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The Side Effects of Quitting Your Job

One year ago, while sitting between two old friends at Goa airport, waiting for my flight home, I thought, “I just can’t do this anymore.”

“This” was living a life I needed to escape from every few months. I was unhappy, suffering from constant headaches, and hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in years. It took one year, three beach vacations, and the idea of going back to work after each of them for me to realise my job was making me miserable.

So I came home and announced to my family that I was done being a lawyer. But to move on after eight years in the profession wasn’t easy. Was I ready to give up close to a decade’s worth of training? Did I have a plan? Was I going to get a job or take a sabbatical? Did I have savings to tide myself over until I had a routine? Would my family support me financially if I needed it? After three months of trying to figure out the answers, I simply handed in my notice before I could talk myself into staying. I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was the right decision.

In the weeks that followed, I realised that work had not only been making me miserable, it had also been making me sick. Those constant headaches? Gone. Monthly colds? A thing of the past. Stress-induced sleepless nights? I slept like a baby. I thought I was actually healthy. It turns out I was just happy. And they’re not the same thing.

Four months into my new life, I realised something wasn’t right. The headaches and colds were still at bay, but I was “napping” for 2 to 3 hours after getting a full 8 hours of sleep. I had chalked it up to the freedom of self-employment. I was the boss of me and could sleep any damn time I wanted. Then, one day, I stepped on the scale and found that I was the heaviest I’ve ever been.

I’ll be honest: I’m vain. That number on the scale jolted me out of my fantasy that I was living a lovely, healthy life. I hadn’t exercised in a year, because a nagging injury that still hasn’t healed prevented me from doing even light yoga. But at the office, I was getting up from my desk to move on a regular basis. These were little actions – walking to the printer or to talk to someone every few minutes, walking to and from court, walking down the street for my daily nariyal pani habit – but they added up. Four months of sitting at a desk all day had made me fat, stiff, and tired. Out of all the questions I asked myself in those months before I quit, whether the change in my lifestyle would lead to a change in my body wasn’t one.

I knew the easiest answer was to get off my butt. Get up and incorporate some movement into my new routine that consisted of sitting for hours at an end. I also knew that, for my peace of mind, I needed to do some tests to make sure there wasn’t an underlying health problem. I’d know if the tests came back clear that the problem was just my laziness. I’d also take it more seriously if the doctor told me to get my health in order. So I did a barrage of tests, and it turned out there was nothing wrong with me—I was healthy on paper. Now, it was time to feel healthy, too.

My injury was still a problem to overcome. I couldn’t do yoga, run, or cycle because of it. So my doctor suggested swimming, a low-impact workout for the entire body. I bought myself a new cap and goggles and hit the pool two days later. Working from home may have made me gain weight, but it also gives me the luxury of scheduling a twice-weekly swim. And I do mean scheduling—it goes into my calendar like an appointment, and it’s non-negotiable. I know that the minute I make it optional, work will take precedence. I’ll stay at home because I have that article to finish writing, or schedule an appointment because that time is convenient for whomever I’m meeting. This time, I’m putting myself first; when it comes to my health, I have the right to. What was the point of quitting my job if I don’t learn from my mistakes and make my health – mental and physical – a priority? I can’t take care of myself or my family, or do my new job, if I’m unhealthy or tired.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, I don’t have time for that” – or even “There’s plenty of time for that” – but I learned the hard way to make time. It hasn’t been that long since I’ve added exercise into my daily routine. So far the biggest physical change I’ve seen is a lovely tan on my formerly sun-deprived skin. But my naps have reduced from daily to the occasional Sunday afternoon, and I no longer feel constantly fatigued. Perhaps the biggest thing I’m getting out of it is knowing that I’m taking care of myself. That hour in the pool is “me” time, when nothing matters except my laps. It’s already been good for my brain. I know over time it’ll be great for my body.

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