I Was Trapped In A Soul-Crushing Corporate Job For 1 Reason That Keeps Too Many Others Stuck

"My story is a testament to the trap that many of us find ourselves in."
"I’ve learned that I can’t game the system, I don’t want to, and it’s not worth it," the author writes.
"I’ve learned that I can’t game the system, I don’t want to, and it’s not worth it," the author writes.
FreshSplash via Getty Images

This story was supported by the journalism non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

The breaking point came in a one-on-one. My manager looked distressed. He told me the issues had been building up: I didn’t unmute myself to say “yes” in a Google Meet call but instead nodded; I gave him briefer-than-expected answers during our last conversation; and, perhaps worst of all, he’d noticed I was looking away from my screen too much during meetings.

“If something doesn’t change, we’re going to have to consider a termination,” he told me.

By then, I’d grown weary of the absurdity of working in a corporate environment. I was hired to write review articles, and I did a good enough job to snag the role of senior writer. I frequently received kudos from my colleagues, and my editor said my copy was the cleanest she’d ever seen. Still, I was facing firing for my tone of voice, introversion and social anxiety — aspects of my gender, personality, and mental health that my manager failed to comprehend or accommodate.

“I’m ready to send my two weeks’ notice,” I said.

When I got the corporate gig eight months earlier, it felt like a godsend. My husband and I had been struggling to make rent. I had a weak grasp on the middle class as a freelance content writer and sometimes health journalist, while he was struggling to bring in income as an investigative journalist. The most important work we did paid the least.

The salary I was offered — about $78,000 plus benefits — gave us the financial security we had never had. We bought a new mattress, bed frame and couch. We fully furnished our apartment with Facebook Marketplace finds. We scheduled doctors’ appointments. I did a consultation for a dental implant. Even with insurance, the procedure would cost upwards of $5,000. Still, I began to believe that if I could hold onto the job long enough, maybe someday I could get the care I needed. Maybe we could go on that honeymoon we’d been putting off due to lack of funds. And although the housing market was trash, we could start saving for a home and garden of our own, a pet dog, babies we so wanted to be able to afford.

But after having freelanced for the past six years, I felt like I was losing my identity in corporate America. As I attended meetings and spat out reviews for online therapy companies, I waited for my last freelance story to come out: an investigation into domestic violence in health care for Medscape. I tried to think of personal essay ideas — which my boss said I was still allowed to pitch — but by the time the workday ended, I felt drained. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I also resented my partner for not making more money and burst out crying and yelling at him after a particularly tough day. If he carried more weight, I thought, I wouldn’t have had to sell my soul.

Part of why I felt so trapped was because the life-saving medication I took for an underlying health condition would cost upwards of $1,500 a month without health insurance. Like one in six Americans, I stuck it out because I worried that I would not be able to afford healthcare without benefits through my job.

The turning point came when I discovered the closest thing this capitalist country has to a solution for my problem: a discount pharmacy. I found an online pharmacy, which offers massively discounted drugs, while working on an article. When I checked the cost of my meds, they were cheaper with coupons than insurance. I’d found my ticket out.

If I could afford my medication, I could walk away from my corporate health care and go back to freelancing. I could get my life and my identity back. I could enjoy work again.

I still wanted to cover myself the best I could. Navigating how to find a new health insurance provider on Healthcare.gov as a freelancer was confusing. I didn’t know what my income level would be and had to make a loose estimate. I chose a plan I thought I could afford with the same provider as the one I’d had under my employer-provided plan — BlueCross BlueShield — in the hopes that I wouldn’t have to change providers.

I later learned I still had to find a new psychiatrist and therapist because my current providers did not accept my new insurance. Because my insurance coverage was so poor, I ended up having to pay for sliding-scale psychiatric services as if I didn’t have any insurance at all, and I have yet to find a new therapist.

If I faced a medical emergency, I’d also be in grave danger — both in terms of my health and my finances. But this is the choice I’ve decided to make.

Still, I shouldn’t have to navigate such heinous obstacles to receiving basic healthcare. No one should.

My story is a testament to the trap that many of us find ourselves in. Most Americans are emotionally detached and miserable at their jobs. I believe this is the result of what the late great anthropologist David Graeber referred to as ”bullshit jobs.” As long as we continue to insist on living under an outdated economic system that’s also killing our planet, we’ll continue to suffer at jobs that don’t make sense, many of which just shouldn’t exist (my former position included?). Perhaps I felt useless because my job was useless.

While my husband brought in less money than me, I resented him for the freedom he had to do the work he cared about. Since I’ve quit my job, we’re working on meeting each other in the middle. He’s returned to a communications job and is helping me learn more about how to pursue nonprofit grants to fund meaningful projects. Although it’s scary to quit and go back to freelancing, I already feel like a fuller human, and that’s priceless.

I’m not the first to point out that our healthcare system isn’t working. We spend more than $4 trillion a year on health care yet our life expectancy continues to decline. Health care workers are burning out because they can’t help people. Half of U.S. adults struggle to afford health care and one in five have had to face not filling a prescription because of the cost. As I learned when I got what I thought was quality health insurance and dental insurance, even those who are insured worry about affording care. We’re also the only country in the world where your health insurance is tied to your job.

I’ve always been against the status quo, but this experience has radicalized me. I’ve learned that I can’t game the system, I don’t want to, and it’s not worth it. While quitting my job means less security, it’s worth regaining my peace of mind and mental health. I can rest assured that I’m living according to my values — even if that means it’s going to be a stretch to afford a flight to visit my sister out west and the honeymoon my husband and I dream of going on remains postponed. Like four in ten Americans, I’m also going to have to put some health care on hold. Even with the savings I’ve accrued over the past year, I still can’t afford that dental implant. Rent comes first.

What I’ve learned while trying to get my own health care covered is that I cannot be silent about what I’m going through. I’m not the only person with these issues who’s experienced shame over the inability to cover basic health care. But I know the shame belongs not to us but to those who continue to prop up the status quo for the sake of profit.

Stories about the trauma of medical debt, student loan debt, not being able to afford basic dental care, and fears of not being able to afford children, as well as Reddit communities dedicated to poverty and off-the-books medical advice, remind me that these are not individual failures but examples that reflect a massive amount of needless suffering. Knowing that my suffering isn’t mine alone to carry helps me move forward. I enjoy what I can enjoy in the present moment. I take care of myself and my loved ones the best I can at any given time. And I stand in solidarity with others as I try to build a stronger support network.

As I work on reconnecting with anchor clients and shooting new essays into the stratosphere, I plan to use some of my free time to connect with progressive organizing communities in my area. I want to truly commit to advocating for universal health care for all and affordable housing, food and child care, among other initiatives. I will support politicians who believe health care is a human right and encourage my loved ones to do the same. It should not be such a struggle to survive in this country. It’s clearer than ever to me that fending for myself was never going to be enough. I’m ready to step up for all of us.

Lauren Krouse is a freelance health journalist and creative nonfiction writer based in the southeastern United States. She covers health, domestic violence, self-advocacy, and our inextricably connected personal and political lives. Her work appears in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention, Self, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. Learn more and connect at laurenkrouse.com.

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