CW: Talk about suicide, suicidal ideation, and depression.
Eight months ago, alone at work with a heavy to-do list and late in the afternoon, I wanted to end my life.
I was beyond exhausted and frustrated. It was shortly after Passover and I felt lonely, lost, and hopeless. I felt like my career was at a dead end, and I was burning myself out in an increasingly thankless, stressful, and miserable job for no gain. I was drinking too much. I was taking too much caffeine. My relationships with my family were suffering. I felt resentful of everything and everyone.
All my coping mechanisms that had carried me through so much- meditation, exercise, reading, even writing- were failing me. I was sore and exhausted and bored with exercise. My meditation was rote routine and fruitless. Reading was still good, but I had lost the ability to calm down enough to read a paperback. Audiobooks were just entertaining noise in my ears. I was always stressed about the next shift, the next week, the next month, and what new nightmares would be coming down the chute that I would- inevitably- have to handle.
I never had a plan for how I would off myself, but I did debate how to take care of Emily beforehand. How could I quietly empty my bank account into hers to cover as many expenses as possible? How could I redirect bills? Farther and farther, deeper and deeper as I stared into an abyss of tart shells and almond paste.
Then I thought “What the actual fuck am I doing? This is fucked up. I need to pull out of this fast. I need to put something else in my brain.” Fortunately, I had just finished downloading a new Raymond Chandler mystery novel on Libby. I plugged in headphones and finished my shift to the sound of Phillip Marlowe getting his ass kicked by Los Angeles mobsters.
The nadir of my mental health at that point took about ten minutes. I have been an EMT. I have been in car accidents, lost patients, been actively threatened and assaulted by patients, tended to grotesquely injured people, some of whom didn’t survive.
This was the most scared I have ever been in my professional life… and it was because my mind, body, and heart just couldn’t take it anymore.
When I finally got home, I took a deep breath while I debated how (or whether) to tell my wife that I was suicidal earlier. After about 20 minutes, I leaned against the door, slid to the floor, and told Emily about it. The first thing she did was hug me, thank me for telling her (and more importantly for coming home,) and talk me through it. A week later, I turned in my notice from a job that was quite literally trying to kill me.
“If you don’t like it, get a better job,” right?
A few weeks later, I would have the anxiety attacks that finally pushed me to get back into therapy and get on medication. Due to my experiences, my insurance company required a mental health screening phone call before I could make any appointments to see if I just needed a psychiatrist or to be committed. Sitting in my car (the most private place I had access to,) the quiet voice of the screening doctor peppered me with questions. It wasn’t until then that I finally had to give voice to the problem that- for that moment- I had thought suicide was the solution for.
“Are you now suicidal or want to harm yourself?”
“Do you feel like the world would be better off without you in it?”
“Do you want to go to sleep and just never wake up again?”
“… Yes. It’s like… I just want to stop, you know? I want to rest. I want to feel like my work is done and that I can finally relax and be quiet for a bit, but my brain will never let me. I just want to finally be at peace. I don’t want to die, but I don’t care if I live- because at least then I can finally stop and rest. Does that make sense?”
At this point, it felt like the doctor went off-script and spoke directly to me, not just checking boxes on a list. “Matt, that makes complete sense, and I absolutely feel you. We are exhausted, everything sucks, and you just wish it would all stop for a minute so you could catch your breath, right? You’ll be fine, Matt- let’s make you an appointment and get you in front of someone.”
Exhaustion is real.
Burnout is real.
The pandemic is real.
The cruelty, entitlement, indifference, arrogance, exploitation of our society is real.
Depression, pain, and anger are real… and the cost in lives is real.
Coping mechanisms have their limits. Eventually, you can’t keep kicking your stressors to the side anymore and need to fix the damn problem, whatever it is. Part of mine was a miserable job that had long since lost any sense of feeling rewarding and was happy to burn through workers as long as the pastries went out and the money came in. We were resources to be exploited and then mourned with lip service, want ads for our positions on Poached, and befuddled shrugs of “Why can’t we hold on to people? Why does no one want to work anymore?”
The other part of my problem was my mind not allowing me a moments peace. Quitting my job took care of the first part- the second would take some more concerted effort than writing an extremely diplomatic resignation letter. In fact, it would take anxiety attacks, panic attacks, two different medications, kicking caffeine, and flirting with Serotonin Syndrome before I finally got a taste of what I’d always wanted.
A week after starting my medication, I woke up on my Saturday at my usual time. I ate breakfast, fed the cat, and sat down on my bed to meditate like I always did. Yes, meditation had failed as a coping device. Routines were good though, and meditation is a good habit. Meditation trains your metacognition– understanding how your thought processes work- and distances you from your thoughts. It trains you to calm your mind in a quiet state so that it’ll be easier for you to do in a stressful one.
I closed my eyes, counted my breaths, relaxed my body, and prepared to see my thoughts go by without interfering with them– just watching them pass like clouds in a blue sky or cars on a highway.
That’s when I realized the “road” was empty. My mind was a clear blue sky. An infinite, empty void. There was only me, at ease in nothing. I almost cried with joy.
It was a moment of perfect peace that I never wanted to end.
I left that job and found my current one. I have worked harder at this job than I ever have in my life- but now I work with purpose, recognition, respect, and a sense of joy (it’s never just about money.) I am alive. I kept on writing, learned to enjoy paperbacks again. I enjoy my baking talents again. My relationship with my family has improved, I’ve kicked caffeine, and- most importantly- I know that the peace I thought I could only find in extinction is only ever a few breaths away.
Get help. Quit your shitty bullshit toxic job and find one that makes you happy to wake up in the morning. Let them scream and cry and whine on social media about “labor shortages.” Let those bitter, entitled assholes that demanded we “open up” and “get back to normal” scream and rant at a locked door and a closed sign.
You are not a commodity. You are not wood for a fire. Go do something where you are happy and valued. You owe it to yourself to be at peace, and you can find it without losing everyone and everything you love.
2 thoughts on “Seeking Quiet- Mental Health, Meditation, and How Phillip Marlowe Saved My Life”
I have been thinking about doing exactly that, quit my job, because while it’s not toxic by any means, it’s also taking me away from the things I REALLY want to do in life, like continue pursing my path in authorship. I’ve tried that once before, and it was bliss. I guess the allure of a steady income led me astray, but after reading your post, who knows? Maybe I’ll be right back on track next month. Anyway, thanks for this, and wishing you all the best!
Thank you! I stayed in that job for over two years, and while it taught me a number of skills I’m still frustrated with how many opportunities I let slip by out of timidity or a misplaced sense of “duty” to a job that was happy to burn me out. Best of luck!