Why I Left My Job as an Essential Worker During the Pandemic to Save My Own Health

This will likely come as a surprise to many who know me professionally, but after three & a half years of building a career, I have decided to leave my job and Chamber of Commerce industry. This decision did not come easily as I have been fighting alongside businesses for the past year trying to help them figure out how to handle the influx of recent problems caused by the pandemic. As many of you may or may not be aware, being a key employee there, and generally in the industry altogether, meant that my life was always “busy”. In fact, that became a typical response when someone asked me how I was since starting there because I knew they couldn’t handle to truth of the amount of stress I was feeling inside on a day to day basis.

The Pandemic Affects & Burnout

In any industry, I have always done my best to spread positivity, teach others and was able to perform well in roles with minimal supervision. I was even known to be a person who would welcome new challenges for the sake of learning experiences regardless of what I was dealing with in my personal life. It gave me peace of mind knowing I had the ability to help so many people in so many ways. I won’t say a singular reason led to this decision, but a multitude of things that created a snowball effect over time this past year. However, the most important factor that weighed my mind daily over the past year has been my health. With the pandemic bringing things like self-care, mental health awareness, physical health/safety top of mind for many, I realized I had been compromising many of these things for myself in order to maintain my position and ultimately made the decision to leave for good.

This year brought on so many challenges for everyone…. Up until April, I had been handling addressing the business climate situation as smooth as I could. I had been working shorter hours to adjust to our staffing needs for a period of time. However, as time went on, our staff dwindled and the workload continued to increase. Sometimes it felt like I had been doing twice the amount of work, but in half the amount of hours. While looking productive on the outside, on the inside I was at my wits end balancing the new items related the pandemic along with my regular set of projects, sales goals & managing another salesperson. When the time came to increase working hours, I felt twice as tired. Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that I am quite the persistent person and will try various attempts at something before simply just giving up. Whenever I feel frustrated my next step is to seek advice from others, look for ways to shine a positive light in the situation, and make adjustments along the way.

When I took a bit of time off in July to visit my home state, I had thought about leaving because the experience of visiting places I grew up in Ohio and the conversations I had reminded me of what is truly important: family & your health. Being in another state during this time really gives you a perspective on how restrictive California has become. Some of my family members expressed concern for me working so closely with the public during a health crisis, others were worried about the homeless situation, & a few just hoped I would be able to take more time off to visit home. They all understood the things I had to do were part of my job and that I couldn’t afford to miss out on work because my salary was based on commissions which meant missing time would end up costing me one way or another.

The Burden of Businesses Struggling to Survive

Returning back wasn’t an easy transition because there really hasn’t been a “good” time to leave work this year. I thought I had mentally prepared myself for problems waiting in my email to fix, projects to report on and meetings to run with a smiling face. Unfortunately, on the first day back I actually broke down in tears during a staff meeting telling them I was overwhelmed coming back, especially because we were down a salesperson. This led to some delegation of my tasks, some remote work, added help in my department, and even a few candid conversations where I was able to mention feeling “hopeless” with the way things were going. However, as time went on the problems I was faced with solving or offering advice to continued to arise and so did my stress levels.

Part of my role included outreach which led to many phone conversations over sensitive topics with business owners & employees. It was difficult to check in with people daily who shared common concerns for things they were worried about like how they will feed their family or take care of their employees… how they were scared to lose not only their livelihoods, but also the pursuit of their dreams. Plenty shared their hopes of move out of state, each time resulting in our city’s loss of yet another business to this virus… The worst call I had was where one person shared details on a business owner who ended their life because of everything going on… I was severely disappointed to see the direction our state’s legislation was moving on the issue with more forced closures & restrictions hoping that once that stopped, things would get better. I had many wins and setbacks with my projects and in my department after that. One of my clients was even arrested at his business, which was such devastating news considering the fact that I was able to connect him with the right contacts to resolve the issue and ask for more clarification on the back & forth enforcement of the early version of the health order prohibiting gyms from operating indoors prior to that. Fortunately, that situation put the organization in a great position to be an advocate through a variety of ways soon after. The most impactful and rewarding thing I think I was able to on an individual level to connect many with legislators and many other resources. Despite all of that, as things progressed, I ran out of answers & solutions.

I began to feel constant anxiety that the problems I was tasked with facing were far beyond my scope of work and skill level. I also felt depression set in from my own standards of productivity slipping feeling like I was letting so many people down. I felt myself become drawn inward and had no time for anything but thinking of ways to make my job easier. Since the staff worked part remote and in separate offices with little time to waste, it had been hard to feel connected internally which led to me feeling like I was tackling this all on my own. Many times, no matter how many problems I could solve or sales I was still able to make, I still felt like I was failing at it. Each day that passed by before me seemed “unfinished” and final nail in the coffin came from the physical symptoms that started arising…at one point, it eventually made me sick to my stomach to think about picking up the phone to call another person about advertising. I knew that physically, I simply could not host or participate in another meeting.

Physical Symptoms Weighing In

A few months ago, I started to develop migraines from everyday things at work like checking email, dealing with the emotional burden of the calls, and doing “work arounds” to do my basic tasks because it seemed like there was no straightforward way to do a lot of things. At times, I felt like I was just making it up as I went along not really knowing where things stood with legislation or the organization because of the state many businesses I was reaching out to were in. Eventually, I stopped eating due to nausea from stress which led to my body feeling sick all of the time. I lost motivation to do what I once loved and started to feel separated from others around me. I noticed my productivity take a toll and my main focus which was sales was becoming lost in the sea of larger problems. There was a time where I felt like I could “sell anything to anyone, anywhere anytime”… but not like this.

Obviously, through significant wins & losses throughout this, my health has has continued to have its ups and downs… Looking back I can see all this time it was trying to tell me something. I was constantly refusing to accept the truth that I wasn’t so healthy anymore aIl of the sudden…. Recently, I noticed my body started getting more tense and migraines were returning. I was losing more weight, but unintentionally from sweating from anxiety, lack of appetite, and frequent stomach pains. I knew I could still keep going, but I was tired and definitely needed a break from work again soon. Going up the stairs at my apartment became such a daunting task and the going to the store with my boyfriend had me wanting to stay home because I felt like it was too much walking! We stopped skating, hiking, and even going over to friends houses. It was hard for me to be around others my age not aware of the types of problems I was dealing with at work and if they were, I didn’t think anyone could relate to what I had been facing and didn’t want to share the full extent of my depression with the situation.

I felt this way because whenever I mentioned some of the things I was experiencing to other staff, overall it seemed like I was the only one with a problem keeping up. In fact, each time I mentioned feeling overwhelmed and like I needed a break, they had started to ask me things like how I was doing with my boyfriend and how things were at home… During conversations it seemed like they would be there for me personally, but couldn’t offer more assistance professionally unless I had any new ideas. Each time, it was left up to me on how to manage my time and tasks but I just was asking someone to take the reigns to steer me in a better direction. Obviously how I was managing myself was not working but I was very exhausted and still had more work to do.

At one point I came to the realization that I’m 27 and I didn’t feel healthy at all despite living vegan for 2 years and stocking our fridge/pantry with the best stuff. What’s worse is that I stopped checking in with my family for a short period again because there was nothing good to report from work, the main thing that holds me back from visiting more due to guilt from obligations. I got pessimistic, avoided real human connection, & lost motivation to help myself because I was too wrapped up in the rest of the world and I thought taking care of “me” could wait. Newsflash: your health does not wait for anyone, but you. Its status is either is good or it isn’t.

Reflecting on My Time at This Job

I do not regret my decision to leave, but I do wish it was not on such short notice. Unfortunately, the compound interest finally had to be paid off and it hit me when I least expected it which was this week. I woke up each day wondering how I would manage to make it to the next let alone until this weekend. While I was able to have the physical environment to focus on my tasks and projects due to remote work, each day this week I had felt a little more hopeless and alone in my efforts. My symptoms became almost impossible to manage, making me feel awfully sick. Each time I checked email or received a call from a coworker, my heart rate would start racing so fast it was causing me physical pain. On Wednesday, I decided to tender my resignation letter and on Thursday, I packed the things in my office.

I can see why some coworkers and my superior wouldn’t want to face me after a decision like this but am thankful to the manager who treated me with kindness as we packed my things away. It showed that after knowing me for years and helping address my concerns this year in the workplace, I had some level of understanding in the situation. It also was a real display of who had truly cared about me as an individual during the time I had worked there. It’s a bittersweet moment to leave a career I had come to love so much, but in a place with problems far beyond what I was able to accomplish without the type of support I needed. Things had started to slip through the cracks and with many deadlines coming up, I was coming to the end of my rope more and more with each passing day. In the end, I left at the time that was right for me and on good terms overall. I think many could see that I was struggling but did simply not know how to help due to their own time constraints and inability to perceive things were affecting me to this level in the workplace. I’m still not sure if anyone understood that it wasn’t a “personal problem”, mental health issues, or lack of effort. Either way, it’s not as important to me to think about how others will perceive me. I simply am.

Looking back, I have thought that because my divorce was so publicly brought into the workplace, it was something I just couldn’t come back from with others knowing I was dealing with that and the potential it had to affect me in a negative way. I also wondered if I had fit into the work culture there to begin with or had been compromising my needs because of survival mode tactics. I had wondered if it was only me who felt tension build as I established more healthy personal boundaries between work/personal life. With all these questions running through my mind, it was a sure sign that I made the right decision and am ready to move forward to a more positive future.

Despite the issues that led up to me leaving, I also carry so many positive memories with local organizations & businesses that I will never forget. It was an absolute honor to help so many of them celebrate such a large amount of grand openings, anniversaries, & renovation celebrations over the years that I’ve completely lost count! I did my best be a pioneer and diversify the membership base by bringing in new industries like medicinal marijuana, cbd, and even a fitness/training based pole dancing studio. I had the pleasure of speaking to many unique people like architects, writers, graphic designers, product developers & solo entrepreneurs and so many other professions hearing how they launched their success.

This position gave me the chance to diversify my skills by plunging in head-on and revamping an entire membership department and being responsible for the sales, programming, benefits & events. It also taught me the ins and outs of publishing through digital & print ad sales, editing, marketing and even distribution. Because of this, I’ve learned how to hire, train & manage employees. I’ve also learned how to facilitate large meetings in-person & via Zoom, building my networking skills and gaining experience as a public speaker. I’ve found ways to create unique one-of-a-kind events that have been major successes, and even complete flops! It’s taught me some of the key elements of what it takes to run a successful business, but also common pitfalls many owners face. Through research, I’ve also learned how local politics work and various levels of government. It’s taught me that if you’re really passionate about something, you can make it happen with enough supporters in your corner. Most importantly, it’s taught me that sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and think about how you want to follow your dreams. I’ve talked to so many about my love for veganism, but never thought it would be taken seriously in a professional sense. This year my network grew full of forward thinking, sustainable, health conscious vegans, vegetarians, and other kinds of amazing humans, so I’m diving more into that to see what kind of impact I can have by sharing what I know and am learning…

A Brave New Adventure

My next chapter is going to be new, strange and at times probably a little nerve racking but I feel so much relief and am already doing much better. I’m back to showing up as my authentic self in conversations, standing taller, releasing tension my back & stomach. I’ve picked back up hobbies like reading, listening to podcasts, yoga & writing daily (after reading another blog about writing). Odin & Freya are totally loving the longer walks, belly rubs & me just being home to hang out with them throughout the day. Blu & Rey are showing their appreciation in all the head boops they can to my face and planting themselves solid to various parts of my body while they’re in bed. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see bags under my eyes as much anymore and I notice I’m able to think much more clearly when making day to day decisions. I used to move fast all of the time and now I’m learning to operate at a much slower pace, remembering to breathe and separate myself from worry.

Of course, I had originally wondered what others would think, what problems I would create by leaving like this, and what I will do next… but right now, all I am responsible for focusing on is my health and getting that back up to 100%. I’ve spoken to many friends and family members who have supported me like my siblings, aunts, grandparents, my boyfriend & his family. Of course, there are others who are just finding out or may not understand yet due to little contact with me this year who do not agree. If being vegan for past two years has taught me anything, it’s to stand up for what I know is right, to take the very best care of myself (because you only get one body!) and to make time for the people who matter most in your life.

I plan to take some time off from the workforce to focus on my overall wellness with goals like gaining weight to a healthier point, improving relationships with positive influences, & to explore my passion of veganism and making the world a better place. Of course, I’ll be sharing my progress along the way. So instead of a weight loss journey, maybe you’ll see a post will be about healthy ways to gain weight and manage stress! I’m excited for some downtime to catch up on things in our apartment and to finally accept the full scope of help Austin offers. It puts me at ease to have a partner willing to step up and help take over so I can recoup. Until then, check out my Instagram stories for frequent updates including motivational posts, vegan resources/facts, and animal photos.

Have you ever had to leave a job or career you loved for the betterment of your health? Leave a comment below.

As always, thanks for your love & support.

‘Til next time!

Em 🌱

Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae
Emerald May, The Plant Based Bae

Hi! My name is Emerald May and I’m The Plant Based Bae. I was born and raised in the Midwest, and have called Southern California home for the past seven years. In 2018, I decided to switch to a vegan diet which led to me improving my overall quality of life and learning a lot about health & humanitarianism. Since then, I’ve had countless conversations with vigorous vegans and curious omnivores to share what I’ve learned along the way.

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