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When I Chose $20,000 Over My Health and Happiness

Where do I go when I’m faced with life’s biggest questions? The beach. 

I can think and find my answers to life’s biggest struggles when I’m right in front of the ocean. We live about 50 minutes from the Jersey Shore, and it remains my place of peace when things in my life seem to be unravelling.

My biggest fear after I left the Pain Rehabilitation Center at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota was how I would be able to work with chronic pain. I truly didn’t believe I would be able to be a social worker while managing pain naturally. I had an intense routine I followed daily to manage my pain without it managing me.  

Jessica Martin with her child

I spent about six months or so not working once I left the Mayo Clinic and used this time to truly focus on my health and management of chronic pain. Every day I followed a schedule, and eventually, I didn’t focus on my pain as I once had after happiness started to truly enter my heart and soul. 

I felt alive for the first time in 20 years. I was exercising, practicing meditation twice a day, taking walks, reading and finding all the things I thought I had lost because of chronic pain. I was thriving despite chronic pain.

However, I was a college graduate with my degree in social work, and I knew I had to start applying to jobs in my field after my six months of getting my chronic pain under control. I was terrified. I knew I couldn’t do a 40-hour week, but I needed health insurance, so I had to make sure I worked at least 32 hours a week. I was so afraid that work would take away all the progress I had made in my management of pain. 

I went on an interview at a medical facility that had patients with dementia, mental illness issues, cancer, autism — you name it. The job seemed amazing, and I loved the facility.

During my interview, I was honest with my would-be boss and explained I had chronic pain but was managing it naturally. I told him I would need about two breaks a day, and he was very impressed with my honesty and how I managed chronic pain since many of their patients also had chronic pain.

He then began asking me questions on how I managed pain and if I would be able to teach some of the patients the techniques I used such as meditation. Bingo! I was pumped. I wanted to just tell my future boss that I would take the job and start the next day, but then fear crept in and I asked him if I could have a couple days to think about the position. 

The following day, I sat at the beach and asked the universe if I should take the job or not. My intuition was so strong that I really didn’t need to ask anyone their opinion. I knew I wanted this job, and after eight hours of sitting on the sand at my favorite place in the world, I drove home and called my soon-to-be boss and took the job. 

My intuition was right on point, and I loved my job. I was able to incorporate my chronic pain management tools into my career, and I was helping people and making a difference. I was proud of myself.

Out of the blue one day, I received a phone call from a different facility asking me if I was interested in interviewing for the director of social services at one of the most famous nursing homes in our area. The director offered about $20,000 more than I was making at my current job, and my ego took over and I agreed to be interviewed. I was managing pain amazingly, and I was in a great place — mind, body and spirit — so I thought, “What the hell, I may as well at least go for an interview.” 

Here’s where I made one of the biggest mistakes in my career: I took the job despite my strong intuition to stay where I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was healthy and happy. I gave my two weeks’ to my boss at my dream job and began working as the director at my new job. 

By the end of my first week at my money-making, high-profile job, I knew I had made a huge mistake. I was working more than 40 hours a week with no breaks, no time with my patients and no time to incorporate my chronic pain management tools. My self-esteem began to spiral downwards as my pain began to increase by the day. 

I was miserable, filled with regret and in tears every night of the week. Weekends were no longer fun because I was no longer taking care of my health five days a week.

I chose money over my health and happiness. 

Within a year of my $20,0000 mistake, I found out I was pregnant and gave my two weeks’ notice. My boss wasn’t a huge fan of me anyway and told me on a daily basis, “Jessica, you are just not a good sales person. We need our numbers up. We need more people who will pay privately. Your focus needs to be on our facility.”

No, I am not a good sales person. I couldn’t agree with this person more. I was a social worker. I hated sales, I hated shopping and I went into social work to help people, not help a business make money.

Chronic pain has taught me more lessons in my life than any other ailment or event has. This was another hard lesson I had to learn. If I could go back in time, I never would have chosen money over my health and happiness. I would have followed my intuition and stayed at the job where I made little money, but it was a job that made a difference in my health and the health and happiness of those I worked with. 

I didn’t go to the beach when offered this $20,000 mistake. Lesson learned. There is nothing in this world that’s more important than your health and happiness. 

If you’re lucky to find a job where you can manage your invisible illness, do not leave no matter what! Don’t make my $20,000 mistake.

Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.