There Is A Time And Place To Be A Hero

It seems my workplace has a never-ending fount of social no-no’s and religiously related eye rolling. This is something I kind of value about my job in a small Southern federal office in the Bible Belt. That attitude kind of bit me in the ass the other morning, and it took me a few days to process this because I was completely caught off guard by a supervisor’s audacity during a conversation. I really had to take time to reflect on his motives behind his words.

anotherheroA little background is in order, I guess. First of all, this supervisor is just temporarily wearing the big hat, but he takes the role seriously and is overall likable guy. Yes, he’s religious, and I would even say sometimes a bit pushy about it, but not in a proselytizing kind of way. It just shows through during general conversation sometimes, but he generally doesn’t push his beliefs at you, just shares them. And that is a difference I really appreciate him demonstrating. It’s hard to find folks like this fellow in my area of Kentucky.

So, let’s go back to Saturday morning. I was pretty miserable when I woke up, didn’t want to work, but I am responsible and know there are bills to be paid. I show up, start putting the onslaught of Good Housekeeping and Vogue magazines into their assigned case holders, and try to ignore the growing ache in my abdomen. I have uterine tumors, you see.  I can’t afford a hysterectomy right now, so am just miserably existing with good days and bad days when it comes to cramping, bleeding, and nasty medicinal side effects. I’ve been floating in between pain gauges for almost a year now, and that has obviously affected my depressive side a bit more than normal too.

And I have hay fever. I live in the Ohio Valley. You get the picture of me in Spring pretty clearly now, right?

Cramps, nausea from pills, and sneezing like crazy. This Saturday morning is a bad one, and I’m not really bantering back and forth that much with my case mates like I normally would. Finally, a particularly nasty round of sneezing hits, and a co-worker next to me asks if I’m going to make it. I offhandedly remark that I would gladly take a bullet at this point, he laughs telling me I am awfully dark that morning, and I join him in laughing, making it clear that some days a bullet isn’t so bad to what I have now. After all, a bullet means no more pain a split second after it scrambles my brain against a wall. I was immediately agreed with in my logic, and the two who were agreeing with me know how I am.

melancholyseasI do genuinely wake up hating life sometimes. I do contemplate finally being done. Like many in this world, I’ve lived way too much life for my own good in such a short span of time, and it can be overwhelming sometimes. My coworkers know my dark humor isn’t an attention tactic whatsoever. They know if I could guarantee no pain or hardship for my children, family, and friends, I’d already be gone from this world. There isn’t anything wrong with feeling like this. There isn’t anything wrong with acknowledging this kind of thinking. Obviously I have my priorities straight because I am still living and participating in life. I don’t sit at home and stare at bullets all night, and I most certainly am making the most of my life. I am not a danger to myself or anyone else, so leave my darkness to be what it is. A release of pain.

My supervisor doesn’t understand this about me though. While we’ve had some interesting conversations, they are shallow in nature. Typical discussions of the weather, the volume of magazines we have to deliver, or vacation plans. The big issues of politics, faith, and society rarely grace our talks because he’s a listener of sorts. He’s overheard me interact with others who pushed the lines with me, and I think he already knows what direction I lean if pushed on issues like sexuality, God in schools, and so on. He can’t handle that level of a discourse and doesn’t want to, because it’s work and he does know that work is my sanctuary from such things. Firsthand he has watched me run off Jehovah Witnesses that were harassing us in our vehicle lot. He has watched me step out of my case and identify myself as one of the government benefit receiving “moochers” that my coworkers would rant about being lazy, abusers of the system..

This Saturday morning though, he tried to step into my head, and I know he was oblivious to the fact he stepped into an ocean of melancholic whirlpools and not just a small puddle of humor because he proclaimed, quite loudly I might add,”Kate, if you ever feel that way, you call me.” He cocked his head slightly when he said that, his tone being like someone explaining how to properly slice a cake into eight pieces. An instructor’s voice.

“I mean it. Kate, you call me if you ever feel that way.”

My buddies next to me that were still dealing with their copies of Time magazine quit laughing. I think they realized how just utterly out-of-place our supervisor’s expressed concern was, let alone the manner in how he showed it. All I could do was just awkwardly laugh and shake my head, thanking him and mumbling,”You have no idea…” He immediately went back to his desk work, the incident two seconds in the past and out of sight.

silenceThe whole event struck me off guard. Not because someone disagreed with how I express my tired attitude with life, but the way in which this person displayed their disagreement. I couldn’t tell if he said it so loudly because that is what supervisor’s do when it comes to work matters, or because he was trying to exonerate himself of any responsibility. It’s in the book of wearing the big hat that if an employee shows signs of self harm, counsel them, and I can understand his feeling the need to do so. Generally though, these counseling attempts are privately done, and most certainly not in a teacher voice. The issue never came back up later after I returned from my delivery route either, so it made me question the whole situation even further.

That’s when it occurred to me what happened, and he’s done this in the past right under my nose. He was being a hero in the name of his own conscience. I see this a lot because it’s a typical human trait. We all do it. We see someone making a bad decision, and we just simply advise them not to without any deeper explanation or insistence not too, and wash our hands of the situation. We have absolved our personal responsibility in our own minds. The thing is, there are certain times and places for doing such a thing. On the main floor of your workplace in response to someone’s morbid humor about desiring death? That is not one of those appropriate situations of flippantly washing your hands of someone’s expression about life problems. Sometimes, keeping your mouth shut is the best tactic.

But much like feeling there is a need to express a belief in God when good things happen, or say “Bless you” after every sneeze, my supervisor went into auto pilot mode and responded in what he deemed socially necessary and appropriate to keep his inner voice at bay. He is wearing a big hat, so every situation must have a response, despite the reality this isn’t necessarily true. Keep this in mind before you insist on making yourself feel better about someone else’s situation. When you function in auto pilot, you lose depth, and there will be times you have zero clue how far down to Davie Jones’ locker you have plummeted, which can make a situation far worse than if you had just kept your heroics to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts on Robin William’s Death

This post has nothing to do with religion, but I thought it was worth sharing here…

I posted this to Facebook, but would like to share it here as well. I hope it helps someone in need. If you are suffering from depression, there is help available! The national suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Please seek help if you need it. There is no shame in depression, and it can be treated and recovery is possible!

I have always been very open and honest about my struggles with mental illness. I have never hidden the fact that I have bipolar disorder. My feeling is that the more mental illness is talked about and brought out into the open, the less stigma there will be because of it. I started having symptoms of mental illness after I had a serious seizure when I was ten years old. That was in 1976. The best anti-seizure medicine they had at the time was phenobarbital, and I was on it for six years. My mother’s opinion is that they took me off of it too quickly because I went straight for the alcohol, and so began many years of serious substance abuse. I was seriously bipolar by the time I was in high school, and most nights I was so manic I would have to drink myself to sleep. I would either hit the liquor cabinet, trying to be careful not to wake my mother up, or I would sneak out of the house late at night to go buy beer at a couple of convenience stores nearby that I knew would sell it to me, underage though I was. Back in those days there were not such strict laws for selling alcohol to minors like there are today. It was easy to get if you knew where to go… Anyway, school was not easy for me. I had few friends and I endured a lot of hell for being different. I know now that I was different because I was mentally ill. We all know how cruel kids can be if you don’t fit in… high school was a living hell except for band, a few true friends who accepted me as I was, and cool teachers who liked and cared about me. I have never had the opportunity to go to a high school reunion and I’m not sure I want to. It’s been thirty years, and most of those people back when we were in school wanted nothing to do with me. I participated in band and had great fun doing it, but I was left out of all the stuff the cool kids got to do. I never went to a beach party or hung out with friends at Dunbar Park (they were drinking or doing drugs anyway, so it’s just as well that I wasn’t there… I did plenty of that on my own or with the friends I did have…) or anything else the “normal” kids got to do. I didn’t even know most of this stuff went on until years later…

Anyway… while most of my peers were going to school and building their adult lives and careers, I was absolutely miserable with then undiagnosed bipolar disorder. I dealt with it either with extreme religious belief or with severe substance abuse. I spent many years trying to get through school and failing because I was so mentally ill and usually too drunk or too stoned to learn anything. I spent many years working many dead-end, low-wage jobs, barely managing to scrape by. I never had any extra money and at Christmas, my mother would loan me about $20 so I could go buy some cheap books and cassette tapes to give as gifts. There were many times that I would have been homeless on the streets of Houston, TX if my mother had not helped me out financially. She didn’t like doing it, but she loves me unconditionally and was always there for me.

I’m sharing all of this because of Robin William’s tragic death from suicide. He had money and fame and the adoration of millions, but none of that protects you from the ravages of mental illness. I know what it’s like to suffer from DEEP depression and to have no quality of life whatsoever. I can remember back around 2001, I was so miserable and so depressed that I slept almost all the time. Being awake HURT! My idea of getting out of the house was to go visit the apartment office and visit with the leasing agents. They knew that I was deeply troubled and they cared enough about me to try to help. But most of the time I was in my apartment asleep or wishing that I was asleep or wishing that I was dead so I didn’t have to hurt so bad. Sleep was the only escape I had from the unbearable pain of severe bipolar depression.

I have a great life now in Alaska and my mental health is so good now that I can’t tell most of the time that I even have bipolar disorder. I have finally completed school and I am looking forward to a rewarding career as a health coach. I get the incredible privilege of helping others live healthier and more fulfilling lives! I am looking forward to helping others who suffer from mental illness recover so that they too can truly enjoy living. I know what it is like for life to be a living hell of depression and failure after failure and having no money and feeling no hope that life can ever feel like it is worth living. I KNOW that I can help people who are suffering from mental illness feel better. I also know that many of them will not be able to pay me. But it’s not about the money. It’s about compassion and understanding and empathy and helping because now I can do it and I WANT to do it. If I can recover from years of severe mental illness, I know that I can help others to do the same. Just the other day at the NAMI meeting a woman shared how miserable and frequently suicidal she was. She has had struggles similar to my own. I reached out to her and offered to help and so far I have not heard from her, but at least I tried.

I understand why Robin Williams committed suicide. I understand the unbearable pain that deep depression must have been causing him. Money and fame and the adoration of millions cease to matter when life is nothing but unbearable pain. I wish he had not chosen such a tragic way to end his suffering and I wish he could have been helped. But I understand, and I’ll always remember him fondly as the hilarious Mork from Ork on the old “Mork & Mindy” TV show…

My life has been very different from that of most of my peers. It has not been “normal” by any means. But I’m not ashamed of it at all. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. The mentally ill should not have to endure the additional suffering that stigma causes on top of what they already suffer from their illness. The mentally ill deserve compassion, empathy, understanding, and all the help that they can get from those who care about them…