James T. Green landed the job of his dreams fresh out of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois. At just 23 years old, he had a senior graphic-design position in advertising at a major media organization. But after landing in the hospital, not once but twice, he worried that stress might kill him.
Some stress is inevitable. But when a high-stakes work environment collided with a challenging time in his life, Green started suffering debilitating panic attacks. Eventually, as part of his recovery, he chose to leave his job. I spoke with Green about the role work played in the stress he was experiencing, and how he manages stress today, for The Atlantic’s series Exit Interview. The conversation that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
Catie Lazarus: You landed such a distinguished job right after art school, what was it like?
James T. Green: We essentially cranked out ads for like six or seven publications. I designed flash ads, coded and designed emails, marketing newsletters, and small website updates for my employer and pretty much all of their subsidiaries. My role was pretty senior. I was living my dream—or so I thought.
Lazarus: So, why did you leave?
Green: I’d been there for two years, and I had to go the hospital because I felt like I couldn’t breathe. At that time, I had a really, really bad pulmonary embolism. Then a blood clot developed in my leg, shot up to my lungs, and to my brain. It was almost fatal. I ended up going to the hospital twice. One time, the doctors thought I was having a stroke. I did physical therapy, and they realized I didn’t have a stroke—I had the symptoms, but I had had a panic attack.