August 20, 2012

The Job Swap Yardstick

I think I’d like to thank the health insurance company where I worked prior to my current gig.  They helped me by teaching me about the yardstick to use when you suspect you’re in the wrong job.  Having only been there a little over a year, it was a crash course.  To me, it was a bit like taking that 5 credit hour combined macro and micro economics class in college during summer school.  It was hell.  During that time, I started noticing myself slipping deeper and deeper into an episode of anxiety and depression.  I had had that controlled for a couple of years, and was off medication so I was disappointed to see it back.  The most telling (and at the time, most frightening) sign that it wasn’t right for me to work there was when I started to dry heave into the sink while getting ready for work.  When you’re a woman who’s trying not to be pregnant, that whole “Is this morning sickness?” voice in the back of your head is persona non grata. During the worst of my madness in college, my anxiety had manifested as a tightening of my chest.  Not like a heart attack, but more like someone set a stray shot-put on my sternum.  So, to be nauseated to the point of my body trying to bring something up made me sit up and take notice.  

Fast forward a few years and through a pile of life-changing events.  I put my head down and powered through declaring bankruptcy, filing for divorce (while sharing the house with him and his girlfriend), selling the house on a short sale that lost me close to $30,000 (which took a year almost to the day), moving, moving again 4 months later, and playing whack-a-mole with the problems at my new apartment.  (Too bad the prize for smashing them all isn't something fabulous, like a tropical vacation.)  My anchor has been my current job.  Believe me, I've felt like I needed to find a better opportunity for some time, but when you've got a maelstrom going on out there, sometimes the security of what you've already got is the better course of valor.  

What burned me out the most was the slow erosion of tech duties being replaced with what felt more like secretarial responsibilities.  I missed being elbows deep in ones and zeros.  You don't really get that when you hand out phone numbers, shuffle tickets around, pass along questions about when a work order will be resolved, and answer "can I leave a message?" calls for our field techs.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with that job as described.  Especially for what I was being paid.  But, when you've got a desire to be challenged to learn something new every day, the coping gets harder and harder the more you see your "big girl" responsibilities taken away.  It's not my purpose to badmouth my employer.  But there are reasons for someone to want to leave a place.  These are mine.  Well, most of them.  Everyone has bumps they hit that they won't miss. I have mine, but I think I'll mostly keep them to myself.  If I do share, I won't be including a frame of reference for where I'm talking about.  I've worked enough IT shops to be able to claim anonymity for wherever I'm talking about.

That said, I don't think it was me or my performance that was the reason for the change either, really.  We've had some instability at the top, and since I've been with the company (5 years in 2 days) we've had three CIOs.  I'm pretty sure the mission of the department changed only a little more frequently than you're supposed to rotate your tires.  Which on its own is frustrating.  I'm not afraid of change, but there's something to be said for prior notification, you know?  It's pretty tough to stay positive when you find out that policy has changed only after you've done something the old way and are told that you should do it differently now.  Oy. Landmines everywhere with "Yer doin' it wrong" all over them.

I can tell you though, I should have started looking long before I did.  I started getting "hand you your ass on a silver platter" headaches a couple times a month.  I became reclusive, staying in my house after work for weeks at a time.  I ate.  Oh boy did I eat.  So much so that I gained back about 20 of the 40 pounds I'd lost in the last few years.  On top of the eating, I was constantly exhausted.  I would sleep up to 12 hours at night, and still want to do nothing more than nap in my time off.  The pre-work dry heaves returned with a vengeance.  Now I was coughing into the sink each morning with such force that I would almost bruise my chest muscles.  I knew it was anxiety about work because I wouldn't feel sick on the weekends.  The worst part about this is that I managed to let the physical manifestation of my frustrations at work affect some of my friendships.  I'm hoping there's room to recover, but I can't blame people if they're tired of my falling off the face of the planet for no apparent reason.  

It got to the point where I was wound so tight about my needing to feel like I was more than a glorified receptionist, that even HR had to step in.  I hadn't taken an actual vacation in 3 years.  Aside from the time off to deal with my headaches with the big guns in my medicine cabinet, that means 1000+ days without much of a break longer than a 4 day weekend or so.  And I don't know about you, but there's nothing restful about being put down with horse pills when you're in pain.  HR told me that 3 years is too long to go between breaks, and I really should take some of the 6 or so weeks I'd accrued for some time off.  Oh yeah.  Heh.  There's no point in letting it pile up if you never use it.  He who dies with the most toys, still dies, after all.

There's a part of me that wishes I wouldn't have let the stress pile up to the point of physical manifestation by way of vomit before I made a change.  Then there's the rest of me who thinks it was prudent to wait till the dust from the rest of the major changes I'd gone through settle.    Enough of the air had cleared when I accepted this new position.  And really, if you ask me, it was worth the wait.  More money, an even shorter commute, great benefits, no on-call, and normal hours makes for an easy reason to say yes to the offer.  I really hope to have a long relationship with this new place.  One that never finds me retching into the sink in the morning.

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