“You don’t seem depressed or anxious to us- I’m sorry Ashley, but your request for more time off work has been declined.”
My jaw clenched and my heart dropped to the floor. Being told by an insurance company that I was not truly sick, after a lifetime of depression and anxiety, did not feel real. Was this really happening?
After taking a month of stress leave from my high-stress office job, my doctor recommended I ask for some more time off. So I requested a few more weeks off from the insurance company managing my leave.
I had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as a teenager, and at the age of 25, it was back in full-force.
At the time of this call, I was just starting to see a therapist, I had been exercising daily, and I was finally starting to feel like myself again.
The rep at the insurance company continued with her aggressive questioning. “Why are you delaying your return to work? If you were truly sick, you would be on medication, wouldn’t you? You will need to get back to work as soon as possible.”
I hung up the phone and collapsed. The anxiety that followed me around like a black cloud was starting to rain down now.
Why don’t they believe me, I wondered. I had worked tirelessly for over five years at my job, taking on extra work, and picking up the slack from my “lazy” co-workers.
Clearly, I was not a lazy person. My track record proved this, didn’t it? All that I did was work, day in and day out. My life had become a broken record. Work, sleep, repeat.
With a million questions swirling in my head, I found myself shaking on the floor, phone in my hand. I did the only thing I thought would bring some relief, and I called my boyfriend.
“They said I’m not really sick, and that I’m just trying to avoid going back to work…” I sniffled, tears falling down my cheeks.
“What? There is no way! You need to leave your job, now,” my boyfriend was instantly angry and bewildered by the news. We hadn’t even considered this would be a possibility.
My boyfriend witnessed my mental health crashing in the months prior to this. I was taking on more and more responsibility at work, to the point that I was experiencing panic attacks on the job. It didn’t seem possible that anyone could question what I was going through.
“I can’t quit, what will I do next? I have worked so hard to climb the ladder here. I’m in line to get the next promotion that comes up,” I replied, feeling trapped and lost all at once.
“We will figure it out,” he reassured me. “Your health comes first.”
Of course his words made sense- health always comes first. Without your health, a person can’t do much of anything.
I understood this. Or did I?
As I found myself scrambling for excuses to stay at the job that made me miserable, it didn’t seem like I prioritised health at all.
Even as I started breaking down daily into tears and felt a constant pit in my stomach, I convinced myself to keep moving forward.
Eventually, sleep was nearly impossible to come by, and I was in a constant state of exhaustion.
My body was screaming at me to make a change, but I was so caught up in my work that I couldn’t hear it.
Eventually I learned such an important lesson that it almost made up for all of the misery.
Always take the time to pause. It is needed to gain perspective.
This was my new promise to myself.
No matter where we find ourselves in life, we should be stopping to check in with ourselves.
Take a break while you’re climbing that mountain. Stop to look down at how far you have come. Look at the surroundings, take in the scenery, and ask yourself how you feel about where you are at. You can also peer up to see how close you are to the top.
Most importantly, don’t feel like you need to get to the top of that mountain, whatever that is for you. If you are perfectly content where you are, you can stay right there. If you are miserable, make a change.
Actually, you don’t even need to be on that particular mountain. I learned I could jump off and find a new one. After all, it was my life, and I made the rules.
If only I had done this earlier, I would have realized that five years had gone by, and I was working harder than ever before. My salary, on the other hand, had barely changed. And I was still stuck in the same position. All of the promotions and rewards I was promised were nowhere to be seen.
Most importantly, I was not happy at all. Actually, I was completely miserable.
So I paused and looked at where I was at. And I stopped everything I was doing.
I took time off from my job and only focused on taking care of myself. The only activities I did were ones that nurtured me. It was like flipping a switch and taking on a new life.
I promised myself I would go for a walk outdoors everyday.
I was journaling or reading before bed, whichever one I felt like at the time.
I was cooking and baking up a storm in the afternoons (I have always loved making food, so this was incredibly calming for me).
I left home for two weeks just to spend time with my family, which I had never been able to do before.
Oh, and my personal favourite- I took naps whenever my body needed it.
Not long after that upsetting phone call, I called back and left my position completely. I was never going back to a life of misery.
Self care was no longer a rare indulgence, but a daily habit.
Even though my professional future was full of uncertainty, I felt better than I ever had in my adult life.
Taking some time off for myself was the best decision I could have made.
I was happy, well-rested, and full of inspiration about what I was going to do next.