Pearls of Wisdom

Pearl was 20 years my senior and had a black cloud that followed her everywhere. The following is a partial list of her ailments and reasons for not coming to work over a four year period. Not one of these is made up.

  • Bad knee (due to being assaulted by client).
  • Food poisoning (she came across quite a bit of bad food).
  • Migraines.
  • Fever.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Vomiting (oh my god, don’t even get me started on the vomiting).
  • Pulled a back muscle from vomiting.
  • Sore throat.
  • Uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea (her husband called me about this and begged me not to fire her).
  • Pain modulator surgery (this was an implant she got in her back that cut off the pain from her knee. She was out 2 1/2 months for this. The standard time off is about two weeks per Pearl.)
  • Numerous colds and flus (flues?).
  • Bad reaction to antibiotics.
  • Lack of sleep due to anxiety.
  • Had a “nuclear” test for her gallbladder.
  • Seizures.
  • Too stoned from medication to drive.
  • Broke two of her toes (no she didn’t).
  • Dog was put down.
  • “Battery pack issues” and pain (from her implant).
  • Fell (at home) and injured hand and back.
  • Several times she was sent home by me due to crying uncontrollably.
  • Brother critically ill.
  • Swollen/distended belly (seriously, it looked like she was pregnant).
  • Fell (at home) and injured neck.
  • Ear surgery.
  • Death of former mother-in-law.
  • Severe allergy attack.
  • Kidney infection.
  • Asthma attack.
  • “Having brain detoxified.”
In addition to these ailments, Pearl suffered from what we termed “selective laryngitis”. She would be perfectly fine all day and then randomly her voice would give out. The other staff pointed out that it seemed to happen more when a manager was around. This was a HUGE problem for them.
While having so many bizarre health issues is certainly amusing I don’t want you to think that I dismissed them or was insensitive. To the contrary, I was sympathetic to Pearl from the beginning. I never felt that any of her ailments weren’t real (rooted in cognitive issues? Certainly). The most important thing though: It didn’t matter if the ailments were real or not – she was missing a lot of work and it was having a negative impact on our company.
Most companies would never tolerate so many absences by an employee, but our corporate executives would never approve her dismissal because her worker’s comp case stayed open indefinitely (she had been assaulted by a client many years ago).
The other staff felt that she was not being held accountable for her absences and complained endlessly. To me. To HR. To our Executive Director. It was an incredibly stressful situation. I couldn’t tell them that I had given Pearl countless disciplinary actions but they were worthless because I couldn’t actually let her go.
I tried to work with her. I reduced her schedule. I took responsibilities away. I let her cry and vent in my office and I truly felt badly for her. It never seemed to help her feel better. I finally had to let go of being responsible for her health and happiness. After much soul-searching, I put my foot down with our executives and said that she needed to go.
Pearl, Shirley and I met and had a long discussion. We implored her to think about her long-term health and happiness and the reality that her health (and attendance) was never going to get better as long as she worked with us – the workload was too much and the commute (an hour and a half each way) was too far. The final message was: Wouldn’t it be better for you to leave on your own terms with your head held high then for us to have to let you go (she never seemed to realize that we wouldn’t and every time she returned from an absence she asked if she should get a box for her belongings).
She chose to leave on her own terms and gave us a week’s notice. After twelve years of employment with us, we gave her a big farewell party and many hugs. All of her worst critics said wonderful things about her and gave her farewell gifts.
I can’t say that I miss Pearl. It makes me feel like a terrible person to say that but we hired a really amazing replacement for her and it’s made work life so much better. It’s not problem-free – my staff still complain but the intensity is greatly reduced. After Pearl left I told myself I would call her every couple of weeks to check-in so that I could feel like a good person. But she was still Pearl and she had a litany of complaints every time I called her and so I called her less and less. The last time she visited she sent an email:
“I had to let you guys know I enjoyed my visit. I really realized how much I missed you all, but not enough to come back there, sorry.” And, really, I’m okay with that.
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“Lean In” my ass

I recently got a promotion at work. I am now Project Manager (yay!). After having received my MBA five years ago I will finally be using it to open a psychiatric hospital. When I was told I would be receiving a 10% raise I thought of all the stories on NPR about how women never negotiate their salaries. So I said, “Is that negotiable?”

“What amount were you thinking of?” Our regional administrator asked.

In truth, I didn’t really care. I work at a non-profit for altruistic reasons, not for a big paycheck (as evidenced by my actual paycheck). But I’d already opened my stupid mouth.

“Twenty percent?” I tried to sound confident.

“There’s no way Corporate would approve that,” she said nicely. “But if there’s a reason you think you should get more let me know and I’ll run it by them.” At least she didn’t laugh at me.

A few days later I was signing the paperwork for the promotion and our HR Manager told me she was surprised I was getting so much of a raise. “It’s usually only four or five percent,” she said. “Why are you laughing?”

“Because I asked for more!” I snorted through my hands that were covering my face. “I was trying to Lean In!”

In truth, like many women, I have no concept of money. I’m not at all wealthy, I just never really learned the value of a dollar. My husband is acutely aware and whenever I buy something he asks how much it costs. It’s such a douchey thing to say that I have to give him shit for it. But in truth, I really hope my daughter inherits his stinginess. The world doesn’t need more stereotypically female frivolous spenders. Like me.

Shyontology

My best friend at my work is Finula. She is a gorgeous and brilliant woman of Indian descent and manages our largest mental health program. She is also a troublemaker. This is probably why I like her so much.

Two buildings down from us is an enormous “religious” center whose name rhymes with Shyontology (I won’t use their real name because I hear they like to sue people). This center has been the butt of much office humor and is also the reason we don’t put a sign out in the front of our building announcing psychiatric services. As you probably know, the Shyontologists do not care for psychiatrists, medication or any form of mental health treatment. I read a book about them once (not Dryanetics, a recent, critical book) and I have been taking walks past their building ever since in the hopes of helping someone escape.

Ever since Finula started working at Satellite she has been obsessed with infiltrating the Shyontology organization. About a year ago we had a blackout and got the nerve to go visit the Shyontologists under the pretense of seeing if they were blacked out too. But we only stepped into the lobby that time. Today we got the full tour.

We actually filled out forms and used fake names and they showed us a bunch of ridiculous videos about how difficult life is and how you need your personality assessed so that you can worship aliens. Okay, they didn’t really sell the alien thing to us but there was something about thetas. I don’t know what they said though because I was too busy checking for the exits. We found the back door and walked past dozens of books and videos for sale. I wish we could have grabbed them all and run for it because they looked awesome: “The DSM Scam,” “Psychiatric Medication Con Game,” and so on and so forth.

It was terrifying. We should have agreed on code words in advance. Instead, Finula whispered “Walk!” and we casually strolled away. I was sure they were going to throw nets over our heads and lock us in the basement.

Finula wants to go back and get our personalities tested but I told her I was out. The only reason she got me to go in today was because I was having a rough day and needed a break. But I told her if I ever have a really terrible day she may be able to talk me into it.

I now have sufficient motivation to not have any truly terrible days.

An Iranian Birthday Party

When invited to a birthday party for an Iranian one-year-old, it is important to remember to dress to the nines.

As my husband, daughter and I arrived to the event I immediately realized that our baggy jeans and t-shirts were out of place. All around us were elegantly dressed women with pearl necklaces, Gucci handbags and high heels. I looked uncomfortably at my faded jeans and Uggs more than a few times. Some of the men in attendance wore three-piece suits that had me fantasizing about instituting weekly formal dinners at our house.

Even the little girls wore tiny party gowns. My three-year-old daughter’s khaki pants didn’t stop her from dancing with all of the women though. I loved watching her dance what appeared to be (to me) a cross between a hula and belly dance– but totally classy in the way they undulated their arms in slow waves, gentle and relaxing but smiling and happy.

We had a great time but I will have to remember to put on a dress and heels next year.

Japanese dinner party

Recently, I’ve realized that ever since my daughter was born nearly three years ago I have no social life. To remedy this, I’ve joined a group on MeetUp. It’s for people interested in Japanese culture and we go and eat out at various ethnic restaurants. My first dinner was last night and it was at a middle eastern restaurant called Jerusalem.

So picture this: A middle eastern restaurant packed with Yarmulke-wearing men. Except for one large table filled with a dozen young Japanese engineers. And at that table there is one middle-aged Caucasian female going at a plate piled high with meat. That would be me. It was great.
I’m not exclusively interested in Japanese culture but I go to a Japanese grocery store almost every Sunday and look for interesting new things to eat. At the same shopping center they also have Japanese restaurants and a Japanese bakery which sells the craziest breads you can imagine. My favorite is the bread topped with fried mashed potatoes (don’t get the wrong idea, I eat healthy the rest of the week and work out fourish days a week). The shopping center also has a great bookstore where I’ve learned to love Haruki Murakami, Ruth Ozeki and other Japanese authors.
At dinner last night I noticed everybody shaking their phones vigorously and asked what was up. Apparently the latest and greatest new social media app is called Line and you add friends to it by shaking your phones vigorously together. I made my husband get the app and we shook our phones to connect. That was the last time I used that app– but I refuse to delete it from my phone.

I can’t sleep.

It’s been months since I’ve slept more than five hours in one stretch. There’s no rhyme or reason to it either. I do all the things you’re supposed to do to get a good night’s sleep – I exercise, eat right, go to bed at the same time, avoid caffeine, read a book before bed instead of watching TV, stay away from my phone and computer before hitting the sack, etc. and so on. Now I’m going to try omitting sugar from my diet to see if that helps. If not, I’m going to have to talk to my husband about us sleeping in separate beds because I wake up every time he moves or makes a sound… like breathing.

I did tell him once that his breathing was keeping me awake at night. “I can’t stop breathing!” He said. “You’re haven’t even tried!” I yelled back.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had trouble sleeping. I was always afraid of ghosts, monsters, aliens and anything else that might try to attack me at night. In ninth grade I saw The Last Temptation of Christ and it scared me so bad that I was afraid to go to bed for the next year. I would go to bed before the sun sets, which went completely against my teenage body’s biology and so I would lay there for hours before finally conking out. I would also frequently sleep with the lights or radio on. Whenever I woke up early (which was pretty much daily) I would just lay there until I heard my dad wake up before dawn before I could relax and go back to sleep.

Perhaps all those years of poor sleep habits just trained my brain to sleep poorly for the rest of my life.

I have boards on Pinterest and Flipboard dedicated to information about sleep well but they just make me more anxious. Apparently, not sleeping is not only going to make me tired, cranky and less productive but my brain is not cleaning itself out and I’m going to get Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with Alzheimer’s patients before and the thought of my daughter finding me peeing in the corner of a 7-11 because I think it’s the bathroom is enough to, well, keep me up at night.

Just because the building’s on fire you shouldn’t panic.

Yesterday, I was cleaning my office and was about to climb up on my desk to rip a piece of tape off the ceiling when my boss caught me. I had one foot on my rolling chair and was about to hoist myself up when she stepped into the doorway and yelled: “Stop!”

It was rather embarrassing because I am the head of the safety committee. I don’t know whose stupid idea it was to put me in charge of this committee but I couldn’t have been a worse match for it. The other day there was a strong burning smell that seemed to be coming from the ventilation system. I’m not prone to panicking but I was really not feeling safe so I shrieked to my bosses boss  just that: “I’m not feeling safe!” I had my purse on my arm at the time and was about to flee when he turned to me with wide eyes and said something like, “Could you remain calm? I’m trying not to create a panic here.” Too late for me, I was so panicked that I was about to leave everyone to die.

I’m pretty sure that we should have evacuated but I hated being shamed like that. And I’m completely embarrassed that I freaked out. But he was nice enough to come and talk to me the following morning and we made up.

That’s what I like about working in the mental health world, people are forgiving, compassionate and more likely to talk out their differences than to passive-aggressively give the silent treatment. It took a while to get used to. I have a long history of holding grudges and being sullen and angry. But I’ve worked with therapists for more than a decade now and I’ve absorbed enough so that my weekly supervision with each of my staff runs more like therapy session.

It’s kinda cool. It feels like I learned a new skill that was really, really hard. But the next time the building smells like fire I’m pulling the fucking alarm.