Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Can’t Believe I Did THAT: Worked an ER

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.

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Tragedy Tomorrow; Comedy Tonight

One of my favorite musicals of all time is A Funny Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum.

The work is a 1966 film (directed by Richard Lester, with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford reprising their stage roles and adapted for the screen by Melvin Frank and Michael Pertwee) and a Broadway musical.

The original stage musical (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart) was inspired by the great Roman farcical productions. Having lived in Rome and visited a number of awesome and ancient Roman theatres as well as being a lover or farce and satire, the musical and film hit home for me. I love them both.

An important element of both works and all works in this genre come to think of it, is that comedy, laughter and good times are perilously balanced with tragedy, sorrow, horror, loss, and grief. Just like life. Comedy and tragedy “work together” and often do when life captivates us with tall tales.

I know. We all want our world to be filled rainbows and unicorns. And we don’t want to be the central character whose life falls apart. It is tolerable when shit happens to someone else. Empathy may be hard yet it is not as hard as healing from life shit storms that destroy our life and dominate our narratives.

Who doesn’t want it to be all comedy?

Yet is that really practical?

Is it really smart to set THAT as your goal? No tragedy and all comedy. Sounds one-dimensional and boring. Sure it is safe yet is it what you really want?

Are we better off if we can expect and then manage both the peaks and valleys, ups and downs, lefts and rights of life? Are we not setting ourselves up for greater joy and happiness by anticipating that a little, or in some cases a monsoon, of rain will fall from time to time.

Imagine, if your life story is filled with you overcoming adversity! How exciting and thrilling that story is to live and live to tell about. But that is the key isn’t it? You have to live to tell about it.

For many of us, anxiety is generated when we consider the fact that we may not overcome adversity. We may fail. We may live our lives in pain and misery. And that my friends is where we all get stuck.

All great life stories have comedy and tragedy woven together in one narrative. Sure, as the musical and film suggest, comedy is always preferred, and it IS, yet tragedy is also expected just later in the tale to build excitement.

As you look at your life story is there not a blending of tragedy and comedy? Of course, there is. Yep, the fat lady has to sing and usually, she warms up during the tragedy elements while the hero is preparing to overcome adversity and save the day. Comedy and tragedy are needed in all narratives, including our life story

As you plan, write, and begin to produce your future stories, lead with comedy and good times then anticipate some form of tragedy even if it is unwanted?

So, prepare for both. Plan for both. Write about both. Live both. Celebrate both.

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Getting Back to “Normal”

Is there such a thing as “normal“?

I know that my dryer in the basement has a “normal” setting.

We say a temperature is “normal” when it is around 98.7 degrees.

Yet, do we really have “normal” as an indication of “how things are going” when it comes to life?

I think we have “routine”, “similar” or “familiar” but not NORMAL!

So why do we use “normal“? I think it is because we have things we say that we say when we need to say something that really don’t say what it is we are saying.

Let’s say that three weeks ago I had open heart surgery.

Which I DID by the way.

Amazing stuff. To think that three weeks ago, a mere twenty-one days, I had a major surgery that took over seven hours and during which the doctors stopped my heart. Then restarted it. Again, amazing.

And now, today, this week, I am getting back to the “routine” and “familiar” of my life. I am returning to my health club and starting to once again “work out.” I am cooking. I am writing this blog. I am starting to work on my counseling and consulting schedules which are set to “resume” in two weeks.

“Rest” and “Recuperate” is what people and my medical team suggested for six weeks post the surgery. We are about half way. And, albeit “new to me”, I am actually following instructions. While I am “doing all of those ‘familiar’ and ‘routine’ things” I am monitoring my physical and psychological health and focusing on recovery. With each “routine” that comes back online and creates a “familiar” pattern and sequence to my day I am making sure that I have the physical and cognitive endurance and strength to engage in those activities as I once did.

I am happy to report that for the most part, the recovery is going well and thus a return to routine and familiar is also going smoothly.

This week I am returning to blogging and working on the development of media for my various channels while starting to construct a schedule for returning to counseling and consulting in early March.

Recovery is about small, consistent steps that create a routine. Sometimes our routine is new compared to the routine we once had before recovery commenced. And that makes sense since healing generates growth and “newness” in terms of activities and connections. So as we heal we grow. As we grow our “normal” is modified by new connections and activities which in turn generate new routines. Because there are just enough “similar” activities and connections from our lives before healing and recovery start a new routine can feel familiar. This familiarity is comforting as we heal, grow, make new connections, and engage in new activities.

I am finding this to be true.

As I engage in new connections and activities due to my cardiac surgery and recovery, I am also engaging with “old” connections and routines which offer some familiarity. This familiarity offers enough stability and comfort for the new connections and activities to grow into my new routines and foster authentic and genuine health.

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Saying “You WILL Be Alright” is Cruel

When you or someone else in our orbit is anxious, these phrases often escape our mouth:

“It will all work out.”

“You will be OK, Trust Me.”

“When God Closes a Door God Opens a Window.”

There is NOTHING wrong with these phrases on the surface. Yet saying them to yourself or someone who is anxious or worried DOES NOT WORK and do what it is we think and want these phrase to do.

Not to mention, these phrases are never is NOT about the anxious and/or worried person who is in our world, saying them is it is ALL ABOUT YOU and ME and it can be rather cruel.

You, me and others use these perfectly respectable and true phrases all of the time when trying to cope with our own anxiety or the worries of another. When our/their behaviors and emoting become uncomfortable for us, out come these phrases in an attempt to dispel that discomfort. We have learned through our own use and watching people use these phrases on TV, in movies, books and real life that occasionally the anxious and worried person actually calms down after the use of these phrases.

Truth of the matter is that using these phrases only insults the anxious and worried individual (who may be us by the way) and increases their discomfort. But, if it “works” and they suck it up and “calm down” externally at least, then good for us. We don’t have to deal with their discomfort anymore and “believe” that we helped. (Heavy on the sarcasm here).

Don’t use these phrases with yourself or any nervous person. Rather:

Acknowledge your/their emotional state. It’s ok to say, “absolutely, (nature of the situation) is scary and nerve wracking.” Acknowledging someone’s emotional state is empathy. Use it. Empathy is one of the greatest communication tools we have to take advantage when you can.

Accept WHY you/they are nervous and scared. Say, “yep, makes sense, (nature of the situation) would most definitely make most if not all people of us worried or anxious. Accepting the reasons for someone’s emotional state is empathy. Use it.

Finally, replace the focus. Saying, “you will be fine” or “it will all work out” is not true. The person MAY NOT be fine in the end and things may NOT work out and THAT is why the person (or you) is (are) anxious and nervous.

Don’t bullshit yourself or them. Acknowledge and accept then replace “you will be fine” with “what are you doing to manage your fear?” or “what can you do to make sure this works out in your favor?”

See this video for more:

Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help, Sports

A Racin’ and Healin’ Heart

This is one of my favorite weekends of the year: Daytona 500 Weekend! It’s Race Day people.

My racin’ heart and thoughts begin in earnest this week and continue until the middle of November when the NASCAR season comes to a conclusion.

I first became a NASCAR and racing fan after the death of my daughter, Dakota. She was born with the congenital heart defect of Truncus Arteriosus and died shortly after her open heart surgery. As part of my healing process I created connections to NEW people, places and things like NASCAR, Windy City Raceway Ministries, Chicagoland Speedway, RCR, Stewart-Hass Racing, 23XI Racing and drivers like Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace.

Creating new connections is part of healing. When I engaged with NASCAR, races, people at races and driving on rave tracks, I could engage in social and recreational activities with out being reminded of my loss.

Healing is all about making new connections to people, places and things. For me, one of the new connections was to a sport, sporting venue, recreational activities, social justice work opportunities, volunteers and professional racers. These new connections helped me heal after the death of my daughter and continue to help me heal from her loss and now my own healing process post open-heart surgery.

Due to my current medical leave, I am able to live out a “dream” of mine:

The ability to sit my ass on the couch and watch as much racing as I want and can.

I can watch racing and connect with the various level of NASCAR Series (trucks to cup) without feeling as thought “I should be doing something else!” What a glorious position to be in.

Rest and relaxation is my focus these days as I heal after my open-heart surgery back on January 31.

A vital key to healing is making new connections and leveraging our already existing connections, those that were not destroyed by the trauma or event the triggers the need for healing, for the purpose of grieving what we have lost, such as my daughter and my ability to be her father.

So this weekend, as I heal from the physical trauma of my recent open-heart surgery as well as the emotional pain of the death of a daughter after her open-heart surgery in 2002. I will connect with an old friend: NASCAR Racing. I will be entertained. I will cheer and yell at the screen depending on how my guys, Kevin Harvick and Bubba Wallace, race. I will rest by body, cleanse my soul, get my heart racing and most importantly continue to HEAL in many, many ways.