I very rarely think that dysautonomia is a survival mechanism, but I’m kind of wondering about that today. My mental and physical health haven’t been awesome lately, because C-PTSD is a sponge that sucks up ambient fear, but I thought I was holding it together okay. Thought being the operative word in that sentence. I pushed body and mind too hard, and I ended up making myself legitimately sick as a result. When I went to work on Tuesday, I ended up fainting again and having to head home befuddled and confused, only to find I was running another 100+ fever.
By managing to be incontrovertibly sick; however, I managed to somehow avoid the public dressing down that was promised on Friday. The team was asked to collectively assess what they thought the team failures were that lead to the breakdown. I’ll find out soon what they suggested, but I doubt it will be what I think I now diagnose the problem to be. We are operating under extremely ambitious growth goals in some areas, but without a clear roadmap for interim steps during a time when we are also underperforming in other areas. The rapid growth is supposed to help drive overall costs down, by just producing more for the same costs. Without a sense of what milestones we are supposed to be hitting along the way – or how we know when we’re really in crisis life-or-death project situations vs. just driven and pushing hard now to avoid the cliff later – what it has instead seemed to create is permanent crisis thinking. Crisis thinking, unfortunately, is scarcity thinking, short time horizon thinking and self-preservation thinking. When every project deliverable feels life or death, but no one is really sure how what they are specifically doing fits into the whole. Thus, team members overdevelop or underdevelop, because they can’t read priorities right. They react only to the most recent feedback, and only to avoid the short-term loss, not thinking ahead to six months or a year later. I come from a tech background, which not everyone in an office does, so I would describe it – if I were ever given a safe space to do so – as we’re facing a classic case of trying to have all three points on the engineer’s triangle and running up against the inevitable fear and hiding by employees when they don’t know how to deliver three when two are possible:
I would claim that it’s my tech background that helps me come to this assessment. Its not. It’s my fear background. I’ve seen a lot of examples in my life of the mental toll a culture of fear takes on folks, and – spoiler alert – morale rarely increases even when the beatings continue. If we’re going to hit our goals, someone needs to be honest and admit that whoever came up with the maxim of giving 110% forgot that if the baseline expectation 110%, then when the company does move into crisis mode and suddenly tries to demand 120%, then 150%, then 175%, ad infinitum, that people just burn out. Maybe not everyone does so quite as spectacularly as my fainting spells, but they burn out all the same. And, they take on whatever maladaptive survival mechanism reflects their overall mental state.
Good mental health is good for the bottom line, but from what I’ve gathered from the meeting notes today, I don’t think good collective mental health is what I was missing out on by being sick today. Thus, I think I am overall more relieved than not to have missed having to try to hold it together during what would likely have been a trigger overload for me. I won’t claim sleeping twenty hours straight from fever, chills, body aches and physical exhaustion is fun, but part of me wonders if it wasn’t preferable to being in that meeting today even still.
The other part of me is a bully that woke me up at about hour twelve of that twenty hours of continuous sleeping to inform me of all the possible terrible consequences of being sick on such a dangerous day, and how that will inevitably cause me more harm later. Unfortunately, “about hour twelve” turned out to also be about 3:30am this morning. It was so insistent that I finally tried, semi-deliriously, to just write out what it was telling me in a version of that old mental health trick “write down your worries so you won’t forget them later.” I’m not sure yet whether being there today would have helped or not. This organization is starting to feel like an ouroboros – and not one on the upswing of its infinite loop. Either way, if you ever wondered what an RSD spiral looks like even when the initial trigger really was beyond my control (aka having a fever), enjoy what the bully-in-my-brain dreamed up to disquiet my “healing” slumber that I so dearly needed after such a stressful couple of weeks both physically and mentally:
Bully-in-Brain: “You’ll probably get your notice about your rent at the end of this month. Your rent will probably go up. How will you afford that?”
Lavender: “You woke me up to tell me that? I thought you were the literary representation of my rejection sensitivity. How, exactly, are you going to blame me for the housing market? Do you think I earned a real estate license sometime when you weren’t looking? Or have you decided to start doing generic proclamations of doom, too, because I totally need my anxiety to start becoming free-floating on top of everything else right now… ”
Bully-in-Brain: “Don’t worry. I’m going somewhere with this. Your next lease is going to be a dangerous call. Buying a house means you are confident you will be in this city for at least seven years. Good luck with that. But, if you keep renting, you’ll probably face a rent hike. You’ll probably have to sign a two-year lease just to keep the rent the same. Are you sure you can even commit to that with everything going on at work?”
Lavender: “I’m pretty sure I am too delirious right now with, you know, a fever to decide, so shut up and let me sleep. It’s not like there’s anything I can do anything at *checks clock* 3:38am about my rent. Also, wtf. I went to bed at like 2pm yesterday. You waited until now when it’s dark and gloomy to wake me up and scare me with this?”
Bully-in-Brain: “Well, your spectacular and blatantly obvious attempt at ditching the most important meeting of your recent career doesn’t exactly inspire me. You could still make the meeting if you woke up now. I’m just looking out for you”
Lavender: “So, you think looking out for me is denying me the sleep I need to get better, then blaming me for my own illness, and expecting me to go listen to a meeting where we all hear how we’re failing constantly with you there to ‘interpret’ how it’s even worse than our Boss is saying publicly?”
Bully-in-Brain: “You shouldn’t have taken a sick day, is all I’m saying. It looks bad. It paints an even bigger target on your back when management is already on the hunt.”
Lavender: “Have you ever considered that maybe you should take a sick day? Or maybe a vacation? Or maybe just a permanent retirement? Also, what is up with your ability to double down every time I run a fever? Do you realize that every single time I run a fever you give me even worse, less coherent, and more terrifying dreams than even my normal nightmares? And that every. single. time. I have acted on those fears it has only made things worse? I refuse to listen.”
Bully-in-Brain: “Name one time listening to me when you’re sick has turned out poorly.”
Lavender: “Umm, dating a certain ex who absolutely wasn’t good for me because you convinced me I didn’t deserve better and would end up alone? Where does that rank?”
Bully-in-Brain: “Well, goodnight then. Guess you don’t need me. Nothing will happen because you missed the meeting. Nothing at all. Night.”
Lavender: “That…was entirely too easy. I’m going to have nightmares about losing my job because I’m sick the rest of the night and probably stay sicker longer as a result of not getting any rest, aren’t I?”
Bully-in-Brain: “Sweet dreams!”
(For what it’s worth, obviously, I didn’t forget my worries later. This blog post is proof of that. Also, my handwriting is so much worse than even my usual when sloppily recorded at 3:38am, but the basic refrain of the mental diatribe was similar enough to the fears I usually feel about missing work when I have a high fever that I didn’t really need much in the way of notes to recreate it. I did, at least, get back to sleep later. I slept for most of the rest of the day. That is why I’m now confused about time and writing a blog post after midnight. Ugh. Here’s hoping tomorrow doesn’t bring any fresh new crises to add to the general crisis thinking permeating our office…)