After I had experienced a severe panic attack while driving home from work last spring, one that caused a traffic jam on the Mass Pike (a main highway through Boston) and landed me in the ER, I knew I needed to make a change. I knew brain surgery was imminent.
I was tingling all over. It started with my toes and just kept going. I couldn’t make it stop. I was driving through one of Boston’s highway tunnels, the brainchild of the infamous Big Dig megaproject, when it came on. The walls of that tunnel were closing in on me. I felt like I was suffocating, a recurring theme in my AVM journey. I opened the windows, but the air was dense and humid and the hum of cars moving slowly on the jammed highway only made it worse. I could not wait to get out of that tunnel. Even my lips tingled, which a doctor once told me is telltale sign of hyperventilation. I wanted to close my eyes to make the tingling stop, but I wondered if I would ever wake up. I was certain I was having a stroke. This was it. My brain had ruptured, so I thought.
Just a few more feet and I was out of that damn tunnel. I called 911. When the officer came to help me, I was yelling, but my words were slurred. My mouth was so dry. I told him to take me to Mass General Hospital. I named the specific doctor I wanted to see. And the location of his office, 8th floor. “Tell the Dr. I have an AVM!” I insisted, no I yelled. At that point the police officer knew I was not having a stroke and he helped me understand I was panicking about something that was not happening. He gave me some water, told me an ambulance was on the way, and convinced me that I was going to be just fine. He and the EMT who arrived a few minutes later explained that if I really was having a stroke, I probably would not have been able to give precise instructions. They asked me to walk out of the car, on my own two feet, and put myself in the ambulance. I did. I was fine. Deep breaths. I was going to be fine. My AVM was not bleeding.
My car was towed to a police lot. Ryan came to meet me at the hospital. We sat in the ER for a few hours. Luckily our babysitter could stay late that day. My vitals were fine. I was the least sick person in the ER and I never saw that doctor from the eighth floor.
Within a few months, I left my job. While it was the right decision, one that I do not regret, it was a decision that was very difficult and very emotional. I kept telling myself how lucky I was that my husband encouraged me as a working mom or a stay-at-home mom and that we are beyond blessed to make it work either way financially, but I felt like a total failure. I didn’t quit on my terms; I quit because I had to. I quit because the anxiety from my AVM and impending brain surgery was debilitating. When the going got tough, I panicked and couldn’t complete a task. My work ethic took a beating, and it brought me to a low place at home too. I come from a long line of working mamas. My mom always worked, her mom always worked, all of my aunts worked, and my sisters and sisters-in-law work. And they are all amazing in so many ways, and I want to be just like them. But I just couldn’t hack it.
I really did enjoy the daily grind of the corporate life – that nervous feeling in my stomach before a Board meeting and the satisfaction of sending out a report of findings to a client. I loved adult-only Starbucks and Dunkin runs (without having to purchase a cake pop or munchkins for the kids) and gossiping about the Bachelor or Sunday Night Football (even though I hadn’t seen either). I worked with some of the brightest and most talented people over the years, who became some of my closest friends and confidants, but the truth is I was never really in my dream job, and it shouldn’t have taken brain surgery to remind me of that. I will never regret quitting my job, but I do regret doing a job for so long that I didn’t love. The people I worked with made it worthwhile though, and I did learn some pretty cool things over the years too. I am forever grateful.
My AVM has been a nuisance in many ways, but it has also been a blessing in disguise. It’s been about a year since I quit my job and I realize I’m spoiled rotten, living the sweetest life, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I have an opportunity to pour everything I have into my family now and reroute my career into something else when the time is right. I will just have to wait until I recover from brain surgery, and probably then some, to discover what’s next.