The chest pains, sweating and shallow breathing I’d experienced earlier that morning excluded, I was a bit of a wreck. I had a canker sore in my mouth and the beginnings of what has been a lingering cold, and I’d thrown my lower back out a few days earlier while sneezing. Not weight lifting. Not screwing. Sneezing.
Fuck 40, is all I can say about that.
I sniffled and winced and then wallowed in self-pity as the first question loaded on my iPhone: “Your job is making you ill, True or False?” Well, duh. I systematically answered all of the questions, about 20 of them give or take, and after hitting submit, the following result appeared:
“You have many problems with your job and you should consider quitting soon.”
It was in red text, as alarming and urgent as a test of the emergency broadcasting system on late-night television. It might as well have said, “Girlfriend, the call is coming from inside the house!” Even though making life decisions based on an internet quiz is about as reasonable as basing them on the predictions of a Magic 8 Ball or the words of a charming palm reader near the Spanish Steps in Rome, I decided right then that I was going to quit my job, benefits and money be damned. I imagined tossing my beanie high into the air on my last day, strutting out the door to the theme song from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I cannot describe the weightlessness I felt at the decision. My husband was unquestionably supportive. “You can create something,” he said. “You’ll have to hustle, but I know you can do it.”
For an entire week, I was floating, soaring, buoyed—except for the searing back pain any time I bent to put on my underwear, a problem easily resolved by not wearing any. I became the Yes Girl at work, committing to anything and everything I was being asked to do in the coming year, since—ha ha!—I knew I wasn’t actually going to be there in the coming year.
I had a definitive date on which I would submit my resignation, and I would finally realize my dream doing something I love. Ours would be a household with two self-employed people, a terrifying leap, but a breathtakingly exciting one, too. And I knew such a decision would result in an improvement of my mental and physical health. I waited for my ailments to resolve.
But then: Blasted reality took hold in the form of an insurance broker. One conversation—complete with a patronizing lecture about the devil otherwise known as universal healthcare, and the assessment that, Oooh, basal cell carcinoma? Yeeeaaah, insurance companies will view you as Lingering Death’s first cousin—and suddenly I was slammed back to earth, my body hitting the pavement with a tremendous splat and bounce, brains and organs and limbs everywhere. It was ugly. Good thing I have health insurance and can see a doctor about fixing the mess.
The broker—who I’m pretty sure was busy stroking his little capitalist-happy wiener as we chatted—made it clear that the open market would not be amenable to me. It appeared that a COBRA plan costing nearly $1,700 a month would likely be my family’s cheapest insurance option. Insert a loud Chris Berman Whuuuuuut?!? right about now. That’s more than my mortgage.
I’m not the first American to go down this treacherous road; I know I was only exploring that which millions of work-hating drones, self-employed, under-employed and unemployed folks have explored before me. But that doesn’t make it any less infuriating. Having no outlet for the outrage really smarts, too.
The problem of obtaining adequate health coverage for my family as I faced the reinvention of myself was startling enough to give me sleepless nights, stomach aches, two more canker sores and an additional upper-back spasm that made right-side lane changes impossible. If you pass me on the road, you’ll notice I’m still going in circles to the left.
The choice can be summed up thusly: Stay in a miserable job that kills me slowly so I have access to affordable medical care to treat said dying. Or! Leave the job that kills me in lieu of doing meaningful work that brings me improved health and fulfillment and hope to hell no one in my family gets so much as a spider bite, because one serious health issue could ruin our credit, decimate our life savings and cause us to lose our home. In short, seeking happiness could cost me everything.
On the recommendation of About.com, and with the support of people who love me, I scootched right up to the edge of that cliff. I let my toes extend out over the edge, raised my arms akimbo and tilted my face to the sun as I leaned forward against a horizon-less abyss. Then I got a bad case of vertigo, chickened out and resigned myself to the only realistic, if depressing, option there is.
I’ve found ways to make my current job tolerable and am staying put for the time being. I’m not giving up on that other possibility, but it will have to come with more preparation and in a less dramatic, Steven Slater-y sort of way. The silver lining is that I can afford to have the deep tissue massages that are—hopefully—going to resolve the seizing of my back. I hope to be wearing underwear again very soon. CB
Please send dream-job offers and letters to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.