If you had to make a choice between your health and your job, what would you do? I was faced with this same question over the last year and it was perhaps the most difficult one of my professional career.

Since mom and dad passed away, I’ve pretty much been on my own financially; taking care of the house, bills, food – you know – the basics. It’s been a struggle, so being unemployed is not even an option for me. But I learned an important lesson this year and that is this – leaving a job is far less important than losing your life. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

Last year I started working at a local insurance firm; it was a good job, I was making decent money, I enjoyed the work and I got along with (most) everyone I worked with. My main role was investigating homeowner claims; but I also paid the company bills as well as the company owner’s personal bills. I wasn’t comfortable with the latter – but that’s a whole other story.

The first few months I was there, things were fine. The owner liked me, my coworkers liked me and I was really enjoying my work; but I soon realized exactly what I had gotten myself into and how devious and unethical my boss really was.

Over the next several months, claims tripled due to a local storm; I was working long days and weekends to stay caught up and trying to keep all the bills for the company current. But it wasn’t enough – I still remember that day in the conference room when he screamed at me and called me an idiot because his personal phone bill was due the following day and it had not been paid. It was at that moment that my whole outlook on this job, as well as my life changed forever.

Because I was responsible for the office bills, I had access to all of the bank accounts for the companies we did business with, and my boss used this to his advantage. There were things he told me to do that I knew were illegal and unethical and if I didn’t comply, the repercussions were horrible. This became my daily existence and the effect on my emotional and physical health is something I’m still recovering from.

I had a ritual every morning when I woke up knowing I had to go to work. I never slept the night before, and I would lie in my bed each morning, my heart racing, my chest hurting, sweating because I couldn’t breathe – dreading whatever the day would bring. My mind started trying to assess every scenario that could happen – what would I do if he got angry; did I do anything that I could get screamed at for; what names would he call me; could I get through the day without doing something illegal or unethical just to keep my job and avoid the wrath I knew I would endure if I didn’t do it? It was a never ending cycle.

My appetite disappeared; I couldn’t eat anything – I self-medicated alot. Xanax was my crutch during the day – I could not survive in that place without it – and vodka was my go-to when I got home. I lost 24 pounds and at 5 feet 1 inch tall, weighing in at 95 pounds was not good for me. Very few people know exactly what I went through there, and those that did begged me to leave my job. One of my friends even told me I looked emaciated and that my eyes had no life in them. I tried everything I could think of to try to hold on, but day after day my emotional and physical health got worse.

I think the final straw came when one of the employees decided to walk out one day, – frustrated and angry just like I was. While I took the brunt of the boss’s anger, she got her fair share too, and with her gone, I became the one to blame everything on. After that, I couldn’t get through a day without a panic attack – and the worst part was my heart rate reached as high as 115. I was so scared for my health – I had to make a choice.

And I did. I walked out three days ago and didn’t look back. Even though it was hard for me because I really cared about the people I worked with, every single one of them supported me and told me it was the right thing to do. Since I left, I have actually been able to sleep at night and although my appetite is not what it once was, I know at some point I’ll be craving the foods I used to. Looking for my next job will be difficult; my ability to trust a company or individual I work for has been severely damaged and is yet another thing that I will have to work on in order to succeed. This is an experience that I will never get over, but I will learn to live with it as best I can.

Emotional abuse is something that you carry with you every day. It is not something you expect to find in the corporate world, and if given a choice, I’d rather be slapped in my face – the marks go away – but the words that are spoken will live with you forever.

If you are a manager or supervisor – whether in the small business world or corporate America – THINK before you speak. Your staff are not your lackeys to handle your personal business, and they do not deserve to be spoken to in an abusive manner. They are there to do a job just like you and will do it much better if you will treat them with respect and allow them to grow.