I was at, what some people might consider, the pinnacle of my career. I was the Director of Behavioral Health for a start-up community mental health center in my hometown. Director being the pinnacle aspect. I am not one for titles. Never have been and will probably never be. I took the job for various reasons, the least being a “director.”
However, I never really “wanted” the job. After my wife and I had several meetings about the best way to “provide” for the family, I took the job as a compromise. As I contemplated my “next move” triggered by a pending layoff my wife was also contemplating a “next move” as she had an opportunity to work closer to home. However, her new job didn’t offer healthcare benefits so one of us needed to secure those benefits via an employer. I took on that responsibility and accepted a directorship.
I thought I had already “been there and done that” when it came to directing the behavioral health services of a community mental health center. After all, I had just completed a “manager” role of compliance and organizational development and developed programming for another community mental health center before that. During that “run”, my programming was nationally recognized by NAMI and The Joint Commission. Being a “director” again did not have that much appeal.
What I had not done in my career was direct a startup. In business of course as I had started my own media company yet I had not guided a startup in the not-for-profit space. At least not yet. To hire, train, supervise, and develop business models for growth and sustainability as well as develop clinical programming was at least a “newish” challenge and one that might offer and retain interest me.
And it did.
For a second or two.
Yet there were so many issues with this gig I soon was looking for new challenges and opportunities.
I contacted several colleagues to advise them I was seeking an ER gig. Being in an ER would offer me the insurance I needed for my family and due to the scheduling structure I would work three days and have four days for “other things”. Those “other things” included a chance to teach more, which was a passion of mine, and build my part-time counseling business into a full-time one. Working in an ER also offered a chance to work more frequently with people than my current tasks of directing and supervising people and overseeing the care and feeding of a startup. The “director” aspects of the job wore on me.
I accepted a gig in an ER and also selected one of the most undesired shifts: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 10:00 pm to 10:30 am. I figured that if I was going to teach and build a business, Tuesday through Friday offered me the best chance to make those dreams a reality. And for the most part, it did.
I taught on Wednesday evenings. I saw clients on Wednesday morning and afternoon, had a light snack, caught a train into the city at 4:00 pm, taught from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and was back home by 11:00 pm. It was a long day yet eventful. Counseling clients and teaching require different skill sets and energy levels. And with the train ride into the city and back out again, I also had some “down time” and was able to veg. On Thursdays and Fridays, I saw clients over an eight to ten-hour stretch, a more traditional work day.
It was working out well.
Six months into the new ER gig, I noticed that I didn’t have any issues with working three nights and sleeping three days then pivoting to sleeping four nights and working four days a week. Weird. I did notice though that grading papers and being engaged with the students via the online learning platforms from say 11:00 pm to 2:00 am during my shifts was a great bonus until when at 2:00 am I was tired from reading and grading and then had a call in one of the ERs that I covered. By 4:15 am after an evaluation and disposition, I was exhausted with another six hours to go in my shift. And if I was in the “first period” or day one of my three shifts, I was going to be exhausted for the next two days.
The ER work taught me how to pace myself during my shifts and work week. When you consider it, between Saturday 10:00 pm and Tuesday 10:30 am, I worked thirty-six hours in a sixty-and-a-half hour time window. Meaning I had twenty-four hours with which I slept, ate, showered, hung with the family, and commuted. Working over the weekends did crimp my style in terms of social gatherings and spending time with the family yet I made it work. I sometimes wonder now if I sacrificed too much during that period. Missed some key events and celebrations with my family as sleeping on Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday was a “must” with this schedule.
It was great to have time to teach and develop my counseling, consulting, and coaching business. And of course to ensure that my family had medical and dental coverage. I was working literally seven days a week. Yet I loved it. I was covering my obligations and that offered me a sense of pride. Even though it did come with a hefty price-tag when I think about that now.
It is hard for me to imagine that at one point in my life, I would take a nap on Saturday afternoon, have dinner around 7:00 pm, leave the house at 9:00 pm, and then not really see or interact with my wife and son all that much until Tuesday 11:00 am. It seems odd that I’d sleep all Sunday afternoon and awake for dinner at 7:30 pm and then head off again at 9:00 pm. Seemed even odder to come home to an empty house at 11:00 am and then sleep until 7:30 pm make or have dinner then and be “off to work” at 9:00 pm.
Yet on those days when I taught and saw clients, life seemed a bit more normal. Or did it? Wednesdays I left the house at 7:30 am, saw clients until 2:00 pm, drove to the train station at 3:00 pm, and didn’t return until close to 11:00 pm. Yet it seemed “normal” to me. Now, when I reflect, it seems ludicrous. Who works seven days a week? Who rotates sleep from day to night weekly. And for what? Dreams? Adventure?
Another benefit to working overnights was that I had little to no direct input from managers and supervisors. So, seven days a week, I was, for the most part, my own boss. And I liked that. I liked focusing on my needs, wants, desires, and dreams versus those of a team of which I was building, nurturing, and supervising. I have been the caretaker of various teams for so long it was a nice change of pace to focus on me. Come to think of it, not being a supervisor or having to direct business and clinical operations was a welcomed change and one from which I benefitted greatly.
Working in the ER had its benefits and drawbacks and served as a transitional road to my current career. I sometimes can not believe what I intentionally put myself through. That path though led to many great things for which I am grateful.