Quitting my job to preserve my mental well-being sounds like hustling backward. Stripping myself of a full-time salary and benefits hasn’t been the soundest financial move of my life, but the operative word here is life.
Things were getting really scary for me, and I wasn’t sure what the ultimate impact would be, so in mid-December 2022, I became one of the 4.3 million people to leave a job that month. My initial thought was to allow myself one month for a mental recharge before planning my return to the workforce. But during my “retreat,” which included a few days in Jamaica and lots of days napping and watching TV at home, I unpacked how this mental unraveling might have begun. During this walk through my mind, I learned enough about myself to pave forward on new goals.
The first stop on my trip down trauma lane brought me back to October 2020, when I unexpectedly lost my father just five days after my husband and I relocated from south Louisiana to the D.C. Metro area. Loads of unpacked boxes surrounded me. My mind was in a frenzy. I had just started a new job and needed to take time off. I immediately limited myself – three days was all I was going to allow.
I buried my father on a Friday and headed back to Maryland that Saturday. There was work to do, and he died, not me, right? Less than a month later, I accepted an additional employment contract, working seven days a week. I promised myself I wouldn’t work away my grief; at that time, I could honestly say that’s not what I was doing.
Except it was.
Two jobs later, I was staring down the hopelessness of my soul, wondering why things just couldn’t feel right.
I remembered another time in history when I was a proud four-year college graduate saying that all those summer school semesters were because I simply wanted to boost my GPA. Somehow, that little grown woman I once was was utterly unaware of the compressed grief she was living through.
My mother died one month into my first semester in college. I took one week off to make the trip from New Orleans to south Jersey, memorialized my mommy and returned to school. I didn’t think of her death again until four years later when I left New Orleans for good.
I am a master at inhibiting my emotions, but that’s nothing to be proud of.
I was 18 years without my mother and unknowingly one year away from losing my father when I finally started therapy. I didn’t even go to talk about grief. My body had begun betraying me as an unknown ailment took hold of my nerves and ability to function. I received my diagnosis before my first session but decided opening up about my life might still be beneficial.
Immediately, the insightful Black woman therapist who sat across from me, dressed to the nines in stilettos, with perfectly manicured nails and slayed hair, hit the nail right on the head. I was trying to be too in control of my emotions to the point that I was forcefully pushing away any feelings I didn’t like. The problem with that, she said, could be found in a quote by famed therapist Brene Brown that advises selectively self-numbing is impossible since people cannot single out which emotions to quell.
I lived nearly every day in 2020, reminding myself that my family was not having a direct experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. That logic didn’t give me the space to grieve normalcy. Then I spent every day from spring to summer trying to shield myself from footage of yet another slain Black person across my screen. The trauma of just existing came crashing through my existence.
Every time I experience discomfort, my natural reaction is to push the feeling deep into my soul. I had never imagined one day that pain would regurgitate.
So, there I was in October 2022, struggling while chipping away at an assignment that had brought me great angst at a different job that I might have otherwise loved. Still, too many trauma indicators were present for me to exist freely. And I broke.
I broke from living like I hadn’t lost both parents and the collective trauma of being Black in America combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, moving to a new city and not having a chance to meet anybody. I broke from the imposter syndrome that never allowed me a position of my value and being Black at work as countless crimes against Black bodies consistently scrolled across the TV. I broke from being the HBCU graduate often made to be the voice of the culture. I broke from being an underpaid Black woman of Latino descent. I broke from fear of my body betraying me as jobs that were once remote began moving themselves to hybrid and in-person schedules. I broke into so many pieces that day that I was experiencing thoughts that had never been on my mind.
I submitted my resignation with a two-month notice.
The mind can be a terrifying place to sit, especially when the ghosts of things you thought you deaded haunt the corners of you. I gave myself so much credit for handling things better this time, and I did, but the operative word here is time. I didn’t give myself the time necessary in any situation that plagued me, and they all came back at their leisure to remind me that money may come and go, but once I go, there’s no coming back. The biggest thing is that while I had been so good and holding it together, the tornado that was our collective trauma swirled with my last parent’s death, and the pandemic was too much of a spiral for me to bear.
Like many others who became part of the Great Resignation, I learned the value of my mental health, which far exceeded my salary. In the month I spent doing nothing, I realized that my mind desires freedom, my body deserves a schedule that allows it to activate fully and my soul needs work that lets my true self shine. Wherever this path may lead, the biggest lesson is to protect my spirit at all costs, even if that means pressing pause.
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