Archive for the ‘stress’ 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.

Cautiously Hopeful, or Hopelessly Optimistic?

I’ve been trying to retain that relaxed, balanced, low-stress feeling I had during my vacation. I’ve been working hard to simply respond to the question asked or to the portion that is rightfully my responsibility, without taking on the jobs of others and without feeling guilty for not owning the problem. For the most part, I have been successful.

Yesterday, I had a big meeting that I knew would be fraught with emotion and anxiety for my whole team. The COO of my company was set to meet with my entire global team to respond to their concerns and reactions to comments of his that my team felt unfairly targeted them and blamed them for the challenges the sales organization has had closing some deals. He was also going to speak to the upswing we’re seeing in disrespectful behavior and unreasonable workflow demands from the sales organization, especially since the COO’s disappointing public comments. Morale has suffered since his comments three weeks ago, and I asked him to engage with us in a dialogue and help strategize a way forward.

We had our meeting. The COO was direct and kind, engaged and attentive. My team were receptive and listened and spoke respectfully and directly. And he did apologize for his poor choice of words and the hurtful impact they had on my team. Overall it was a positive experience and I’ve received mostly positive feedback from the rank and file employees. While I don’t expect that a single, 90-minute call will magically heal all wounds and solve all problems, it feels as if the tone is turning back to positive and constructive, from negative and morose.

We left the meeting with a few areas of focus to collaborate with the sales organization and with a firm invitation to re-engage with the COO if the need arises.

Today I had a brief re-cap with my senior leaders to gather their thoughts and any feedback from their teams. The sense seems to be that we had a little time to vent our collective spleen and have a whinge and received a sincere apology, but that we are going to have to soldier on in the face of uncertain horizon for achieving change. They did all acknowledge that the effort and engagement at the senior executive level has been a good step toward soothing the insult my team felt. But there’s a clear feeling of wait-and-see if any real improvement happens in the practical aspects of process discipline/improvement and sales rep behavior, while remaining mildly hopeful that the action plans discussed yesterday might bring relief.

I’m struggling to decide if their cautiously optimistic response is a good foundation for my hopeful optimism, or if I’m fooling myself into seeing more than what’s really there because I’m still riding a wave of mellowness after my epic vacation.

I never want to delude myself. But I also don’t want to sacrifice this new, lower-stress approach to work and go back to carrying the burden of everyone else’s problems. Yet, since the concern is the health and engagement of my team in the face of high stress, high demand, and high incidence of mistreatment, this is my burden to bear. At least it is to the point of seeking redress for them from the right leaders. But those who own the processes that are broken and those who are acting disrespectfully must carry the burden of implementing change. And since that’s not in my control, we’re all uncertain how and when that change will happen.

So am I being stupid to be hopeful and allowing time and distance for things to work without my direct, hands-on management? Am I shirking my responsibility? Or is this what all that conventional wisdom about ‘setting a direction and letting the team steer the ship’ is all about?

Honestly, I’m leaning toward the latter. I’ve done my bit by hearing and acknowledging their issues, raising it in frank discussion with senior executives, arranging for the dialogue, and agreeing on next steps. I feel like now the operational teams, mine and sales’, need to carry the ball from here. I’ve coached and trained and have confidence in my team. Letting go and giving them the freedom to implement is as much a vote of confidence as it is good management. So I shouldn’t feel guilty about the guide-and-release approach or for my lack of stress and anxiety from having let go of that burden.

Right?

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.

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.

 

Conundrum

I’m really freaking tired of the up/down, positive/negative emotional treadmill that’s taken up residence in my brain and psyche lately. It hasn’t even been a full week since the victorious settlement of one of the biggest litigation matters in my professional career and I haven’t even had a chance to celebrate or even fully grasp that it’s no longer a problem I have to deal with. Yet I’m already embroiled in the next (few) crises, battling the next source of negativity.

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of repetitive, unrelenting negativity. So I’m trying to come at this one from an attitude of learning: what can I learn from this, how can I reframe this into some positive, practical good?

Here’s the puzzle:

How do you separate your emotional investment in something from the intellectual and logical, even logistical, considerations of any given issue, especially when faced with the projected emotional experience of the people around you?

Here’s today’s experience that triggered this query:

In the midst of a vent about the way a few people at my company have handled certain issues lately, a person I respect and admire and whose judgment I have always trusted described their decision to change careers and come work at my company in a field and position similar to my own as “abject failure”, going on to express how their parents had lamented their decision to change fields, go to law school, and take a leadership position at a company rather than continue their promising career in an entirely different professional field with the opportunity to “do real work with value for the world “.

I know logically and intellectually that these comments were borne of their frustration and stress, that they were venting and speaking about themself and their experience, relating memories from their past. I also am perfectly clear that their comments were not directed at me, only to me, and that the judgment held in those words was directed at their life, not at mine.

I know all of this.

Yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to apply that same judgment (that being an attorney, especially an in-house lawyer for a company not “doing anything important” for society is failure) to my own career. That judgment stings sharply, especially because I don’t have that second career, that other skill set to return to.

It seems to me a reasonable conclusion that if being an attorney and business executive is a failure for someone with such considerable accomplishments and valuable alternative skills, then it surely is more so for anyone else in the same company in a similar position who is less accomplished and has fewer alternative skills. How could it not be? Only if the less accomplished yet similarly situated person has exhausted their potential – if they were always going to be less, couldn’t expect to achieve anything more or better.

But that’s as big a smack in the face as the assertion that a chosen career and its associated achievements is necessarily a consolation prize, unworthy of pride and celebration.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned, how can this be turned into something positive ?

I don’t have these answers yet. I’m still struggling not to internalize the notion that everything I’ve worked for, all my professional achievements, and me into the bargain, aren’t some pathetic joke, undeserving of the esteem I’ve ascribed to them for nearly two decades. But I have to believe that there is something positive to salvage from the junk heap of professional ego.

Maybe it is this: even if the career I’ve built and the contributions I’ve made to my company’s success are less glamorous or valuable than some other esteemed career by someone else’s measure, I at least can be proud of what I’ve accomplished because I’ve done it honestly, with integrity and by the work of my own mind and skill; I have exploited no one, mistreated no one, cheated no one, and taken nothing that I did not earn by honest means. If that’s pathetic, abject failure for some, I’m unsure what could possibly measure up to success.

Still, it doesn’t sting any less knowing that my measure of personal success seems weak and valueless to someone who I have respected and admired and whose esteem I have labored to attract. I wonder now if they regard me with as much contempt as they apparently regard my career?

That’s not a super-shiny positive on which to end this post. But at least I’m thinking about it and making an effort to divine a positive meaning from a hurtful encounter. That’s supposedly a “learner’s” mentality and the first step to positivity. So there’s that.

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?

Three Quick Things

So I’m trying a couple different things to address the surge of negativity and sleeplessness, including an online anti-anxiety workshop and some offline-not-for-publication personal writing. Both help in small ways and I feel good about the prospects for success. It’s a process and a journey, so it won’t be quick or sudden improvement, but so far so good.

The small bits of progress have yielded some results, though. Here are a few I’m counting in the plus column:

1. Spending time doing art is a positive coping strategy. I have been working with my sister-in-law learning a new technique for stone-inlay on metal. I’ve made keychain fobs for my local staff for holiday gifts. It’s been really fun and the process has helped take my mind out of the stress while I focus on the art. Here are some pics:

2. During the process of making these, I kept a running series of posts on Facebook. Lots of people liked and commented on my posts and pics. I’m proud that I was mindful throughout and was able to gratefully accept their praise and compliments without diminishing or deflecting them. That’s a skill I have been working on for a long time with mixed results. But a really great, in-depth text chat with a friend and application of some of the anxiety workshop info have helped hone the process. Still a long way to go before I’ll ever be comfortable simply saying thanks and nothing more, but this project was good practice in gracefully accepting a compliment.

3. Finally, I took action to put myself (my home life, really) first, above the job – an activity that has been a great source of stress and anxiety for me throughout my career. Putting myself first is always a struggle, in large part because of early childhood training to never be selfish and always have a Christian, “servant’s heart”. (I’ve written a bit about that on this blog before.) That cultural conditioning is what the anxiety workshop coach calls a mental “sticker burr”, like those little thorny brambles that stick in your clothes and hair and skin, pricking and irritating until you do something about them. Those social lessons that stick in your head and jab your conscience until you change behavior (like “don’t be selfish “, or “smile and be sweet”, or “don’t be negative”) can really amp up the stress when your adult mind and sensibilities rebel against the childhood training, especially when the adult response is more appropriate to the situation. In this case, I’ve been conditioned to value hard work and company loyalty, and to put the company’s best interests above, my personal desires. That has translated into not taking time off during the busy quarter-end periods of the year, despite that nearly all major holidays fall near a quarter end. Yet this year, my family wants me to be a part of a special Christmas celebration that will require me to travel (and, thus, be away from the office) two days next week that are not treated as holidays by my company. Taking two days of vacation at the busiest time of the year, especially when my staff will all be working, was a ridiculously hard decision. Far harder than it logically should have been. But I chose my family and home life over the job and it was the absolute right thing to do. I’m gonna try to not stress over it. I admit that I’m anxious about how my absence those two days will impact my team. But they’re all professional adults and my not being in my office won’t break any deal, so I’m faking it ’til I make it and going on my little trip and will have a good time. That commitment to myself is the positive out of the anxiety-inducing decision.

Progress, even small and (experientially) glacially-paced personal growth, feels good. It’s nice to chalk up some wins over the stress-monster in my head.

Happy holidays to you all. May your season and the coming year be full of light and joy and love. Thanks for sticking with this blog and for all your encouragement.

What if…

I’m weary. The kind of bone-deep tired from lack of sleep that makes me feel like I’m walking around with only half a brain through a dark fog that blurs everything into a grainy, indistinct mess. But also so the kind of impatient fatigue that makes me want to give up fighting against everything, capitulate to the sloppy, lazy, incompetence of the people around me and leave them to suffer the consequences of their own ineptitude without the heroic efforts I and my team put in to save them from themselves.

I’m genuinely striving to reframe my experience, get into a more positive, patient, tolerant mind-set. That’s my commitment to myself, my goal, and the core of my personal growth work. But I’m in a trough in the up-down rhythm of life, I guess, because it seems I have made no progress despite concerted effort every day.

Today, chatting with my boss about some of the hard work we’ve been doing together for weeks on end, he acknowledged that he was in a really negative place and regretted that his comments and attitude have added to my stress. My reaction, not as guarded or carefully phrased as it could have been, was to acknowledge that I was feeling the same way and that I hate it and hate not being able to control my reactions to stress and frustration the way I usually do. I told him I was putting a lot of faith in my upcoming time off for the Thanksgiving holiday giving me the distance, perspective and rest I need to get my head right.

But what if it doesn’t?

I’ve noticed how irritable, quick to snap, and more prone to profanity I’ve become over the last few months. It coincides, in my mind, with the start of my insomnia in the summer. Even though work stress and frustration was already high – this has been a really hard year at work – none of that was out of control when I was still sleeping. It’s only been since my sleep fell into the ditch that I’ve been biting salespeople’s heads off, telling sales operations leaders to figure out how to do things themselves, telling people to use their own brains and not rely on mine, and letting swear words creep into my language in delivering these biting diatribes. In short, I have witnessed a marked decline in the civility and politeness that has been my professional and personal habit for decades.

I don’t like this version of me very much.

And what’s so frustrating and galling is that I work really hard to not let this not-so-pleasant version of me get loose or stay loose when it does, but I don’t seem to have any success controlling it anymore. I just don’t have it in me to be charitable to the stupid, or to compensate for the inept. And I don’t seem to really care if my weariness-induced withdrawal causes them to suffer where they wouldn’t have if I’d made that effort.

What if a week’s vacation and visit with family doesn’t restore that charity and energy and will to help? What if I can’t get it back now that I’ve let it go?

What if this is who I am now, this burnt-out curmudgeon that nobody, not even me, likes or wants to be around?

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