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dead-tree-2007331_960_720Congenital Analgesia is a rare condition that occurs when a person is unable to feel or respond appropriately to pain. Typically, many people diagnosed with this condition die early in childhood because they remain in harmful positions far too long. The purpose of pain is to notify us when something is wrong. It forces us to move. When we ignore these signs, we remain in places and circumstances that have become detrimental to our growth.

I realized this truth sitting in the triage of the urgent care clinic in my town. I had been experiencing migraines almost daily, something I had not endured since adolescence when it was discovered that I had a buildup of synovial fluid on my brain. Considering I had already missed three days of work and fearing my childhood condition had returned, I left work early to get checked out.

I sat with the nurse in the small room and listened as she zoomed through her battery of questions: “Have you been feeling depressed or hopeless lately?” Surprisingly, I burst into laughter.

“Yes, yes I have.” I answered.  She administered the Major Depressive Disorder diagnosis instrument. I answered her questions with half-truths, narrowly avoiding meds or a facility placement.

The doctor entered shortly after to tell more jokes.  

“Have you been under an unusual amount of stress, lately?” she inquired.

First I laugh, and then I began to cry, unable to mask my pain any longer.

For the past four years, I have been teaching high school English for a struggling, yet amazingly resilient public school district. Thinking more recently about the last year and a half, I have been miserable, but each morning, I plaster on a smile for the sake of my students. The past six months have been the worse. Several times throughout the school day, I have burst into tears at the thought of my own unhappiness.I felt overworked and underappreciated, but instead of validating my own needs, I condemned myself for even thinking of leaving a place where my gifts and talents were obviously so desperately needed. She passes me the Kleenex and a prescription: Ibuprofen 800 for pain and another pill to help with migraine symptoms.

I told her about what I had dealt with as a child. I asked if she’d considered an MRI. I didn’t want to admit that I had allowed my mental and emotional pain to affect my physical health, but I had. She told me that an MRI was probably unnecessary, and asked if I’d like to learn some relaxation techniques instead.  I shook my head no, dried my eyes, and left. As I drove away from the clinic, here is what I realized:

  1. I Deserve to Be Happy. What sense does it make to spend 40-60 hours each week at a place that makes me sick, literally? Over a 50-year period, the average American will spend 35% of her waking hours at work. We invest a ton of our lives with companies, in meetings, and on teams. Shouldn’t we at least enjoy the time we spend with them?
  2. I Am Darn Good at What I Do, and I Want to Be Compensated! As professionals, we have a right to expect to be paid according to how we perform and the assets we bring to the table. I should not be expected to work myself to death just because I am good at my job, and surely, I shouldn’t be expected to be that darn good and not be compensated appropriately. Ironically, the more of an asset I became, the less appreciated I felt.
  3. It Probably Won’t Get Any Better. How many times have we told ourselves, “Hang in there; it’ll get better”? But sis, it probably won’t. The truth is, the aspects of your job that need fixing were not broken overnight,  and it’s going to take more than a few team meetings and pep rallies to fix it.

Now don’t get me wrong. The purpose of the piece is not to encourage you to make risky and thoughtless decisions, but to encourage you to make the necessary adjustments to facilitate your personal and professional development. It is a charge to take inventory of your life and see how much of it you’ve squandered waiting for circumstances to improve. It’s a demand to do what you’ve always dreamed, to seize opportunity, to know your worth, because, at the end of the day, no one will esteem you above the value you place on yourself. Lastly, it’s a gentle reminder that it’s okay to say ‘no’. It’s okay to leave a job, or any circumstance,  that continues to take you for granted. And it’s even okay not to feel an ounce of guilt about it.