I’ve written a lot about quitting – the eternal regret of quitting too soon, the broken bone remnants of not quitting when I should have. Today, I am writing because I have experienced a new type of quitting, although it’s a familiar agony: I have quit my job.
I’ve been quiet on this blog because instead of having mountain misadventures to over-dramatize, I became a workaholic. This was entirely unintentional: 2 of my 2021 resolutions were: ‘have a consistent year of training’ and ‘take some tangible steps to bring more bad days in the mountains to life’. I got a promotion at the beginning of April, enjoyed the work, and there was always more of it. For the first few months I was required to be on call 24/7, and I accepted the natural consequences of this without question. No more mountains. No more friends. No more sleep. Within weeks of starting I willingly quit everything else so that I could work 100-hour weeks.
I’m very happy when I have my blinkers on and am laser focused only on the one goal in front of me, completely disregarding the eminently obvious consequences cascading around me. I saw no benefits to taking a break. I became increasingly convinced that I just needed ‘one more’ all-nighter to pull myself out of the hole, one more weekend locked at my desk.
Shock horror, I am the exact same as every other person on this planet and despite my fevered beliefs both that hard work is a moral imperative, and also that I was coping, these hours weren’t actually good for me. Humans need social interaction, humans need exercise, and most importantly humans need sleep. My physical and mental health both suffered enormously. The gory details are extremely funny, and I will certainly write about them in detail at some future point. My hair was falling out in chunks that I collected in mason jar. I got prodded awake from one of my frequent fainting fits by someone who is so far my superior they may as well come from space. I would occasionally manage to sleep for a few tear drenched hours, and any free time was spent staring at the ceiling (through any miserable times in my life, I have always turned to the ceiling for comfort).
I couldn’t bear to spend time outside as gazing at the mountains from a balcony within the city would make me question my choices, and even I knew my foundation was shaky as hell and could not withstand any scrutiny. I ruthlessly eliminated almost everybody from my orbit who questioned my choices. I’m very grateful for an incredibly patient group of friends who tolerated my absence. Even when I was there, I wasn’t really there – either plugged into my laptop, or only capable of talking about work.
Keeping going was initially easy. I’ve always liked extremes, and I couldn’t resist the siren call of a job that I thought was going to kill me. Everyone at work knows it is a lot, but as my boss laughingly told me: ‘you are the only person I know who would literally die for their job’. Rock bottom came and went so many times, but it got harder to push through every time. A temporary reprieve allowed me to run 300 miles in New Mexico in October, and I thought I was clinging onto some semblance of sanity. However, this was wishful thinking, and by November I was barely able to run a mile without collapsing.
I only cared about work, and that was a bit scary. It was strange going from being somebody who had cared way too much about running to being someone who didn’t care at all. I’ve never not cared about something, and I didn’t know what had happened to me. So I quit. I had ‘quit’ many times before, but always ended up clinging on for a few further months. It’s necessary for me to accept that I am simply not up to the challenge. I was not strong enough to do what was being asked of me.
I’m trying to be OK with this choice, but am the level of OK where I’m writing 1000-word blog posts to justify my choice, the exact same exercise as the post DNF compilation of excuses. ‘I couldn’t do it’ is like a punch to my windpipe.
The shame of quitting will burn bright in me for the rest of my life. I still spend every minute thinking about work, an agitation I cannot shake that brings me to screaming breathlessness. I know eventually I will dream less of these beautiful buildings, and that will be healthy, but the mark of failure will be with me forever.
For now, I am living in my car and training full time for an exciting summer goal. I need to learn how to care about something else again.