Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 3

I'm trying to recall that first interview so I can describe it - I even found my neurologist's business card where I scrawled notes as I sat in my car and sipped McDonald's soda and learned about a new business and answered questions as best I could.  I can't bring details to mind.

Yet some mixture of God and my default mode took over and did well enough to rate an interview with the hiring manager, my boss-to-be, later that afternoon. 

"My schedule fell apart," I admitted to the recruiter, "so my afternoon is completely free!  I can talk whenever he can."

I had lunch with a dear colleague that I worried I'd taken down with me - a bright ray of sunshine in an increasingly dark world.  She was mostly fine after also being let go - little bursts of anger around the edges but doing her best to point out all the problems we could release and how much time we'd have and how much better we'd feel.  Such a blessing is this woman - thanks be to God. 

I was preparing for my interview, doing more deliberate research, noting questions I wanted to ask and reviewing my CV for specific examples I'd want to highlight, when the phone rang and I winced. 

"Katie," an accented voice very dear to me said when I answered, and proceeded to explain how shocked and sad and sorry he was.  And I wept because I'd miss him and my feelings were hurt and I was - despite many faults in other areas - a brilliant manager for my people.  Viciously protective, wildly supportive and eagerly encouraging them to learn and fail and be good, kind people and colleagues.  They'd noticed and would cite examples.  And it would never fail to make me cry.

But balancing those voices with a new one who interviewed me - a different accent and sharper humor - was extraordinarily helpful.  Discussing new opportunities, ways I could learn and contribute, decisions I regretted and projects of which I was proud - it gave me the opportunity to reflect positively but also note that it was time to move on. 

I wasn't ready - I'd been clinging to the known with both hands (and arms and legs) - but it was time.  And over that hour-plus interview conversation, that truth became increasingly clear. 

"You should meet with my guys," Boss-to-be noted, indicating my recruiter would set up time for them to speak with me.  I paused, glancing through my page of notes that mixed personal notes, business practices and technical details. 

"What should I read?" I asked.  "What will they expect me to know?"  And I smiled when he gave me tips on winning them over. 

I still didn't sleep well that night, emotions cycling between peace and terror, exhilaration and shame.  I finally tossed aside the stack of pillows that form one wall of my nest and descended the steps to curl on the couch with my notebook and iPad, writing questions, marking examples and reading articles on technology and management. 

The following morning was the worst - I canceled most calls but took a deep breath and answered one. 

"Why," he asked - this first person I hired personally and coached proudly, "would this happen to such a good person?  Katie, I went to my parents and I talked to my wife and I went to church to pray for you.  I prayed so hard that this would change." 

I tried - so mighty was my effort but it was equally futile.  Unable to hold back sobs, I worked to gulp them back and told him that sometimes our plans didn't match God's plans.  That doesn't mean God doesn't love us - it just means we need to switch direction.  That he could absolutely be successful without me - all the talent and dedication was his.  There would be others to cheer him on!  This was a good company with amazing people who did great work.  And while it was a sad time, we would all be fine.  I promised between gasping sobs that we would all be fine. 

It was awful. 

But I reminded myself I've been through worse than this.  I watched Dad suffer and die.  But Mom had just gone in for her 5 year appointment and was healthy!  I was very financially sound - I could probably afford to be out of work for upwards of a year before it became unworkable.  I know God and His love.  And, I reminded myself, I had been unhappy.  And my love for these colleagues would have trapped me in this job so the forced departure was a blessing.  Albeit a painful one.

The interview, in contrast, was brilliant.  I asked a fraction of my questions but answered all of theirs.  I was completely open and honest, wanting to be authentic to the point of risking the job so that I found the right spot - not just a place to make money. 

"This will probably go fast," Boss-to-be had told me the day before and he was right.  "You'll talk to the guys and if they like you as much as I do, we'll have you in and then we'll both decide if we want to work together." 

I ended the third interview call and nodded.  "I really think I want to work with them," I told a sleepy Chienne, curled up in her bed by the fire.  She's lost hearing in one ear and smells like old dog and is has a heart murmur giving the vet increasing concern.  She blinked at me before nuzzling her head back into a pillow to nap and I curled up on my couch to read more about a new role in a new place. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 2

"Let's talk about it next week," my manager said one Friday afternoon when I approached him again.  I told him I felt better!  Was getting things done and feeling happier about the role.  I still got headaches but they were less severe.  I was still unhappy but more irritated than completely miserable.  A great deal of progress had been made and while I knew changes were coming and wanted to help the team as much as possible, waiting to understand my options was increasingly difficult.

A couple hours later, I received a LinkedIn message from the recruiter with a request to speak on Monday.  Surprised, I immediately accepted but only had 30 minutes in a day otherwise packed with meetings.  We negotiated and time and I moved a few items on my calendar to make it work and looked forward to the opportunity.

"I don't know," I mused when Mom asked what I was thinking on our weekly ride to church.  "I doubt I'll go anywhere - I love my team.  I'm very effective and know most of the answers now.  I make more money than we need.  I don't want to move.  So I think I'll stay, but it's always good to understand what's out there!"

I swallowed hard on Monday morning before dawn, checking my email and fighting back nausea.  I nodded in acceptance and looked over at Mom, playing Family Feud on her Kindle.

"Mom?" I waited until she pushed pause and looked over, staring at the "Important Meeting" that had appeared on my calendar.  "I have a meeting with HR and my manager today at 10.  They're letting me go."

"It says that?" she asked and I shook my head.  But that's what it meant, I knew, even as I worked through the denial phase.  Maybe they were going to beg me to stay after learning I was looking outside the company.  Ask if I would take a pay cut.  I've spent nearly a decade here - could it be that easy to end it?

Turns out it was.  I cried and we prayed and I took a shower.  Selected a black dress that I knew I'd never want to wear again.  Breathed through the pain and dread until the prayers eased it, leaving me feeling peaceful and ready.

"Let the games begin," I murmured as Taylor Swift asked if I was ready for it in my head.  I held my morning meetings, welcomed a new member to my manager's team and clutched my prayer cloth in my hand when I walked over to HR.

Eliminated position. Not performance related.  Difficult for all of us.  Severance package. Take the week off.

"Do you want me to leave so you can talk to your boss?" HR asked.

"No," I replied, having already cried and trying to pull it back together.

"Do you want him to leave so you can talk to me?

"No," I repeated, shaking my head and smoothing the knitted cloth between my fingers.

"Do you want the room so you can take some time?"

I choked out a laugh.  "I'd very much like to leave now."  So they nodded sympathetically and I escaped, emerging into the parking lot where I'd taken that walk.

"Please help me do this," I asked God again.  I called my mom and my closest colleague, telling her I'd meet her for lunch.

But first I got to do this 11AM interview I'd scheduled.  So I went and bought a soda from McDonalds with change I found in my car lest my throat get dry from the crying.  I furiously researched the company on my phone, trying to answer some of the big questions so I could sound semi-intelligent and attractive in a situation that had suddenly gone from exploratory to vital. 


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Major Rewrite, part 1

I have been unwell. 

After the depression treatment last year, I thought I'd be golden. 

I was wrong. 

Deprived of that outlet for my misery, I grew physically ill.  Sinus infections, persistent coughs, daily headaches that grew to near-constant migraines until I spent most of my waking hours in profound pain. 

I took a walk one day, taking each agonizing breath and trying to settle as I felt the depression gleefully attack my brain with sharpened claws.  I moved through the parking lot, feeling the aches in my joints, cramps in my muscles, clots in my synapses.

"I can do this," I muttered to myself, pressing on my chest to try to ease the ache there.  "You have to help me do this," I prayed to God.  "Give me strength to battle through these stupid arguments with some grace and kindness.  Let me get something - anything - done today.  Please let it be even slightly less futile."

And having finished my loop of the parking lot, I paused to watch the wild turkey prance across the western expanse of the property and plodded back to my desk.

"I'm disappointed," my boss would say before he stopped making eye contact.  "I need you here.  Engaged.  Happy.  You don't act like Katie anymore."

As I repeated that to Mom on our way to church, I admitted I don't feel like myself anymore.  The woman who writhed on the bed in the Emergency Room, terrified of the restlessness triggered by one of the drugs they'd given me bore little resemblance to the person I once was.  And even as I met a neurologist and took different drugs that eased the pain but ate holes in my short-term memory, work felt like such a struggle. 

"I'm so unhappy," I admitted to both Mom and manager.  "I don't think it's supposed to be like this.  We need to find another option."

I remember clicking that option in LinkedIn that opened my profile to recruiters.  I tried to rally at work, prioritizing carefully and giving the team as much of my best self as I could possibly muster. 

And - for a small number of scattered days - it started to get easier to breathe.  I stopped missing meetings.  Worked my way through my lists.  Adjusted to the medication so that I could recall both to whom I'd talked and what we discussed!  The white matter changes on my MRI were nothing to worry about, my neurologist assured me.  My psychiatrist was also positive about me pulling through that depressive episode. 

But I met with my closest colleague and held whispered conversations about upcoming layoffs. 

"I think it's me," I'd say and she'd argue that it was her who'd be let go.  "We're ridiculously paranoid," I finally decided after we'd exchanged counts of leaders who wouldn't look at us in the hallway.  "They need us here."

But when a recruiter reached out to assess my interest, I happily handed over my CV.  Unfortunately, it was a draft CV, littered with red text and "XXX" where I meant to write something suitably impressive.  She kindly asked for "a more detailed copy" and I glanced through the document and winced, wondering if I should just ignore the whole opportunity in my embarrassment. 

Instead, I shrugged, cleaned up the mistakes and sent off a better draft.  And then waited over the next 3 weeks to see what my current and future employers would do.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Merry Disruption of Schedule

We traveled to Brother's house - which is no longer the same house Mom and Dad had - for Christmas. Mom woke me early on Sunday, calling upstairs, leaving me to emit a groaning sigh and rearranging my pile of pillows so I could emerge from my nest.

We prayed as we drove south, asking for peace and joy despite the Ones' moods.  Mom is getting better but remains wounded over her lack of contact with the girls.  Their mother is hateful - not in all areas, but with regard to my family - and we have only to accept that, to love despite it (not her - the Ones - we'll work on our feelings toward her as I doubt God endorses the gleeful hate that enters my heart when she crosses my mind).

We arrived safe and sound, my smile easy and genuine as Smallest raced from the house to cuddle her grandma as soon as the driver's door opened.

"I had the cat on my lap!" Little explained her her rush to the car, trailing her younger sister with a giggle.  Brother soon emerged and we formed a present-carrying train into the house, smiling over the giant teddy bears dressed in onesies and the felt Santa bags we've used since the girls were born and bags Mom found on clearance that we literally splitting at the seams.

We opened gifts.  Made crafts.  Cooked lunch.  Watched movies (Loved Finding Dory - though I cried and cried over the paths of shells; Stork was fine.  Secret Life of Pets was not my favorite.). Played games.  It was pretty lovely.

Smallest and I shared Brother's bed with her giant brown bear.  The white bear, Mom and Little slept in his only guest room while he took the couch with his faithful orange cat.  We shopped yesterday - wandering the mall and catching Pokemon (!!) and buying more things we don't need.  Lunch was followed by a re-loading of Mom's car to take the girls home and return north ourselves.

Chienne had opened her presents before we left - she wagged her tail and slowly nudged paper away from new squeakies.  A wonderful neighbor checked in on her while we were away.  Sprout batted at his new catnip banana and hid from said neighbor.  Trust No One.

Today I return to work and the gym.  I'm excited about neither but resolved to do both.  But the alteration of my schedule was very worthwhile this time.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Great!

I returned to work today, bag overflowing with coping tools (both literally and figuratively).

"Great!" I'd reply with a grin when asked how I was.  I accepted the hugs - lingering for a second longer than I normally would out of a place of pure-and-present love and gratitude for the people with whom I work.

"It was good - really good," I answered questions about my treatment.  "I am on a new medication - Zoloft - the seems to be working well.  But I feel more centered and accepting of myself.  Appreciative of myself in this moment.

"One of the lessons that struck me was that depression is for the past - sadness, regret, longing, pain - and anxiety is of the future - uncertainty, fear, stress and dread.  But we are in the present - in this moment - the one right now - and I'm OK.  I'm actually great.  I'm enjoying talking to you.  The way the sun dances sparkles off the snow.  The sounds of voices on the phone uttering impressive words.  The  pattern of the watercolor yarn as I crochet to keep myself present and focused on the teleconference.  The scent of my Twisted Peppermint lotion or the Fresh Laundry perfume I spritzed this morning.  Right now, we're all OK."

I talked about past-present-future a lot, offering that bit of wisdom rather than asking if someone wanted to pray with me.  Crochet.  Sit down, close our eyes and fully experience a Wintergreen LifeSaver.

Instead, I fully engaged in each meeting.  I made brief entries into my To Do Excel sheet (another coping strategy) and felt centered and strong.

"How perfect!" I called out, smiling widely as I strode down the hallway of the hospital - a hallway I'd walked at least twice daily for the past two weeks.  I'd returned today on lunch hour, hoping to speak to one of my fellow patients and finding her directly in my path as I moved toward the Partial Hospitalization Unit, only about halfway through my planned journey.  "I was coming to find you!"

I approached the woman - my friend - and blinked back tears as I thought of what she wrote in my good-bye journal.
You are a powerful woman of God.  And while I know you came here to receive help, I feel you were sent on a mission to help us.  To brighten rooms even before you entered them.  To listen, love and pray.
I cried over her words Friday night. I pondered them more on Saturday - after the gym and during my 90 minute massage.  I let my thoughts drift and invited God to speak.  I often don't hear Him in those times, mind eager to cling to distractions.  But that day, I waited.  And I heard.

So today, I tucked cash between the pages of my favorite devotional.  Wrote inside the cover of how much God loved her - how strongly I felt that - and how much He wanted her to be healthy and what great plans He had for her.

So I set the book gently on the meal tray she carried, patted the cover of the much-loved book I've used for years and met her eyes as we prayed, wept and embraced.  The peace I feel when doing God's work - set out for me - is profound.

And - for today - for right now - I feel worthy of His love and trust.  I feel capable of pouring out love and light.  Of doing work and being engaged with this world.

Oh, and I revised my affirmation a bit.  I am loved and worthy.  Now. Then. When.

Present.  Past.  Future in the positive sense.  I feel as though I'm walking with God - happily, fully myself and feeling great.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Day (Program) of Progress

I had my family meeting today in the partial hospitalization program.  Mom drove.  I had her valet the car.  And we walked side-by-side down the hallways to the elevator that descends to the program. I find this poetic somehow - I dig into my personal depths in that space and then reascend to real life.

Anyway.

Mom and I talk every day about what I think and what I've learned so there was little new there, except an overall review of what Ive done and how I plan to go forward.  And while it's been on my goals list (we make 3 goals per day according to our diagnoses - my categories are (1) depression, (2) anxiety and (3) relapse prevention) to journal, I've been distracted.  Monday I joined match.com.  Yesterday I took a bath, tried a mindfullness meditation and went to sleep.

[Side Note:  I'm having miserable pain in my right calf.  I've tried exercising through it.  I've tried different exercises.  I've tried resting.  I had a 60 minute massage focused exclusively on the backs of my legs.  I stretch.  I bought a massage stick thingie and tried rolling and just pushing the end of it into the muscle.  What the hell should I be doing to make this go away?!]

Where were we?  I had to go back and read what I'd written last week - you know most of the story so we can pick up on progress this week!  Cool.

I mentioned I'd visited a friend - and her baby - and ended up fleeing (hopefully gracefully?) when I got stressed.  I mentioned it at group - more in a 'how do I deal with this stuff at work - when someone unintentionally stresses me - and escape is not the healthy option" but then other stuff came out.

"I guess," I replied when someone asked what we'd been discussing when I got upset, "we were talking about dating.  She said she'd check with her husband to see if he knew anyone awesome enough for me."

"Oh, no," I had immediately replied, curled up on her couch and taking a sip of my water in the room decorated for Christmas and bathed in sunshine.

"OK," she offered, but cocked her head at me with supportive curiosity.  "Are you going to look online?"

"No," I smiled, appreciating the curiosity and action plans of those happily married.  "I'm not ready."

"OK," she repeated, smile slipping a bit.  "But you said you wanted someone."

"Oh, I do," I confirmed.  "But not yet.  I have to lose weight - get in better shape.  Figure out my mental health and make sure I'm fully recovered.  Be more spiritually connected.  Maybe volunteer somewhere."  I trailed off, feeling my face tug into frowning concern when she started to cry.  "What's happening?" I asked after a moment of wondering I missed while I was talking.

"You're wonderful!" She cried and I blinked at her again.  "You're beautiful now.  Smart and kind and so funny.  Now.  You love God today.  You help people all the time.  You don't need to be better to have someone love you!  It makes me so sad that you think that."

I might have rolled my eyes.  I know I thanked her, patting her hand in friendship.  And she dried her tears and we continued out conversation.  Before I reached my limit and left.

"Wow," my case manager said after I finished my story.  "So what do you take from that?"

"I thought it was weird?" I offered hesitantly, feeling uncomfortable and knowing we were uncovering something I liked being hidden.  "That her reaction was too strong when I was stating facts?"

"Are you worthy of love?" She asked and I cursed silently as I blinked back tears.

"Not really," I replied softly.  Honestly.  "I can be - I hope I will be if I try hard enough - but not yet."

"That's not true - can you recognize that as a distorted thinking?" And then the group - a wonderful group of wounded and wise people - confirmed that I was worthy - beautiful and charming and fun.  They had advice - men are never perfect, maybe I'd have to leave my comfort zone to meet someone - but I've since decided on a mantra.

I am worthy and loved.  Now.  Then.  And - romantically, sexually, wonderfully - in God's time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

PHP Perspective

I've never considered suicide or acute self-harm.  I tell you this the same way I would tell you my pupils are larger than normal - I can see pretty well in the dark and bright light often hurts my eyes.  Neither bring me any particular pride or shame - they're just the way I happen to be formed.

Personal safety - or something like it - is marked on my treatment plan (which is in my car and it's cold in the garage or I'd quote it exactly) but it says something about understanding how to not hurt myself in the future.

"I don't," I objected when I watched the intake therapist make rapid slashes across those boxes, looking up at her with my sternest frown.

"Think of your long-term health," she insisted.  "Excessive sleep and lack of activity can cause cardiovascular issues.  Diabetes.  You aren't doing your health any favors."  I shrugged, not really having a valid argument and deciding it wasn't worth the debate.

But I read this Buzzfeed article with a sense of sickness and sadness and rage.  It was my goal to journal through my experience to not only express this for me, but also to provide a data point for anyone struggling with mental health and considering more intensive treatment.  My path took me through a great primary care doctor and then to this partial hospitalization program.  And it's useful so far - I feel like I'm doing the work and making some progress.

I'd encourage people - even (especially?) those younger than my 37 years - to consider this treatment approach.  To know thyself better, gather some strategies to better cope with all the crap involved with being an adult.  To recognize joy and actively search for it.

But.

I have been asked - many, many times by many, many people - if I have thoughts of hurting myself or anyone else.

And I can honestly (and repeatedly) answer that I do not.  And I think - maybe - that could be part of what's kept this experience so empowering and healthy for me.

I listen to many people in the program stumble over the 'suicidal ideation' pronunciation and think 'those aren't your words' and I have a habit of questioning the truth of something when a person makes an odd word choice.  It would feel more authentic to me if a person said "I tried to kill myself" or "I cut my arm when I'm feeling overwhelmed."  But robotically reporting, "I'm here because of suicide... suicidal ideation..." I feel a frown want to replace my default supportive expression.

"Hey," I poked my head in the door of the therapists' office one day, about an hour before the program was due to end, "I'm going to head out - my head hurts and we're going to play a game and it's just not for me."

The therapist laughed, nodded and made a note on a post-it.  "No problem," she confirmed.  "Just sign out on the sheet, OK?  Oh, Katie," she said, and I'd turned to face her again, "are you safe?"

Not really knowing what she meant - did I feel comfortable in the program? Was I going to relapse into bad behavior and nap my brains out when I left? - I simply nodded, smiled and departed.

I don't know what would have happened if I'd said I wasn't - that I felt fragile and had thoughts I couldn't control.  People have told stories about arriving "upstairs" where the inpatient unit is after a family member made a concerned call to police.  Or after saying something threatening at work.

Most of me is so glad they're getting help - that I get to see them joke and laugh in a program they're free to leave at any time.  But that helplessness of being somewhere they didn't like, unable to leave, strikes a scary chord with me.

But I wanted to be clear that I don't approach this experience with that particularly burden.  I don't have advice on how to authentically engage in treatment - to be open and honest - with a possible threat of losing autonomy.  I don't like to think my therapists or nurses or psychiatrists are capable of taking advantage of someone at their most vulnerable.  But I don't know - and I literally ache with regret if someone is searching for answers and faces those fears.

I will say this - there is help.  Even if you're afraid.  Even if you've had a terrible experience in the past.  You are worthy of healing and love, joy and peace. Find someone you trust and - perhaps more importantly - trust yourself.  Those of us who struggle with depression or anxiety or suicidal ideation are capable of enduring miserable challenges and great pain.  So we can totally figure this out.

And if there's anything I can do, please reach out.