Happiness. A word many of us struggle to define or understand and something we crave through material things. Short-term happiness can sometimes be achieved through things like shopping, eating a nice meal, reading a good book, seeing a friend. But what about your long-term happiness? Your ability to look into the future and feel confident that it is going to fulfil you.
The past year has been a whirlwind of mixed emotions with various life events taking place that I was experiencing for the first time, all whilst chasing a career in finance.
The city of London, an urban rat race, can be overwhelmingly lonely. A bubble where nothing else matters except money and power. You hear corporate drool instead of real conversations. You see nothing but tailored suits and high heels. Is anything really real here?
I started working at my firm with the hope that I would learn and gain more experience within the financial sector as my background is in law. It was a big step for me but I was enthusiastic to add another string to my bow and put everything into it. This meant sacrificing my evenings to work late and to attend networking events. At this point, I was in a relationship with someone I was well and truly in love with, a love that was unexpected and a love I truly valued. However, that love slowly began to disintegrate along with my social life because my happiness was fading at work.
A lot was going on. The working day was incredibly busy as we were seeking more clients to grow the company's revenue; my boss was constantly out of the office looking for new business whilst shouting down the phone to me. That was until it became too much for me to handle. The main problem I had with *Patrick was the fact that he refused to accept liability for his mistakes and would automatically transfer it onto me. Whether it was via telephone call, email or even face-to-face, he continuously beat me to the ground until I had no more layers left. I felt useless.
Whilst this was going on at work, my mental health outside of work was declining. I could recognise the symptoms from the first time I had discovered I was ill so I was encouraged by my boyfriend to seek further help, which I did. I went back on my anti-depressants and tried to carry on as normal.
I didn't tell my boss nor did I tell anyone I worked with because I didn't think they would understand. A colleague was always referring to people as 'mentally retarded' so how could I say to them 'yeah, I'm mentally deranged too'?
The days dragged and each morning I struggled to get out of my bed to start my commute to work. Every day felt like Groundhog Day, but worse. I would spend half the day escaping to the women's bathroom to cry in the cubicle, with my head against the wall looking down at the puddle my eyes had created. Get it all out Jess, you can get through this. I’d then then spent a good ten minutes staring at my reflection in the mirror whilst fixing my make up so it didn't show I that had been crying, but then frantically wiping my tears once I heard someone come through the door. The fake smile made a return; I picked up my pass and waltzed back to my desk like nothing had happened.
I always looked at work as being an escape from my rather manic private life but in this case I had no escape at all. I wanted to escape a lot of things and as usual it was all happening at the same time, an overload of emotions created a storm in my mind. I had nowhere to turn until I felt solace in standing on the platform edge.
I tried to jump at Mile End station one morning on my way to work from my boyfriend's house, until I felt arms round my torso preventing me from doing so. I remember looking back at this woman in disbelief that she would save my life like that, or perhaps she herself recognised the behaviour before I had walked up to the platform. She dealt me a card that day and I will never forget what she said to me when she hugged me.
Life is a gift, do not waste it.
She must have been my guardian angel because I never saw her again. I didn't even get her name but even today I hear those words echoed in my ears and have never since tried to take my own life again.
However, things took a turn for the worst and at Christmas, my boyfriend out of the blue, broke up with me because he couldn't handle my mental health. He then preceded to tell me in a Starbucks round the corner from my office that he doesn’t and never loved me. From the moment he broke up with me, he cut off all contact and I had suddenly become a distant memory to him.
I went into a fit of rage and upset, my world shattered into tiny little pieces. My heart had broken in two. I constantly had a knot in my stomach because I felt so unloved. Yet, through all of this, I went to work to seek some peace. But this peace did not exist, for I was in another relationship, or so I felt, with my bullying boss. What really pushed me over the edge was when a potential client sent me an incredibly rude and inappropriate email stating that he wanted to bend me over a table and spank me, my boss did not fight my corner, instead he allocated that client to me despite my objections against it. That was confirmation to me that my boss did not care about my wellbeing nor me and only cared about the company's revenue.
Crying became a pastime and each time my boss would shout at me or send me a rude email blaming me for something, I would simply take a deep breath and hide in the cubicle in the bathroom again. This became a regular occurrence.
After a few months, I had gained confidence through running and I made plenty of new friends to pick me up from my running community. From this, I was able to legitimise my smile again and finally have a balance in my life. Even if work was an unhappy place, I had a happy place to go to every Tuesday night. A place to escape the madness.
As I began to start training for various races, I had an excuse to avoid every networking event, every social event and drinking session my boss asked me to attend. I left work at 5.30pm on the dot.
My attitude changed as my resentment for my boss grew day by day. My enthusiasm to help him disappeared; my willingness to stay late to finish a particular project was non-existent. I refused to answer emails outside of my working hours or even so much as answer a text message from him. I decided from then on out, I would not let him take over my life. I will not answer any 5am calls anymore.
I Googled how to quit your job for months to get advice and a sense of direction. My desperation to leave was increasingly high but the anxiety surrounding my future finances and the subsequent ‘what ifs’ were taking over. If I did quit, could I afford it? What will I do? Will I get another job? Will my parents hate me? Will my they think I'm a failure? My thought processes throughout this period were all over the place.
Most people told me that I should have a plan. That I shouldn't quit unexpectedly. That I should be careful.
I was looking for new jobs and interviewed for a few until a bomb exploded. My boss gave me a promotion. Some people would be absolutely over the moon with a promotion and in some ways I should've been too but the thought of having to work with this vile man any longer made me sick. I realised then that my time was running out and I needed to get out quickly. But then something awful happened. I got severely injured.
I was on my way to meet some friends for dinner after work when my quadriceps gave way and I twisted my knee. I couldn't walk and had to be rushed to the hospital. When I had to explain this situation to my boss the next morning, I received no reply.
The doctors had signed me off for three weeks due to the fact that I couldn't walk let alone travel to work each day but I assured my boss that I would work from home. In a way, this was a godsend as it gave me the time to reevaluate my life choices. However I was beat down again after hearing that my boss was refusing to pay me for the time I was off sick.
The way I was treated whilst I was at home, isolated from everyone, was unacceptable. My employer offered me no support and my mental health was steadily declining again. I had anxiety every day about work, even begging my father to allow me to get to work even on my crutches.
And that's when it hit me.
I can't walk and I'm in an incredible amount of pain. Yet, here I am, trying to put work before my health and wellbeing. What the hell am I doing? I turned on my Macbook and started work on my notice letter.
After a month, I went back to work fully on my feet and handed in my notice straight away with no immediate plan for the future. I could say that it was daunting but I had discussed my options with my family. I have no mortgage, no car and no children to pay for. I'm 23, and my life is just beginning.
The fact that I was 99.9% close to having a nervous breakdown was enough to make me realise how unhappy I really was and that no job should ever make you feel that bad. The morning I handed in my notice, I was shaking profusely with sweat dripping down my temples waiting to see Patrick's reaction. He was okay with it, and apparently, he had seen it coming. I released a sigh of relief and suddenly a weight had been lifted although I knew I had to suffer a further four weeks of my notice period until I was well and truly free.
I have never felt happier in a decision I have made in my life. A lot of people told me not to quit, my parents were a little anxious about it too, but what I have learnt from this is that everything works itself out in the end and your mental and physical wellbeing should always come first. A job is a job. No one will die if you quit your job. There will always be a replacement. Being in a toxic environment will only kill you. Money is just money. These are just things.
What matters the most is you.
*Names have been changed to protect the individual's identity.