A year ago today, I was sinking quickly. I knew the feeling from so many prior jobs over the past fifteen years. Fifteen! It shocks me to put the number down on paper. The sinking feeling is what comes when bargaining with the life force isn’t working. The deal I’ve tried to hustle looks like this:
“Please just let me get through this stressful self-abusing period so that I can achieve some financial security. Some spiritual security. Some physical security. So that I can have something I’ve never had from my family. Something solid, reliable. If you will, Body, help me keep going, I will be able to get us out of this mess.”
“When?,” Body replies impatiently.
“Really soon. Like maybe later this year.”
“You always say that,” Body says, slumping away. No trust.
This month last year, my days usually started with a heavy dread, A cup of coffee to boost my confidence might help, yes? It will push me on, help get me there. Be like the rest. Normal, high-functioning. Ambitious.
Up the elevator, and the masks are firmly in place. Fear rules the game, everywhere, driving, competing, dominating, out-strategizing, out-politicking. Jokey, fake and casual while you’re doing it—even better. I keep talking to myself, several dialogues going at once. “My sincerity, intelligence and integrity have a purpose. I am here for a reason.” But I can’t connect. No one says what they mean. I’m calling upon all of my meditation training just to get through my meetings, but a clammy acidic sweat tells me I’m in fight or flight all day, from the minute I board the bus and start checking my phone. I know I am strung out, trying to get clarity about what my boss wants. She has assigned me a huge project. It’s not in my job description, but then again, I’ve never had one. I’ve never done anything like it before. I try in my caffeinated sweaty nervousness to teach myself how to approach a project of this type, but realize the wise course is to be honest about my limitations, propose some solutions, and ask for help. I imagine it is what a secure, well-adjusted person would do, and I want to be that person: aware, healthy, unafraid of vulnerability. I envision the Universe rewarding this display of trust with actual help, delivering me from hell.
Asking for help is the perfect red flag to indicate my weakness, to allow them to begin eliminating me. As the days progress, I realize I am being set up. I overhear my boss telling my soon-to-be new boss that I am not a good project manager, that she doesn’t really know where there is a place for me. I’ve just completed a year-long brand strategy project for this company. I put in the extra hours, the evenings and weekends. I received praise for my work, but something is wrong now. My worst fears are externalized, on the phone, through the door, feet from me, by my boss, with her mask of hyper-competence, workaholism, insane, manic dedication. Is it sanctified mental illness? Every female boss I’ve had is in a desperate sprint that is really a death marathon. I watch her craft her martyrdom and heroine status. She does not eat. She does not drink water. She boasts not going to the bathroom all day. She boasts starting her work day at 1am. Emails from her prove the dedication. She is our heroine. She jokes about needing heroin, and I see the desperate girl running like mad under this grandiose façade. It makes me sick. I feel sorry for her and she is part of my destruction.
I am sick to my stomach again. The bowels roil in agony. I take time out to get calm, approach the situation with maturity, centeredness, which I have to imagine because in my body, it is not my state. I will fake myself into a different state of being OK. My body is rebelling again, shutting down, creating chaos, reacting—goddammit—in that sensitive way. Called delicate flower, mockingly at my old job. I hate you, body, for the way you force me to show my weakness through my sweat, my smells, my shit, my flushing, my shaking voice. If I sit too long, you make my muscles seize. Now if I dance or run, you make me collapse. You are my fat billboard of advertised weakness, my fucking genetic albatross! Weak mother and father, collapsing cells, lack of resiliency. Why was this genetic bundle allowed to continue this long? Thank God I’m the end of this line. I’ve failed. A billion trips to the ashram and mantras to the powerful can’t help me now. Accept defeat.
The truth of my body is the only clarity I have now. The defeat is the solid NO coming from the body, which forces a decision. It doesn’t matter what the mind says, or what I try to force myself to do. The body is collapsing. The body doesn’t want this lifestyle, this abuse. It occurs to me that it might simply quit, unless I accept what it is telling me. I cannot continue this way or I will die. Defeat is a blessing ready to take me out of hell. But the price is giving up whatever image I thought I could obtain through this sacrifice. Fitting in. Being a “warrior” worker or an insane person or a successful person. I don’t even know what the image is, but it involves manic martyrdom. Being overwhelmed and insanely busy is a status symbol, as Brene Brown says. What if I lost my status? But sick isn’t a status symbol, and I’ve crossed over into that murky realm.
My fatigue is growing just as I need energy to stay alive here. I’m that deer that is at the back of the herd, struggling to keep up. Prey. I struggle to stay alert and awake at my desk, though my heart races out control, a bizarre set of contrasting symptoms. Am I dying? I, too, want a version of heroin, relief from this madness. No more running. Impossible with this feeling of overwhelming, oppressive heaviness. I want to sleep, must sleep.