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special topics in calamity physics or: how i learned to stop worrying and leave the law

I said in November I’d be back. I didn’t realise it was going to be quite this long.

I had planned a big long re-introductory post but I feel like I both have too much distance and not enough from what happened to give it the quality of insight that something like a nervous breakdown requires. The short version is this: from the age of sixteen I’ve suffered from panic attacks.  These increased in severity and frequency after my dad died.  They increased in severity and frequency again when I obtained my legal traineeship.  And from the beginning of last year, I was in a constant state of anxiety, having multiple panic attacks each week.  I began my legal traineeship and was having multiple panic attacks every day.  I was being sick at least once a day. I was sleeping perhaps three hours a night. I was crying all the time.  I was trembling and feeling like I was about to faint.  All the time.

On 14 September, a Monday, I left the office as I had booked 2.5 days off.  I didn’t sleep the whole time.  I read a lot during those three nights, because it was the only way I could stop myself from sobbing.  On the Thursday, I went straight to my doctor in the morning and cried for about ten minutes in her office.  She signed me off from work. I walked home, stopping for a break to cry on the way.  I got into bed.  I slept.

I didn’t go back.

At first, I was convinced it would just be a week.  Then two weeks. The Prozac would kick in and I would be fine.  The Prozac did kick in.  And I did feel better.  Better than I had in years.  Except when I thought about going back to work. And as the third week rolled round, I knew what I had to do. I had to leave.  I had to stop trying to be someone I wasn’t. I’m not knocking my workplace or my job at all – they made every effort to support me.  But when I thought about the 8, 9, 10 hours I’d be spending there every day, tracking my every second as billable or non-billable, staring at my computer screen, worrying about other people’s money, conducting myself with deference at all times – I felt smaller, and smaller, and less, and less. I don’t know how or why I convinced myself that I was the sort of person that could fit into that mould, into that role. My trouble is, and always has been, that I’ve never been anything other than exactly what I am. I’m not saying that I don’t know how to put a professional face on, but what I do find hard is to be constantly pushing the things that I feel in my heart and know in my head to be true aside. Money and prestige aren’t an incentive for me in that sense.  I know how to be poor.  I’ve hardly ever had much money. What I wish I didn’t know and what I’m trying to unlearn is how to make myself unhappy for something that simply isn’t worth it.

I am so much happier, so much more content at the moment. I am working in a job where I am not using my degree. My contract finishes at the end of the week and I do not have anything lined up for the future.  I am facing uncertainty for the first time in twenty years. This is exactly what I have always feared.

And yet I am happier, more content, and, most importantly, less worried, than I have been in longer than I can remember. Being truthful to what and who I am has been such an amazingly revelatory experience. I feel whole in a way that no career success, no academic success, no relationship has ever made me feel.  It’s not a straight upward progression.  The first few weeks after I made my decision I could barely leave the house, couldn’t be anywhere in public without my earphones in, and was sleeping only intermittently and mostly during the day. Once I was well enough to go back to work in an administrative role, I had good days and bad days. I still wake up trembling and nauseated sometimes feeling the heaviness of things on my heart. The guilt still floods me – how dare you leave a secure career; how dare you put down the yoke of being the most successful person in your family; how dare you how dare you how dare you. But these things happen less frequently. When this happens, I call to mind and concentrate on the advice that Cheryl Strayed gives: go, because you want to.  Because wanting to leave is enough.  What I want and need is a good enough reason and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

My head is clearer. My heart is lighter.

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