woman walking away down road

Divorcing my abusive work life

If you’re new to this blog series, I’m in a severe burnout and unmasking journey after a full nervous system shutdown and late-diagnosed AuDHD. I’m not here to serve up psychological or medical advice but rather to share my personal experience and hope it resonates with others. This is only my experience and I am not speaking for others.

You might want to pour some tea for this one, friends, it might get feisty.

It’s like going through a really bad divorce (again).

The audio of this post is 7:52

The death of my career

This past week has been incredibly challenging at a physical level but I’ll get into that in a different post when I share about the comorbidities I’m unearthing. The theme right now is about awakening to how my career has imploded and my work life will never be the same. 

Let me preface here that I’m not calling out a particular place of work, company, manager, colleague, or whatever. This is about a decades long experience – or relationship – with work, career building, corporate lifestyles, capitalistic, patriarchal, misogynistic systems, and so on. 

I have been working since I was a teenager in some form or another. I had dreams (so many daydreams) about being a fantasy romance writer. I wanted to bring the fantastical visions in my mind’s eye to life. Then I deeply recall a walk with my father when he told me to “get my head out of the clouds” and be responsible and practical. He was so disappointed in me just being me (my perception not his words)

And, it was the nexus point for me at just 16 to begin to not trust my own feelings and judgment and rely on others perceptions to guide me.

Working full-time as a very young mother and tending to all childcare and household duties, getting divorced, getting remarried, enduring endless counts of abuse, and so much more … I worked my way (and outperformed) through every moment. 

Rising each time to higher levels of responsibility at each company often taking on more than my role required. In part because I am relentlessly curious and a sponge for learning everything I come into contact with and it was needed if I was to survive. And, I was hell bent on proving to everyone I was more than the silly daydreamer I was accused of being. 

I roll into my mid-thirties divorced again, on my own, surviving, dealing with several chronic autoimmune disorders but always working. I pushed through. I was promoted three times while at Deloitte until I chose to walk away from that environment too. Then for the last 12 years, I have put in 60-70 hours a week with very few days off and no vacations in order to attain the goal. 

To survive. To succeed. To not be a laughing stock to my family. To find respect amongst my work peers. To just make an actual impact and difference no matter what I was doing. 

I wanted to be seen and heard but am in a world that isn’t designed to see or hear me.

I invested all of that time primarily unpaid. I was learning, I was doing, I was creating. Some projects were unpaid because I was repeatedly told, “I had to earn my way in”, no matter what prior proof I had. I even had a major project in 2019 that I donated all of my time and IP towards and was told this was “how women can serve others”

I was removed from a project once because I wasn’t as young and skinny as the new girl. I lost a significant role change that was locked in for months for a younger, white guy with more “political” connections within the firm. And, by the way, those two instances I’ve mentioned, were said to my face directly. 

Since my earliest office roles in the 90s, I’ve endured sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior from my bosses. In 2018 in a boardroom waiting for the client to enter, I was told to wear my reading glasses to be “sexier” so we could get them to extend our project. 

It was never about my efforts, my insights, my intelligence. It was never going to matter in a patriarchal, misogynistic corporate world.

Then I achieve this massively huge win for myself in 2019. I’m working with the top leaders in global government technologies. My life’s work is coming together finally. I’m almost at that mountain peak. This is it. I’ll be able to push the organizational methodologies and new book and FINALLY be able to take care of myself and my family. It will open doors, I said. It will matter, I said. 

And right as the new book is published, I plant the f*cking flag on the mountain peak….and….oh… no…I face plant in an epic crash I cannot stop.

My body is done with me. My nervous system shuts down fully. My entire life implodes.

Six months or so later now, I am able to really clearly look at it all without the constant noise of “doing”.

Look, I know I matter to people and I know the work made a difference for those who participated. Those of you who feel this way always remind me no matter how long it has been since we last spoke. I appreciate you all. 

The overwhelming insight though is that I was not me. I was highly masked and my skills and work are tied to those masks and the trauma-induced environments I was in. I am grieving the loss of it all. The loss of 30 years of building a career, of having proof of contribution, and outperforming every time. I paid every due ever asked of me and then some and it was never going to matter in the long run. 

My problem is this (my work) was merely another abusive husband IMO. The way “work life” is and the systems for it are narcissistic, patriarchal, and misogynistic. They hurt everyone but those in control of the system.

So what is the whole point of this post? 

All the systems must change. Period. 

The way we are forced to “work” as humans isn’t human. But, most of us already know this. And honestly, while it took severe autistic burnout and diagnosis to provide full awareness, many people out there deal with these same systems. Anyone who is “other” can speak to everything I’ve mentioned neurodivergent or not. Again, I am only speaking from my lived experience. If it resonates then I hope it sparks something new inside of you too.

Having a new lens of neurodivergence and unmasking to view through has really opened my eyes though. Unmasking has brought skill regression along with an extreme awareness of my ADHD and autistic nuances. How very little accommodations are made for “working” at the levels I achieved.  

Speaking of my ADHD, I’m rambling so let’s wrap this one up.

I don’t know how long I’ll grieve the loss of my work. Thinking about it reminds me of thinking about my ex-husband who shall not be spoken of (yeah, it was that bad). Thirty years of accomplishments and the culmination of Mesh publishing are covered in a dark, ick that I can’t even look at without wanting to throw up. 

Honestly, if I didn’t have to support myself financially and pay to merely exist on this planet, I’d be entering my “Witch in the Woods” era and going full Crone.  Or write those fantastical stories or share my photography of tiny mushrooms or any number of things I’m passionate about – and, I likely will do all of these things after I can get my feet under me again. 

How about you? What has your experience been? I think it is important to share especially about systems change. It has been my core passion and what I was working on before my epic nervous system faceplant. 

I’d actually like to share more of my real, true self with you. Let me know what interests you or how I can share it.

"Growth is an ongoing journey, an invitation to continually evolve, expand, and embrace our truest selves."

mushrooms at sunrise
Photo Source: Jen Kelchner, 2021


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