As a leader at my job there are lots of factors I take into account before I address a situation with an employee. I could go through a decent check list of everything I tick off in my head but today I’m going to talk about one that many people don’t consider: when they clock out, what is life like for them when they take off their work shoes and put on a different pair? Most of us try to dump our personal baggage at the clock when we start and leave it behind for our eight hour day, but do you ever have a day that some of it snags at your heel and drags itself in with you when you walk through the door? No matter what you do you can’t shake it off as it clings to you for dear life. I’m a good listener, which means I sit there quietly and take in whatever the other person has to say without interrupting, most times we just need to get things bothering us off our chests. I have encountered though those individuals that don’t share, which is their prerogative, but you know in your gut that something else is going on, it’s obvious due to work performance or their behavior has changed. Employees that I have grown close to, may comment on these individuals: their lazy, off-putting, rude, slow etc., and often times I’m told I’m far too nice as a leader when I comment that I think there is more going on than meets the eye. I say this especially as someone who has seen this person slowly change over a period of time. I’ve been told I give people too many chances, however, here is a small sample of stories I was able to find out from people I worked with after they trusted me: divorce and custody battles, an unexpected visit from CPS, loved ones battling illness, money woes, losing their homes, homeless and living out of their car, being kicked out of parents’ home for being gay, family drama (too numerous are the stories that this article would go on infinitely), loss of loved ones…. the list goes on and on. Some of the stories I have heard have been so mind-boggling that you wonder how this person in front of you was able to function let alone show up to work everyday without breaking down. No wonder their co-workers have seen a change in them, with what is going on in their lives how can you fault them? Why am I such a bleeding heart and consider all this before I approach someone I need to talk to? This was once me. I was doing everything I could to hold together what little was left of my world I had built, and make it to work. I withdrew into myself, and became much less open about the goings on of my life. In the mean time, the other half of my story was telling every Tom, Harry and Sally every little sordid detail of our life. I was slowly becoming the worst version of myself ever, I became a horrible leader, doing the absolute bare minimum my job required of me because that’s all I had energy for. I have never told my story. Today I decided to tell my story piece by piece, so people could understand why the energy wasn’t there. It wasn’t a lack of caring, but a fear of breaking down. You see, when you are always the one to fix things, be the glue that holds things together, you don’t know what to do when you need a helping hand yourself.
Part 1: And then…. we were 4
This photo was taken just a few weeks after my separation. They were all so little and you would never know behind this photo about anything that had been going on. The year 2012 sucked. I could find more eloquent and flowery words to use but sucked, sums it up perfectly. We lost my grandpa to a sudden heart attack in his home at the end of January. He had been suffering with a string of illnesses off and on, but was still making into work every day and was considering running for city council again. We were all struggling with the news that my uncle was dying from cancer, but grandpa struggled the most, it was his oldest son. I’ve always told everyone with a heavy heart that grandpa got what he wanted, he was able to go first and not have to watch his child be buried. The day we were grieving over his loss, the family was informed that my uncle was in his last days, that his health had declined greatly and the cancer in his lungs had moved to his brain. The doctors said he could go any time. We all gathered at his home that Sunday to say our good byes. After every family member, even his sons who flew in from Louisiana and Vegas, had a chance to see him one last time, he left this world, just four days after his father.
So, life goes on right? As the family is still reeling from losing two important men in our family, and they are sorting out how to honor both of them individually and set up memorials, I continue going to rehearsals for “Flashback”, a variety show that is put on by co-workers to raise money for local charities. I used to love performing and was glad to get my feet wet and try it out again. This show, sadly, was the subject of many fights between my husband and I. I was required to attend rehearsals Monday through Thursday from 8 pm to 11 pm for about 8 weeks. The time commitment was intense because we had such a short period of time to pull this off. Even though I would have the kids ready to go, homework done, bellies full, bathed and in pjs… I would be told I was selfish, that I was choosing this show over spending time with my husband, that I already performed in Candlelight every year and that should be enough (disclaimer: the same conversation would happen every year for Candlelight too, and those rehearsals were once a week for 2 hours). He even accused me of cheating on him at one point, that the “rehearsals” were a ruse and there was no way I needed to be there that much. I challenged him and told him to make sure he showed up to watch me perform so he can see just how much was goes into making the show. The performance days were drawing near and my husband hadn’t picked up tickets to go, and the first of the two nights was already sold out. After much cajoling, he reluctantly paid for two tickets and said he would take one of the kids with him, leaving his oldest daughter to babysit the other three kids. The final performance day came around and my husband came down sick. I had taken care of him most of the day and figured he had come down with a stomach bug that everyone around us had been catching. I found some friends that would be willing to have our daughters join them in the audience and asked my husband how he was doing. He said he would just try to sleep it off. I enlisted the help of our oldest son to get himself and his brothers in bed. They had all been bathed and fed, and were just enjoying some down time when I left, bottles of Gatorade next to my husband if he needed them.
The last show was wonderful! Many hugs were given by the cast and an invite to celebrate at a cast member’s house just a city away from mine. I stated that I would have to go get my girls in bed, and check on my husband and if all was well I would drop by for about 30 minutes to an hour. The girls crawled right into bed after we arrived, I checked on my husband to find he hadn’t drank any of the Gatorade I had bought for him. I’m afraid I chastised him for it, which contributed to his mood when I mentioned the cast party. He forbade me from going. Once again, saying that I didn’t love him, that I should be staying home and taking care of him. I mentioned why should I stay home? You’re a grown man. I gave you what you needed and you didn’t use any of it! This back and forth goes on for about five minutes before it escalates to cussing. I change and decide to stand up to him. I apologized that he didn’t feel well, but reminded him I had taken care of him all day while the kids were at school and leading up to leaving with the girls. That I put our oldest son in charge so he wouldn’t have to worry about anything and my husband had confirmed that yes, the boys had brushed their teeth and gotten to bed on time without any help from him. I was tired of his jealousy and trust issues. That I wasn’t like the other women he had been with and I had hoped after eight years together he would finally realize that. I grabbed my purse and told him I would be back in an hour. My parting greeting from him was an “F You”, which enraged me. I stormed off to the door, ripping my keys off the wall, hand on the door knob when a voice in my head said ,”Don’t leave angry.” This voice startled me, but I was so upset that I didn’t want to listen, I started to turn the handle, The voice became more urgent, “Don’t leave angry. You’ll regret it!” Pausing I responded, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry. He’s being an ass.” The voice replied, “Don’t apologize. Give him a hug and kiss, tell him you love him, but don’ leave angry.” Reluctantly, I let go of the door handle and headed back around the corner towards the couch. The whole house was asleep and as I approached him I was telling him that I loved him and I didn’t want to leave the house upset. I leaned over to look at him and found him unresponsive having convulsions on the couch. I started yelling his name and the third time I yelled it, our oldest daughter came skidding into the living room right as I was reaching into my pocket for my phone. She looked at me panicked and said, “Mom! Call 911!” I was already on it. It felt like forever although it was only a few seconds before the dispatcher picked up, “911 what’s your emergency?”
“My husband is having a seizure on my couch and isn’t responding.” She was asking me follow up questions when he started to change colors: pink, red, blue, purple. It was when he turned an ashen gray I finally freaked out because I realized he wasn’t breathing. “Oh my god, he is going to die!” I yelled into the phone, “he’s changing colors!”
The dispatcher said exactly the words I needed to hear, “Ma’am! I need you to calm down. The only way we can help him right now is for you to remain calm and follow my directions. Can you do that for me?”
With a quick intake of breath I replied, “Okay…. what do I do?”
She instructed my daughter and I get him off the couch, we needed to tilt his head and clear the passageway so he could breathe. We worked together and got a very raspy breath out of him. “Is that him I hear?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, but it doesn’t sound right.”
“That’s okay,” was her response, “at least he’s breathing and that’s okay. Are you doing okay?”
“Yes,” I lied.
“Okay, you did a good job, you got him breathing I’m going to stay on the phone with you until the ambulance arrives okay? Don’t hang up until they knock on the door, they are almost there.”
Once the paramedics arrived I had three people and a stretcher in my living room. They had to move the couch out of the way so they could work. After lots of frustrating questions about his tattoos, whether he was a drug addict (which they questioned multiple times) they declared he was stable and that they would be moving him to the closest hospital. The next few moments were a blur. What to do with the kids, who amazingly hadn’t woken up during any of this, thank God! My daughter telling me she’s got this, go follow the ambulance. Calling his family, who lived close by to tell them what was going on and I would call with an update.
By the time I arrived at the hospital, my husband was awake and hooked up to monitors. I hugged on him and told him that was the scariest thing I had ever been through in my life, up to this day it still is. Everything so far had checked out, and we were chalking it up to severe dehydration due to him being sick and not taking care of himself. The last test they did was to do a CAT Scan which was procedure whenever anyone had a seizure to make sure he hadn’t done any damage. My husband and I were joking around when a nurse came in and told us they found something on the scan and the doctor needed to talk to us about moving my husband to another hospital. The doctor walked in shortly after and said they couldn’t be sure what they had found, but their hospital was small and didn’t have the equipment to do a proper job so he would be transferred to a much bigger hospital the next city over. He wouldn’t even hint at what he thought it could be and ordered another ambulance to transport him.
Thus my emotional roller coaster of a year started an accelerated plummet as I got back into my car to follow a second ambulance carrying my husband in it.