It’s not easy to give up money and the identity that come from a “career,” even if that career is making you sick. So many cultural norms pull me back into the web of illusion. And the illusion is that it will be different this time, that it is temporary. I have to remember this LIFE is temporary, and it is passing quickly. I must remember this when I start thinking, purely out of anxiety, about going back into marketing to re-stabilize myself financially. I’ve tried to make it work for almost fifteen years. Each time, it works less. I work more. I break. I can’t keep breaking.

I’ve been reading about the ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) study and the relationship to autoimmune disease, so articulately described by Donna Nakazawa in her recent book Childhood Disrupted: How Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. Nakazawa writes that for every ACE score a woman has, her likelihood of being hospitalized with any number of auto-immune diseases increased by 20%; for a man, it is only 10%. Add on top of this the sensitivity gene, and you have a recipe for multiple chronic illnesses. So many women are suffering from these illnesses related to toxic stress that it seems overwhelming. What can be done? I have to start with the personal lab of my life, my body.

I know that my stress reactivity related to my early childhood and shame is a big part of my illness, and I do my best to take responsibility for my mental health. But I also know that even without my particular wiring, I might not thrive in this era and this culture of overwork, 24/7 availability, and competition. I dream of much more than that for my life. I dream of being connected, feeling a spiritual meaning beyond personal gain in my work. I’m looking for my deepest calling, not security as defined by the mainstream.

In looking for that calling, I keep thinking about joining with other women. Can we as women create new structures of business and community that do not operate on burnout, fear, and an underlying and secret sense of worthlessness? How do we do this so that we are in control of our lives, able to thrive and full of creativity? How do we do this so that kindness, innovation, and a life driven by different values is possible?