In spite of it all

My career background has been in senior management in operations and customer service for start up software companies.  By odd circumstances my last previous job was in manufacturing.  I had been unemployed for almost a year, and a friend of mine’s wife was a general manager for an automotive parts plant.  I started as an assistant manager for Quality Assurance, and even thought I had ZERO experience, within a year I was a full manager.  I’ve always been a quick learner, and being bipolar gave me the energy to really throw myself into this new environment 150%.  So shortly after making manager, I also took over the purchasing, production control, and logistics departments.

This plant was owned by a Japanese company, so adapting to their culture was somewhat of a shock.  But like everything else, I learned not only how to deal with them, but even learned some of their language.  My boss only spoke a little English, and I was the only American in the plant that could really understand him, which of course increased my value and moved me up in the management team very quickly.  Even though I had no experience, I was really enjoying the job.  After so many years in the software industry, where the product was always subjective, it was a nice change to have something that was 100% tangible.  There was no question about the quality of our product.  I was having a blast.

Then it started to go bad.

The Japanese culture is very stoic and rigid.  They are also stingy to the point of being ridiculous.  One year, during a triple digit heat wave the main office air conditioner failed.  Being the cheap bastards that they are, they decided not to have it repaired, but to hold on until it got cooler and ‘save up’ for a repair later in the year.  It was over 80 degrees in the office by 6:00am, and by the end of the day it was pushing 100 degrees!  I tried to stay hydrated, but just couldn’t keep up.  I began to get more and more irritable the longer we were without air conditioning.  Then it really started getting bad.  I would storm out of the office into the bathroom, where I would soak my head and shirt in cold water to try to stay cool.  I was becoming more and more vocal about how stupid the decision was to not to have the air conditioner repaired.  Then the irritability started spilling over outside the workplace.  I never yelled at my wife, but I sure started yelling to her.  After about two weeks of the extreme heat, I came home one evening so angry that as soon as I walked in the door I literally ripped my shirt off, tearing all the buttons off and ripping the shirt to shreds.   I hated working there, and I hated the assholes I worked for.

Then it started to get worse.

Irritability turned into Rage.  I was yelling at my staff, I was yelling at my vendors, I was yelling at my boss, and by the time I got home at night I was screaming to my wife about how bad it was.  I started getting physically sick.  By the end of the day I was dizzy and sick to my stomach.  And as the rage grew, the sicker I became.  It finally got bad enough that I went to see my family doctor, who diagnosed me as dehydrated and told me to drink as much Gatorade as possible.   I drank an enormous amount of the stuff, but I just kept getting sicker and sicker.  It had been about three weeks of the extreme heat when I finally completely passed out one afternoon.  By the next day, I was so sick I could hardly stay conscious.  I went back to the doctor and he said he thought I was having a heat stroke and that I needed to immediately go to the emergency room.  By the time my wife picked me up and drove me there, I was completely out of it.  My heart rate was dropping like a stone, and I was passed out more than I was awake.   Over the next 8 hours in the ER my heart rate had dropped to below 30 beats per minute, my respiration was down to 10 per minute, and my kidneys had shut down.   By then I had been moved into the Cardiac Intensive Care unit.   The odd thing was, they could find no reason for what was happening.   I didn’t show any signs of dehydration or certainly not a heat stroke.  Then, after 24 hours in CCU my symptoms went away.  By the end of the day they had no reason to keep me, and I was released.

But I was no better with the rage.

A week after my ‘heat stroke’, my rage had gotten out of control.  I was so miserable I called my psychiatrist and told him I was losing it.  He called my wife, and she took me to the mental hospital where I was committed for the next week.  My family Doctor still believed my issues were heat related, and after I was released I stayed out on Disability until they finally got the air conditioner repaired.  But the damage had been done.  My first day back to work, I was called into HR 15 minutes after I had gotten to work and told my services were no longer needed.  They were kind enough to call it a layoff, but the reality was my behavior was just unacceptable.

The good news is, while I was in the hospital my Dr. convinced me that I was truly bipolar.  I had been in denial for decades, but I finally recognized that all the problems I had over the years were finally explained and I could get on a treatment plan that would help me deal with the real problem instead of the symptoms.  I didn’t find another job for eight months, but it gave me time to get my moods (and rage) stabilized. Interestingly enough, they were able to explain that my heat stroke was really an overdose of adrenalin brought on by an extreme manic episode.  After a fit of rage, the adrenalin levels would drop, and I would go into shock.   The day I crashed and ended up in the hospital had been the worst of the rage, so it all made sense. Being bipolar explained it all.

The bad news is, dealing with this whole situation was just too much for my wife, and shortly after I was ‘laid off’ she asked me to leave.  I’m still dealing with the heartbreak of it all.

This was a horrible experience that almost cost me more than I could bear.  But I’ve survived it all and I have to believe that I’m in a much better place.

In spite of it all.

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