November 13, 2012

Am I Alone in the Universe?

I started this blog about a year ago as I was recovering from surgery.  Initially it was to give me something to do besides watch television during the long days of immobile recovery.  My stats tell me that my blog does get visitors, but for some odd reason it is only very rarely that anyone leaves a comment.  Should I ask for comments or are my rantings just so boring or out there that people are speechless?  Yikes…perhaps it’s only one person… 

I don’t suppose that I’m alone in the universe, in fact the evidence that at least one person checks in on me now and again tells me I’m not.  However, sometimes events can certainly lead you to the conclusion that you’re alone in the world.  Now, I’m actually an optimist at heart, although at times I get the lost, abandoned feeling.  I think that’s normal.  I do believe that things get better and there’s always a bright side; I couldn’t survive otherwise.  Life truly is all about choices and I choose to be happy for the most part.  Life’s too short to be otherwise. 

Many years ago I heard a Zig Ziglar speech where he commented that whenever he hears someone say they’re having the worst day, he always thinks “Compared to what?”  He believes – rightly so – that you’re going to spend a lot more time dead than alive and should be happy for each and every day.  If you don’t believe that, just try missing one of them!  Don’t ask me what else he had to say, but that one nugget has stuck with me almost 20 years now, so the impact was profound on me at the very least. 

It’s interesting when you think back on the things that stick with you for a lifetime.  I don’t remember too much about fifth grade except that my penmanship was finally good enough to earn my very first ballpoint pen, I had a very tall teacher named Miss Stork, and she had a quote written at the top of the blackboard in permanent marker that said, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”  That quote kind of goes hand in hand with another one I saw years later that goes, “If you don’t make time to do it right, you will make time to do it over.”  Profound.  Impact. 

Oh, and that moment when you think you’re all alone?  Look around and see how many you actually have in your support circle.  Family, friends, and sometimes even co-workers are there for you in many ways.  Like the bank commercial says, "You're richer than you think."  Isn't that the truth? 

November 09, 2012

Descent Into Madness - A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a young man who went off to the Armed Forces School of Electronics.  He studied very hard and graduated second in his class, being rewarded with his choice of postings.  He served several years in the military before leaving to seek his fortunes elsewhere.  A few years later an old buddy from the air force recommended the man come work with him at a high-tech company.  So the man moved to the small rural area and started his career at this high-tech company. 

The abuse from management started almost immediately and because upper echelons in the corporate world tend to place greater value on opinions of management, this man was labelled a troublemaker by his abusive, alcoholic boss.  Time passed, years in fact.  The man continued labouring under a succession of managers, several of whom continued the cycle of abuse.  By now he had acquired very specialized knowledge of the highly exclusive technology employed by the company and with his many years making contributions to a pension plan, he felt that leaving would be extremely difficult. 

So he bought a house and started renovating it.  Then he met a woman and they got married, finishing their renovations together.  A few years later, a son arrived.  The family moved out to the countryside to a pretty property on the water, with lots of room for a growing boy and his dog to run around on. 

Things were great at home, but the abuse continued at work.  By now the man had come to realize that his company was, for all intents and purposes, a corporate breeding ground for abusive management.  He carried on, managing to remain employed with the company throughout several rounds of layoffs and having the organization sold twice.  Over the course of his career with this company, he became something of a “terminator” in that his coworkers tended to transfer difficult problems to him because he had the ability to find solutions to the hardest technical issues.  With the introduction of new hardware at certain points, he took it upon himself to learn all about it and then created Saturday morning “classes” where he taught his coworkers how to serve clients with this equipment. 

Due to the climate of nepotism that pervades the cliquish / clannish area in which they live, the man’s wife – who came from “the city”, as did he – found it difficult to obtain full-time employment.  She’d even applied to the company he worked at, having two interviews for positions that were later given to less qualified friends or relatives of the individuals either conducting the interviews or senior executives of the organization.   The man’s income was sole support for a family of three and all that goes with home ownership.  

At long last his wife obtained a full-time position.  She was quite happy in her job until an accident necessitated six months off while she recovered from surgery.  After sick benefits ran out, unemployment benefits kicked in for a few weeks.  During her convalescence, the man’s latest and most vindictive boss called him in for the annual review.  A few minutes into the discussion the man finally had his fill of abuse.  He snapped.  He left the boss’s office, grabbed his stuff and left.  This was in the middle of winter and the last thing his company (or anyone) should have allowed to happen was an extremely upset person to get into a car and drive.  The trauma of his meeting with the boss still fresh in his mind, the man found his car spinning in circles on the icy roads.  Somehow he managed to sit in the car for a few moments and then work his way home.  

His surprised wife was curious as to why he’d arrived home hours before his normal time.  He was not talking, seemingly unable to communicate to her what had him so obviously upset.  A couple of hours later it was time to pick up their son from the school bus, but the man appealed to his wife to come along for the ride because he was too upset.  She hobbled out to the car on crutches and quickly discovered she had to direct where he was going.  This was how it went for the next day as well.  The day after that she had to direct him to a city three hours drive away so she could see her surgeon for follow-up.  She worried when she even had to tell him which way to turn out of their own driveway.  He should not have been driving at all but she was still wearing a cast and not allowed to drive yet.  

For four days he lived on coffee and cigarettes.  He was barely speaking and when he did, it was incoherent.  He was quite literally vibrating.  He had not slept more than an hour a night since arriving home from work four days before.  His personal hygiene habits disappeared, forcing his wife to remind him to brush his teeth and bathe.  

So the man’s wife eventually forced him to drive them to the emergency room where he met with the mental health team.  Within days he went to his own family physician who quickly got the man into counselling.  He was on extended sick leave from work, but at least his wife was back on part-time hours.  They had some huge financial holes to climb out of since she’d been receiving only about 40% wage from the unemployment sick leave benefit and now his own salary was dropped by about 25% as a result of not having shift premiums or overtime.  

It’s interesting how you truly do find out who your true friends are when you’re in trouble.  His company forbade staff from having anything to do with him.  He’d been there for 28 years and only one person – a woman no less – had the balls to stand up and speak out on his behalf.  

Now the real games began.  He couldn’t manage the stress and trauma that having to deal with anything caused.  His wife intervened on his behalf.  When it became apparent that he would end up starting a claim for long term disability, they asked his company to provide the necessary forms.  Then they asked again.  And again.  And still yet again.  When the form arrived, they were overwhelmed by two things:  (1) how much information and documentation was required, including doctors’ reports; and (2) how little time they had to pull it all together and send off to the LTD insurer.  As an added bonus, now they needed to ask the company for the plan number because despite sending a full page letter detailing what to provide, where to send it, and to get it done in less than a week, they did not include that minor bit of information.  

Repeated calls and email messages to the human resources department were apparently ignored.  The day before the documents were due in another province, the wife told her husband to get on the phone and not hang up until he’d spoken to a live body and received the necessary information.  As soon as he managed to get the information, he raced to his wife’s office in order to fax all 65 pages to the LTD carrier just under the deadline.  His company, who claimed they wanted him to get better, didn’t realize their shenanigans were only making him worse.  

With another drop in pay expected for him as he now went onto long term benefits, the family was clearly struggling.  This added to the man’s stress levels.  His wife did what she could to reassure him that as a couple their relationship was solid and she wasn’t going anywhere.  Their son had a hard time understanding why his dad suddenly didn’t want to play with him, read books to him, or even seemingly even spend any time in the same room with him.  The little boy felt the loss strongly, often asking his mother why daddy didn’t love him anymore.  She did her best to explain to her son that daddy loved them both very much but that right now his heart and his head weren’t communicating very well.  She said that daddy needed them to love him even more. 

The months wore on and the man lost about 50 pounds.  Being Diabetic, this was the last thing he needed but his eating habits were off.  If his wife wasn’t home to prepare meals, he often forgot to eat, making dinner his first and only meal of the day.  In fact, she still had to regularly remind him to bathe and use deodorant.  At least he could make short drives to familiar places (like the doctor’s office) on his own. 

The summer faded away and still the man’s company failed to provide answers to some of their ongoing questions.  This included the request for a letter of employment that had originally been made in the Spring.  The family could not afford to maintain their home and made the painful decision to sell and move back into town.  They’d need the employment letter to obtain financing on a new residence.   As Autumn started, a letter arrived from the LTD carrier that they had reviewed their file and decided the man was well enough to return to work.  The couple were curious about how such a determination came about when the only items they had on file were those bits included in the initial application.  

Here’s where the couple discovered the consultant hired by the carrier to interview the man had apparently been feeding them a long line.  She had gotten the man to admit that he might be able to work somewhere other than his company (and why are they taking the word of a mentally ill individual anyway?) and this went into her report despite the fact that the man’s wife had added the caveat that just getting a job somewhere else was not going to effect a miracle cure.  Aside from that, his company had given specialized training for specialized equipment over the years any kind of job that would utilize the skills he possessed would require his wife to quit her job and their son to have to change schools as they would not find such work in their local area.  They would be forced to relocate to another area of the province away from family and friends.  This consultant pretended sympathy while providing the carrier with a report that would assure his term on LTD would be short.  

While they were happy to hear they could appeal the decision, the situation raised a whole bunch of new questions which only the man’s company could answer.  His wife rarely has any luck getting a live person on the phone and when she manages to get any kind of response by email, it’s always a variation of “we’re looking into it and will get back to you”.  It’s the stock answer she receives whether she’s asking about the letter of employment, or anything to do with pension and benefits, or even about where the record of employment was that should have been mailed months ago when they stopped paying her husband.  

And in the meantime, each setback is truly a setback as her husband sinks further into depression.