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How a Cutthroat Corporate Job Drove Me to Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Corporate environments can often be described by the following phrases:

Hard deadlines. Fast-paced. Heavy workload. Competitive culture.

Phrases such as “mental health” or “wellness” often do not come to mind.

At 23, after graduating from college with a marketing degree, I began working as a consultant for one of the largest corporations in the Midwest. I was excited because I thought this would be the job to take me to the next level professionally and financially. However, no one told me that working for a huge company is like playing sports for an NCAA Division I team; you have to perform at a high level at all times, there are not many breaks and there is not much time or empathy for anxiety, depression or any other mental (and sometimes physical) health issue that slows down productivity. Basically, if the work is too much for you to handle, get out of the way and make room for those who can handle it because you can and will be replaced.

In college, I struggled with perfectionism and anxiety but I had been to counseling, ate (mostly) healthily, and had a regular exercise schedule so I thought I could keep my anxiety under control. Within the first few months at the company, I realized the company culture was not only competitive but downright cutthroat and cultlike. Teamwork, work/life balance and honesty were encouraged on the surface, but within each project team only conformity, politics and hardcore, nonstop work ethic were present. Everyone smiled and played along with everything but was utterly exhausted and complained in private. When I told my manager my concerns about the workload and the isolation I felt, she told me “that just comes with the job” and things will get better as I learn more. In this kind of environment, no one wants to appear to be a weak link so when my anxiety gradually worsened, I tried to withstand the pressure and increasing demands by improving my knowledge and working harder. That only poured fuel on the flames.

By around the 10th month in my position, I was a shell of my former self. My body felt weighed down but I was empty. Each step was heavy. Every day felt like drowning but no death or rescue came. For months, none of my co-workers ever noticed the tears flowing down my face as I stared blankly at my computer screen and pushed a few keys every few minutes to appear busy. My co-workers just moved around me like I was another piece of office furniture. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My body was on pins and needles constantly. I could not get my mind to relax. The only thing I looked forward to was lunch and walking to my car at the end of the day.

During one particular meeting with a client in New York, I was so anxious that I kept excusing myself to the restroom where I would sob and attempt deep breathing before returning to my presentation. I missed emails and deadlines constantly but was only told to get it together and keep up from my project team. No one ever asked if I needed extra support, but then again most people were barely hanging on themselves. I struggled with migraine attacks, chest pain, lack of sleep and bouts of crying in the bathroom daily. I even tried using alcohol and marijuana to help slow my mind down so I could sleep. By the end of my first year, my anxiety had transformed into depression and I felt completely numb. For about four months, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat. Those were the only things that felt good. I was so disillusioned with work I didn’t care if what I wore was clean or dirty or even if I had bathed. I would cry at night before work and on my way to work while driving.

The day I realized I needed help was while driving down the highway on my way to my office, I felt an intense urge to crash my car into the median. My mind kept telling me that, if I crashed, I would feel something and be relieved. All week, I kept having thoughts of hurting myself physically in various ways. I knew if I didn’t get help, I was going to act on these suicidal thoughts at some point. So, I started going back to my therapist regularly and my doctor prescribed me antidepressants for the first time.

The antidepressants helped tremendously and it felt like they were the support I had always needed for my mental health, even before the corporate job. Gradually, I felt like I started to come back to life. I stopped internalizing the negativity at work and showed myself more self-compassion for when I made mistakes. Work simply became work and nothing more to me. I dedicated more time to doing the things that made me happy and finally came to terms with myself that the job was not for me, and quitting would not mean anything was wrong with me. The environment exacerbated an already existing mental health issue for me and working there was a health hazard.

My second work anniversary was in May 2019. I left the company a month later. I have been at my new job for the past three months in a much healthier work environment. I thought leaving such a company with great pay would make me look like a failure, but no one gets to decide that for me but me. I understand that no job is perfect and not all environments work for everyone but patience, caring and understanding should be fundamental in all workplaces. In the end, I chose my health and I feel liberated. Regardless of your profession, no amount of power, money or privilege is worth your health. Choose yourself first and always because your health is not something you want to lose.

Getty Images photo via fizkes

Originally published: September 20, 2019
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