Friday, November 27, 2009


I exited at the mile marked 50 and drove quickly toward home. I grinned when I saw the neighborhood remained littered with garbage bags and recycling bins and made a mental note to take my trash to the curb before leaving for a business trip tomorrow morning.

Last week, I turned down two lovely and local invitations in favor of trekking home with Creature Big and Creature Small. Creature Small found himself locked out of the basement and all three bedrooms upstairs first thing Thursday morning, showing his stripey displeasure by yowling at the top of his lungs while Chienne happily scampered toward the car and took her spot in the front seat.

“I know,” I told Sprout even as he yelled at me and dug his claws into the carpet as I lifted him into my arms. “You don’t like to go. But you’ll get lonely here all by yourself for a week. So to grandmother’s house you go, buddy.”

We made excellent time, finding few fellow travelers on Thanksgiving morning. My plan had been to make the trip on Wednesday but I got stuck at work on the day I’d officially taken off and was headachey, irritable and exhausted upon arriving home. So I decided to wait a day, and, as I sped through the gloomy morning, was rather glad I did.

I arrived home to find tight hugs and pies baking. As Chienne offered frantically loving greetings to my parents, I broke off a piece of pie crust sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and poured a cup of coffee before perching on the couch next to Mom. We talked, catching up on personal stories and watching local and national ones on television so we could offer expert commentary.

It was just after noon when I asked, still clad in stripey pajama pants and a t-shirt speckled with tiny holes, if we should get ready. Mom and Dad indicated they already were, leaving me to pad down the hall and slip into jeans and sweater. We packed up the pies (apple, pumpkin and cherry) and head off to Aunt and Uncle’s house.

“We won’t have enough,” Dad reported sadly upon walking in and setting the pies on the counter. “There are five of us and we only have 3 pies. So if everyone wants some, we’ll have to share. Like animals.”

Mom might have been abashed for her abundance if she’d been born to another family, but that’s just how we roll. On Thanksgiving, there are three kinds of pies. Also, Aunt began to remove dish after dish from the oven and refrigerator until the table was filled with corn and green bean casserole, rolls and a whole (though modest) turkey, stuffing and a huge green salad, cranberries and olives and potatoes – sweet and mashed.

After folding our hands and bowing our heads, Aunt said grace and we soon began to pass dishes and talk. Uncle is almost completely deaf but I soon remembered to keep my hands away from my lips when I talked and make sure he could see my mouth. We giggled and complained and ate and ate. Once full, I refilled water and wine glasses and began to clear the table.

I felt wonderfully relaxed and happy as I scraped ick into the garbage and rinsed the dishes before finding them a spot in the dishwasher. Standing there, mere steps from my family in Aunt’s open kitchen, I realized I didn’t feel miserable about being there alone. I knew Brother and my cousins were with their respective partners but felt oddly un-pathetic as we continued to converse.

I’m resigned to remaining alone, I realized and accepted the sharp pain that resulted in that acknowledgment. And though I still feel less than grateful that Thanksgiving triggers that for me, I seem to be growing out of the desire to sit alone and weep over my terrible misfortune. I can grow up and appreciate what is rather than wallowing in what won’t be.

I woke this morning, patted Chienne as she cuddled closer and wriggled out of the daybed to join Mom in the living room. Dawn was still at least an hour away but the Christmas tree sparkled in the darkness as I flopped down on the couch across the room from where she was curled on the loveseat.

“I was coughing,” she said and I nodded – I’d heard her. “I don’t want to go shopping,” she continued and I grinned and said thank you. She smiled back at me and we sat, mostly quiet, and stared at the lights and ornaments decorating our tree.

Ones – Little and Smallest – arrived in pajamas and sneakers at 8. They were dressed in layers a few hours later, all of us buckled in the van as we headed downtown for the parade. There’s something magical about watching tiny bemittened hands waving back at firemen on the truck. I watched Smallest One perched on Brother’s shoulders, her mouth forming the name of the red character that walked down the street, waving madly when Elmo glanced her way. Little One, pretty as a princess, watched quietly for the most part. She waved and smiled when I adjusted her hat over her ears. She curled closer when I sat next to her on the curb, only to pop up when the next band or float slowly moved past.

Little One unbuckled herself and bounced out of the van when we were safely parked in the driveway at home. She scampered off, leaving me to think she’s getting to be such a big girl. Smallest One, conversely, had worn herself out, remaining soundly asleep even as I unfastened the multiple restraints on her carseat and scooped her out to hand to Dad.

“Boppy,” she demanded sleepily as he carried her inside. “Boppy, PawPaw.” So while she curled up in the bed I’d vacated that morning, pacifier lying safely beside her and pink blankie clutched in her hand, Little One and I colored Christmas pictures in the book I’d brought for them.

I soon leaned over to give hugs and kisses, deciding to make the drive in daylight rather than fretting over deer fleeing under cover of night. Chienne stood next to my mom, her snout visible even in the dim light in the corner of the kitchen that leads to the garage. Once I backed out, I rolled my window down to wave at Little One and her grandpa as they stood on the porch to wave. Chienne and Mom waited inside the glass door and I sighed sadly before driving away.

I’m now home – just for the evening – and I hate it here without the animals. So I thought I’d distract myself with a blog post and finish packing before taking a bath and getting some sleep. While I hope I find time to post while I’m away – at least toss you some photos – I’m unsure if I’ll find time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Musical Memory

In March, 2006, I was driving toward a friend's house. Deep in the throes of what turned out to be little more than a lengthy and ill-fated crush, I gave myself stern pep talks as I prepared to dial the object of my affection to talk.

I recall the way my cheeks warmed and heart raced. I vividly remember the way my attention split among desire to call and hear his voice, terror that I'd say something stupid and distraction that I wouldn't find Dave's house so that I could rest before heading back to post-doc city. It was dark and barely raining, my windshield wipers smearing the glow of lights around me. I stopped at Arby's, knowing I should be hungry at 8PM since I'd not eaten since breakfast, but found myself too nervous to order anything more than a soda.

There was music. I had my iPod plugged in and let someone sing at a moderate volume while I glanced and directions and sipped soda and gathered my courage.

In August, 2009, I remembered that moment in startling clarity, save one detail. While I remembered the laptop bag that rested on the seat beside me, could recall the MapQuest directions that I'd printed and scrawled notes on and found the memory of my knotted stomach and hopeful heart bittersweet, I was unable to remember who had been singing.

"Something about scars and acceptance," I murmured. "Sort of smooth and sexy and sad." Then I swore because I couldn't remember anything relevant - artist, album, enough lyrics to google a line. I just remembered the emotion.

And it Drove Me Nuts. Each time I picked up my iPod, the remembered music with forgotten titles tickled my consciousness. I focused - closing my eyes tight and wrinkling my nose in an attempt to remember by sheer force of will. When that didn't work, I relaxed, confident that my brain would eventually locate that pocket of knowledge and tell me what I wished to know.

It's now November. And I was no closer to hearing the songs again.

While I remain on my first iPod - a gift from my parents upon finishing grad school - it failed early this year and I had to wipe it before reloading software. Though I reloaded most of my music, there were bits and pieces that I didn't manage to transfer. When I noticed, I would find the pesky files and move them over.

I'd searched and missed it, knowing it was just like waking up first thing and looking for the toothpaste and, though I was looking right at it, it just didn't register. I tend to be mostly oblivious, assuming people and events don't require my attention unless they explicitly ask for it. But this - having known something and recognized my enjoyment of it and forgotten it - was too much to bear.

Finally, completely annoyed with my inability to trigger the memory, I got resourceful, searched old iTunes receipts and immediately found the files and began to listen. And in that moment of November, 2009, I was completely content.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Owning Your Actions

Corporate life has introduced a number of new terms into my lexicon. We speak in a way that is sometimes ridiculously self-conscious and awkward and I think we do it in order to seem important. Regardless, we speak a great deal about actions and owners and how the two of them lead to great progress (and preferably profit).

"Couldn't we work as a team?" PrettyHair asked, twirling a lock about her finger while I scowled at her attempt to escape another task.

"No," Adam noted simply. "I mean, you can and should work as a team. But I want a single person responsible for getting it done correctly and on time." Such a directive hangs on the wall (along with oft-ignored rules to start meetings on time and have clear objectives before demanding people congregate).

I rather like being assigned my tasks for a given time, having done an excellent job pulling together my play date. It gives me authority to demand help, power to revise as ruthlessly as necessary. With that comes the blame if it all goes to hell, but I'm pretty cool with that too.

"I'm not sure he's worth it," a friend said.

"How so?" I asked, always absently as I tried to get work done and wondered what personal drama I was to hear.

"Well, I could move up in the company. Go anywhere. Do anything. But he's making me give that up to be with him!"

"You," I scolded good-naturedly, "are revising history, my dear. I remember there being a man. Then he was a man who loved you and you loved him in return. They you got a job offer closer to where he lives and - with him reserving judgment - decided to take it. Now, I hope it works out. That you're blissfully happy forever and ever and that you don't miss this career path for a single second. But the decision was yours. And putting that kind of pressure on a relationship seems non-ideal."

She frowned at me darkly before nodding.

"I," I continued thoughtfully, "sometimes cry before bed because I never see this loneliness ending. Yet I don't put myself out there because I think there's more risk than reward. I am dedicated to my career because there's not a whole lot else going on with me. So I think you took a look at what I've chosen and selected that alternative. And that's wonderful. So embrace that and be excited and happy that you have this opportunity rather than mourning the path you turned down. Sure, be a little sad - we'll miss you. Some of your projects may not get done without you here. But focus on the happy, for goodness sake! You're starting to bum me out."

"Did you hire her?" I asked another manager as we sipped soup in his office.

"Of course," he replied, sulking.

"And you make the rules - assign responsibility, follow up, give her reviews?"

"Yes," he said, beginning to glare.

"Kiddo," I sighed, wondering why I've selected that as my term of endearment for men, "I fail to see why I should pity you. It seems you did this yourself and have all the power to fix it."

"It's hard," he sighed.

"Oh, sweetheart," I sighed in return, feeling pleased that I'd been around long enough to be simultaneously exasperated and affectionate. "I know it is. And I am sorry. But you can either stay gloomy or figure this out."

"Tell me how to figure it out," he grinned, reaching across his desk to steal a packet of my crackers. I reached to take a corner of his cookie and sat back in my chair.

"Aren't there decision trees for this sort of thing?" I teased. "I suppose you figure out what motivates her," I said more seriously, thinking carefully. "You stress accountability and set limits that you don't cross. And you need to consider your team - how her behavior affects them and how long you're willing to tolerate that." I eyed his cookie, having already finished the small section I'd taken. "I don't know," I finally sighed. "This is why I don't really want direct reports."

Thursday, November 19, 2009


When I glanced up and saw a colleague at my door, I barely refrained from saying out loud. Still, all I could think was "What the hell could you possibly want from me now?" It was shortly after I helped her that I packed up my things and walked out of the building before noon. I'd sent a short note to Adam that I was past my limit and needed some time to settle.

It's not been a terrible week, I thought as I headed to fetch breadsticks, hummus and chocolate. (I wanted them.) I had dinner with a friend one night. Worked on early and late teleconferences and did lots of tasks between them. I went for a meal with some visiting collaborators last night, doing my best to be peppy, charming and engaged with their stories. I enjoyed it - they were lovely, fascinating people who do interesting work - but barely stayed awake enough to drive home thanks to the single margarita I enjoyed.

So I picked up a paperback and some snacks and drove home. I took a nap and a shower (in that order). I read my book - it was mediocre - and relaxed. And I now feel capable of facing the last day of this week and the work that awaits me this weekend.

If I owe you an email, I'm sorry - I want to reply but I start sentences and can't think clearly enough to finish them. Thank you for your message and I'll be in touch soon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Full Disclosure

“Totally worth it,” I offered faux-absently and tried hard to keep from grinning when all attention was directed my way. “What?” I asked, looking between the pair of people in my office and shrugging. “It is.”

I finally smiled widely when they continued to stare at me in surprise and shrugged before returning my attention to my computer.

“Wait,” he finally said and, wearing my inquisitive expression, I glanced up to make eye contact. We had been discussing online activities and one of my female colleagues said she failed to understand the appeal.

“Facebook, MySpace, blogs – I just don’t see how that’s fun,” she mused and I did nothing but shrug.

“I play games on Facebook,” the third of our trio offered and I nodded absently at his statement. She scoffed.

Games?” she asked, her tone derisive. “I think of that like… like… cybersex.” Partially annoyed but mostly bored, I offered my comment that the latter activity was “totally worth it.”

“Seriously?” he asked, continuing to stare at me in shock.

“Yes,” I answered, feeling myself blush a bit. “I don’t get gaming – Facebook farming or medieval warfare or whatever you do. But chatting about sex? That can be quite,” I paused, looking for the right word and starting to wish I’d remained quiet. “Entertaining,” I decided and nodded in confirmation.

“Are you good?” he asked at the same time she had a horrified question about how I could possibly chat with someone who could be 70 years old with a big belly and bald head.

“OK, wait,” I said, turning to face her while the man in the room began to giggle. “Let’s not make this into a horror story here. I don’t go trolling online to meet strangers and then immediately start telling them what I’m wearing. I’ve known the men - ”

“Men?” they interrupted in unison and I rolled my eyes.

“Yes, all both of them,” I replied. “I’m not as boring as you originally thought but I’m not very exciting either.”

“I know it’s not easy,” I said, speaking slowly and carefully as I focused on the woman across the table that held our coffee, tea and shared slice of poppy seed bread. “I felt,” I paused to think. “Overwhelmed. Like I was suffocating. And I couldn’t deal with people or read books or work or do anything other than exist with this vague hope that I'd feel better at some point. And I don’t want that for you. Even thinking about it upsets me.”

“But I’m better now,” she insisted and I frowned while I swirled my peppermint tea bag through the hot pool of water in my mug.

“I’m glad you feel better,” I replied sincerely. “But you’re not,” I shook my head, flustered and irritated with myself. “I’ll start again. You don’t seem well. Listen, I may be overreacting but I’ve been watching in meetings and you seem overly sensitive. Not truly engaged in the discussion. Very easily offended when no offense was meant.”

“I don’t like him,” she said sadly of her boss and I nodded, ordering myself to sit silently and listen. I had allocated a mere hour to have coffee and fix her mental health and I reminded myself that my upcoming meeting could wait. “He always talks badly about me and I can never do anything right and he doesn’t care about the right things!”

“Sweetheart,” I said gently, folding my hands around my mug and tapping my fingertips against each other. “He doesn’t talk badly about you to me. I’ve heard him say very positive things about your talent. But I do understand feeling unmotivated when you’re never praised or recognized for your efforts. For me, depression makes that worse – I either feel attacked or irrelevant. There’s never anything good that I can recognize. But your boss is your boss – he’s not going anywhere. So I see this as being pretty binary – you can learn to happily work for him or you can look for something else.”

I winced when her eyes filled with tears and broke a piece of bread from the slice to give myself time to consider my next statement.

“Have you thought about looking for something else? Stay in the business but work for another manager? Or stay on campus and work with a different group?”

“I have,” she said slowly. “But there’s nothing out there. And I can’t deal with it.”

“But,” I said, ready to be encouraging and helpful and she stopped me by raising a hand. She shifted in her chair so I could see only her profile and put her head down. My heart hurt for a moment, watching her withdraw, and I stayed quiet while I waited for her to speak.

“This is taking me to a bad place,” she finally said, keeping her eyes fixed on a spot on the wall. “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered and she nodded.

“I will,” I said, speaking softly but firmly as we walked back to our offices several awful moments later, “do anything I can to help you. If you want to talk. If I can make a doctor appointment, drive you there, wait outside for you. If you want me to talk to your boss and tell him about how it feels to be depressed. And maybe I’m wrong – maybe medication isn’t the answer for you. Maybe shifting jobs isn’t a good option either. But I’m very afraid you can’t wish this away. I’m worried you’re continuing to decline and that you’ll reach a place where I don’t know how to help you. Where suffering is all there is. I remember that,” I paused, shuddered. “I do not want that for you.” I repeated, stopping myself before I begged her to see someone. To release me from this responsibility I felt for her.

“I’ll think about it,” she said and I nodded.

“We’ll make her go,” another friend stated firmly when I shook my head at her question of how it went. I smiled at her resolute expression and pictured her shoving our colleague back into an exam room.

“No,” I replied calmly. “She’s not ready. You can’t force it. Neither can I.”

“But you said she’ll get worse,” she said, looking suddenly small and scared as she dropped into one of my extra chairs. “And it’s already falling apart for her. People don’t like her. They think she’s unreliable. Uninterested. Or irrationally emotional.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “But she has to get to a place where she wants help. Where being diagnosed isn’t scarier than continuing to suffer.”

“We could get her help and she wouldn’t have to decide!” she tried again, looking hopeful.

“We can’t force her to take a pill every day,” I said gently.

“Maybe she doesn’t need pills!” she said and I nodded. Just because medication is reasonably effective to me does not mean it’s universally applicable. “Maybe she needs a pet.”

“OK,” I grinned. “We can’t force her to get a pet either.”

“I will buy her a cat.” And I laughed because it’s a lovely statement to make.

“OK,” I replied again. “We can’t make her feed the cat every day.”

“Oh,” she said. “Good point. No cat.”

“No cat,” I confirmed, feeling a bit brighter as she walked from my office. Then I remembered Sprout and how I could barely feed him every day when I was so depressed. And I thought that while ‘I can’t force her to get help’ and ‘she may get much worse’ are bad on their own, they are hideous when paired. Feeling helpless, I sighed before packing up my computer and coming home to desperately hope everything will be OK.

I hate this. And I don't know what to do next.

Monday, November 16, 2009


I changed my desktop photo on my work laptop. I find it to be bittersweet, honestly. Thinking of lying on the beach on the north shore of O'ahu, staring through sunglasses at the crystal-clear water that slowly turned greenish-blue. Puffy clouds drifted far above the leafy trees that offered shade from the bright sun. And I, lounging in paradise and smoothing on sunscreen, was lamenting my professional failures.

I changed the photo because it's growing cold outside. I've no vacations on the horizon. There is nothing but work and sleep and more work ahead and I missed Hawaii. I longed for sleeping in and watching the ocean and going breathless at how aesthetically perfect it was. But I also smiled at how far I've come. How lovely it is to look back at the Spring and realize I've made excellent use of Summer and Fall.

I had a job offer - something I would have killed to do before taking this job in Industry - and didn't even consider it past a brief and flattered refusal. (Though if anyone is interested in a staff research position for the chair of a biomedical department at an excellent school in the upper Midwest, send me a note.) I'm happy here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Katie @ Work

I missed the fourth blogiversary of my dear Minor Revisions. It was Friday and I worked a long day and then came home too exhausted to post. Yesterday I read and rested, taking time only to do laundry and blankly read incoming email.

But! I have slowly accumulated Fabulous Prizes (!!!) to make up the Katie @ Work box which will be shipped to a randomly-selected commenter. (Disclaimer - if you didn't not win the Care Bear, you will automatically be entered into the Katie @ Work contest. Comment if you'd like to enter twice.)

Timing is everything!
While I pondered what I should be included, my first purchase was an adorable silver alarm clock. "I love clocks," I sighed to TinyFriend as we stood in Target. "They're so pretty and functional."

"I hate clocks," she replied, shuddering for effect while I frowned at her.

"Maybe that's why you're always late," I sniffed. "Clocks are our friends. They tell us when to be places." And so I hope that a lucky winner will have an adorable clock perched on his or her desk to remind him or her that Katie Is Disappointed when winners show up late.

Always Stay Hydrated
I get headaches. One thing that helps is frequently visiting the water cooler to fill a bottle with water, sipping often throughout the day as I talk in meetings and talk on the phone and talk to myself. I did, however, feel guilty that I was going through plastic water bottles shamefully quickly even when I dutifully walked them to the recycle bins in the cafeteria. Therefore, I asked the NWF to send me water bottles when I donated last time. You may have the gold one (because you're a winner!) and we can be water bottle buddies!

In addition, sometimes a warm beverage is necessary. You'll receive one of my favorite geeky mugs and some excellent mint tea. Breathe in the minty vapor... Sip the minty tea... Try not to yell at the irritating people...

Tools of the Trade
I have three (3) cups to hold pencils, pens, markers, scissors, etc. on my desk. I enjoy immediate access to anything I might need. So the Katie @ Work box contains...
- A pretty pencil cup
- A revealing pen (Post-doctoral institution)
- A revealing pencil (Local football team)
- DVD/CD holder
- Multi-colored post-its! I love sticky notes. I maintain my to-do list strictly in Excel so that I have records of when tasks showed up and can track their completion. But post-its remain awesome for scrawling tiny reminders or making a note to carry around stuck to your sweater.

Who's a pretty princess?
Given the meetings I'm sometimes required to join with little notice, I keep a drawer filled with items in case I need to start over. I can run to the restroom, wash my face, moisturize, reapply make-up and fix my hair within 10 minutes. So without being terribly girly (males welcome to comment and win!), I've included a few necessary items.
- Hand lotion because offices are often dry
- Relaxing lotion - eucalyptis and spearmint in case you need to calm down
- ProActive Repairing Lotion in case you find a blemish that needs immediate treatment
- Nail clippers. Broken nails, hangnails are overly distracting unless quickly remedied.
- Origins eye treatment. Puffy eyes strike many of us. I like the soothing nature of this goo.
- Lip gloss! I have an addiction to the minty gloss with red tint. If you're anti-tint, I can give you clear.
- Hair clip and 3 ponytail holders. My hair looks better down but I tend to end up with it back when I'm Focused and Thinking. (I also have to turn off any music in a car when I'm driving in traffic. I have no idea why.)
- Band-aids in case you are injured (perhaps by pretty but painful shoes)
- Aveda bag to neatly store your pretty items in the back of a drawer.

It's the extras the matter, yes?
1 tiny plush friend
1 business card so I can add you to the list of calls I ignore on my cell phone*
Several fruit snacks - I like the pomegranate fruit jerky
I may think of more - but I'm close to being done.

* Work is (for me) all about power. So how better to demonstrate that by giving you the power to expose me and perhaps get me fired?

Rules and Regulations
Comment until Friday. Katie to feel guilty that she doesn't have more prizes for everyone who comments immediately upon first comment. Winner notified by email and with a request for mailing address on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


"I'll try," she replied softly when I called yesterday. I closed my eyes, exhausted and stressed and unsure of how to respond.

"OK," I said gently. "I think seeing a doctor is important. Check to see if something is making you sleepy. And sad."

"I just stare at the wall," she told me and I winced.

"I know," I soothed after taking a breath. "So maybe someone can help so everything isn't so hard. Would you like me to make the appointment?"

"No," she refused. "I can do it. I can try to do it."

I hung up and drove home deep in thought. She has friends - lots of lots of them, actually - and I don't truly count myself among that group. She's a lovely person, but we don't click - she doesn't think I'm funny, has an aversion to dogs and scoffs at my dedication to my work. She never fails to complain about something at restaurants, is always perfectly put together and is pretty blunt and aggressive. So our relationship has been friendly, but professional.

"I'm better today," she told me quietly before we ducked into an empty conference room to talk. "I wasn't sure how long it would last, but I do feel better today."

"Good," I said, sincerely pleased that she had on make-up and had replaced troublesome jeans and sneakers with a slim skirt and high heels. "I'm very glad to see you."

"Katie?" she asked and I pulled a chair from the large table and sat, waiting for her to pull a chair close and lean toward me. "I don't know what to do," she admitted and I nodded.

"For me," I began for that's the only way I'm good at explaining this to people, "it was very hard to get help. I had a Friend - capital F - that held my hand and helped me get better. She kept asking if I'd seen a doctor. She offered to go with me. She filled my prescription while I stood next to her a died a little inside. It was hard," I remembered, feeling my stomach clench and heart beat faster in remembered fear. "But it does get better. And you can have help. It's OK," I stressed, "to need help."

"You got help," she clarified, eyes serious and sad.

"I got help," I confirmed. "It didn't change me," I offered, trying to remember how desperately afraid I'd been to tell the doctor and fill the prescription and swallow that first tablet. "It just made life less hard. I could get out of bed. Take a shower. Get dressed. Talk to people. I started sleeping less. I could show up places I was supposed to be. Do work I'd meant to do. Feel hopeful and amused and happy again."

She nodded and I reached for her hand, squeezing it briefly before letting go and tangling my fingers with a brief prayer that I could articulate something - anything - valuable. "I know it's hard," I whispered simply. "And if you need me to do this for you - make the appointment, drive you there, wait outside to bring you home - I would do that without hesitation."

"I took a quiz online," she admitted. "It said I was severe." I nodded, keeping my eyes steady and calm while I waited for her to finish. "I don't want to be severe," she whispered, tears filling her eyes before spilling over.

"I know," I whispered in reply, feeling miserably guilty that I waited this long to help her. Desperately sad that she'd suffered without anyone to intervene. I wished Friend were here and tried to figure out what she'd advise.

We go from here, I realized and relaxed. This is what it is and there are choices.

"You don't have to stay severe," I said. "I don't know if the answer is medication or therapy or a lifestyle change. But I got better. You'll get better."

"But it will happen again," she protested and I shook my head encouragingly.

"It doesn't have to be as bad," I promised. "You can get help. I will help you."

"I have friends," she said a bit defensively. "They'd come if I asked."

"Of course," I agreed immediately. "And you can call them if that helps. But I'm here. In the office in the corner. And while I'm busy, I think this is - you are - very important. And you don't have to suffer like this."

"I think I can call the doctor," she said and I nodded.

"I'm going to check tomorrow," I warned her. "Because I care and I want you to be well. But if I get annoying or you want me to back off, you can tell me. That's OK."

She smiled, a weak but genuine curve of her lips, and I patted her shoulder as I got up. I left her in the quiet conference room, glancing back down the hallway to watch her walk slowly to her desk. Worried, I nonetheless forced myself to give her time to consider her options. Getting help is not an easy step for some of us. Taking a pill doesn't instantly solve all problems and climbing out of a hole is unpleasant.

I thought some more as I halfheartedly listened to a conference call in my office, wondering how I felt about sharing my closely-guarded secret with a colleague and my boss. Honestly, I'd rather it have remained a secret. I'd like to think I'm not ashamed of having a depressive disorder. Of taking medication to remain functional. But I think I am to some extent - I don't want it to color people's opinions of me. Alter my career's trajectory. Hell, I walked away from academic research because depression had so obviously tainted my reputation and have worked very hard to avoid that in Industry.

It was necessary, I decided. To be vulnerable, one must feel safe. And if I need to disclose my struggle to help someone, I'm willing to do that and accept any consequences. I should have seen it sooner. Handled it better. But I'm aware now and have it on my radar, marked as 'must follow up.' And we'll keep going from here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Loss of Empathy

"Do you have a doctor?" she asked quietly and I glanced up from the screen of my laptop to look at her.

"I do," I answered, returning my attention to the project she was supposed to do but didn't do so now I had to do. I was frustrated. Openly annoyed and brisk in any responses because of it. She's just impossible, I fumed. Never putting forth effort. Complaining about everything. Being generally slow and blank and just taking up space when she bothers to show up.

And as if I finally heard the thoughts for what they were, I stopped typing and looked up. I closed my laptop and took a breath before offering the name of my GP, watching as she slowly wrote the words on a clean sheet of notebook paper. "Would you like her number?" I asked gently and opened a drawer to search through my stack of business cards when she nodded wordlessly.

"There's something wrong," she said and I nodded, twisting my hands in horrified dismay that I'd let her suffer for so long. Not that I believe I control such things, of course, but letting someone fall deeper into a hole while I could have at least peeked down to make sure she was OK.

"Is it just work?" I asked gently.

"Yes," she replied. "Well, no," she revised her answer. "I guess it's everything. I think. I don't really know."

"I know," I said and opened my mouth to stop her when she walked from my office, saying she needed to go home.

"I'm sorry," she as she left and I shook my head.

"It's fine - you're fine," I assured her. "Go home. Take a bath. Read a book."

I sat still when she left, wincing when I remembered how I glared when she wouldn't pay attention. I complained when she didn't contribute. Sighed heavily when she showed up late, left early and skipped meetings completely.

"Hey," I greeted Adam when he answered. "I believe she's depressed. And I want you to lay off." I waited for him to respond and frowned when he didn't. I weighed my desire to have my colleagues remain ignorant of my medicated status and struggle with a mood disorder and took a deep breath before continuing.

"It doesn't turn on and off like that for me," I said, swallowing hard and glad this was a phone conversation and not one in person. "But the inability to engage is similar to how I am when I'm depressed. It's like everything is moving too fast. Everyone wants far too much. And I can't. I don't fully understand why, but there's this intense knowledge that I can't. And when I looked at her today, I realized she can't either."

"OK," he said after a moment.

"And the frustration is normal, too," I told him. "It's easy to get angry because you want to feel something - when you know the way you're reacting isn't how you always have. I got defensive because I knew I was sabotaging everything I cared about but I couldn't fix it. Every attempt that someone made to help felt like an attack. And all I could do was hope it passed. That tomorrow would be better. And when it wasn't, the effort of even seeing people was tortuously exhausting."

"I told her to see a doctor," he said. "A long time ago, actually."

"I gave her my doctor's name when she asked," I replied. I nodded when he said his hasn't been accepting new patients. "That was probably very discouraging," I told him. "When you reach out for help and someone refuses, it's easier to just slip into despair. Nobody cares enough. She needs to see someone - decide if medication might work or if talking it out would be better. And you need to give her time to figure this out."

He started to ask another question but I waved at the person waiting outside my closed door. "I need to go," I told Adam. "I'll call later, but do not scold her again right now. We need to help."

I called him later and he said he'd talked to her. I called her and was unsurprised when I was directed to voicemail, offering that I was around and available if she needed anything at all.

What she needed, I told myself, was someone to notice that she'd stopped wearing make-up. That she wasn't trying harder because it seemed impossible rather than she decided not to. And even as I feel awful about this, I'm struck by how shocked I am that I missed something so obvious. That in the absence of my own suffering, I was selfish enough to disregard obvious signs.

I wish there were a neat conclusion here. I hope that eventually there will be. But for tonight, I just feel sad. And guilty. But mostly sad.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

By Request: Polar Bear Play Date

I received emails (!!!) and a couple of them contained post topics that I pounced upon as my sleepy attempts at drafting anything this week are unlikely to see the 'publish post' button clicked.

The polar bear posts - for those of you who haven't read or have forgotten them - were my cutesy attempt at telling a sensitive work story without being blatantly obvious (just fairly obvious) about details. Yet I enjoyed writing them and, looking back, think they are a bit adorable. So I'll try another one since there was a bit of a play date in the polar bear pen last week.

Since moving to my new habitat, I feel like I have the big blue ball. And it's pretty awesome. It's very bouncy and I can bat it around with my paws. It has sparkles and I'm drawn to it - sometimes when I should be sleeping - because playing is just so much fun. I keep it in my corner, but carry it often to show it to other people. When I forget it, I describe it to the other animals so they can be suitably impressed by my good fortune. The other bears in my habitat have toys of their own, also happy to show them off when I trot around the corner with my pretty blue ball.

It happened our toys had not escaped the attention of the other animals since we show them off so often. It was suggested that we have a play date and invite the most important of our friends to learn more about what made my blue ball (and the other toys) so special. Since I am the fondest of my possession, I was assigned the process and happily set about devising the best way to impress people. I selected the time and waited impatiently for everyone to arrive as I sat on one side of the habitat, blue ball clutched protectively in my furry arms against my white belly. I glanced down to see Pretty Hair straightening her floppy pink bow and Best rubbing his paw against a small stain on his bright green bucket. Sibling walked in with her own ball, a smaller one in cheerful red, held carefully between her paws. We waited in a row, most prized possessions ready for their upcoming display, and smiled when a small herd of caribou pranced inside, bowed their antlered heads in greeting and found an area to graze.

The wolves arrived next, leaving only the alpha male to represent the pack after a quick trot around our pen. A strong presence, he quickly glanced at our toys, saying nothing but remaining sharp and aware until the walrus lumbered in, taking a seat on the most comfortable of our boulders and regarding us with serious eyes. I was directly across from him and he stared at me for a moment, peering at the ball held against my tummy and I smiled at him before holding it between my paws so it was more clearly visible. He nodded at me in approval before directing his attention to Adam and nodding. We were to begin.

"Welcome to our play date," Adam said, voice commanding attention as the caribou and wolf followed the walrus's lead to focus on us bears. "We've worked to clean our habitat and appreciate you taking the time to visit. We'd like to tell you about our toys - let you ask questions and offer suggestions on how we might have the most fun with them - and Katie will start with her big blue ball."

Taking a moment to glance down, I took a breath and started to speak, waving my paw for emphasis even as I clutched the ball tightly against my body with one arm. I have worked for this ball - discarding others that were not bouncy enough or an unpleasant color. I sacrifice a lot to make sure my ball is as perfect as possible and was pleased to answer questions and argue points as people treated me and my beloved toy with proper respect.

"What do you think?" The walrus asked a caribou just after an owl fluttered in to take the spot next to her. When I turned to smile at the owl, I noticed a weasel sitting at the table and wondered when he'd found a tunnel to sneak in.

"Walrus," she replied thoughtfully, "I like the way the bounces when Katie chases it. That's interesting to watch, especially when it goes in the water and she splashes after it. But I think the color is a bit odd."

"Yes," agreed another caribou, looking at my toy with an oddly disapproving expression. "It's not the best color."

I growled before I could help myself, for I had considered and discarded various shades of blue before selecting the one which I prized and held before me. Glaring at the caribou, I paused when their new leader said he was rather fond of the color.

"Thank you," I said, holding the ball out for him to see more closely and he took it carefully, before smiling at me and handing it back.

"I think we should all have bells," the weasel chirped without being asked. "People like bells. I think bells are nice." When everyone turned to look at him with various degrees of hostility and bewilderment. "They make noise," he said, happy to have all the attention. "That ball doesn't make any sounds at all."

"That weasel is stupid," I said before I could help myself and the wolf bared his teeth in a quick but genuine grin before saying he thought my ball was mostly wonderful.

"It's totally wonderful," I insisted and the walrus took a moment to nod at me before asking Best to describe his bucket.

"If you put it in the pool, you can carry water around with you," he explained, settling the toy so everyone could see it. "But I also think Katie's ball is very nice."

"Could you put a bell on it?" the weasel asked curiously, leaning closer to look at the handle before Best yanked it away.

"What? No," he replied. "No bells,"

"People like bells," the weasel reminded us. "They ring."

"Could we think about a bell?" Walrus asked and I turned to regard him with horror. "Not at the expense of the ball or bucket or bow," he tried to soothe. "But maybe a bell would be nice."

"Bells have been done!" I said. "The bears down the street have all sorts of bells and whistles and while I know they make noise," I said before the weasel could interrupt me, "they are no substitute for toys that bounce and carry water around!" I motioned a paw toward Best's bucket, accidentally hitting Adam on the leg. "Sorry," I mumbled, patting him to make sure my claws hadn't scratched him.

"This was interesting," Walrus said when we were finished. "I'd like to spend more time on this soon - the toys are very important to all of us."

"Excellent work," the leader of the caribou said kindly and I took a moment to admire his antlers.

"I'd like to pick a theme for the toys," the wolf said, eyes predatory as he glanced over our items. Adam moved forward to protect them and said we could have a discussion about themes. But our toys were unlikely to change. The wolf nodded before sitting regally once again, biding his time.

"Bells?" asked the weasel before the walrus dismissed us with orders to continue to play hard.

"They're good toys," Adam said after everyone departed and the habitat was ours once again. "And you're good bears." I nodded thoughtfully before tossing my ball to watch it bounce happily toward the water, glancing at Adam to make sure were were finished before scampering off to chase it once again.

Monday, November 02, 2009


How High?
"I'm going offsite all day," I mentioned to BigDeal last week. He'd asked me to attend a meeting that was in the middle of a day-long focus group I planned to attend and I asked very politely if I might call in to a meeting rather than making the trek back to be physically present.

"I'd like you here," he replied. "Fifteen minutes early?"

"Of course," I answered promptly, for there is no other choice. When the BigDeals of Industry make requests, they are met. And so I left my other meeting at its peak productivity and drove back to campus, entering a building and making my way to the waiting area.

After announcing myself, I perched on a chair and finally picked up a magazine detailing Industry's charitable contributions (I do payroll deductions and am matched 100%. I enjoy this.) while I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Yet while this once would have made me furiously impatient, I found myself remarkably unmoved.

I understand the infrastructure, I thought. He is the leader and I am to wait until I'm spoken to. And - given that I'm paid well and get to do something I enjoy - I'm actually reasonably OK with that. I was eventually summoned and sat in a different chair to answer questions for which I'd prepped extensively. Then - for revealing reasons - we decided to postpone the major meeting.

Forty minutes later, I returned to my car and departed for my original meeting location, having lost upwards of an hour of productivity in order to accomplish exactly nothing. I realized upon reclaiming my chair at the crowded table that the discussion I left was to prepare for another meeting with a different BigDeal. So I smiled and realized I'm growing more tolerant. This is what I do.

Imaginary Counts.
"Is everything OK?" a technician asked very early this morning. I blinked at him, dragging my attention from my laptop screen to smile and nod.

"Yes," I replied. "We're fine in here." I glanced around the room, coffee warming on a cart in the corner next to pastries and fresh fruit. Crystal dishes were filled with peppermints and sparkled cheerfully at strategic points around the large table. There were pens and paper, tape and paperclips, markers and post-its.

I blushed when he looked around the room, looking confused. While I was noticing the amenities and recalling my affection for Starlight Mints, he was noticing the room was completely empty - nary a person other than myself had occupied the space.

"My imaginary friends very much appreciate you stopping to check on us," I continued after shrugging and deciding I was unable to save myself from saying "we" when it was clearly just "me." And he laughed and laughed. He left and I looked around at the empty chairs, shaking my head at myself.

Yay! (!!!)
Thank you for the emails! After zero last night, I was a little embarrassed about my plea for communication. But I came home to far more than I expected this evening and it made me ever so happy. I'm exhausted (already in bed - feeling better but am still So Ridiculously Tired) so I'll reply to your wonderful, lovely, fabulous messages within the next few days. But I wish you all Care Bear cuddles in the meantime. Thank you.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Fabulous Prizes

A four year blogiversary (November 13, 2009 - let the excitement begin) seems rather inauspicious. But if you want to think of it as a Big Deal (which I do), you could say that it's how long important things take - high school, college, grad school, post-doc (if I add a bonus year for pure misery suffered during the three actual years). So as November 13 approaches, I'm wanted to give something away. I knew what the prize was, but couldn't figure out how to select two lucky winners.

Fortunately, I've been deathly ill for a couple of weeks and decided on a strategy while I was willing myself to sleep more! Sometimes things just work out.

So here's the deal. I like email - I would like to get more of it. Some of my most meaningful posts have been written in response to lovely correspondence or requests for advice. Therefore, writing me an email earns you a chance to win a fabulous prize package. There are no requirements for length or content. You just have to send some private communication.

Now I clap happily and tell you what you'll win! (!!!) I have put a great deal of thought into the Katie @ Home Package and it's turned out to be rather wonderful. I would totally want it myself, probably because it's made of up things that remind me of me.

Something Apple-y - We begin with a tiny iPod shuffle since I couldn't bring myself to ever part with Nick, the laptop on whom a vast majority of blog posts have been written. However, a lovely iPod filled with music you can overwrite with my blessing is not a terrible substitute! Oh, and it's silver - don't get greedy.

Bathtime - One of my favorite Lush products - A French Kiss - is totally luxurious and bubbly and wonderful. You may have it if you win. (I also really love Pop in the Bath but I'm out of them. Sorry.)

Non-Germy - Since I seem to write most often when I'm suffering from some malady or other, I'm sending my favorite anti-bacterial soap. I hope the stupid stuff works better at protecting you from disease than it has for me. But at least it smells very nice.

AM Appreciation! - What else do I do at home? I have one cup of coffee every morning while checking Google Reader and skimming Site Meter! So I will send a box of your choice - the ground seasonal blend (Pumpkin Spice!) or a whole bean breakfast blend.

Bedtime - This last one gave me no end of problems as I pondered it. I sleep. I love (love, love) sleeping. But a pillow is too big. Blanket too bulky. How do I share my pure and enduring affection for being in bed? And then it came to me in a rush of sunshine and rainbows. Bedtime Bear! Suitable for cuddles while curled up on a couch or in bed, he's sweet and soft and sleepy. And he's a Care Bear! A Care Bear, people! I'm rarely stunned by my genius, but this time I was amazed at how cool I am.

I would assign a monetary value to these fabulous prizes, but, frankly, Bedtime Bear pretty much makes it invaluable. With his little heart nose and little heart on his tushie and little hearts on his paws. Let's face it - if you don't want Bedtime Bear, we probably shouldn't exchange emails anyway.

I have another group of gifts in mind. Katie @ Work will be revealed next week as I finish deciding what to include and how to win it. In the meantime, you have until Friday to send email. I will reply to everyone and select a random winner next weekend.