career

'I stayed in a toxic workplace for years. Just as I found the courage to quit, COVID-19 hit.'

“You’re lucky that you still have a job.” It’s a sentiment I have heard uttered from well-meaning friends and family over the last month more times than I can count.

Despite feeling grateful that I do in fact still have a source of income unlike many of my fellow Australians, I feel anything but lucky. I’m not only wracked with guilt for not wanting my job, I feel more trapped than ever.

Prior to COVID-19 reaching our shores, I was flirting with the idea of leaving my job for the sake of my mental and physical health. Over the last few months, I had taken on two roles within my office, clashed with co-workers over the pettiest of issues and bitten off more than I could chew, all in effort to keep up the facade of the “how does she do it” woman.

As a mother of a four-year-old and someone who suffers from debilitating endometriosis, I was battling fatigue, anxiety and working-mum-guilt coupled with an overwhelming feeling of discontent in my work. Exerting all of my energy at work was commonplace and I would fall into a heap on the couch as I walked through the door each night.

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My tank was running on empty and my job was the gas-guzzling SUV ploughing through my life with little regard for the impact on my mental and physical health. Knowing I had the support of my loving husband and my daughter was waiting with open arms for a cuddle every day made the long days somewhat bearable, until they weren’t.

A few months ago, work became busy, like run off my feet, lying awake at night busy. I was overcompensating, I felt that I had something to prove as someone with a chronic health condition and a young mother. I wanted to prove to the world, and to myself, that I could run a household, be a great mum and climb the corporate ladder, all whilst championing my mental and physical health.

I was teetering on the edge and I knew it; every day I would wake up and wonder, was this the day I went all Daenerys Targaryen, flying in on my dragon scorching all of those in my path. OK, a bit dramatic but I need to make light of an icky situation.

When the day came that I unravelled, I wasn’t the strong woman I had envisioned. I was a scared little girl and I cried — ugly slobber cried — and as I hyperventilated, I realised I was having a panic attack. I felt small, I felt let down and I was disappointed in myself for neglecting these feelings for so long.

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Something had to give so I plucked up my courage and I spoke to my manager. He was supportive and tried to understand the best he could. I took the blame for my sudden decline, “I know that I can be sensitive,” I admitted to my manager. “Yes, I did say that I will do these tasks, I guess it was my fault for taking on too much” and “maybe some of my colleagues are being rude to me as they too are going through personal issues.”

The realisation that I was doing myself a disservice by self-blaming hit the next week. My workload wasn’t any lighter, I was still coming home drained and I had yet another run-in with a colleague. I knew I needed to get out.

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I don’t recall the day when the bubble burst and I realised that COVID-19 really was a global pandemic. It feels like one day, we woke up and all of a sudden people were panic buying toilet paper and masks and being told that we may be working from home for the unforeseeable future. The reality of COVID-19 reigned down with whispers of schools closing and workplaces opting to operate from home.

Instead of the dread that had consumed me for the last few months as the work week loomed, I felt a new feeling, hope. I was hoping that the directive would be given, and I wouldn’t have to go into the office. I have been wracked with guilt as our country is in a panic, yet I was hoping (no yearning) that this would mean no more office gossip and papers dumped on my desk, that I could retreat to the safety of my home and begin to heal.

This is when I knew, that I was truly unhappy in my job and I needed to leave.

With the employment rate rapidly declining in Australia and so many of our friends and family joining the Centrelink line up, those of us still in a job should feel grateful – but not at the expense of one’s mental or physical health. Mental health battles and everyday issues that existed before the pandemic don’t all of a sudden disappear because there are more pressing matters at hand.

I am happy to say that I have found a great psychologist who I am now working with, and I’m drafting up my letter of resignation. So yes, I have pandemic job guilt, but I also have a duty to myself and my family to honour my body and my mind by being a little selfish.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.

Feature Image: Getty.

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