Well, I guess it was bound to happen. Things have been going so well for so long now that I ran out of things to write about. Well, obviously that’s changed. The bad news is, I’m depressed as hell. The good news is, I’m coping.
More or less anyway.
I don’t think this is the ‘traditional’ bipolar crash. In most of my previous episodes, there’s been no rhyme or reason to trigger the mood change. Or if there was a reason, it wasn’t proportionate to the subsequent mood.
That’s not the case this time…
To say my job is stressful is like saying there’s a little bit of water in the ocean. I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years that have had a lot of pressure, and even the job I’m in now has always had more to do than was possible to do. And that in itself creates stress. But about a year ago that all changed. The boss I used to have came up through the ranks. She’s done my job, and she knows just how impossible it is. Under her, when the workload became overwhelming, she understood and treated us accordingly. We were told to do the best we could and not worry about being so far behind.
You know, reasonable.
But all that has changed. That boss got a promotion, and a new manager was brought in. Now understand; up until I took the job I’m in I had senior management positions, up to and including executive levels. Changing economy and a shift in local industry however dried those jobs up, and I was forced to take a position much lower than my ability and experience. What made it tolerable was the way management treated us as professionals with respect and understanding. This is no longer the case. My job is resolving major customer issues with a highly complex product. We of course have many different customers we are assisting at once with all levels of issues. The way it was set up, the simple problems were routed to a less experienced staff and I got all the complex and time consuming ones. I interact with major customers, engineering and sales. The way I’ve always approached this is to analyze the situation, decide what the best course of action was based on both the good of the customer and the good of the business, and develop a plan for resolution. The staff have strict protocols on what the can and cannot do. I have had the flexibility to do what makes sense. If I had to spend $5,000 to save a $1m customer, I had no pushback, whereas the regular staff had to make sure that it met their criteria. They don’t deal with the major customers however, and aren’t putting large customer revenue at risk.
They were like an upper level call center, I was more of a business consultant.
My new manager came from a call center environment. Success was measured by metrics, not by individual performance. And to be fair, that is appropriate for the junior level staff. But that is absolutely inappropriate for what I do. But now I’m being held to the same metrics and performance as the rest of the group.
Now, when I had my previous manager there was a group of us that dealt with the major customers. We were responsible for supporting all of North America and had enough (even if just enough) people to reasonably keep up. Various and sundry things happened however, and now I’m the only person wo has this responsibility. I’m the only person supporting an entire continent! But now, I get daily emails reminding me of meeting the defined metrics, and even a weekly ‘report card’, which of course just tells me how management thinks I’m failing at my job.
It’s a call center environment. It’s nowhere near what I’m capable of or my experienced. In fact, I’ve managed the managers who manage call centers three times the size of ours. And now I’m a call center representative.
So back to the stress. The incredible workloads are very stressful. My customers were mad because they had issues. Our sales people were mad because their commissions were at risk. Engineering was mad because I was dumping more work on them. But I had the support of management, and could handle this as a professional. Now, add to that my manager is mad because I’m screwing up his metrics. It’s 10 to 14 hours per day (often 7 days a week) of being told I’m a failure.
This would drive anyone mad.
All this stress began to manifest into physical issues. First it was hives. Then my blood pressure started to spike. Finally, I started having some fairly significant chest pains. One day, these pains started to travel down my left arm, and then my fingers started tingling. I went to the company nurse, and my blood pressure was 198 / 130. Needless to say, I was transported to the ER for a heart attack, and admitted into the cardiac care unit.
But lo and behold, all the tests came back negative for any heart problems.
I took a couple of days off, then returned to the same old grind. From day one, my chest would start hurting as soon as I left for work, and by lunchtime I had the same arm involvement and tingle in my fingers. I kept an eye on my blood pressure, and it stayed between 150 ~ 190 over 100 ~ 130. I was being followed by my General Practitioner, a Psychiatrist, and my Therapist. And no surprise, they all attributed my physical issues with the stress of work.
And the depression started.
In no time at all, I found it difficult at first, then impossible to do my job. Just being at my desk was making my physically ill. No matter what I tried to do, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. It was completely debilitating. Depression has put me in this position before, and the way I’ve handled it is try to hide my lack of performance as long as I could. Which of course ended up putting me into a suicidal depression, usually ultimately involving hospitalization.
Hopefully though, I’ve learned a thing or two about taking care of myself.
I went out on short term medical leave. I’m fortunate enough that our insurance will continue my salary for a period of time under short term disability, so I could go home without a financial consequence. And I made good use of this time. I did needed projects around the house, started exercising, and increased my time with my therapist. I also made some changes to my medications to address the physical part of the depression. The medication became a little problematic however, as everything new I tried came with untenable side effects. I think I just started my 5th one since going out. We’ll see if this one works. I also used this time to look for a new job (which of course is the real ‘cure’)
And to no surprise, my depression lifted.
The job market is tight though, and after two and a half months I’ve had no responses to the multitude of resumes I’ve submitted. I know I have some ‘special challenges’ with finding new employment. I’m not a young man anymore. Even though age discrimination is illegal, we all know that it happens all the time. Another challenge is I’m overqualified for jobs that I would be more than happy to accept. Potential hiring managers don’t realize this however, and I’m not even considered. I’ve ‘dumbed down’ my resume significantly, but it hasn’t helped.
My short term disability is running out, and it looks like I’m going to have to return to the job that has been killing me.
And that depresses the hell out of me.
So do I have a plan? Honestly, not yet. I’m going to try and talk with my old manager to see if there’s anything she can do to help ease the stress some. I will keep trying different medications until I find one that makes a significant difference. And I’m working daily to try and prepare myself mentally and adjust my expectations to see if I can get my attitude in line. Of course I’ll continue to find different employment.
Hopefully this will sustain me until I find a way out.
There’s a whole lot more to this story that I have no room to tell. There are other factors with the job that I haven’t gotten into. I get zero support from my girlfriend. In fact, her lack of understanding what depression is creates more stress as she just expects me to ‘snap out of it’. On the plus side, I now have 5 grandchildren that motivate me to be healthy. And I have a much better relationship with my children, and don’t want to hurt them either. And ultimately, I have knowledge on how to face this and survive.
And whatever it takes, I will survive.