I Left a Job and my Migraines Disappeared
I was hesitant to take the job in the first place. Something about it seemed off. Nonetheless, the offer was too good to refuse: healthcare, 401-k, a slightly higher hourly wage than my previous job. Somehow, though, I had a feeling that this was not the best decision for me as much as it looked good on paper. Rather than trusting my intuition, I did what I thought was common-sense: I accepted the offer, not even allowing myself the three-month break I wanted to take care of myself — lose some weight, get in shape, work on personal projects. I jumped right in with a mere few-weeks transition, hoping that the new environment was going to bring a breath of fresh air to my professional life.
I spent almost a year wanting to quit nearly every day. In the first week, my boss — who was the perfect gentleman during our interviews, started pushing political arguments. I tried my best to stay out of them, joking away, “I am on probation.” But he enjoyed teasing us, a woman and her bigoted co-worker. I just wanted to do my job and not be the office’s novelty. The cleaning lady warned me in whispers that women did not last long there because it was hard to put up with the harassment. I still thought I could pretend everything was fine and not let other people get to me.
Coming back from days off was strange — there would be something in the air, though I could not describe what it was. I would focus on work, and when things started feeling familiar again, we had a few hours of peaceful productivity until the toxicity would resume. It could be triggered by a comment about something in the news, or by my lazy colleague, whose eyes were glued to his phone on social media all day. For the most part, it started with the man in charge making subtle threats to punish us out of perks if we did not comply with his ever-changing standards.
It was harder and harder to find the motivation every morning. To make matters worse, I suffered from migraines, the type of headache that can debilitate you. At least once a month, I could barely open my eyes to daylight without feeling like my head was about to explode. Some days I pushed myself hard and made it to work, enduring my battle with a smile on my face and my stomach full of Advil. On other days I could not. Every time I called sick, I was met with suspicion and condescension as if the condition were easily manageable.
Little by little, my social media addicted co-worker normalized cyberstalking me. I found out that when he sat across the manager’s desk holding his phone up in exchange for a head shake, it was my name he had typed on Google or Twitter. My personal take on issues like abortion, religion, and racism — which I kept outside of work, were being scrutinized during business hours while I performed the job tasks alone. My views were not welcome in a male-dominated environment, even though I was not the one dragging them in.
I tried to address the problem in a professional manner. I told my boss how inappropriate that was. I had tried to block them from following me online but they kept finding ways around it. I did not want that to affect my work. As much as I tried to ignore it, realizing that their creepiness made the air hard to breath forced me to complain and set boundaries. My manager, a father of four around the age of fifty, had to have some sort of discernment under all of that white male rage, I supposed. He listened, apologized, and made promises he probably never intended to keep of making the work environment more professional. Behind my back, he was having a good time making fun of my legitimate concerns.
It was harder and harder to find the motivation every morning. To make matters worse, I suffered from migraines, the type of headache that can debilitate you. At least once a month, I could barely open my eyes to daylight without feeling like my head was about to explode.
Faster than I could have anticipated, the paycheck was no longer worth the unhealthy environment I encountered under the nicely polished surface. The cleaning lady warned again that the head of the office spied on us through secret cameras, gossiped about us when we were away, all while still trying to start fights about politics. The smirks and poor taste jokes from my fellow worker started sounding like real threats and I started fearing for my safety.
After about ten months, it was time to go. I no longer belonged there, and I probably never had. Leaving was painful and somewhat sad. I told myself it was for the better. Still, it felt like walking out of an abusive relationship: I kept mentally reliving the insults, the sexism, and the bigotry of that place. It took me months to shed my brain off the negativity I had taken in.
And suddenly I realized, I had not had a migraines episode in a while. They ended like in a miracle — something that science cannot explain. I checked my calendar for clues as to when they had stopped: a streak of unmarked days on my daily planner was a clue. In such days, I neglected to cross my to-do list because I was likely going to a period of hiding in the dark to get some headache relief. Or perhaps, I was miserably dragging myself out of bed, pretending to be a Barbie doll on the outside while letting a killer zombie consume me on the inside. Out of that job, I found none of those unmarked calendar periods for pages and pages. That confirmed my cure.
I cannot pinpoint exactly when it happened, but the migraines were gone. The expired bottle of Meloxicam prescribed to me stayed untouched in my medicine cabinet for another year before I threw it out. It was a reminder to myself not to pursue money at the cost of my happiness. The Xanax I had to hold on to a little longer, although I eventually ran out of it and did not order a refill.
Interestingly, this story is similar to something I lived years prior. I recall a session with my therapist when, at the time, she asked me about my recurrent headaches. She pointed out that I no longer complained about them once I left a job that was not fulfilling. Part of me resists the idea that stress alone was the cause for pain that was too real and too strong. It turns out, psychological warfare and physical pain are a devastating combination.
To illustrate my point, here is the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition of “psychosomatic.”
1: of, relating to, concerned with, or involving both mind and body
2: of, relating to, involving, or concerned with bodily symptoms caused by mental or emotional disturbance
Also from Merriam-Webster: “Since the Greek word soma means “body”, psychosomatic suggests the link between mind and body. (…)You may hear someone say of someone else’s symptoms, “Oh, it’s probably just psychosomatic”, implying that the physical pain or illness is imaginary — maybe just an attempt to get sympathy — and that the person could will it away if he or she wanted to. But this can be harsh and unfair, since, whatever the cause is, the pain is usually real.”
When I feel guilty for not trying harder to keep the job, I remind myself that the only thing that made it worth was the paycheck. Analyzing it from a personal fulfillment perspective, I have no reason to feel bad. When financial compensation and health coverage are everything you sacrifice your actual well being and your precious time for, it is time to reassess.
When the unhappiness of the hours spent around incompatible strangers you do not care for brings you emotional distress that amounts to physical pain, it is time to leave. An occupation you no longer feel good at will never pay you enough.