Money or My Mind? Why I Chose My Mental Health Over a Bigger Paycheck
By Cierrah Parson
TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you are feeling suicidal or know of someone who needs help, visit the International Association for
Suicide Prevention to find a crisis center anywhere in the world.
I was twelve years old the first time I thought about killing myself. I had been living in a new town and going to a new school for a little over a year. I didn’t have any friends and I was being bullied. No one wanted to be friends with the new “fat” girl, not even taking the time to get to know me first. One girl even went so far as to tell me that “fat girls can’t wear their hair curly”. It sounds silly now and maybe even laughable, but at the time I believed her and it was comments like those that chipped away at my self-esteem and will to live. I truly believed that the world would be a better place without me in it – a scary thought for a twelve-year-old.
I thought about it so much that I even had a plan. My mom worked nights so I was always home alone and I remember laying out pills on my bed and going to sleep with a knife on my nightstand, just in case I got the courage to take my thoughts to the next level. So, what stopped me? Why didn’t I swallow those pills or use that knife? My mom knew nothing of my thoughts or what I was going through, and just the thought of what me killing myself would do to her was enough to stop me from acting on anything. Instead, I just continued to deal with it on my own. I cried often and when I was fourteen, I turned to writing. I channeled all of my pain, anger, and sadness into creating worlds I wish I lived in and people I wished I knew. And though the bullying didn’t stop and I continued to hold it all in, writing helped me get through it all and I eventually stopped having thoughts of suicide.
Needless to say, that period of my life (middle school and high school) did more damage and left more scars than anyone could imagine. My self-esteem was completely eroded, I had zero confidence in myself, and I didn’t believe that I was worthy or capable of being loved. It took several years for me to rebuild what had been taken from me and now at twenty-four years old, I finally have the confidence I wish I’d had all those years ago. It was a long road filled with a lot of self-reflection, time spent alone, and real friends who helped me along my journey.
So now I have the confidence, I’m feeling better about myself, what’s the problem? During my senior year of college, I began developing anxiety (and looking back on it now, I think it was always there). I experienced my first anxiety attack during my Research Methods of Political Science class (a required course and the last place I wanted to be). Statistics made zero sense to me, no matter how many times or ways the professor tried to explain it to me. I had to walk out of the classroom in the middle of a test because my heart was racing and I was having trouble breathing;I went into the bathroom and started crying. I had no idea what was going on and later figured out that I had had an anxiety (or panic) attack.
Over the past few years since that incident, my anxiety has grown and taken different shapes and forms, and is now something I never thought it would be. My anxiety brings me irrational thoughts gift wrapped in ribbons and bows, and when I open it, it’s all I can think about. The inability to move from this spot is my anxiety personified. Trying to find ways to cope with it is something I struggle with, but I continue to work at it every day. Most recently, my anxiety took me to a place I never thought I’d go.
In October 2018, I was working a job that I loved, but 1) wasn’t paying enough and 2) wasn’t giving me enough hours. So I listened to my mother, my aunt, and the rest of my family, I left that job and accepted a position elsewhere, one that would make me a considerably higher amount of money. Going into this new job, I kept a positive attitude and remained optimistic that this would be something I could turn into a career rather than just another job. And for the first month or so, I was enjoying myself, learning plenty, and throwing myself into my new role, but my optimism soon turned into my all too familiar, crippling anxiety. What I had hoped would be a lifelong career turned out to be my worst nightmare.
This job took my anxiety to heights it had never seen before, and while I was suffering, my anxiety was loving it. I found myself escaping to the bathroom several times a day to cry, holding it all in from the time I walked through the door at six in the morning to the time I walked out at five-thirty in the evening. When I went in, the sun had not yet risen and when I left, the sun had already set – I never saw the light of day. I would get in my car only to have a full on tsunami of an anxiety attack, then have to sit in traffic for an hour and a half to get home, eat, go to sleep, and do it all over again the next day. It came to a point that even when I was home for two months on medical leave, I was still having anxiety attacks just at the thought of going back to work.
I was the epitome of physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted. I was completely drained, half the time I didn’t want to and physically couldn’t move, I had nothing more to give. And here’s where my anxiety took me to where I never thought I’d go…again. At this point, my brain was numb to any logical train of thought, and my anxiety convinced me that it would be a good idea to contemplate suicide. Mind you, I hadn’t thought about killing myself since I was twelve-years-old. Now here I was twelve years later, seriously contemplating the thing I told myself I would never think of again. I could feel myself plunging into a darkness so deep, there would be only one way to escape.
So, my anxiety helped me hatch a plan. I had ¾ of a bottle of liquid oxycodone in my kitchen cabinet (left over from a surgery I’d had months prior) and I was going to use it. I was going to drink the whole bottle, pair it with a bottle (or two) of wine, go to sleep and never wake up. It was the least painful way I could think of to do it, because my anxiety and I both know I can’t take pain, and so the plan was made. I was standing in the kitchen, staring at the bottle of oxycodone on the counter, and then it hit me. I was back where I never wanted to be again. And I stood there and I started crying, shaking, I mean really emptying all the water from my body… I couldn’t do it.
What the hell was I doing? I didn’t want to die; I didn’t want to kill myself. Unfortunately, my anxiety had convinced me that this was the only way. The only way to escape this hell hole of a job, while still avoiding disappointing my mother and not having to worry about paying student loans and other bills.
I. Was. Petrified.
I couldn’t believe that suicide had really become a viable option for me (again!), How had I let myself get here? So I did the only logical thing I could think to do – I quit. The weight that was lifted off of my shoulders and the mental clarity that I felt the moment I sent in my letter of resignation gave me the biggest sense of relief. I felt like I was coming home to myself and it felt good to be in my own skin again.
Now, while I was feeling euphoric and filled with mental clarity, I knew that my mother and the rest of my family would not share the same sentiments. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times or ways I tried to explain my anxiety to my mother, she could not (or would not) understand. Mental illness is a topic that not only has a huge stigma attached to it, but has also become incredibly taboo within the Black community. There is a lack of capability and/or willingness to understand mental illness from parents and other family members.
It felt like I was going insane, trying to get her to understand just how debilitating it was and why I had no other choice but to quit my job. To her, I had done something irresponsible and selfish, without thinking it through first. Contrary to her belief though, I had actually thought about it quite a bit. I weighed the cost of what I needed against what she would say and I ended up doing something I never do. I chose to do what was best for me even though I knew it would make my mother angry and I would risk being a disappointment to her.
See, the truth is, I knew deep down that I should have never taken that job in the first place. However,I listened to my mother and felt the pressure of bills piling up, and I put myself on the back burner. I did it to appease her (and the rest of my family) because I value their opinion of me so much and, being a disappointment to my mother is one of my biggest fears. What I’ve come to realize, is that I cannot continue to make my life decisions based on how I know my mother will react. Though I am now in a transitional period of leaving a well-paying job and returning to my old job (the one I loved from the beginning), I feel at peace with myself. Despite my mother’s (and other family members’) feelings on the subject, I know I made the right decision for me and I do not and will never regret that.
Now I’m not telling every person who deals with anxiety to go out and quit their jobs. And I’m also not advocating for suicide as an option to escape your problems. What I am saying, is that this is where my anxiety took me and hopefully all of you, as readers, can learn something from my experiences. Should you go out and quit your job as soon as you finish reading this article? Probably not. I urge you to weigh the costs and benefits and make a fully formed decision based on what is best for you and your health (both mental and physical), rather than on what your friends and/or loved ones will have to say about it.
As Black women especially, we are expected to push down our feelings and “do what we have to do”. It is not so easy to just “push past” a mental illness and more often than not, we ourselves do not know how to ask for help. In my case, I found support in a close circle of friends that helped me through my own battle. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all Black women. As invincible as Black women are made to believe we are, it is okay, and essential to our survival, to give way to the demons that haunt us. The more we open up and create spaces where it is okay to have these conversations, the more we will be able to heal. More now than ever, we as Black women, need to lean on each other.
So my question is this: Is the security of a full-time, well-paying job with benefits worth sacrificing your mental health and stability? At what point does enough become enough? After how many zeros, do we begin to put ourselves first? Yes, having money is important to pay bills, have good credit, and survive through life, but are we really surviving if our mental health is on the line?
Cierrah Parson is a passionate writer who leaves her heart in the page, she lives to write and writes to live. She is dedicated to giving a voice to those without and empowering women to share their stories. Follow her on Instagram @incantationsofmysoul.