Many of us deal with abuse or toxicity in some way—whether it’s in a close relationship at home or a colleague or a boss at work. Our contributor this week opens up about her personal journey from physical and emotional pain to the realization that she deserves more. Much more. From people-pleaser to self-care and self-love, Brooke Davis shares her inspiring reflection on how she learned to set boundaries with those hurting her. Today, she’s grateful for her many life lessons about loving and valuing herself—and ultimately, for learning how to break the chains. Read and be inspired. Maybe you will resonate and make a necessary change in your life, too.
“My Journey from Illness to Self-Love”
By Brooke Davis
Years ago, I suffered a bought of vertigo at work that left me kneeling on the bathroom floor vomiting into the toilet. My left ear sounded like a freight train was running through it, yet I had no idea why I was sick. I drove home from work early that day, yellow spots dancing before my eyes.
After a few months, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, which is an inner ear disorder brought on by an abnormal amount of fluid in the ear. The cause of Meniere’s is unknown, but it can be exacerbated by extreme stress, eating too much salt, and genetic predisposition. Vertigo, nausea, and vomiting are common during a Meniere’s attack.
I knew I’d been under too much stress at work given that my teammate was leaving, and her replacement was struggling to get up to speed. I’d also unwittingly been eating burritos a little too often, and they turned out to be way too high in sodium. During my ordeal, I also learned that one of my aunts had been diagnosed with the disease when she was in her mid-thirties.
The stress, salt, and my family history came together in one perfect storm forcing me to reexamine my health, my choices, and my career.
A Divine Email
In an attempt to improve my health, I made a lateral job move within my department. This move did not impact my title or pay check, but I hoped it might impact my workload and stress level.
Before my transition was announced, my boss had sent an email to his superior, which laid out what he wanted to announce to the department about my job change. Through a turn of events that can only be defined as divine, I was able to read the response my boss received from his superior, and it stopped me cold.
Read it here in full (note the cross outs):
With continued emphasis on credit quality reporting and increasing schedules, Brooke brings to this position the experience needed for this reporting position. I am not comfortable saying what you said above as it could lend someone to think this is a promotion or that she’s very valuable to the department, and again I am not comfortable saying this.
Needless to say, I felt stunned, shocked, and betrayed. And quietly, I was furious. Here I was, working incredibly hard and making myself ill for someone who wasn’t comfortable saying I was very valuable. But why? Why was I doing this? And why hadn’t I had the courage to walk away from the situation before I found myself kneeling on the floor of the bathroom?
After time and reflection, I realized most of all I was angry with myself. I hadn’t set effective boundaries. I hadn’t respected and cared for myself enough to work through my misguided loyalty and “people-pleasing” issues. I hadn’t loved myself or felt confident enough to brave leaving the toxic situation before it spiralled into a true health crisis.
I soon realized, however, that my situation was of my own doing. So, instead of blaming everyone else for my situation, it was time for me to take responsibility for my life and my career…
Taking Decisive Action
I hung a copy of that email on my bathroom mirror and looked at it every day as I worked up the courage to leave my job. During this time, I also focused on my health. For example, I received a prescription to help my Menieres* disease and began making exercise a priority.
I also changed my diet by monitoring my sodium intake; and slowly (and sometimes awkwardly) started to set better boundaries about what I would and would not do at work—even if those boundaries weren’t well received.
Finally, I resigned.
Leaving my job was an incredible relief, but before that happened, I was forced to work on my people-pleasing tendencies. I also had to look at loyalty in a whole new way. Before I left, I sometimes felt I was being a quitter and that I’d been defeated. But, as things progressed and I realized I wasn’t a good fit for my job or work environment, my guilt over quitting faded. That work environment wasn’t going to change, and in the long run, it wasn’t going to serve me.
I live now using a “loyalty has limits” approach. I always want to perform well at any job, but not if it means I’m not healthy, valued, and rewarded. I also had to admit to myself that pleasing others wasn’t serving me.
In other words, I needed to understand why I wanted to please them and how to work effectively with my [personal] pleasing tendencies.
Healing Over Time: Mind, Body, and Spirit
My health crisis was the wakeup call I needed; it taught me that loving, respecting, and valuing your health and yourself isn’t selfish, it’s self-full. None of us can serve others (or ourselves) when we’re sick or depleted. By working on my self-worth and self-esteem, I learned that I was worthy of working for people who valued me as a whole person. Not just for what I did.
Recovering from my toxic work situation and coming to terms with my Menieres has taken time, patience, and self-compassion. I eventually had to stop taking my prescription medication because it made me dizzy and permanently damaged my kidneys.
I have permanent hearing loss in my left ear, but thankfully, the rate of loss has stabilized, and I don’t [yet] need to wear a hearing aid. By watching my salt intake and making sure I drink enough water, I haven’t had a vertigo attack in several years.
I now manage my stress by walking regularly, doing yoga, and meditating, And I’m very fortunate that the changes in my diet and stress management skills have helped me deal with my Menieres without medication (and without further hearing loss).
The Good News
I’m now able to gently correct myself when I occasionally fall back into people-pleasing mode. I’m also much better about setting limits around my time and energy. To be honest, I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone. But today I’m grateful for the lessons it has taught me about loving and valuing myself.
*What Is Meniere’s Disease? Meniere’s disease is an inner-ear condition that can cause vertigo, a specific type of dizziness in which you feel as though you’re spinning. It also can cause ringing in your ear (tinnitus), hearing loss that comes and goes, and a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear.
About the Author:
Brooke Davis is a Certified Wellness Inventory Coach and freelance writer. She is passionate about writing and helping mid-career women heal from excessive stress, overwhelm, and burnout. She helps others successfully make life changes through her blog and coaching sessions at Roots of Abundance. Follow her on Insta @rootsofabundanceco, or visit www.rootsofabundance.com
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