experiences, I certainly do. Great blog 🙂

    1. It’s not fair is it? Hopefully in the future mental health issues will be recognised by employers as serious conditions and flexibility will be granted when it comes to time off, personal days, etc. I hope your recovery is on track, sending you lots of love xx

  3. I was just reading your post about being grateful for your Mum – and then redirected myself here, and I’m so happy I did. Thank you for being so honest! I had a similar experience last year; I landed a job I’d wanted for a long time & then a few months in crumbled underneath it. I feel like it was pressure I put on myself or something, still trying to figure it out..but in the end, as wonderful as my work were I had to make the choice to leave. & what you say about now having the chance to let your creative self grow, again, I feel exactly the same! There’s a quote that goes “Creativity – like human life itself – begins in darkness”, I really like that because I think it’s true. I’m so happy you’re happy now & I’m thankful/happy to have fallen across this post. I’m gonna stick with you and I look forward to your future creations! Have a lovely weekend, Katie xx

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s so hard when you know leaving is the best thing to do even though it makes you feel like you’ve somehow failed. We’ve not failed, just done what we had to do to be happy!

  4. This is such a brave post. I have had a similar experience, my anxiety was so crushing that I had to leave my dream job that I’d managed to land straight out of uni and everyone thought I was mad but I couldn’t keep going, my health was at risk. I was so ashamed to quit and do something I thought of as ‘lesser’ but it was exactly what I needed and gave me chance to get on top of my mental health and get back to doing the dream job (although somewhere else!) Your health and happiness is so much more important than some big promotion or job. Good for you! Emily-Alice xx

    1. It’s so hard when we live in a society where so much emphasis is put on what you do for a living. If only so much emphasis was put on our mental wellbeing! So nice to hear someone else has been through the exact same scenario x

  5. Thank you for writing this. As someone with PTSD and Anxiety Disorder, your words on shame were especially profound for me. This just feels so validating to read and I think it’s important to see more stories like this. Sharing this with my community!

  6. I totally feel you. I don’t know if I could call myself depressed but I definitely can tell I’m extremely stressed out, frustrated, anxious and actually feel suffocated from my job. Due to the crisis in my country I gave in to the fear or not having an income in the future (I’ve always loved my autonomy and independence), and instead of persuying a field I actually loved, I chose another one because it had actual chances to give me a job. I graduated and a year ago landed this job. Needless to say I have been practising ‘patience’ from day one. Now nearly a year later, I’ve run out of energy, patience and limits. I’ve gone way past the ”just be patient and you’ll see what happens” phase. Right now I’m in the ”get the hell out of here as fast as possible and don’t even look back”. My health is being risked in more than one ways, I’ve stopped doing things I like or trying to persue my dream because I have no time and no energy left in me. Just knowing I need to go to work today makes me all exhausted and pissed off. I’ve already made a plan in my head so that in one month I’ll be out of there. I’d rather buy less clothes and less stuff in general than risk my entire health and dream just for a job.

    1. This sounds horrible. I’m glad you’ve got a plan in the works to get yourself out of there. I’m the same, I do without certain luxuries because my health is more important. It might be worth seeing a doctor in the meantime if you’re still feeling so exhausted all the time x

      1. Thanks for your reply 🙂 I generally have exhaustion problems cause I have low iron levels which contributes a lot to this. But I’m pretty sure once I leave my work I’ll be way more carefree and free to do my dream thing so even exhaustion will seem more tolerable 🙂 Our mental health is always more important than any job!

  7. Thank you for this post. I have not been diagnosed but my anxiety and stress to go to my job of customer service is overwhelming. There are many factors besides the job but I feel trapped in a job I hate. I am the only income with insurance. What you describe happened with you I am experiencing.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this, Fiona!
    I had to leave my full-time job a few months ago and have felt so horrible about not being able to work. Truth is, I probably won’t be able to go back and work in the same capacity again – not in the near future anyway.
    It’s comforting to know I’m not alone x

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