How I Finally Took the Leap (& Ended Up Writing a Memoir)
On January 31, 2019, I left a job that was sucking happiness out of my life. I was a VP of Marketing and I had let the job take over my life; something that had become an unhealthy trend over the last fifteen years. I was killing it, but I was also destroying myself.
I've always had this overwhelming drive to deliver results. When I'm into something, I'm 1000% in. Whatever I'm working on turns out awesome, but everything else "on the side" suffers, including personal relationships and my health. When I entered my marketing career in my early twenties, work became my Number One priority. I gave it my all. To the point of total exhaustion. This went on for fifteen years.
I'd return from a long day only to crash on the couch, barely able to talk. I was completely burnt out from the hyper-work mode I had put myself in. To make matters worse, my endocrine/hormonal system was a hot mess. I have hypothyroid issues and PCOS, and the stress made the symptoms even worse. I was in physical and emotional pain, but I gritted through it because that's what I did. Pain and exhaustion was just a part of how life worked.
Happiness, fun, even physical and mental health were luxuries I didn't feel I deserved or had time for. I acted as if they were privileges I'd only allow myself to partake in after my work was done. But work was never-ending, and I rarely gave myself a break. Even if I got a big win, such as a record-breaking revenue month, I'd celebrate it for about four seconds until I snapped myself back and begin to work to triple those numbers for the next month. I kept setting new and tougher bars to achieve, which threw me into never-ending cycles of mania, stress and fatigue.
I was ashamed to face it, but I was putting all my value into my performance at work. When I finally started understanding this in my early thirties, I knew I had to do something about it. I started giving myself more personal time, and allowed myself time to do things I loved, like reading, volunteering at animal shelters and traveling. I tried to set boundaries at work, like telling any new job that I must work from home at least twice a week, but I still really struggled at slowing down the "all-in workaholic Meaghan." I still took on every work project like I was saving lives. Every mission was critical. Every chart needed extreme growth or else I felt like I was failing.
Hm, Maybe My Past Trauma Has Something To Do With This
Tired of it all, I started reading about trauma. I knew my past hadn't just "gone away". I eventually found a therapist, one that focused on EMDR specifically, which is a form of psychotherapy designed to relieve distress associated with trauma. I was diagnosed with complex-PTSD and over the years I slowly unpacked my trauma and learned how it had affected me, and was still affecting me today. I also began to realize that I had become a workaholic to avoid the pain of my past. Thanks to my work with the therapist and a loving, supportive partner, I eventually found my footing and started to break my unhealthy habits (still a work in progress, but celebrating that a lot of progress has been made!).
By the age of 36, I was ready to take more control over my life. I was done exhausting myself trying to keep up with the unrealistic pressures I, and often the companies I worked for, placed on me. I was also done with my particular job at the time, which included some real characters who were less than honest people who seethed ego and anger. I was tired of having to play with liars and manipulators. I had done enough of that in my life with my father, people at the abusive reform schools I was sent to, and a couple ex-boyfriends. I was ready to learn how to break the cycle of mania and exhaustion - of constant fight and flight or dissociation. My life depended on it. If I kept up with this pace, I'd probably die of a heart attack within the next ten years.
I played by the rules and gave plenty of notice when I quit. After a long seven-month exit process, I was free. Suddenly, I had no projects, no stress, no work. It was wild and a little scary, because when those things go away, that's when the trauma creeps up. I was ready to meet it now, though.
I was going to take a couple months off to detox - maybe take a vacation - and spend time continue my c-PTSD therapy. The plan was that after a few months of working on myself, I'd work full-time on my partner's and I's online organic spice business. It sounded perfect. Personal growth, then work for myself. Love it. Great plan.
I followed the plan for the first two months. I took it easy, giving myself permission to be slow and trying to learn how to live without "the joy of" a high-stress job. I took a staycation and slept in, took myself out to breakfast on weekdays when everyone else was working, and caught up on television series. I then kicked off therapy by doing a three-day intensive with a new EMDR therapist (did I mention I moved from Chicago to Louisville during all of this?). That's when everything changed.
I came back from the three-day therapy session brighter, lighter. I opened up my computer and started writing. "I'm not writing a book!" I'd yell to the walls as I banged away at the keyboard. But my story - my truth - was pouring out of me. I could feel the weight of fear, shame, sadness and anger shift as I wrote. I was healing with each chapter. I was writing a book whether I liked it or not.
For decades I kept mostly quiet about my past. My close friends and partner knew everything of course, but when it came to family and others, I'd just make side comments about my time spent "locked up in prison camp" or joke about the years spent in a cult overseas. But I was ready to face it more fully now. I was ready to tell the whole story. Even if it hurt me. Even if it hurt others. I had paid too high of a price holding onto my past; I owed it to myself to release it. If the truth hurts someone, then I'd have to live with that. And so would they.
The truth was that this book had been swirling in my head for two decades. When I finally gave my brain space, the words thrust out of me. It was exciting to finally see my truth on paper. Each night I'd read my new work aloud to the love of my life, Thomas. It was empowering to release my truth into the world, or at least to Thomas and our two dogs.
Over the next 117 days I wrote 125,000 words. And here we are today. The book is finished, out with potential agents. It could be published soon. This process has felt a little like a birth, or re-birth is more accurate. I can't wait to see what the future brings.