If you had asked me years ago if someone’s shitty job would be enough to bring them – and everyone around them – to a place of utter despair, I would not have believed you. Yes, crappy jobs can bring us down and make us miserable. But really, if the other aspects of your life are in order, and you are an emotionally stable person, a crappy job can’t possibly be enough to almost ruin you, right?
I’m here to tell you that yes, yes it can.
My husband and I have been together since high school, so we’ve gone through our share of ups and downs. I’ve seen him deal with deaths in his family, his parents’ divorce, and the everyday stresses of adulting, raising a family, and all that goes along with that. I’ve seen him mildly depressed here and there, stressed and anxious at other times – but nothing out of the ordinary.
All of that changed about five years ago when he began teaching in a crowded city school. It was his dream for many years to become a teacher. He was always good with kids – smart, energetic, funny – and had years of experience working with young people as a camp counselor, drama teacher, and freelance educator. So going back to school to get his teaching license seemed like a no-brainer, and like a great way to land a steady job that could (decently) support our growing family. After a few years of struggling financially, this seemed like a great way to get us back on our feet.
The teaching market where we live was highly saturated, and he had to sub for a while after he got certified. Finally, he landed a job in the city. It was a school known for behavior issues, but it was small and had an arts program, so he thought it would be a good match. There were some great aspects to the job – and he still has a soft spot for many of the kids.
But as many teachers will tell you, teaching at an underfunded city school that is run like a factory – and where the teachers get little respect – is extremely draining, demoralizing, and stressful.
My husband did his best, but he was constantly blamed for the kids’ out of control behavioral issues. Imagine being one teacher in a room full of 30 kids, many of whom weren’t getting the support they needed. Imagine trying to get them to do basic things like take out a notebook, a pen, and being constantly met with blank stares, mockery, and even cursing. And imagine having a support staff who did little to enforce even the most basic rules – and worse yet, blamed the teachers for every single issue the students had.
The school was known for its high teacher turnover rates. About 3/4 of the staff left each year. But my husband stayed. He stayed for five years. Five. Long. Years.
“Why?” you might ask. It’s a good question, and one we ask ourselves often now. He stayed because he thought he would one day get through to the students, and he stayed because he genuinely cared about them. He stayed because he thought it would get better. He stayed because he was assured by the staff that he’d get more support. He stayed because he was anxious about finding another job in a highly competitive job market. He stayed because he thought that leaving would mean that he was admitting defeat.
As each year went on, I saw him fall further and further into despair, depression, and anxiety. In the fourth year, he began having panic attacks almost daily. He’d never had one before, and it took him a while to recognize what was happening. And when the panic attacks became a daily occurrence and he began having self-destructive thoughts, he began therapy and started on an antidepressant for the first time in his life.
Nothing helped, though – or at least not enough.
The worst part is that he would often come home and have nothing left for me and the kids. I was working full-time too and almost all of the emotional, mental, and physical labor landed on my shoulders. I began to resent him, and my anger rose more and more each day. We hardly spoke during the work week, and there was constant tension between us.
But truly the worst of it was that there were a few times – mostly toward the end of his time at the job – where he blew up at me and the kids. Not just the normal “I’m a parent and I sometimes lose my shit.” No, it was screaming at the top of his lungs, kicking furniture, and scaring the living daylights out of all of us. In 16 years of marriage, I had never seen him like that. And it seemed as though it wasn’t something he could control.
I told him flat out that his behavior was not acceptable. He apologized to me and the children, and seemed to listen, but it seemed at first that he didn’t fully grasp how awful his behavior had been – which scared me more. I wondered if I was going to need to ask him to leave. Or if I would have to take the kids and leave myself.
That was a breaking point for me – and for us. I had told him over the years that he needed to quit his job to save all of our sanity. But he just kept wanting to push through. The job offered a great salary, benefits, and pension, and he rationalized that he was staying because it was best for our family.
But it wasn’t. Staying was no longer even an option.
A few weeks later, my husband gave notice that he was leaving his job at the end of the school year. And as he suspected, it did prove difficult to find a new job in the public schools around here. Eventually, he found a job at a private school. It’s a big pay cut, but the atmosphere is supportive and kind, which is a job perk you can’t put a price on.
I will admit that even when he quit his job and started the new one, I was concerned that the damage to our marriage and our family was irreparable. That he was a changed person, and that the harm his state of mind had done to our family could not be mended.
But I am so thankful that that was not the case. As soon as he quit, I began to see his old self come through. He seemed lighter, less burdened. Over the summer, he and the kids reconnected in deep and beautiful ways, and so did he and I. In a few months, he was well enough to wean off his anti-depressants. And this healthy, more balanced mental state has stayed constant even as he’s started a new school year at his new job.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have him back. My only regret – and it’s a deep one – is that he waited so long to quit.
If you are a parent, I know that it isn’t easy to leave a job – especially one that your family relies on to stay afloat. It’s not like when you are young with no one relying on you and quitting feels more doable. And if you are a single parent or the primary breadwinner, it can take a fair amount of planning and risk to leave a job.
But if your job is toxic in any way, or is taking a toll on your mental health, please seriously consider leaving. Really.
It is not worth wasting months or years of your life feeling miserable. Your family needs you well and whole. And your wellness is worth more than all the money in the world.