Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Tag

Creeping Sludge

A writer I admire, who’s published works and blogs I enjoy very much, recently posted a raw, vulnerable post to her blog about the toll that human interaction at a big event has taken on her introverted spirit. She has explained that she posts these thoughts that leave her exposed to others’ scrutiny in an effort to fight the stigma about mental health challenges and coping mechanisms.

I admire this bravery. There are many, including me, who shrink from being vulnerable to the examination and judgment of strangers and friends alike. But without the brave who expose the germs of anxiety and doubt and dread and depression to the light, the light has no chance to bleach away the stain of stigma, shame, and negativity that grows in the dark like fungus.

My own battles with this creeping sludge, more acute in the last year or so, have met with mixed success. I have chronicled most of this here, with mostly indirect references to the enemy. I’ve concentrated on my work to be and remain positive, to find the one good thing in every day that holds back a bit of the sludge, to be authentic and real. I’ve even acknowledged my failures and down days, named some demons to destroy their power. I’ve had many tall peaks of success and a few deep valleys of almost no success at intentional positivity. But overall, I believe the tally is still on the plus side, in the green and not the red.

Yet today is one of those that falls to the valley floor and adds a tick to the debit column. And, inspired by that author’s bravery, I’m going to fight this stain on my peace by exposing it to the cleansing light of transparency and vulnerability. Without the safety of hidden shame, this sludge will have no power to control my spirit.

What makes this particular encounter with the sludge so bad is that it has no apparent source, no catalyst or rationale. I was placidly content, feeling good about myself and my deeds one second and then the next I was literally gasping for breath in the wake of an unexplainable rogue wave of intense and sharply negative emotions full of criticism and self-loathing. Ambushed by my own brain, torn to tatters by my inner saboteur in a matter of seconds. And, truly, without warning or trigger. It’s baffling and infuriating.

Coinciding this morning with a particularly pronounced flare-up of the tremor in my hands that I’ve endured since second grade, this bout of emotional fatigue is acutely irritating. I’ve fumbled or dropped nearly everything I’ve touched since my eyes opened from far too few hours of restless sleep. Even had to change my shirt before I could leave the house because it fell victim to flying tea from a fit of shakes. This makes me feel dull and clumsy and useless – validating the hurtful things my brain insists on shouting at me.

I don’t know what brought all this on. It’s ridiculous. Intellectually, I know I’m not stupid and utterly useless, not a failed experiment of near-human biology, not a pathetic waste of space, not an imposition on the truly worthy occupants of this world. I know all of these hurtful, hateful, wrong things are the lies my anxiety tells me to perpetuate itself. I KNOW it’s a bunch of lies. I. KNOW. IT.

Yet, knowing and believing aren’t the same thing when the storm is raging.

This is the battle. Negotiating peace between the thinking, rational brain and the anxious, lying sludge is tricky. And it’s not a one-time event. Sometimes, like today, it’s a repetitive, iterative process of cajoling and pleading balanced with teeth-grinding, iron-willed cussedness (as my gran used to call my stubbornness). But calling it out into the light helps.

So, if you encounter a wild-eyed, bedraggled Butch in a possibly coffee splattered shirt and rumpled bow tie, muttering dark maledictions under their breath, maybe cut ‘em some grace and give ‘em some space. Everyone has an off day now and then and could benefit from the charitable kindness of their scruffy grumpiness being overlooked and not commented on.

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On Choosing Me

Today was yet another rough day in a string of hard days at work. Between the continual stress of the quarter-end rush, the ongoing unpleasant workplace politics, and some extremely unhappy executive duties involving peer investigation and delivering hard news to the big boss, it was a very Monday-ish Tuesday.

Then, things got worse at the end of the work day when I received some really harsh criticism of myself and my team. If it had been fair, objective and constructive, I would have taken it in stride and worked hard to show swift, lasting improvement. Indeed, for that portion of the feedback that was objective, I have already begun to do exactly that. But the majority of what I received was truly a personal attack calculated to gain political points and unfairly disadvantage my organization for the commenter’s gain.

As I struggled with my attitude and wrestled with my thoughts on how to respond, I texted with a friend. Their wise counsel and objective, yet unstinting, support helped put a few things into focus, letting me get past the worst of my dark thoughts and turn my brainpower onto the puzzle of what my next steps should be. Though I don’t yet have a solid answer, I have gained a few insights.

First, I struggle with the building desire to simply walk out; it grows stronger with every blow to my sense of justice. While I’ve already been planning to take my leave, in a professional and orderly manner, stuff like this makes me just want to run. But I have an acute and visceral aversion to quitting, so I’m miserable at the thought that I’m failing in this way.

However, my friend helped me see that there is a material difference between “leaving an impossible situation” and quitting. They pointed out that when someone abuses your loyalty by using it to hold you hostage while not showing any genuine loyalty in return, your own frame of mind becomes your jailer. Though my heart and soul rebel from any implication of capitulation, there has to come a point where enough is enough, an acceptance that you’ve done all you can. It’s difficult to pinpoint that milestone. And my insight on that turning point is blurred by my fear that my team will suffer in my absence.

Which brings me to my second realization: I have value, too, and honoring that is neither selfish nor unfeeling as regards others that may be impacted by my choosing myself. This is a hard one for me, and requires a lot of mental and emotional energy to internalize and sustain this belief. So ingrained into my psyche are the lessons of my youth, in which selflessness was elevated to the pinnacle of nobility and worthiness, that even at my age I cringe at being thought selfish and self-serving. But there is value in preserving one’s dignity, salvaging self respect, and refusing to be trampled for the sake of those without compunction or conscience. If nothing else, removing myself from the line of fire preserves my ability to choose another battle.

But more than this, choosing my own sanity and dignity and emotional safety sends the message to both my tormentors and my team that I know my value and worth. Drawing that line and not letting them destroy that value is as loud and important an act of political resistance as their attempted character assassination on myself and my team. Sending that message can empower my people to do the same. Still…it’s hard and I have to keep telling myself this. I keep telling myself because repetition engenders belief.

Finally, perhaps the biggest immediate benefit from my friend’s wisdom and support is that the frank discussion drew me out of a dark spiral of negative thoughts and got me thinking strategically. Because of that diversion, I was able to enjoy a pleasant evening in conversation with another friend, being silly and talking about everything else but my dreadful day. It was a great way to end a rough day.

I’m no closer to a decision on when to resign, and I’ve no firm strategy for responding to the unfair criticism. But with the vital support of a caring, long-term friend and the ease and relief brought by the lighthearted chat with a new friend, I’m in a much better frame of mind. Tomorrow is soon enough to begin the hard stuff. For tonight, I wish you all good rest and the blessings of good friends, old and new.

Gut Churn

I’ve been trying not to be too raw, too vulnerable with my posts, wanting to protect myself and to avoid burning out readers with too much angst. But yesterday was a particularly crappy Monday and I wrote this in the heat of the emotion. After letting it sit overnight, I find it is still valid and not too overwrought with drama, so I’m posting it.

———-

305 days. That’s how long it is until my 20th work anniversary 17 April 2020). If I stay at this job that long, I will have earned my incentive compensation payout for 2019 (if any) and my milestone anniversary gift card (woohoo!) and will have proven to myself that I could do it. That’s the sum total of incentives I can catalog for staying (apart from my regular paycheck).

For going, I count a lot of things as incentives, not least of which is the salvaging of my self respect. I’m so weary of the stress and, now, the disrespect I receive from so-called peers. I’m utterly spent in terms of grace and charity for those that abuse my team and my good intentions. My sight line to the reason I keep going is more obscured every day. And I honestly don’t know what purpose it serves me or my company to continue as a lame duck “leader” under the direction of another who has been made the whipping boy/scapegoat for all things negative. He can’t shield my team anymore and I’m no longer given my full agency and authority to direct my organization. So what’s the point in remaining?

Except that I don’t yet have another job and that I still cling to the belief that I’m doing some marginal good for my team, I wouldn’t stay. I’d pack up today and walk out without another word.

Or, at least I like to think so.

Resignation

No, I haven’t quit my job…yet. But I realized today that I am resigned to the fact that it’s time to move on. The other day, in the heat of my anger, frustration, and sense of betrayal, I had told myself “f- it, I’m out”. But I don’t think it truly registered with me what that finality really means.

Today, after more piles of workplace horse manure landed on my desk daily all week, I woke from far too little sleep with a mixed feeling of dread and determination and an urgent need to talk to a friend who could understand. I reached out to the person who used to have my job and who, thankfully is a good friend. She agreed to meet me for coffee this afternoon and talk it through.

I’ve never been one to “coffee and kvetch” before, but I have to admit that having the support and empathy of a friend without judgment has been a huge relief. An added bonus is her distance from the source of the drama. Her wise advice was welcome, but much more so was her quiet attention and non-judgmental acceptance while lamented my woes.

After talking through all the angles and comparing and contrasting my present situation with the circumstances that lead to her leaving the company years ago, I have a much clearer view of the state of things. And I know that I am not in so dire a position that I need to make an immediate change. That’s a relief in itself.

But what gives me the most comfort is the realization that I can make the choice, all by myself and in my own time, without burdening myself with unnecessary guilt.

My friend helped me see that the workplace politics that are going on right now really have nothing to do with me. The hurtful things being said, the unfair criticisms, the unprofessional and abusive behavior, all of it arises from the hateful, irrational and self-serving mind of one person who does not have the company’s interests in mind and whose personal integrity is eroded to nothing. She helped me acknowledge that rational, reasoning people will see through the scapegoating and won’t buy into the character assassination. In other words, it’s a bunch of BS and I should feel no compunction against walking away when the time is right.

Intellectually, I knew that all along. But there is something powerfully persuasive about hearing the truth from an outside source with personal experience of the same situation. Knowing that my friend, a super-smart, highly accomplished attorney with seemingly every professional, social and personal advantage, still suffered from, and then overcame, the same unfair situation and is now flourishing with seemingly no professional blow-back, gives me hope for my own recovery.

Reasons Be Damned

Last post, I talked about reasons to stay/go at my job. By sheer numbers, Go won hands-down. But I was still working through the logic, trying to figure out whether it was salvageable. Then, later that week, I had a terrifyingly open discussion with my boss in which I admitted to being extremely unhappy and unable to identify what purpose and value I have to the company anymore. He again advised that the chief source of our mutual misery will be leaving in under two years and I should stick it out.

Since that conversation, I’ve been doing my best with the dreck I’m dealing with. I keep looking back at that list in my last post and trying to beef up the Stay side, attempting to persuade myself that giving up on nearly 20 years of work and professional investment isn’t failure. I have dug as deep as I know how, and I keep coming up empty.

And in the face of the blatantly unfair and wrong directive I received last night, which completely disregards my leadership, undermines my authority, and eviscerates my agency,…for the second time at this job…I can think of no good reason to stay and endure the continued abuse and poisonous politics.

Reasons be damned. I’m out.

I even applied for a job I saw on LinkedIn today. I won’t just walk out, leaving my team unsupported and work undone. But I’ve made the choice inside my head and committed to myself that I won’t put up with it any more.

Now I just have to find the least disruptive path to a new start. Oh, and tell my family…and my boss…and my team.

Ugh, this sucks.

Reasons

I’ve been having a hard time at work for a while now.  Well over a year, by my loose estimation. The reasons have diversified over that time, but the impact is the same: I’m stressed, not sleeping well, and generally unhappy and demotivated.

Lots of street-corner philosophers and internet meme wisdom would have me believe that (1) nothing and no one is responsible for my happiness or unhappiness, other than myself, and that (2) no one can “make” me feel anything, rather I choose how I feel about and respond to any situation or stimulus.

My gut and brain tell me that’s reductive BS, that, as with so much in life, the truth is a mix and somewhere in the middle.  I might have control over whether I rage and storm and become offended by innocuous and inconsequential things, but there is truth that humans have natural, predictable reactions to certain stimuli and blaming the person who reacts in those expected ways for feeling those things, naming those reactions a ‘choice’ as a derogation of their self-control, is emotional blackmail.  My intellect and rational brain tell me that feeling bad or overwhelmed or anxious or stressed when impacted by bad, overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and stressful stimuli is natural and rational and, in some ways, healthy and that I should not feel shame or guilt or failure because of these feelings.

But my heart, that thing so affected by emotion and anxiety and illogic, takes this so-called wisdom and views my reactions, in the context of my current turmoil, and turns this would-be motivational message into a cudgel to pulverize my already fragile confidence, making me question my own judgment and defeating any momentum for change that the stress and struggle may have produced. Almost as if from an outside vantage point, I see these contradicting forces at work, recognize that the turmoil is happening. But I seem powerless to overcome the internal saboteur, unable to center logic and reason over emotion and insecurity. The sludge rises and coats my reason with fear, miring my volition in inertia.

In an attempt to break the hold of anxiety’s inertia, I resorted to an old stand-by trick that has helped me overcome test anxiety, stage fright, writer’s block, and bouts of impostor syndrome from the time I started school all the way through my last birthday: making lists. By listing issues and risks and possible solutions and available resources and missing pieces and reasons for or against any given situation, I have learned to impose order on chaotic thoughts and calm the inner storm. This has helped me more times than I can count over the course of my life.

When I hit a saturation point a couple of weeks ago, when a particularly rank pile of workplace political horse manure landed on my desk, I decided I had had enough. It was the closest I’ve come in over twenty years to simply walking out of my office and never coming back.  But I’m not a quitter; I have a fundamental moral aversion to quitting before I’ve tried absolutely every possible alternative. And I don’t typically give in to rash impulses. So, instead of screaming “I quit” and walking out, I decided to make a list, two lists, actually: Reasons to Go, and Reasons to Stay, at my job.

On an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of graph paper, I listed the Reasons to Stay on the left-hand side.  There were 8 items on that list after spending an entire afternoon thinking about it and intentionally striving to add everything I could think of that would induce me to stay.  On the right-hand side of the page I listed the Reasons to Go.  It only took 15 minutes to fill the entire length of the page with 22 separate items, some with sub-parts. I bet if I let myself, I could add even more.

Now, in something so weighty and consequential as a decision to quit a high-paying job with professional prestige, sheer numbers of reasons listed in the midst of emotional upheaval shouldn’t be the only deciding factor.  I acknowledge this.  I also acknowledge that these thoughts, generated amidst emotional stress or not, are valid and shouldn’t be discounted simply because they’re items in a list.  The quality and consequence of the reasons matter and should be taken into account, too.

Here are my lists:

Reasons to Stay: Reasons to Go:
Paycheck Savings Enough for Months-Long Job Search
Loyalty No Loyalty in Return
Protect My Staff Can’t Protect if I’m a Lame Duck
I’m Not a Quitter I’m Not a Masochist, Either
Sense of Obligation – Don’t Leave in a Lurch Can’t Carry Obligation for Someone Who Doesn’t Want Me
Hassle to Find New Job I’m Unhappy
Age – Harder to Get New Job Out of Control Stress
Inertia Sleeplessness
  Don’t Feel I’m Adding Value Anymore When My Efforts Are Unappreciated
  I Can Find a Place to Add Value and be Appreciated
  Opportunity to Change Direction – Personal and Professional
  Chance to Re-Set and Re-Order My Life
  Take Time for Hobbies
  Take Time to Travel and See Friends
  Time to Write
  Chance to Work on Personal Growth
  Time to do Home Chores and Projects
  Relief from Pressure, Stress, Anxiety
  Distance from Boss’ Fits of Rage
  Change is Refreshing – New People, Places, Challenges
  Chance to Cultivate Peace and Tranquility in My Life
  I’m Not Irreplaceable – the Company and My Team Will Be Fine Without Me

What I take from the flat comparison of the two lists is that there are more numerous and weighty reasons to leave than to stay.  Assessing for depth, I can’t see that there is any urgency left within me anymore to continue fighting the anxiety, to endure the demoralizing disregard and mistreatment from my colleagues, or to achieve any specific professional objectives, that add up to a reason to stay. But I can see a lot of yearning to be free from the negativity, stress and emotional upheaval that is constantly generated by the people I work with.

Because it’s not the job, it’s the people. If I were to look for a new job (and I have been looking quite a lot), I’d still look for a similar position – I still love being an attorney for a company doing good things. I just don’t want to have to endure the toxicity that currently surrounds me in this company.

One of my frequent commentors on this blog said something recently about me being in a constantly toxic environment and continuing to expect to not be poisoned. That thought has been stinging the inside of my skull ever since I read it. At first, I was a little hurt to think they viewed me as naive and irrational for feeling so keenly the hurts from this job. But the more I think about it, the comment and my situation, the more I come to understand that what I’m feeling is grief over having finally reached the end of my creativity and ingenuity for inventing paths to resolution. I’m grieving over not being able to fix a problem that I didn’t create. I’m grieving a failure not of my making. I’m grieving the end of an era of my professional life that didn’t culminate in triumph, but in apathy.

One of those internet memes of wisdom I’ve seen a lot of lately advises not to hold onto a mistake simply because you spent a long time making it. Similarly, I’ve been advised by the interwebs that I can’t reach for something new if my hands are full of old junk.  While pithy, maybe even trite, and certainly oversimplified, these bits of advice hold a kernel of true wisdom: letting go of past mistakes gives you the opportunity to move on…hopefully to avoid making the same mistakes later.

My boss has been giving me little pep talks lately, taking pains to complement me and apologize for all his temper tantrums and the stress he adds to my life, and making a point of assuring me that the chief agitator causing the bulk of the drama is on a plan that has them retiring in 18 months or less.  He tells me all the time to just hang on for a little over a year and the main source of all our grief will be gone.

That’s so, so tempting.  By that time, I’ll have surpassed the 20-year mark with this company, a nice, round, milestone achievement.  Also by that time, my bonus for this year’s achievements will have been paid (if all the gates are met). And with the horizon free of the Senior Butthead and Top Drama Maker, I could see myself finishing out my career with this company.

But the rational voice still living in my head, however muted and small, still shouts that whomever replaces that jerk may not be any better and, besides, 18 months is a LOOOOOOOONG time in which much stress and turmoil can occur and in which they may change their plans and not retire at all.

So, since the present is all the time any of us has, should I waste my opportunity to take back my happiness on a hope for someone else’s decision to retire or not? Do I have it in me to stay another year and half while that plays out, enduring the continued toxicity and risking panic attacks and remaining unhappy – is the milestone and the potential bonus and the hoped-for relief solid enough of a benefit to make sucking it up worth it?

No answers, yet.  I’ve told myself, and even one friend who I trust, that I’ve already decided that I’m out.  But I don’t have another job, yet, so I’m not making any rash moves.  Will inertia win? I’ll just have to keep thinking and working on my courage to make a change, I guess.

 

Naming the Demon

I’m pretty sure I’ve written at least once before about believing that naming the demons, claiming the fear out loud, so to speak, can take away its power and give courage enough to rise above that fear. I do believe that. I try to practice that, especially in my professional life with my team, trying to make a safe space for them to do the same. But when it comes to my personal growth and self discovery and improvement, that naming requires significant vulnerability, particularly when the naming is in print for all and sundry to read…and ridicule.

While I have come a fair clip from the overly-cautious, fearful and shy person I was in the beginning of this journey, I still keep a good bit to myself and still guard my IRL persona carefully. I have a career and position that demands I bear a great burden of responsibility, so public behavior (including on social media) is something I’m very careful about.

Yet, I don’t want that burden to become a convenient excuse to hide from truth and let fear win.

So I’m going to try to strike a balance with this post, naming fears without context or explanation for the most part, saving some measure of privacy and dignity while putting into the universe my plea for peace. Here are some of the demons plaguing my heart and mind:

  • Isolation
  • Emotional upheaval and anxiety
  • Longing for, and also fearing, change
  • Terror of never being enough
  • Dread of always being judged to be too much
  • Shame at being fearful and insecure
  • Inertia that prevents logical, rational thought and action that might alleviate some of this dread
  • Utter lack of creativity and innovation in devising solutions to these problems
  • Disgust at my ineffectiveness in my own life
  • Self loathing over how pathetic this list is

Ugh. That’s a lot of sludge to expose to the world. And I don’t have any comfortable, warm & fuzzy platitudes to salve the negativity. But I cling to the conviction that as long as I’m working on it, putting genuine effort into trying to overcome and to improve, and by calling out the darkness into the light, there is a chance that it will get better.

I have to believe that. I hope you do, too.

Thinking

Lately, I’ve had more thoughts and questions than answers. That’s sometimes troubling to me; I’m a literal, linear, logical type of person, so open-ended, unresolved ruminations are uncomfortable.

On the other hand, thinking without trying to resolve, simply acknowledging a topic and exploring it without expectation of action, is rather a luxury. In my role as a legal executive for a public company, I’m constantly expected to problem-solve for the business stakeholders (even though they’re the decision makers and action takers, it’s somehow my job to identify the solutions – go figure). That can be a lot of pressure and is often very frustrating. So, getting the chance to simply think about things is sort of refreshing.

But it’s not without its pitfalls. Given my prolonged struggle with sleep and heightened stress, thinking can easily become stressful, negativie over-thinking or catastrophizing, rather than neutral or constructive contemplation. I’m mindful of that risk and do make an effort to avoid extremes. Yet the nature of some topics naturally leads to some dark connections and emotions. Too, the context in which a topic arises can cast it in an unfavorable light from the beginning, such as a caller who begins with “now, don’t shoot the messenger”.

Predictably, I’ve been seeing a trend in my thoughts and connections made during all this thinking. My pattern is roughly: wake up (if I’ve slept), assess my mental and physical state, give myself a pep-talk to make this a good and positive day, hit the office with as positive attitude as possible, and then come face to face with reality. Now up until the rapid deceleration into the hard wall of reality, my thoughts on practically every topic and reaction to nearly every stimulus is positive and constructive, because I’ve been visualizing a positive day and positive outcome to everything. But as soon as the first whining complaint about having to wait on “Legal” is uttered, or the first fire drill issue is lobbed over the fence into my lap, my thoughts are suddenly unable to conceive of anything but the negative side of everything.

I’m not a negative person, really. I hate the thought that I’ve turned into one. Used to be that I could readily see both sides of any problem and was always willing to remain upbeat and give the benefit of the doubt. But recently, I can’t truthfully say that still describes me.

Perhaps most troubling about this vague pattern I’ve detected is the tendency to make connections between seemingly disconnected things. The way my brain works, when I’ve connected two concepts with some reasonably logical basis for the connection, they’re nearly inextricable, always surfacing together or calling in the other whenever one arises alone.

That’s not a problem when the connections are reasonable, comfortable, understandable and don’t make me question the motives or integrity of the triggering stimulus (especially when that’s a person). It can be quite vexing when the connection is not obvious, or is discordant with accepted wisdom, or throws other values or beliefs into question.

Perhaps an example will help illustrate why this troubles me. This is kind of long, but it’ll land in a minute, I promise:

At the end of every quarter, tensions run high for my team because the sales organization puts a lot of pressure on us to get contracts drafted, negotiated, revised and executed before the end of the quarter so that the sale and revenue count for the present financial reporting period. This pressure is exacerbated by their tendency to leave much of the quarter’s worth of deals until the last week of the quarter, making a huge mountain of work to be completed by very few people in a very short time.

This set of conditions often leads to a high volume of complaints that my team are taking too long and a general attitude that we’re the only reason important deals aren’t getting done or are slipping into the next quarter. No one seems to acknowledge that their failure to plan ahead, their failure to engage with my team earlier, their failure to timely provide complete and accurate information necessary to draft the contracts, and their failure to follow-through with their own tasks are all bigger and more significant contributors to any deal failure than is my team taking the time needed to draft complex documents once we have the needed info and approval. Because we’re at the end of a long process, we attract the ire and the blame.

This is a known and familiar state of affairs, we’re often told, so we should plan for it and not be so sensitive when frustrated sales guys occasionally let off steam at our expense.

This enabling, blame-shifting patter is also familiar. It’s very like what I and many similarly situated folks have encountered when seeking explanations and solutions to problems of inequality. We’re often answered with references to tradition, economic expediency, scarcity of resources, cultural differences, evolutionary immaturity, and plain old inertia as reasons why one group must suffer under unequal treatment, pay, living conditions, and legal rights. We’re told that we have to be patient and let time transform things until we have the relief we seek.

In other words, accommodate your persecutors, swallow your grief and grievances, because your feelings, your thoughts, your life matters less.

And just like that, every resistance to the pleas about abusive treatment of my employees by their own coworkers is in the same league as, say, a victim of domestic violence being told their abuser really loves them but that they’re frustrated with the victim’s X quality or Y behavior, so if they’d just change that thing they wouldn’t attract that abuse. Despite the significant differences in quality and severity and magnitude and genre of the two scenarios, because my brain has recognized the common factor of a demand that an impacted person or group capitulate to and accommodate the unreasonable demand of the privileged as a valid comparison, I can now no longer encounter one without thinking of the other.

This inextricable tie has knock-on effects to how I interact with the people associated with that connection. I’m cautious and suspicious of everything they say and do, expecting to be burdened or betrayed (in big and small ways) in every interaction. Trust is slow or nonexistent. Velocity of work drops because every aspect is double- and triple-checked to avoid recriminations and negative consequences from any perception of a mistake on our part. Friendliness, empathy, camaraderie, collaboration, cooperation all take a hit. All because now every time I hear anything along the lines of “it’s just end of quarter tension”, “everyone is under a lot of pressure”, and “cut them some slack”, my mind fills with echoes of co-dependent excuses and images of black-eyed women ducking their heads every time a loud noise happens.

Even though I know, intellectually, that the unfairness leveled towards my team and violence against the helpless are worlds apart and not truly related, the kernel of similarity in the justification underpinning both types of behavior is enough that I can’t emotionally separate them. And that’s eroding my professional objectivity and my ability to cope with the unreasonable behavior linked to this perception.

So that’s a thing my brain does now: draws dark, somewhat irrational connections between unrelated concepts and taints my world view in the process. Awesome.

Bleed It Out

In an earlier post, January I think, I talked about seeing the good, even on bad days.

“Seeing the good, even if it’s only one small thing, when everywhere there is darkness and chaos, is the most important facet to my campaign toward self-improvement. Because, in my most secret, private self, I know that if there is ever a time when the tally board of positives hits absolute zero, that’s when my spirit will truly despair. I have to know, like Samwise Gamgee, that “there’s good in this world” so that I have “something worth fighting for”.”

Sometimes seeing the good takes work, digging in your heels against the disappointment and sludge and refusing to capitulate to the urge to catastrophize what’s happening and give up on finding the silver lining.

Other times, seeing the good requires acknowledging the hard stuff, stiffening your neck and fighting the darkness with a little of its own medicine. As I said to a Facebook friend last night,

“Sometimes you just need some hard-driving music and truth in lyric form to shake the demons from the tree.”

Sometimes you just have to “Bleed It Out” (credit: Linkin Park) to make room for the less jagged, mind-consuming stuff.

I’ve been having a hard time with negativity lately, feeling a little overwhelmed with the quantity of stressful, sad, rage-inducing crud going on in my world. Though I keep working at reframing the negative and keep trying to find things to be thankful for daily, the last little while has been fairly rough. But I’m not a quitter and I’m determined to kick this slump.

So yesterday I decided that drastic measures, in the form of some angry/emo music, were called for. I was mildly irritated to find that my music library is slightly deficient in metal and rage-rock. But I was able to scrape together 11 songs into a playlist that is sufficiently dark and indignant to play at obnoxiously loud volume in my headphones that it drowns out the clamor of the stress, anxiety and insecurity my inner critic has been shouting at me lately.

It’s beginning to work, too. I had it on repeat most of the day while I slogged through tedious research and data gathering. It helped focus my mind on being productive, rather than being obsessed with the negative things. I’m happy with that as a positive outcome of my struggle.

Here’s my list. What additional tracks would you suggest?

A Case for Vulnerability

If you’ve read much of my substantive posts on this blog you’ll already know that vulnerability – specifically risking personal mental/emotional/social/physical safety for the sake of frank, open, transparent disclosure – is a huge struggle for me. While I always try to be honest and authentic, I don’t always have the courage to be as open and vulnerable in IRL discourse as I have been in some of my posts on this blog. Sometimes that’s intentional self-care, protecting myself from known risk. But often it’s habit, reticence borne of fear and practiced over years; an automatic response instead of a consciously reasoned decision.

Still, that habit was formed with a certain amount of logic, as a response to real-world circumstances and events, not merely the irrational response of the primal mind. I’ve experienced a fair bit of trolling, baiting, gaslighting, and other intentionally humiliating behavior in my life. Fear and a reticence to be exposed to that kind of abuse again is a logical, rational, healthy reaction to being called on to make oneself vulnerable. But that reaction, to be most effective, should be actively managed and consciously controlled so that opportunities for growth aren’t missed due to the automatic dismissal caused by fear.

For me, that’s much easier said than done.

However, being a thinker, I have thought a lot about how to make my experience in various circumstances better, more comfortable, more likely to meet my needs and desires than the current situation in any given scenario. In most cases, changing things for the better means a certain amount of (hopefully) short-term disruption, discomfort, and, yes, vulnerability. I don’t like that that’s the case, but it certainly seems to be the truth for my life.

So, what’s a logical, rational, risk-averse, sensitive thinker to do to reconcile the dissonance? For me, it’s just a matter of resigning myself to the necessary evil of risk in order to benefit from it. “Bite the bullet”, “grin and bear it”, and “just do it” are the hackneyed, yet apropos, expressions that spring to mind.

That’s exactly what I did earlier this week and – spoiler alert – it worked out fairly well. I admit I’m surprised at the outcome, which isn’t a great commentary on the state of my faith in this “just do it” philosophy, or in the generosity and compassion of the people I work with. But I’m counting it a win, anyway.

Here’s what happened:

As I’ve said a lot over the last few months, I’m struggling with stress- and anxiety-induced sleep deprivation. It’s been particularly bad over the last week, impacting my focus and precision at work. Wednesday was an especially rough day, with a ton of project work that required me to be ‘on’ and participate actively in substantive debates on the merits of our case, concentrate for prolonged periods of time and analyze lots of data and synthesize cogent legal arguments from that analysis – all on less than 4 hours sleep.

It was brutal. I yawned my head off, was slow speaking to particularly complex ideas, and generally felt slow-witted and sluggish all morning. By 2:30 in the afternoon I was running on fumes and about as stressed as I’ve been in ages. Making it through the afternoon without collapsing and without committing homicide was all I could hope for.

Then, about 6:30, my boss stopped into my office to chat on his way home for the evening. What I expected to be a momentary check-in, a “good job, have a great evening ” kind of thing, turned into a deeply supportive, substantive conversation in which my boss acknowledged not only that he recognized the burden and stress I’ve been bearing, but also that he’s been contributing to it by his venting to me his frustrations and his sudden changes in direction with the strategy on some of our matters that adds a lot of work for me.

Given his genuine contrition and sincerity, I chose to respond in kind, though it cost me a lot of vulnerability. I confessed to a high level of anxiety and the fear that I would let him and the company down because my ability to cope with the effects of the anxiety and stress is beginning to falter. I also shared with him that I am taking the matter seriously and have sought help to get the anxiety under control so that I can sleep again, including my unsuccessful attempt at counseling and my so-far successful engagement with an anti-anxiety coaching group.

His response was overwhelmingly supportive. He praised my efforts with the coaching group, calling it both smart and brave. Then he turned practical, saying that we needed to take action to fix it. He offered some good suggestions for things he and the company can do to relieve some of the stress that’s beyond the ordinary pressure that just comes with my role. We settled on getting me some administrative/process-oriented help – a gatekeeper, he called it – to give me some relief from so many operational and sales personnel having direct access to me and my brain.

And when I expressed what is, perhaps, my greatest fear of asking for help (no longer having value for the company because someone else has to do some of my work), he was quick to reassure that not only would he not feel that way about me, but that he has plenty of substantive, high-value lawyering work for me to do once some of the stressful, lower-value procedural work is handed off to someone else. He then committed to do whatever is necessary to get me that help, including lobbying with the CEO and board for the necessary exception to add headcount and finding the budget to pay for it.

It’s not a silver-bullet solution to my sleep problem and it will take time to implement. But just hearing him admit to, and apologize for, the extraordinary stress and offer to help fix it was a huge relief. It validates what I’ve been experiencing and lets me know that I’m not crazy for feeling as I do.

And all it took was the courage to be vulnerable about an aspect of my professional identity that I’ve always held internally out of fear it would be derided or exploited: fear of being useless. It’s good to know my contribution is seen and my value as an employee is secure. It’s also nice to think that soon I’ll get some relief and have new and different responsibilities with opportunities to add value in new ways. That’s a really great thing.

Happy holidays, friends! I hope you all receive validation, support and opportunities to shine in your every endeavor.

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