Escaping a sick system
August 21, 2013 7:53 AM   Subscribe

It's clear to me that my job is a sick system, and I don't know how to get out.

I'm experiencing the symptoms of being in a sick system. Work is in chronic crisis mode. I'm angry and stressed all the time, I feel hopeless, I feel too distraught to apply for jobs. Job rejections feel absolutely devastating. I reject job prospects because I'm afraid it will be just like this job. I have a lot in savings (About 20k), no debt, and no relationship. I kind of plan on using to moving out of state to find a new job, but I feel paralyzed with fear and anxiety over doing it.

I have a vacation (finally) coming due, after being pushed back twice over the last few months. I'll be driving across country. I hope it'll be enough to recenter myself. Other than this, I don't know what to do. I haven't known what to do for months.

Things I've tried
  • Therapy
  • Spend most therapy sessions complaining about job, rather than working on depression. She has not given me many viable coping techniques.
  • Exercise
  • I bike about 2-3 times a week. Most days I get home and have to just lie in bed for an hour because I'm too overwhelmed, unless I'm angry.
  • Hobbies/pursuits
  • What little I do get done is pretty well received, I recently made a video game that got attention from a few blogs, and a t-shirt I made won a design contest. I have people tell me they look forward to my future work, and they tell me my "big break" is just around the corner, I remain pessimistic. I want to work on things but I can't, because most nights I don't have any energy.
  • Drinking
  • Unfortunately I've found the only thing that "turns off" everything at the end of the night is a tumbler of Bourbon. I don't want to become dependent on it.
So yeah, I'm pretty stuck right now. How do I escape a sick system? I feel like I don't even have the space to think about it.

I left a lot out for brevity's sake. Throwaway email is escape2000themusical -at- gmail dot com.

Thanks for listening.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you want to make a break, and since you have some extra dough, why not sign up for a month of volunteer work. Doctors without Borders or Habitat for Humanity.

Go do something like that, get out of yourself.

Then, relocate and find a new job.

I promise that the change in perspective will do you a WORLD of good.

Also, when an employer asks, "So why did you leave your last job?" You can say, "I felt that it was time to take a sabbatical and to give back so I did this awesome thing with awesome group. It was a great experience and I've recharged my batteries."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:10 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


I reject job prospects because I'm afraid it will be just like this job.

You have got to stop doing this. Get yourself a new job. Do your best to find out what the culture is like at the new place before accepting a position, but know that it's impossible to get a real guarantee. The thing is, now you know what a sick system looks like, and once you move away from this one you'll have practice saying "No, I will not put up with this." So if you somehow find yourself in another place that runs the same way, you will recognize it sooner and have the strength to leave.

There are other AskMe questions that give tips on how to tell in an interview what the workplace culture is like at a prospective employer's business. Read them. And think of what questions an interviewee at your current company could ask that would get an honest answer and also tip them off to how things are. You've got to do some sleuthing. But the idea that "nobody will treat you any better" is a classic setup to keep someone in an abusive relationship, whether romantic or business. You can't know for sure whether a new employer will be better, but you know with 100% certainty that your current situation isn't acceptable. Get out.
posted by vytae at 8:20 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was in a sick system job in NYC for five years, then moved (and quit) and bummed around in flyover country doing light consulting for a while to try to shake off the effects. The real thing that helped is exactly what Ruthless Bunny wisely suggested above: I went and volunteered in a remote place (hello, inland Alaska!), in my case for four months. It truly, truly helped. Sometimes, admittedly, facing so little to do and zero stress whatsoever and wide swaths of empty hours, it felt a little like locking myself in a room with a bucket a la Trainspotting. But I came back feeling like a nice person with normal blood pressure, someone who could absorb and think instead of simply reacting.

I was hired on full time when I got back last fall. I kept the good habits I picked up in the sick system (being ultra-responsive to emails/calls, for example) and lost the bad ones (staring at the ceiling at night, dreading morning; walking around in a full-tilt grump). I'm so... happy! Work is easier! I am never stressed out! I have loads of free time and no emails on weekends!

I had similar savings to you. There are so many volunteer programs all over the world. For me, it was definitely worth the jump and the breather. That trip was the page between an old chapter and a new one.
posted by mochapickle at 8:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The sick system is not the problem. You can decide to quit and walk away tomorrow. It might not be the most fiscally responsible thing to do, but you can make it happen. You can decide to grin and bear it while you throw every resource you have into finding a better job. You can drive cross country on your vacation and figure stuff out and come back with a plan. You can volunteer as mentioned above.

Pick one, decide on the next step that you can accomplish in 24 hours to make forward progress, and get it done. When that first step is done, decide on the next one and so on until you find yourself in a better place.

Or you can continue to take it and be miserable.

It really is up to you. Take responsibility for happiness, starting right now.
posted by COD at 8:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it helps to remember that You Are Not Your Job. We kind of fall into whatever work we're doing, based on circumstance. But you can be anyone, doing another thing.
posted by mochapickle at 8:37 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I reject job prospects because I'm afraid it will be just like this job.

What if it is? Then you will just find another job, until you land the right one. If you don't find another job after the new one, then you are no worse off than before, so what is the problem?
posted by deanc at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2013


Job rejections feel absolutely devastating. I reject job prospects because I'm afraid it will be just like this job.

This is because you need to get better at looking around for jobs. Job rejections aren't the end of the world, they are opportunities for feedback and good practice. I use interviews as a mechanism for determining what the organization is like. It's just practice.

You need to develop some questions that will let you determine through the interview process if the prospective job is like the one you feel stuck in. I promise you not all jobs are like the one you are stuck in. They will have different management, different staffing levels, different people to interact with and a different culture, but don't reject jobs out of hand because of your existing job, that is how you end up trapped.

So, you want a new job, it's time to put together a plan - you can absolutely get this done. Treat getting out of your job and in to a new one *as your new job*. You should be putting at least as much effort getting out of your situation as you do at your day to day job, especially if it sucks and you want to leave it and basically have no ties to it financially or emotionally.
posted by iamabot at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Take your vacation. It will be good. Then take the job seeking advice above.
posted by Riverine at 9:04 AM on August 21, 2013


First, if your therapist isn't helping, you need a new one.

Second, if you hate this job and have a bunch of savings and plan to leave, then stop caring about the stress and craziness and say, "Fuck it. I am going to update my resume and search for jobs instead of do this stupid shit that is only urgent because of how dysfunctional you all are." Shift your energy from this job that you hate and into finding a new job.

The truth is, accepting a job is always going to have some luck involved. Whether it's management styles or how much you like your co-workers or unforeseen factors like the traffic during your commute or whatever, there are always things you can't predict when you go and do something new. But I'll say this, I've switched jobs a lot for my particular profession, because that's what's normal, and I have never had the same feeling or same experience in any two places. If you're this miserable at your current job, the overwhelming likelihood is that you'll like the next job you get a million times better. So stop wasting your time being unhappy. Work on finding that new job!
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2013


It's clear to me that my job is a sick system, and I don't know how to get out.

I don't like my job, and... I don't think I'm going to go any more.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Walk away.

It's amazing how we can become so emotionally attached to bad situations. It happens gradually, over time. Subtly. And then a day comes of paralysis. You have been in emergency mode for so long that there's no capacity for rational decision-making. There is only emergency mode.

Days go by, and the emergency continues. The stress. The corrosive effect. In an ironic way, it binds you closer. For this is the only way it can be. It colours your vision. There is only this emergency, or other emergencies. One starts to generalise the specific to the general. It's not this job, it's work. It's not me in this job, it's me in work. All work will be like this, for this is work.

The field of view becomes so narrow, it is all you can see. You are trapped and there is no way out.

That is anxiety and depression speaking. The kind of anxiety and depression that is communicating something to you very loudly. You are in the wrong place. What you are doing is harming you in some way, either psychologically or physiologically. You are not listening. Your rational mind is only seeing the emergency. Thus, the paralysis. The perfect conflict between the perception that you have built – that this is the emergency and the emergency is all there is – and the reality – that very much of you is screaming out this is not what you should be doing.

Yet, you know there are options, for if there were no options, there would be acceptance. If you could not quit, you would not be paralysed. You are paralysed because you can easily make another decision, yet you are not making it. You are fighting yourself and grinding yourself down, every day. Until the end of the day, when you find solace in an anaesthetic. Peace. Quiet.

Just quit. Off you go. Lots of jobs in the world. It really doesn't matter what you do next, for if this situation is as you say, pretty much anything will be better.

Perhaps you are terrified by the news. Unemployment. It's best to get a job when you have a job. Responsible people have jobs. Blah blah blah.

First, unemployment is like 10%. For every one person that doesn't have a job, 9 people do. People walk away from bad jobs every day. Someone just did it. So did someone else. So did someone else. So did someone else.

You can do it too. Just quit and go do something else. Anything stopping you from doing that is a reason you have constructed and are believing in. You think it's a lot hard to quit than to stay, when in reality, you are expending all your energy to stay, and in order to quit, all you have to do is stop. Walk away.
posted by nickrussell at 10:37 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have a lot in savings (About 20k), no debt, and no relationship...How do I escape a sick system? I feel like I don't even have the space to think about it.

I used to be you, a few years ago. You have to quit your job. It won't get better, and you can't make it better, although you can try and manage it as best you can (and the stuff you're doing in that vein is good). You're not stuck - you've just been convinced that you can't leave. The bars on your cage are completely imaginary - you can leave any time you want. You're not incapable for finding work elsewhere, and things are not worse elsewhere - these are lies your employer has told you so that you stay put.

But there is good news - you are in the ideal position to quit your job. You have no debt, no obligations, and savings. You can get a job somewhere else. One that you will like, even.

Step 1. Make the decision to quit. The psychological effect of this cannot be understated - you make your own light at the end of the tunnel.

Step 2. Get a new therapist. Your current one isn't working for you.

Step 3. Be strategic. When is the best time for you to quit? How long is your notice period? Can you give your notice before your holiday, so you don't have to serve the notice period? Is there discretionary spending you can cut down on? If so, cut it.

Step 4. Actually quit, as the time that suits you.

Don't worry about the fear of new jobs, and the lack of energy. That will likely evaporate once you've had a couple of weeks to unwind and realise that, when you're not at this bullshit job, life is good, and you are good, and things are good and the world is full of sunlight and puppies and cake.

Step 5. Give yourself time to recover. Reclaim the things you love. Ride for fun, not to work off the stress that you now don't have. Do some designing. See your friends. You don't have to worry about applying for new jobs immediately. Take a few weeks off, then start applying.

Step 6. Limit your drinking to social situations only, or weekends only - obviously the fear of dependency is weighing on you a bit. You could even stop entirely for a few weeks to prove to yourself that you can. This will be easier once you're not stressed all the time.

Step 7.
Once you've had some time off, update your resume, line up your references, and start applying for jobs. Be disciplined about this - set yourself a quota, say 5 applications a week, and stick to it. Make no mistake, it will be a chore - looking for work is a job in itself. But while you're looking, enjoy the good life - you have time to do the things you love. Take advantage of funemployment while it lasts.

You can do it. And you must do it. Your crappy job is hurting you.

Good luck.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:31 PM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


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