Making My Existential Crisis Work For Me
How hitting rock bottom was the most liberating part of my year.
On a stormy late-November evening, I found myself sobbing hysterically in an urgent care triage. Had I broken a bone? Slice my hand open cutting a mango? Burst an ovarian cyst? Hardly! “My clicking on things all day in a cubicle job is killing me!” I said to the nurse (or something to that effect, I’m sure). I was escorted directly to an exam room where I was instructed to keep the door open so the nurses could keep an eye on me.
I sat there feeling overdramatic and let the weight of my privilege sink in. I was just a few blocks away from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the tent city capital of Canada’s opioid crisis. Tens of thousands of children had died and were dying from bombings in the Middle East. Here I was sitting sobbing because I couldn’t handle my government office job. I made a joke about it to the nurse practitioner after catching my breath. He wrote me a doctor’s note for a two-week leave of absence due to stress and didn’t laugh.
This wasn’t the first time an office job had caused me to have a full mental break. During the peak of the pandemic, I worked as a support agent for a banking app. After a few months of frequently being called every name you can imagine, being accused of ruining multiple children’s Christmases and birthdays when someone’s “baby bonus” check didn’t arrive on time, and even being accused of being part of a child sex trafficking ring by an erratic customer (this scandal was an all-timer that deserves its own article) it was somehow no longer sparking joy. My nervous system was completely fried. I either didn’t sleep or slept all day. I took time off. I complained to everyone who would listen. I eventually got a new job in January 2022, but to this day I don’t think I ever truly recovered.
When you compile unresolved trauma with a sudden job loss, a breakup, and long overdue ADHD diagnosis in the past 12 months, you could say 2023 was the year of freaking out. That doesn’t even take into account the state of the world I got hit with every time I opened my phone.
At my current job, I was confronted daily with the increasingly dire situation of the many humanitarian crises faced by my City and the government’s inability to address any of them. I felt helpless and each day felt more helpless than the last. There was no escape.
My cynicism was pouring into every other area of my life. I felt like there was no way to shake the dark cloud my job kept me under and I could tell my friends were growing tired of the doomer vibe I brought to every social function. I didn’t want to be the person people dreaded catching up with. “Here comes sad girl again!” They were as exhausted with me as I was with myself. I was taking any opportunity to escape my current reality in ways that were becoming increasingly unhealthy.
Handing in that doctor's note was the most humiliating and freeing thing I’ve ever experienced. Sometimes you need to completely burn down your life and let those flames light the way forward. While I may have completely failed at the job I had dreamed of in college, it felt wildly liberating to walk away from something I knew had robbed me of the joy from every other area of my life.
I’ve written about my illustrious rollercoaster job history and how I truly don’t believe your job defines you or your worth before. I achieved my dream good on-paper job at 31 and ran out the door screaming only four months later. With no plan, no savings, and no plans on returning to my current job, I’ve never felt so wildly optimistic. I was the first person to block and report any kind of toxic positivity or optimism content on my timeline. “Have you people taken a look around?” I’d think.
Now I’m approaching my release from the corporate world like an addict re-entering society after rehab. I’m rediscovering joys as small as being able to sit and read a book and absorb the words on the page. At the height of my burnout, I couldn’t even process a single paragraph.
Instead of being in a constant state of being overwhelmed by the massive societal issues, I have no control over and zoom in and see the small changes that can positively impact things in my direct circle. Even seeing my favorite dog in the building became a notably positive point of my day.
I’ve never given myself the time to truly rest and heal between jobs. The fear of homelessness always kept me grinding. While that’s still a concern, coming out of burnout that has gone on this long is like relearning how to walk. I hadn’t slept through the night in over six months. My room was in a worse state than my brain. I barely remembered to eat or even go outside for days. When the daily grind is making it impossible to even check off the needs at the bottom of your hierarchy of needs, it might be time to take a step back so you don’t find the Teams alert sound sending you to your local urgent care.
I’m no blind optimist, nor will I ever be. Yes, things may be worse than ever in so many ways, and maybe I’m still in my pink cloud haze, but I’m looking forward to 2024. Single, unemployed, and with no plan, I finally feel like I’m living. Isn’t it about time you found out how to make your existential crisis work for you?