True Happiness This Way Lies

So I quit my job. It was a good job, many positive things, but in the end it didn’t work out for me. It feels good.

Too much uncertainty about my role. I never quite managed to build relations with the company. I’m too much on “the spectrum” to be able to live with this amount of uncertainty for this long. On top of the War in Ukraine which still impacts us immensely (we have friends and relatives in Ukraine). 

Back in the autumn, I was super close to going down with stress. Shouting at people, including my wife and kids. Short temper. Very. So I cut back on responsibilities. Pushed for my current assignment at work to end. Enjoyed Christmas preparations and holidays with my wife and kids. Even enjoyed the miscellaneous work I was given, helping out here and there. Small teams, short assignments, direct feedback.

Sunshine through a forest covered in snow
One Saturday in December, the sun came out after weeks of grey and dark winter, and I had the great fortune to immense myself in the moment, hiking along a local track to discover nature's wonder. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

I got sick soon after returning to work after the holidays. Yeah, like so many others. (The pandemic is not over yet. I checked the statistics, in fact the surplus lethality here in Sweden has sky rocketed since end of year. This winter is now worse off than last winter). So it could just be the flu/covid season. But still, I couldn’t shake it. I would get well enough to start thinking about work again, then very quickly get ill again. Tried to change some things, didn’t work.

Two days in a row I experienced memory issues. Suddenly I couldn’t recall something that I knew I knew. I’m a knowledge worker and I built a lot of my identity on being a quick thinker and having vast knowledge to tap into. So it was scary.

Memory loss is a symptom of stress. And it was so obvious to me when it happened and still I kept telling my self that it was long covid and if I just slept in the coming weekend, it would pass. It didn’t.

So I called in sick for the week and finally got in contact with the local health care. I’m a man so I hate getting in contact with the health care. system. I’m a problem solver and I fix problems, I can fix myself. You know, this old lie. I read all the health information in Swedish and Danish on the internet and 10 times out of 10 the recommendation is “drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, and contact your doctor if it doesn’t get better on its own”. But now this had lasted for three weeks. 

I had trouble articulating exactly what was wrong, no fever, no coughing. Just a general feeling of unease, foggy head, getting tired quickly. I didn’t fit the boxes. Not until I described the memory loss. Then I got an emergency appointment which in Sweden means next day.

In the evening I discussed with my wife something that I had pondered for a while.

We had had a bit of a row in the weekend when my wife pushed me to do something about it. I had told her there is no magic button. If there was, I would press it. Everything I had tried only gave a short relieve. The best remedy so far had been a good long sleep. Which didn’t happen every night. Waking up at 2 am, 4 am, heart pounding. Checking the news, doom scrolling. How many missiles, how many tanks. I uninstalled all but a few apps on my phone.

Sunshine through a forest covered in snow
Sharing the trail with the occasional other, all faces shining with happiness, taking in the beautiful scenery. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

So that evening I told my wife that I considered quitting. It was the last day of the month. A window of opportunity to act. Or to endure another month of uncertainty. Agony. I had pondered it for some time, quitting. I knew our finances were solid. Yet I didn’t like to take such a course of action when my head was not at its brightest.

Her reaction was thoughtful, contemplating the idea, thinking it through. Yes, there could be better roles out there for me. Not at all chocked. 

So I checked our budget one more time, just to verify the conclusion that I had already come to earlier. Then I wrote a formal resignation. Then I sent it.

In Sweden — and in Denmark — this is crazy. Quitting your job without having a new job at hand. If you get long term sick, mechanisms are in place to help you fall into the right boxes, to get help recovering, to get help returning to work. This comes at the cost of a lot of red tape. I do not have the mental capacity or mood right now to go down that road. Working for a Danish company in Sweden? Tax returns feels like a yearly mystery — it usually sorts itself out after some time but I am never quite sure if everything were done correctly when taxes are finally settled. It just gets to a point where I decide to move on. So I have no appetite for learning about sick leave.

Next morning I already felt much better. I had found the magic button. I went to the doctor and I told him I had quit my job. He listened, took the time to understand, did physical examinations, explained what he wrote in the journal. He asked if I had thoughts about hurting myself. You know. Stress leads to depression. Depression leads to suicide. Especially men. Yeah, this is why I got the fast lane. I told him I hadn’t come that far. I accepted the offer to get in contact with a stress therapist. 

Life has taken a new turn. 

Sunshine through a forest covered in snow
Around midwinter, the sun doesn't get high in the sky. Copyright Frederik Jensen 2022.

I will take the time to get closure with my soon to be ex colleagues. Take some family time, play with my wonderful kids, help my wonderful wife, be more supportive, build up energy again. Maybe travel, maybe do a hobby project. To one day be ready for new adventures. Go back down into the salt mines, together with the rest of all you slaves of the next paycheque. But next time, I will find a job that offers that blissful state of happiness that comes when you are in the zone, performing and smiling, trucking away. True happiness. I promise.

I stole the title for this post from a song. I revisited The The’s amazing album Dusk recently and the first track resonated with me. 

Take care of yourself and each other. People can be smiling and still need your help. People can say no to your help and still need help. We are all slaves in search for True Happiness and it makes us do crazy things.

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