Burnout Landed Me In An Ambulance For My Afternoon Commute

Her Voice

The last thing I expected last Tuesday was to be leaving my office in a stretcher begging paramedics to help me make it home to my daughter, but thankfully I walked away from the situation with my life and a loud and clear lesson that balance is the best defense against work burnout. For weeks, my body hadn't felt quite right. Anything I ate led to bloating and just a general feeling of discomfort when it came to digestion. For weeks, I had been exhausted, barely able to get myself energized to write and edit on the weekends.

I was often pushing through sleep deprivation, but fatigue is something you gradually get accustomed to when you're parenting a four-year-old who isn't the best sleeper. Because my nights were filled with interrupted sleep for the past several years, it was easy to neglect that my moderate asthma probably wasn't being well-maintained. Most nights, I was popping up from my pillow at 3 a.m. in response to my daughter's cries to sleep in my bed, have another cup of water or disappointment from wetting her "big girl draws". While parenting through partially closed eyelids, I'd take a few puffs off of my inhaler before comforting my daughter, so much that I didn't notice I was way more dependent on my asthma inhaler than I probably should be.

Working seven days a week on minimal sleep had become a normalized part of my life.

I was no stranger to hard work and had often worked more than one job at a time since undergrad. But what wasn't normal was the stress I had taken on at work. My colleagues and I were involved in an HR issue at work which involved an abusive boss, restructures in the organizations and adjusting to new supervisor. When I wasn't at work navigating transition, I was elbows deep in the search for private school with my spouse for our future pre-schooler. The month has been filled with coordinating work schedules so we could meet up for school tours and Pre-K assessments. With every meeting and appointment that was slowly holding my life hostage, my anxiety was growing and there were days when I definitely felt like my brain was on auto-pilot and my body was damn near being left behind as the responsibilities of adulting were running full speed. However, this particular work day there was no catching up in the rat race and I literally could not catch my breath.

I went to lunch that day walking about ten minutes from my desk job to treat myself to some ridiculously unhealthy McDonalds. I returned to the office that day after walking ten minutes in 32 degree wind, talking to my sister and living my best life with a gut full of Big Mac. As I was getting myself together to return to my work, my lungs felt slightly irritated, but like most asthmatics I figured a few puffs on my inhaler and sitting the hell down and breathing slowly would have me right back at it. But after a few puffs, I realized the medication wasn't working and my chest was growing tighter and tighter. I was sweating and in what seemed like minutes could barely call out my colleague to call 911. It seemed like I was waiting for an hour for the paramedics to arrive but in all actuality it was probably only about ten minutes and the rest of the scene I only remember as a big blur of breathing masks, me begging for help and being sped past my coworkers on a stretcher in tears.

Every breath felt like my last as I struggled to breathe.

I didn't care about my purse, my day planner or even my open Facebook direct message on my desktop computer. I could barely muster the strength to unlock my phone so HR could call my husband. And to be completely real, I felt like that day I was going to die. I was going to die in that damn cubicle surrounded by people who the deepest conversation I ever had with was mainly office gossip and our dreams of flipping the finger to senior leadership the day we walked off the job. One minute, I was scheduling conference calls and doing data entry and the next, I was begging for my life while being wheeled past the boardroom. In that moment, I knew that none of those things mattered if I wasn't healthy, making work/life balance a priority and choosing self-care.

The whole ordeal was hella embarrassing but a glaring reminder that although mentally you may be booked, busy, breaking necks and cashing checks, your body is not invincible and may have other plans.

By the end of the work day, I was sitting in the ER on a breathing mask. My co-worker had brought my personal items from work and, while I fiddled for my insurance card, a doctor casually informed me that I was one intervention from being intubated and that the asthma flare-up was probably due to the cold weather. I was more embarrassed than anything and medical providers determined that I should stay overnight in the hospital for observation. This would be the second stay I had in the past ten years for asthma complications. My parents lectured me about burning the candle at both ends, and while I knew their criticism came from a place of fear and concern, I couldn't help but think about how many women like myself repeatedly put their health last under the heavy burdens of career, motherhood, and personal relationships. For me, it was asthma, but so many other women are putting off that pap smear for the parent/teacher conference.

In a survey discussed on HealthyWomen.org, it was found that when it comes to the health needs of their families and themselves, women often put themselves last and prioritize healthcare in the following order: Children, Pets, Spouse or Significant Others, and Themselves. In our household, the dog only gets her needs met when she has a health scare and my husband forces time into his busy schedule. However, when it comes to flu shots, fillings and eyeglass exam, I am typically the one armed with my day planner and cell phone coordinating my family's care, navigating insurance and hoping I'll remember to schedule my annual exam at some point when the weather is warm and I have enough PTO left over at work after all of my daughter's appointments.

In addition, many women are often too exhausted to get around to their own health after filling out internet forms, double-checking insurance coverage and making appointments for their family members. The survey revealed that many women have just plain checked out of maintaining their own health:

"A shocking 78 percent said they often put off taking care of themselves or getting their health appointments made because they are so busy taking care of other family members' health.
It's not surprising women feel busy. Approximately 82 percent of women do most of the health-related research for their kids, 86 percent of women schedule the majority of the health care appointments for their kids, and 72 percent arrange for the payment of the majority of the bills for their kids health care. And, unfortunately, navigating insurance and health care bills can take lots of time because the process can be incredibly confusing."

But more than a missed pap smear, falling completely apart at work was an epiphany to me that staying committed to small moments of self-care matters much more than we think. I also recognized that self-care is about more than Taco Tuesdays and Lush bath bomb binges. My soul was tired.

Every day seemed like an uphill battle to search for the energy to do the bare minimum while overwhelmed with thoughts of the struggles of the world around me.

A few months later and I'm dedicating each month since to a detox of some sort, whether it's been not reading work emails at home or removing the social media apps from my phone. As much as we'd like to think it's the big misfortunes in life that make it more difficult, it's actually the slightest imbalances, anxiety triggers and repeated reminders that adulting is difficult that can slowly suffocate us if we don't keep them in check.

Featured image by Getty Images

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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