Should I quit my soul-sucking job?
September 26, 2017 7:02 PM   Subscribe

I had a panic attack at work today and started crying at my desk and I want to quit more than anything else, but I also know the whole "you're more employable when you're still employed." Still, it's making me miserable and my mental and physical health are suffering as a result. I need to make a decision and flesh things out and would greatly appreciate this community's advice.

I graduated from university last year with a liberal arts/social science degree and got a job at an insurance call centre which is making me miserable and probably also suicidal. I feel like my self-confidence has gone downhill since I started working there and my emotions and mental well-being are all over the place.

What do you even do in a situation like that? It's my first "real" out of university and when I was tolerating it, I decided to rent my own apartment to be 1) closer to the job and 2) move out of my mom's house, become more independent and spend more time with my boyfriend.

I have a $42k salary now and I'm considering quitting. I feel insane typing it out because I feel like I can't get anything better. I look at job postings and my city's full of call centres. I don't know how qualified I am for anything else. If I quit, how on earth am I going to afford rent, student loans and just living? Right now I manage just fine but I don't know how I could afford to live if I quit. So I feel completely trapped and I think that's what caused my panic attack at work today.

My boyfriend has been as supportive as he can, I guess? He got frustrated with me because he thinks I should quit because he sees how miserable it's making me, but we've only been dating for 1 year and I don't know if he understands my situation fully. He lives with a roommate, doesn't owe any student loans and is actually going to be interviewing for a better job this week (it's actually a job I found for myself but suggested he apply for it too out of excitement, and now I'm regretful because I know he's better suited for it than me and I feel even more trapped than ever at my job. I feel bad for not being happier for him about it because how god damn miserable I am. I guess that's another story but it's also playing a huge part in my panic and anxiety)

Case case scenario: I quit, spend my free time applying for jobs and find something else relatively quickly so I don't have to dig into my $5k of savings.

Worst case scenario: I quit, spend my free time applying for jobs and don't find anything because unemployment in my city is pretty high and oh my god this economy and I don't really have any special skills other than the fact that I speak French, which is specifically why they pay me so well at this job. Anyway, I don't find anything and I run out of my savings and am forced to move out of my apartment and into my mother's house. It's not so bad but it's also really stressful to think about.

Worse case: I quit, do all that^ and still can't find another job after moving in with my mom. I am unemployed because I'm only employable by call centres.

I realize I sound crazy but these are the thoughts going through my mind right now. My anxiety is at an all-time high and the only way out seems to be to... To stay at the job and to force myself to tolerate it, until I really find something. How do I live with a job that makes me cry at my desk and that makes me think about death every day? The customers aren't the worst, but the calls keep coming in and my boss is awful (you can see my other post about her "contest")

I think I got more anxious writing this post because I started thinking about being unemployed and my boyfriend getting this cool, new job I showed him and leaving me as a result. Obviously I am mentally ill in some way or another otherwise I wouldn't think these things. The only upside is I just started therapy last week and it's not something I want to lose, but even that costs money and I was excited to use it to help manage my relationship skills better.

Please talk some sense or something into me. I feel like I am at the end of my rope here.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I believe that anything that makes you suicidal is something you need to quit doing immediately. I'd suggest leaving and using your savings to buy some time until you can find something better

I'm so sorry you are going through this.
posted by 4ster at 7:25 PM on September 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

You could find a part time job and therefore not blow through your savings as fast, and use the rest of your time to job search for full time gigs.

Breathe, tell yourself it's going to be ok. Repeat.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:33 PM on September 26, 2017 [15 favorites]

Write your resignation letter. Date it October 16th, effective October 27th. Print it. Sign it. Seal it in an envelope. Keep it in your work bag or purse or whatever. Somewhere safe, because as soon as you turn it in, they're probably going to escort you out, right?

There. You've made the decision to quit. It's done. Bust your ass in the next two weeks to get a better job, and don't let the current one get you down anymore, because it's not really your job anymore. You're just serving out your two weeks' notice -- to yourself.
posted by Etrigan at 7:33 PM on September 26, 2017 [43 favorites]

I think this job is overwhelming you and you aren't seeing clearly. This is a very workable situation where you can navigate your way out to something better and you'll be fine.

First of all, your mental well-being trumps money. There are more important things than saving money. You don't state exactly what is so hard about this job, but normally my advice would be to stop caring about doing well at your job, stop caring if you get fired, and just keep getting paid while you focus on looking for a new job. Since you work at a call center, it sounds like you can't update your resume and look for jobs while you're working, and if your issue is a soul-sucking boss/co-workers, not caring about the work won't help. If it's possible to strip this job of the power it has over you by simply "phoning it in" so to speak, I would try that. But if you're this miserable and it's making you suicidal, then just quit. This stupid call center job isn't worth destroying your life over.

Secondly, I would stop freaking out about the worst case scenarios -- they aren't bad. Look at this way, you've just finished college and you've already been in a position to move out and live on your own with a great salary. At that stage in my life, I made about $20,000 and lived with my mom and had no savings. Oh, and I lived with my mom for another two years after that. So I'd get it out of your head that your fallback plan and worst-case scenario of moving back home is some kind of disaster -- it's common, lots of people do it and it absolutely wouldn't mean you've failed or anything like that. It's ok to need to reset sometimes and get a little help when you're starting out. I went back and lived at home (after I had been on my own for about three years) and it allowed me to take a breath, think about my career, and change course in a big way. I didn't feel great about living with my mom again, but it was what I needed and it put me on a great path.

It's always scary when you decide to give up what you know for what you don't know, but it's a pretty safe bet that there's some sort of job out there for you somewhere. And in the mean time, before you do find it, the good news is that it sounds like you have a boyfriend you care about and a mom who supports you. These are good things. You will be fine. You're in a good position that, no matter what you choose, you will be fine, as long as you don't let this crappy job rip you apart. Do what's best for you and stop worrying about the scenarios -- none are bad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:43 PM on September 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

Normally I'd advise staying until finding something new. But you shouldn't have to feel so miserable, daily. It sounds overwhelming and you seem to feel really trapped.

If I had it to do over again, I'd do more in the way of big adventures. A call centre is a pretty dull-sounding job, even though the salary is good for entry level. But you speak French! You could explore so many options that involve travel and planting yourself somewhere else, somewhere more rewarding, that would challenge you in interesting ways and tap into those unused liberal arts interests.

You could begin doing the 80/20 thing at work, and spend at least 20% of your time and energy sourcing opportunities for work abroad. Or even work teaching English or French to business speakers (lucrative and common in cities). Your qualifications are exactly suited for that type of work, and it's suited for people at your moment in life.

There's no rule you have to stay in the salary-paying, workaday world, even though it can seem like it. Let go of the expectations of others and your internalized expectations of yourself.

It's not clear how serious you are about the boyfriend. It could be that it's enough of a relationship you don't want to take off for Thailand (or wherever). But you most certainly have options like that. Life is going to involve plenty of drudgery. Right now is a good time to really explore the world and your capabilities. Of course you feel trapped - life shouldn't feel like it's dead-ending so early. If your boyfriend is on the fast train to a settled, ladder-climing executive life, but you're not seeing that as your own future, that's worth thinking about. It's not clear what industry he's a candidate in so I'm just guessing there. But you don't have to fall into that pattern just because it's what other people seem to want (and just as often, they regret it and have their crises later).

If you can muster the energy to start researching and generating other possibilities, do that while you're still employed. Dial back your effort so you're not as drained. Work slower. Leave some time for research. Move back home if you have to (it doesn't matter, and it's a good financial move).

What it sounds like you could do in therapy is start thinking about what's right for you. What kind of life do you envision? It's ok if right now all you've got is "not this." A lot of people have been where you are, and sorted it out. Sometimes it feels too slow. But it does get sorted out. Everything you're feeling is a signal pointing to or away from the life you want for yourself. You're not wrong or crazy to acknowledge those. You are valuable and you are going to figure it out. Breathe, one day at a time, keep moving forward. This isn't the whole story.
posted by Miko at 7:44 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've left jobs that I had a panic attack the moment I woke up to get ready for work and almost passed out from anxiety by the time I got to my desk. It is not fun. If work is that taxing, just quit. If it's unbearable, walk out. But, if you can go through with the full two weeks, that would be beneficial to you in the long run re: references, etc.

Do what you got to do. It seems like it's a big deal right now, but you will get another job. And another, and then another. Before you know it, you'll be in an awesome job with great people in a much better environment. Get there. Take the first step. It's ok to be leap without knowing where you'll land. It's scary with the economy and job searching and applications and all of those things. But you can make it happen. Believe and trust in your star power. You're a good employee. You're going to be ok.
posted by lunastellasol at 7:48 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

You are still in the throes of a major panic attack and will be dealing with the aftermath of it for the next few days. I have been there. I had a "there" last night, actually. I am planning to take some mental health days as soon as I can to sort things through.

That is what I think you should do, too. Call in sick tomorrow. Call in sick the next day if you can, too. Sleep. Take time to yourself. Cry it out. Stay hydrated, and stay nourished.

Then, yes. Quit.

The worse case scenarios are catastrophes to anyone during a panic attack. But you will be okay. Your fears are valid and make sense. Your anxiety about not being able to face those fears and conquer them is your panic-ridden brain lying to you. You will find another job. You will achieve self-sufficiency. It may take some time. That's ok. It will be time well spent, because it won't be spent at this job under this boss in this hell-scape environment anymore.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:50 PM on September 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

I recently quit a job after years of panic attacks at the office. Don't let it get to that point.

Part-time work while you find something else is an excellent idea. You have a little bit of money to fall back on, and if you're managing well on your current salary, you might be able to live off part-time work if you cut back on expenses, buying you a ton more time to figure out what you want to do.

You found one super-cool job you were excited about — you'll find others. You're just not in a mindspace to see it yet.
posted by third word on a random page at 7:50 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I worked in insurance claims for awhile, and it made more miserable than any other job I've had. So, major empathy from me going your direction.

Just a couple of thoughts: We tend to filter our lives through our current emotional state. The future feels more hopeless when the current situation feels hopeless. As much as possible, don't let your current situation define what you think you are doomed to experience, in terms of "likely" future scenarios. It's okay to feel hopeful beyond what your current situation seems to allow.

Also, if you have federal loans, you are able to defer or seek forbearance on your loans with relatively little penalty (and little effort involved), aside from paying interest (on the latter option). As such, you may have the opportunity to take this off your plate as a pending financial issue in your immediate future, which may make your situation feel more manageable.

As such, if you cut down on your standard of living for awhile, perhaps live with some others to cut down on rent, could you pay for basic expenses on top of it without this job? I would perhaps consider that doable, but only you know for sure. It's sometimes feeling the need to retain the same standard of living that can cause some anxiety. I sometimes recall my college days where I lived with others and basically lived quite cheaply for awhile, which reminds me at times that it's possible to get by without dying while looking for opportunities to take a step again in a new direction. I don't even look back on it as poverty (although I sure didn't make much), but living temporarily in a state of simplicity. Part of it is if we feel that we have enough to genuinely get by, but part of it is also in the mental framing and the people we have with us on the journey.

I know this isn't an answer full of hope or promise, but perhaps thinking about the possibilities will allow you to at least consider if the there is a life-buffer that will allow you to retain some mental health. In terms of a future job? That's always an open question, but I'm not sure that staying in a job that is killing you emotionally is a better option, necessarily, to rolling the dice on a better future.

Good luck to you.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:58 PM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

PS: Before you quit, make sure you have copies of all your pay stubs before you go and a clear idea of when your last paycheck is supposed to arrive.

When you quit, keep it simple. No explanations, no apologies, nothing. Put it in writing. Sign and date it. I have said something to the effect of,

"Dear Manager,

Effective immediately I am resigning from my role as ______ at ________. I appreciate having had the chance to work with you and your team and thank you for the guidance and support you've shown me since I started here in ______.

All the best,

If they ask for an exit interview, tell them, "Thank you, but I have no feedback to give. I am glad to have had the opportunity to work here and wish you and the team well. Goodbye."
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:58 PM on September 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

I literally just did this. Today was my last day. Having a job with a load of paid days off wasn't worth it when i used half of them for stress realted migraines. I'm lucky that my husband makes enough to pay the mortgage for a while until I find something better. It's still a little surreal, but I'm already less miserable.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:59 PM on September 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't know how qualified I am for anything else.

I'm just going to address this part. I like Etrigan's take action plan above. After you write the letter, I would immediately sign up with every temp agency in your city. This would be a good way to get another job that is not necessarily a call center job. You'd likely find something administrative, and while it probably wouldn't be your dream job, you could likely make enough money to tide you over while looking for something more permanent. Fwiw, when I was temping I was offered a permanent position from every temp position I took, so it can definitely be a gateway to something permanent if you want it to be.
posted by vignettist at 8:04 PM on September 26, 2017 [15 favorites]

Oh, man. Toxic jobs can be like toxic personal relationships -- the longer you stick around, the more they get into your head and make you think, "I must deserve this. Who else would ever want a screwup like me?"

My toxic company held onto me for seven years, then laid me off. I learned a lot in that time -- especially about dealing with difficult people and picking my battles. But when the pink slip came, I was VERY sure I was "soiled goods" because I KNEW the culture there was nasty, and I could FEEL it seeping into my own personality.

You don't need to look into the abyss that long, and you deserve to have something better looking back at you.

I don't know your city or its economy, but I am willing to bet that if you were working full-time at the pay rate you named here, SOMEONE out there will hire you to do SOMETHING for SOME amount. It might be a "survival job" or temp work for a while; it might be a lucky break. I've escaped bad jobs to find both.

I found it helpful, when I reached that breaking point with another job, to think about which of my skills were going unused and which compromises I might be willing to make in exchange for the improvements I needed. Make some lists to that effect when you have a quiet moment, and then start applying to stuff. Promise yourself a little treat if you reach (milestone number) rejection letters. Then keep looking, and promise yourself another treat if you reach another (milestone number).

(I also played a lot of TLC's "Creep" when I was sneaking out to interviews behind the boss's back. Made me feel devious and energized instead of hopeless/nervous. YMMV.)

Finally, cut yourself a little slack. Call centres have a reputation for making rational-but-sensitive people too miserable to function, while retaining/promoting irrational-and-insensitive types because they're the only ones who can survive the climate there. Irrational/insensitive is, like everything else, a kind of fitness for a certain environment, but it is not your kind of fitness.

You are not a tardigrade, and that is OK! Lots of workplaces are better environments for your skillset and your talents, but even if you don't find your perfect fit, you might find a vast improvement.

Be kind to yourself. The dream job might take a while, but the not-a-total-nightmare job might be closer than you think.
posted by armeowda at 8:26 PM on September 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also, if you have federal loans, you are able to defer or seek forbearance on your loans with relatively little penalty (and little effort involved), aside from paying interest (on the latter option).

Deferrals aren't available just for the asking, and piling up a lot of interest to capitalize at the end of a forbearance (so that you end up paying interest on the interest accrued during the forbearance period) is generally a bad idea. OP, after you quit, you should apply instead for an income-driven repayment plan, which you can do for free at the Dept of Education website. You'll have to demonstrate that your income has changed since your last tax return, which is a little fiddly, but with an income of $0 you'll have a payment of $0. (Note that this only applies to federal loans, not private ones.)
posted by praemunire at 9:47 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think, given what you've described, that you have good reason to quit. The kind of anxiety and depression you describe are genuinely damaging and $42,000 a year is not remotely enough to be worth inflicting that on yourself. I'm not sure any amount of money is, but certainly not an amount so modest that it'll be difficult to change your circumstances or make any progress towards life goals.

But if you can't bring yourself to quit, you should immediately start working on an exit plan -- reduce your expenses and save all the money you can, freshen up your resume, make sure your friends are crystal clear that you are interested in any other options they come across, etc. If you can't exit right now you can at least put yourself on a path where you know the anxiety and misery caused by your current job will end someday and that you are making progress towards that day. The knowledge that you have an escape plan and that your current situation won't be forever might be enough to help make the bad situation you find yourself in more bearable.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:14 PM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

You've previously indicated that you're in Canada. The student loan situation is a little less forgiving in Canada than it is in the U.S., ironically, and I get your anxiety over this.

Here's a suggestion: if she's not terrible to live with, move back in with your mom. Sublet the apartment to someone. Quit the job. Use the money you've saved to make payments against your loans. (Hello, I lived in my parents' basement in a major Canadian city multiple times during my working life, most recently after getting my masters. There is nothing wrong with that).

In terms of phone room work being your only option: it is not. The above suggestion to sign up for temp agencies sounds good, but, as mentioned above, you could also teach in France through something like this. You could get a TESOL-type certification and teach international students in your home city. You could apply to JET and teach in Japan. You also probably have qualifications you haven't even thought about that might be particularly useful in a job at home. You could proofread. You could offer translation services as a freelancer through Upwork while you figured out your next job. Maybe you could get into professional translation as part of publishing, if you're interested in that. Not to mention government-based opportunities, for which you basically need to be bilingual.

Job searches take time, and they often take more time than you think they will. What you need is a cushion during that time, because you're actually at a really important and exciting juncture in your life. Things are open to you! I think the above suggestion to get a part-time job while you think things through is great. You could do worse than work at a place like Starbucks. In the meantime, it might be worth seeking a bit of counseling for anxiety and to help you work through your decision process.

Hang in there. Quit the shitty job.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:38 PM on September 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

I am giving you permission to quit.
Not quitting a job fast enough that was killing me severely impacted my health in ways I will never get back. Get out and don't look back. Do what you need to to escape, even if there's some temporary discomfort.

Nothing is worth panic attacks at work and feeling that miserable.
posted by raw sugar at 12:30 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel insane typing it out because I feel like I can't get anything better. I look at job postings and my city's full of call centres. I don't know how qualified I am for anything else.

I recently left a job that was making me miserable. Before I finally left, I had spent a couple of years trying to break into work in various completely different fields, because I was sure that it was my industry that was making me miserable, and that any other job with the same title would be equally crappy. Finally I realized (with the help of a therapist) that 1) my workplace was not normal and other similar places might actually be way better, and 2) it would be much easier for me mentally to jump ship for something I was already qualified for, and then figure out the whole "what to do with the rest of my life" thing when I wasn't spending all my mental and emotional energy on my awful job.

It was the best decision ever. I am so much happier. Almost every problem I thought was a problem with my industry was actually a problem with that specific workplace.

I didn't have enough savings to quit and then look for a job, so I just gave myself permission to let everything else in my life drop if I didn't think I could deal with it. First applications and basic hygiene and feeding myself, then work, then whatever else I thought I could handle - even if that was coming home, playing video games until 2am, and then coming in to work late the next day. (But I would have quit first, if I could have, so I'm not saying don't.)

My point is: applying to other call center jobs might seem pointless and futile, since you work in a call center now and it blows. But you may find that if you do, you'll wind up in a place that is better enough that you're able to focus on the next step for you without feeling so hopeless.

Good luck, really. I understand very well how much this stuff can mess with your head. It took me years to leave. You're ahead of the game compared to me!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:25 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also: there are places online where you can sell your labor as a translator, if your written French is decent. That could be a great way to bridge the gap while you look for a new job, if you decide quitting is the best thing for you to do. A couple of years ago, when I was out of a full-time job for several months, I cobbled together a few temp agency jobs, a brief part-time coffee shop gig, and a couple of freelance writing assignments to get me through.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

You sound so miserable -- the description you're giving is something that, for me, would cross the line of "things I'll put up with in the interest of the greater good." What you're going through now would for me, not be worth it. You are the most important and precious resource you have. You, yourself. And you deserve care and support.

I think taking some time off, considering your options, and then probably quitting is a good way to go. During your time off, maybe do a day of self-care, a day where you lay in bed, a day where you schedule something you love and enjoy for yourself, and a day (after those days) where you plan out some potential paths forward. If you have a therapist, meet with them too.

I once quit a job that was making me miserable, after three weeks working there; it was one of my first jobs out of college and I felt like a failure but I realized it had gotten to that point where no matter what I would get from it, that wasn't worth what it did to me. Got a new job that provided fewer of the things I loved but also way fewer of the things I hated, kept my head down, set some goals and worked toward them, and that experience is now a tiny blip that I'm glad isn't bigger.

I've also done the "move out, then move back in with mom" thing. It helped me get more stability while I planned my next steps. Even if you do move back in with your mom, this phase won't last forever. You may be better positioned to launch into something more suited once you are in a more stable place emotionally. Use what resources you can and don't feel that you have to get everything sorted right now. Just take it one day at a time.
posted by ramenopres at 12:17 PM on September 28, 2017

« Older How do you phrase a headstone to say "We Love You"...   |   What makes you immediately aware of your own... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.