I was convinced that achieving greatness was solely dependent on having an illustrious corporate career after all that’s what I had been taught growing up. When I landed my first job at age of 23, I wasted no time trying to move up the ladder as fast as I possibly could. Even then, something didn’t feel right, but I had a big student loan to pay off so there was really no option for me to take a break and find myself. So, I was firmly on the hamster wheel and before I knew it, I had been working for 15 years. Moving from one company to the next trying to find the perfect fit and increase my salary. What I was in denial about was that this wasn’t working at all for me. The signs were there, but I chose to ignore them.
In 2009, I started to unravel. It was so gradual, imperceptible. My instinct was to look for another job at another company, surely that would help me find happiness at work and get me closer to greatness. In 2010 I found a new job and moved into what became over time, the most depressing, life sucking, and soul crushing environment I’ve ever worked in. Six months into the job I started to feel myself go into emotional, physical, and mental decline. I was so unhappy that I couldn’t function at work. By 2014, I was married, pregnant and ready to go on maternity leave but all I felt was my brain wanting to shut down. My spirit was depleted, my light dimmed, and I was just a shell. I didn’t realise that I was depressed. I remember one morning driving to work and pulling over on the side of the road and crying. I called my boss and told him that I wasn’t well. I couldn’t see myself in the office that day. I was broken and yet I wouldn’t admit it to myself. How did I end up here? Things were so bad that there were murmurs around the office of letting me go. I was so stressed, heartbroken, exhausted, humiliated and had lost my self-confidence. It didn’t help that I was having a difficult pregnancy and I went on maternity leave two months before my daughter was due.
When I returned to work after four months I had a plan. I would work back my leave and then once again move to another company. I did find another job, but I hadn’t dealt with anything. I didn’t go for therapy, I just soldiered on. I still hadn’t answered the question, “what is greatness for you Nomhle?”. In the new job I had great work life balance, but there was still something missing. I put in a good year of work and in December 2015, two months after my 40th birthday, I discovered something that would lead me directly to where I am today. I was diagnosed with stage two colon cancer. My world came to a standstill. My instinct was to go into fight mode. I must beat this. I’ll have the surgery, and everything will be fine. I spent Christmas that year with this hanging over my head. Looking at my extended family around me enjoying themselves, whilst I held on to this secret. To this day I still don’t understand why I felt ashamed to tell my family. A part of me thought that all that partying in my 20’s and early 30’s had led to this. Could I have taken better care of myself? My husband and immediate family were so supportive and kept my secret.
Early 2016, I underwent surgery, and it was a success. The tumor had been resected and after two months I went back to work. I was back on the hamster wheel again until August of 2016 when all the lies I’d been telling myself finally caught up with me. I had a breakdown. I had no choice, but to stop. Literally, stop. I was driving in Sandton where I had driven for years and got completely disoriented during peak traffic and had to pull over with no idea where I was. What happened between that point and being admitted to hospital is still a blur. I spent 21 days in a psych ward and was put on antidepressants. I underwent psychotherapy and I was forced to talk about my feelings and honestly, I would’ve rather had a root canal than do that. It was so uncomfortable and jarring for me. I can only describe it as my body had disconnected from my brain and refused to respond. The time had come for me take a hard look at myself.
I returned to work after two months. Turns out two months is not enough time to deal with over two decades of traumas, fears, insecurities, and pain. I needed more time. Barely two weeks in I stopped working and went on temporary disability. I went into aggressive psychotherapy and in January 2017, whilst in hospital after having collapsed at home, I got devasting news. An x-ray of my lungs had revealed a suspicious lesion and the ER doctor who had admitted me came to tell me they were sending my x-rays to a pulmonologist. Two days later the pulmonologist came to see me and said she was almost certain this was cancer but would bring in an oncologist to be certain. It was late on a Friday afternoon when the oncologist came to see me and confirmed that yes, the cancer was back. I died inside.