“I’m dying”. That’s the thought that popped into my head in the middle of the night a couple weeks go. At 34 years old, I was jolted awake by some of the worst, almost unexplainable sensations I have ever experienced. I was numb, buzzing, and in excruciating pain simultaneously. I felt hot and cold. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing. I felt disoriented. I couldn’t move, but wanted to jump out of my skin. I thought to myself: “This is it. This is what dying feels like.” I was paralyzed in fear. I somehow regained my breath and fell asleep — I honestly can’t remember ever feeling comfortable enough to relax that deeply. When I awoke the next morning and saw the sun, I cried. I cried like a baby. Quite honestly, I was shocked to open my eyes after experiencing what I had just a few hours prior. I knew in my heart and my bones, there was something very wrong.

I very much have White Coat Syndrome (fear of doctors) and will come up with an excuse for any symptom I feel so that I don’t have to go to the doctor. “I need a new mattress. This is what getting older feels like. It’s quarantine fatigue.” However, for about 2+ years, I had been tracking some symptoms “just in case”.

Consistent
Fatigue
Body Aches
Headaches
Brain fog

Intermittent
Hair Falling Out
Racing heart
Anxiety
Nausea

Inconsistent
Flushing/Hot Flashes
Skin Issues/Rashes
Severe Mood Swings
Weight gain/Weight Loss
Shaking hands

Summer of 2020, the symptoms seemed to start to collide and become more frequent, but the severe mood swings were the most concerning. I’ve suffered from depression in the past and still deal with Generalized Anxiety. I told some of my friends that I felt “unbalanced” and reached out to my therapist to see if maybe she thought I had a bipolar disorder. “2020 is a very tough year. You’re also isolated. I do not think you’re bipolar”, she assured me. So, I reached out to my doctor to check my hormones. They were completely normal. I pushed on. I’ve worn “high functioning anxiety” as a badge of honor for years, so what was the difference in wearing “high functioning chronic pain” as a badge of honor as well. The only difference was, I wasn’t telling anyone about how much I was suffering physically. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it, so I decided to ignore it, as much as I could.

It was a weird thing for me to feel fine spiritually but be physically hurting every day. “Maybe it is the quarantine of if all”. Because I’m no stranger to depression and how it can sabotage parts of your life that are fine, I compartmentalized all of what I was feeling. I was terrified of the pain taking over my life and causing me to go sideways – lashing out at everyone and everything around me instead of being focused on the actual problem. My moto of “laugh so you don’t cry” became a very serious crutch for me. I refused to become a puddle over the symptoms and what I thought was wrong.

We all have google. We have all WebMD’d our symptoms. When I typed mine in, some very scary things of the autoimmune variety came up. Although I didn’t want to feed into those ideas, they stayed in the back of my mind. In January 2021, everything I was feeling was getting worse. By March, I had no idea how I was getting through most days. When I awoke a couple weeks ago thinking that I was dying, those WebMD results rushed back into my mind. When I awoke the next morning, I schedule a check-up with my PCP.

“Google thinks I have MS and I’m pretty sure I had a heart attack a couple days ago”, I blurted out while sitting in my medical gown. My doctor wanted to rule out anything autoimmune (Lupus, Hashimotos, and Lyme) but also asked me about my job and my stress levels. I responded, “I’m a post producer. I’m constantly anxious and worried about something, but I’ve been doing this job a long time. This is definitely not stress.” She ran a full blood panel, sent me for x-rays, referred me to a physical therapist, and told me to talk to my therapist about stress management techniques.

My bloodwork was completely normal. This is all stress related. While there was relief in knowing that I didn’t have a disorder or disease, on the other hand, I was angry. In that moment, I felt like a diagnosis of even Lupus at that point would have been better. It’s not as nebulous as “you’re stress sick”. There’s a standard treatment for most diseases and disorders. Getting a diagnosis of “stress” and “we’ll try some different things” was hard to grasp, especially considering myself a ‘work horse’. After a few days, I had accepted it and understood it. I was ready to try things to help me recover, because Lord knows, I couldn’t go on the way I was going.

The Prescription: Traditional therapy to help me with techniques for relieving stress in my current state. Physical therapy to pain manage. Setting boundaries at work. It’s going to be a journey. I know at this point I will not feel normal overnight and that’s ok. (Although, my first physical therapy session made me feel like a new person and I definitely shed happy tears on my way home.)

Here are a few bullet points from my doctors:
– My mindfulness and self-awareness helped keep the stress from affecting me emotionally, but all that energy (and tension) needs to go somewhere. When you don’t have an outlet or time to unplug, it builds up inside the body
– Sleep helps us balance our stress hormones, but when you develop insomnia because of anxiety and you go to bed tense, it manifests in the body as pain, nausea, weight gain, etc.
-When you’re in chronic pain, it makes it hard to cope with other things
– Symptoms of severe stress mimic the symptoms of other diseases and disorders. When you feel like there may be something wrong with you, it causes worry and leads to more stress
-Severe panic attacks feel like heart attacks and many people have the feeling that they’re on the brink of death

Knowing that I will eventually be ok, is a good feeling. The concerning bit for me is that my doctors have started to see these symptoms in many people my age. It’s almost like “stress sick” is the new pandemic hitting millennials. A couple days after I had wrapped my brain around my own diagnosis, I shared some of what I had been going through on my Instagram. I was actually shocked at the amount of messages I had received from women and men in their mid to late 30’s that had been experiencing these things or had also been told by their doctor that it was all stress related. One of my missions in life is to let people know that they are not alone in whatever they go through. When so many people my age were coming out of the woodwork with their stories, I wanted to know why this was happening to us.

My dad is a project manager. I remember him being home for dinner more than he wasn’t. Although he worked some longs days and traveled for work, he was by no means absent. His job didn’t overtake his life. Pandemic + Work from Home aside, I’ve eaten most of my meals inside an office for the past 5+ years. I’ve watched the sun rise and set and rise again from my office. I’ve taken client calls during weekend getaways. I’ve worked London, NYC, and LA time all in the same day. I’ve slept under my desk. The truth of the matter is, this work culture is why so many millennials are sick and walking away from what was once their dream job and dream life. We may be getting paid well, but it’s costing us too much.

Urgency. Immediacy. 24/7 service. That’s what millennials have been tasked with no matter their occupation. You are always on. You are expected to be available and jump at all tasks. Your delivery better be accurate, despite being exhausted. HARDER, BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER. And, don’t you dare “complain” because this is the job and there are people that would kill for it. So, we put our heads down and do the work. We get through the day. We find things to be grateful for, that somehow make it all seem worth it — my job is affording me the lifestyle I want {even though I don’t have time to fully enjoy it.}

Let’s not forget that most of us joined the workforce during the recession. We took unpaid internships to get in the door, were paid pennies when we were finally promoted to assistants, and continued to fight our way up. Just when things were looking up and everyone was getting their money right… PANDEMIC. Entire industries shut down. Layoffs. Furloughs. Defaulting on student loans. Our dreams of owning homes and starting families seemingly crushed again. But, we get to work remotely! This may be a good thing! WRONG. The boundaries we lacked in the office were really pushed to the brinks in our living rooms.

The Wall Street Journal has recently published an article entitled “A Year Into Remote Work, No One Knows When to Stop Working Anymore” which is very much worth the read. Something about remote work has made us feel like we’re never doing a good enough job and perpetuates the idea that because we’re home all the time, there’s no reason to not work. Having spent the last 12 years in the entertainment industry, I can tell you the toxic and abusive work environments have only gotten worse in quarantine. While it’s been great to vacuum in between emails during the day, it’s not so great being expected to answer phone calls at 3am. The millennial generation is currently dealing with wild expectations that are killing us, both literally and figuratively. I’ve had friends that have had strokes. Colleagues my age that have died from heart attacks. Many extremely talented and creative peers have had mental breakdowns and called it quits. So, why do we normalize this?

Older generations like to refer to us as snowflakes and complainers, but the truth of the matter is, they have never and won’t deal with this type of work culture. We will never buy homes on a shoe salesman’s salary– back when credit scores weren’t even a thing yet! Meaningful relationships, both romantic and platonic, feel like a fairytale because no one has time for them. Those millennials that would love to have children can’t afford to. All of those bucket list vacations? We either feel guilty taking vacation days or feel like our entire office will fall apart without our presence.

Millennials have had antiquated societal expectations placed on them and have done nothing but chase ideals that no longer exist in the world we are living in. We wanted to make you proud. We wanted to get all the gold stars. We wanted to be happy and successful in our own dream homes with perfect little families, but we we got are jobs that expect us to work 24 hours a day, crippling student debt, unaffordable housing, and therapy bills.

We are tired and we are sick.