I was in the middle to two writing projects for the launch of a new drug when the pounding in my chest first started. The timelines were short and the projects were long (nothing new in the pharmaceutical industry). I’ve done projects like these hundreds of times over my 25-year career as a medical writer. Launched several new products and blockbuster drugs into the market. This project was really nothing new; and not so large that it should trigger such a powerful reaction.
But there were other curveballs life has been throwing at me at 50 Something that may have intensified my stress. My best friend recently died following a 3-year fight with a brain tumor. We had been through junior high school, high school, and college together. He was the type of friend who was always there when you needed him, no questions asked. And now he was gone. He was only 59. My brother-n-law only few months earlier was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. And my wife, only that spring, had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer just after winning a two-year struggle with major depression.
The symptoms were not typical of a heart attack so I just assumed they were palpitations and I didn’t go to a doctor right away. I assumed it was stress related and decided to stop working and take some time off. As a freelance writer I can take as long or as little time off as I want. After all I had the best boss in the world—me! Plus it was the holiday season and I could just enjoy Christmas in New York. I deserved that.
But they didn’t completely stop right away. Over the next week or two, the palpitations would come and go; sometimes they occurred in the early morning, something during the day, while working out or relaxing in the evening. Now having the palpitations was making me nervous. Maybe even causing a vicious circle: palpitations increase stress that increases palpitations. So I made an appointment with the cardiologist.
Twenty-four hour halter monitoring revealed I had an arrhythmia. Quite common; and not dangerous. I was put on a beta-blocker that took about two weeks to control the arrhythmia.
So now it was time to go back to work again. But something strange happened. After taking two months off from the work I had been doing for 25 years, I had no passion, no drive left to go back to it. Maybe the palpitations were more than just stress, more than just a reaction to all the curveballs life had been throwing at me, maybe my body was telling me “enough already.” Maybe I was completely “burned out.”
So what do you do now? Most of us cannot afford to stop working indefinitely. Look for something else? The income from this field could never be replaced so quickly, so I started putting out feelers for writing assignments anyway. But I was looking for work that I did not want to do and it seemed to making me even sicker.
So what are my options at 50 Something? Take more time off? Start a new career? Any suggestions or ideas are welcome.