Mad Hatter Lives

Living, Loving, Lasting

Archive for the tag “lessons”

Falling From Grace

I was sitting in the morning sun sipping my cuppa Joe when a phrase popped into my head, “…falling from grace.”  It’s kind of a catch phrase.  I have no idea why it gained clarity in the minutia of morning thoughts my brain likes to supply after a night of quiet, but I decided to take a look at it.  This is the summation of my contemplation.

Falling from grace is often associated with religion.  I’m not a fan of religion in association with my faith, because they simply do not sinc.  I do not consider religion to be in any way correlative to the walk I am on with my Yeshua (The Rescuer).  I do, however, do things religiously.  I brush my teeth religiously, take my medication religiously, kiss my husband religiously (cuz that’s just fun!).

So when I think of falling from grace I ask, “Can I fall from the grace of my Maker?”  Based on my journey with my faith for nearly 40 years, I would say that I cannot fall from the grace of Yeshua.  It has been available and all encompassing in the midst of my deepest transgressions. It is a waterfall waiting to cover me with refreshing renewal as often as I need it.

So

I am looking at falling from grace in the context of my relationships with others.  Can I fall from the grace of people?  Yes.  Can they fall from my grace?  Yes.  I have seen both.

What happens when a person falls from the grace of another person?  It has been my experience that when a person falls from grace there is no forgiveness.  We use the term grudge, in combo with how we handle people we have cast out of our lives, like it’s okay to do because we have a well-used term to define our active anger.

When we hold a grudge we haven’t really ended the relationship, have we?  We are simply holding on in anger, hoping we are punishing that person and that they will somehow grovel their way towards our mercy in hopes that maybe they can do something that will gain entrance back into our lives.

Many people feel that when a person falls from grace in their lives, they never entertain the concept of receiving them back with forgiveness.  I pity the person unwilling to forgive, I and hope they never encounter someone who views relationships in the same way they do, or at least they never become overly committed to someone just like them.

Grudges and unforgiveness are partners in crime and have no place in a healthy mind and spirit, for they twist and corrupt, leaving cynicism, bitterness, and discontent in their wake.  The impact on the person actively holding a grudge is far more destructive than on the person being held in unforgiveness.  The person who has fallen from grace can only fall so far away from the relationship and no further, but the person holding a grudge will be slowly eaten up by the upkeep and the side effects.

Grace is something we are able to extend to others when they offend us.  I know that I could walk around offended on a regular basis if I chose not to exercise grace.  It’s not that I’m so perfect and those in my life so imperfect.  In fact, I would say I am the one who needs grace more from those in my life than I need to give them.  We are human.  We are fallible.  We screw up.  We need to be able to extend grace to others in order to help them be okay with correcting their mistakes.  We need grace extended to us so that we learn from our mistakes.

As long as we are imperfect, we will need to have grace extended to us, and we will need to extend grace to others.  It does not mean we embrace them back into our lives in the capacity they once were.  Sometimes there is just no going back, but forgiveness does not require restoration of position.  Sometimes we just need to forgive someone to free ourselves, and we can allow that grace is what we implement in order to walk that process out.  I have to tell you, I have had to call on grace in the face of action, because I tend to be a very black and white person, and I have come to realize that life operates in the gray.

Does that mean I compromise my beliefs?  No.  I do not compromise what I believe to be right or wrong by extending someone grace.  Grace is the bridge between what I believe and the person needing it that allows me to love, and love is what allows forgiveness.  There are people I have forgiven who will never have access to my personal life again, but they no longer operate outside of the grace I have to offer others.  I have extended it so that I CAN forgive them, and in doing so I have been freed from anger and all those symptoms that are a part of long term resentment.

I am no expert in this area, but I hope to be before my journey in this life is over, and I hope to always be aware of the grace extended me when I do something that causes offense and hurt in others.  If you have someone who is falling from the grace you have to give others, call them back into it, and set both of you free.

The Waiting Room

I have been exploring the waiting room. I spend a lot of time here; more time than in any other place. The waiting room I am referencing here is an icon for the time I spend waiting on change in my life. As an expert on change leadership, I find it interesting that the models that address change for organizations do not include waiting. It is so easy to put all the focus on the traumas of change, and there are a lot, but in my personal walk, I find the waiting to be the most difficult. Sometimes when I am waiting I truly cannot stand where I am at. I desperately need change that seems to be elusive.

Other times I know change is about to occur. I can feel it in my bones, and all indicators point that way, but the process seems to pause. It takes a deep inhale and then refuses to exhale for much longer than I care to wait. And finally, sometimes I am waiting in the midst of change. The change process has started and then stalled. I cannot really say which type of waiting is most difficult for me. I have experienced all three types, and I really just cannot pinpoint which is worse, but one thing I can say with certainty, all types happen to me. They were a part of my past, are in my present, and will continue in my future, I am certain.

So what is the point of waiting? Well, if you wait something out, you persevere, right? And that perseverance sustains to an outcome at some point. Okay, fine, but what about when you are finding it nearly impossible to wait? I could give lots of glib responses that we have all heard. Waiting develops patience. Waiting helps us grow. We have to trust Abba in the midst of waiting. We have to have faith and hope that it will all work out. While all of these responses are true, my visceral reaction is…BLAH! I know all the typical responses, and yet they produce little in the way of answering two questions, “Why do I always have to wait?”, and “What is the benefit of waiting?” These two questions may be kissing cousins in terms of content, but they are uppermost in my mind every time I end up in a waiting cycle.

I know very few people who love to wait. There are some who seem to manage it better and are better equipped to maintain while waiting for the bus to start moving again. Bully for them. I don’t happen to be one of those individuals, and every time I begin waiting for another period of time, I am no better at it than the last time. It is most likely a character flaw I have, no doubt. In large part, though, I have decided that the previous questions are rhetorical. I have not procured any answers as to why I have to wait other than that waiting is part of life. For those on a spiritual journey along with the flesh and bone type, waiting is often part of learning a lesson that cannot be obtained elsewhere and is vital to the next change. I have to relearn every time that I must give over anxiety and fear of what I cannot see and relax with a trust that Abba’s timing is perfect. And to be honest, if I had no Abba to trust in, no faith or journey for my soul, I seriously doubt I would sustain through waiting times. It is simply not in my nature to be passive, so waiting on the exterior to meet up with interior experience is just not something I can do without Abbas’ reassurance that he’s got “this”.

As to the benefit of waiting? I think the benefit of choosing to wait rather than plow ahead, as I am want to do, exists in an outcome that is better timed, embellished with more advanced skill sets that are obtained only in the waiting period. But, while I can provide rationale for my questions, I am no more comfortable with the process than before.

I guess my point here is that waiting is a necessary part of the human existence whether we do it well or not, whether we understand it or not, and whether we learn life lessons along the way or not. In writing this little circular essay about something I detest, I have somehow managed to reconcile my will with doing so once again. And THAT was the point of the exercise.

To those in the waiting room…Since we are here once again, maybe we should leave some notes on the walls and chairs to remind us about the process the next time. Maybe we need to graffiti the place so that next time we will know we survived the last time, and not only did the waiting leave a mark on us, but we left our mark as well. In doing so we will move from passive orientation to active, and that suits me fine.

A Pain

I know that what I deal with is a pain for those in my personal life.  I mean, between the panic attacks and the inability to adapt quickly to new environments, and the instability triggered by it all, it just gets to them.  I would love to make things easier, and I try, but there is only so much I can do.  Because the bottom line is…

I am not normal.  I will never be normal.  I will always struggle with things that people take for granted as just part of living life.  I will never easily adapt to new things and environments.

We had a vacation.  It was filled with lovely things.  I would have loved to have enjoyed all of it, but I’m not equipped to “enjoy” such events.  I look longingly at events and adventures my friends and family have, and I wish I could go and do and come away thrilled with the experience, but the truth is, I come away with much less than I had going in.

It’s not about what I want.  I rarely get what I want, because my brain does not work like it should.  I am now trying to scramble to re-adapt to my home environment so that I don’t miss a step, whilst being at a deficit from maneuvering through everything we did when we were on vacation.

People wonder why those of us with major mental illness become suicidal.  Well, let me just clue in those who don’t deal with this stuff.  Exhaustion and the inability to keep up with the demands of others wears us to the point of thread bare.  And it never stops!  We are continually expected to function like everyone else all day long, every day.  I can say with confidence here that I am going to fail every time under those expectations.

It must be difficult for people to have someone like me in their lives, trying to accommodate to make things better, never knowing which way to jump to make it easier, better.  I struggle as well, only I never get to push back from the table and say, “I have had enough; I don’t want to play any more.”  I don’t get that option.  It’s live and in color 24/7…living mental.

Me going to a social function in a strange place with thousands of people and having an expectation that I should enjoy it, is like me going to a baseball field, stacking all the plates, the pitcher’s mound, all the equipment in my arms and then telling me to “play ball”.  I’m already overloaded, so me joining in the game and swinging for the fence is just not going to happen.  I try.  I give it what I have to give, but I am not graceful about it.

And so those in my life are faced with a few options, give up doing anything social in order to stay in the environments where I optimally perform, have me come with them where they face having me drag down their fun as I struggle to cope in the environment, or go by themselves to such occasions.  It’s a difficult decision for them.  My immediate family does pretty well, but then they are all introverted so they need very little interaction in big social settings.  My husband, however, is extroverted, so it is difficult for him to get the interaction he needs and still have me with him.  I also have many friends who are very active and always doing fun things, and I just can’t do it all.

The first severe panic I had was in Kansas City at an amusement park.  There were thousands of people there. It was very hot, and I found myself in a sea of people being jostled about like flotsam on the waves.  The entire world became blurry and started to spin.  I felt I was being upended, and the closeness of the heat and bodies contributed, making me black out for a moment.  I don’t remember how I made it out of the crowd, but I ended up in a little atrium area, sitting on a bench.  A friend found me and gave me a paper bag, telling me to breath in an out of it.

That was the official entry of social phobia which quickly let to agoraphobia.  I never feel safe in public.  Even if, mentally, I’m solid on the environment, my fight or flight response will kick in and leave me in a primal state. I tend to feel guilty when I can’t be what the people in my life need me to be, but that is just hubris on my part.  It is unrealistic for anyone to expect they can be all things for all those in their lives at all times.

I’m angry because I came away from this experience feeling defeated, when in fact, it was a huge win.  I managed to survive three days with constant interactions with people in large environments  that were extremely over stimulating.  I had two issues where I had panic attacks but they were minimal in comparison to the debilitating panic attacks that wreck me for hours.

In reflecting on the experience last night I decided I was going to take this as a win for me, personally.  I would never have attempted such an endeavor in years past.  I won’t claim there weren’t difficulties, and going to the large event, much like the amusement park that kicked everything off over a decade ago, was probably not a good idea on my part.  Still, I made it through about an hour of swimming through a sea of hot sweaty people whilst being hot and sweaty as well.

The real struggle is trying to find balance with a spouse who is very extroverted.  I don’t have many options for compromise.  I can either go and fall apart at some point, be scared from the beginning that I will fall apart at some point, or stay away from such situations and let him go and enjoy himself.

I will go and attempt such places and have always done so just to stretch myself a bit.  I mentioned in a previous blog that agoraphobia is a hole that continually tries to close over me, so I am always trying to keep it open so I can crawl out.  Such events stretch that hole a bit further, even if for just a short time, so I need to continue to attempt to take such risks.

However, I need to do so without the pressure of letting someone I love down and creating disappointment for them.  I don’t want to do that, and I don’t want the stress of ruining a potentially great experience for someone else because I can’t control my body.  I may have to go with someone who is not so interested in being at the event and who will be okay with leaving, even if it’s 15 minutes into the adventure.

I could dwell on the fact that I am no longer a person who gets enjoyment out big group events base on the simple fact that my body cannot handle it, but I don’t think that is healthy. The reality is that it is what it is, and I am done trying to accommodate everyone else by performing at a level that exceeds my range of actually capability.  It’s generally me placing those expectations, though there is frustration produced by others when I am unable to perform as everyone else, so I know there is a level of expectation, albeit subconscious.  The price is too high and is generally underappreciated by those I’m trying not to inconvenience.  If you want me along, I’m a special needs case, and there will be adaptive measurements in place for me to go along.

I have a friend in a wheel chair.  It would be stupid for her to attempt to get her chair in through an area it won’t fit just because all the people in her life can walk it with ease. There has to be room made for her to get through, or she can’t go.  It is no different for me, and I’m done trying to be something I’m not.  I’m sorry this is such a pain for the people in my life, truly, but this is what I have to work with, I can’t modify any more than I have, and I must learn to accept that if I want to live a longer life.

The Constant Companion

We are going on vacation, and the preparation process for me is a bit different than from my friends who do not have mental illness as a constant companion.  Chris and I have had few opportunities for vacations in the years we have been married, so we are very excited to be able to take some time and just go play.

For me, the preparation for such an event starts a couple of weeks before we actually go.  Even if I only had me to take care of, it would be that way, but since I also have to make arrangements for the dog and the cat, there is more responsibility and more stress involved.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it?  Maybe not, but it’s not the bipolar that is the issue in these situations.  Not at this point.  It’s the agoraphobia, and if it is not contained, it will trigger instability with the bipolar component, and then EVERYTHING will become a big deal.

So about two weeks before the designated date, I start formulating a plan for execution in my head.  I think of everything that needs to be done and how I will implement each task.  The goal is to have very little to do right before time to leave. It’s really all about eliminating as much stress as possible.

I begin taking anti anxiety medication at that time.  I know that no matter how much I plan, I will still be escalated when it is time to change environments, but the medication will help keep the lid on the disorder.  I am also planning even further ahead with the meds, as I know I will be entering unknown environments our whole vacation, and each change will trigger the agoraphobia.  I want to enjoy my time, but I especially want my husband and sister, whom we will be meeting up with, to enjoy their time as well.  That will not happen if I’m having continual panic attacks, which will trigger the BP and cause mood instability.

As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” or agoraphobia in m case.

For those of you trying to figure out why a fear of spiders is classified as an anxiety disorder (though that isn’t a far stretch by my way of thinking either), agoraphobia is a fear of spaces.  It can be small spaces, like claustrophobia or large open spaces like standing in the middle of a room.  It is often accompanied by, initiated by, or results in social phobias.  Agoraphobia designates spaces as unsafe where the person feels trapped, at which point the fight or flight instinct kicks and manifests all kinds of fun physical features that accompany panic attacks.

Agoraphobia is very rare. Only about 1% of those with anxiety issues have agoraphobia.  I was officially diagnosed with agoraphobia about 15 years ago, but I had been dealing with it much earlier.  I was a shut in in my home for about a year, and I fight every day to keep it under control.  It’s like trying to crawl out of a hole that is continually trying to close.  I have to push and fight my way out of it every day. All day.

The medication helps, but I don’t take it all the time, as I don’t want to build up immunity, and if I have to deal with this for a lifetime, this medication I know to be safe and nonaddictive.   I don’t want “wear” it out too soon in the game.  So I take it when I know I’m going to be dealing with a lot of new environments, and I start taking it far enough ahead to make sure I have efficacy.  The rest of the time I use cognitive reframing as a means of keeping it under control.

I mentioned in another recent blog that bipolar is an unwanted guest I have locked in a guest house.  Agoraphobia is the annoying dog, that if not constantly monitored, will rile up the monster and actually slip the lock for the BP to get out.  I can’t have that, so I am diligent, often giving the agoraphobia more attention than might actually be necessary, but it’s the only way to be sure I have it under control

I do a lot of training with my agoraphobia “dog”.  I do a lot of behavioral modification.  I make it attend and bend to behaviors I deem appropriate, and I watch my thought life to the point of obsession.  If I don’t, if I allow myself to watch things that negatively impact, I begin to escalate and that little dog starts acting up.  It’s the same with people who constantly perpetuate drama and would suck me in to what they are creating.  I cannot allow that, as the price for me is catastrophic.  The irrational fear of spaces and feeling trapped every time I want to step out of my home becomes nearly unmanageable.

So in preparing for a vacation, I know that the little dog is going to try to act up.  I’m watching my sleep.  I’m eliminating any stress I can control, and I’m being organized in the process.  It helps me to know that I will be with my husband, who is big and tough, and not only protective but gracious as well.  I will also be with my sister who has been involved with my illnesses since before I was stabilized, and she knows how things work…and don’t work.

I find that the longer I live with these illnesses, the more I am able to roll with what they do to me.  Nothing diminishes.  In fact I would say both have gotten, maybe not worse, but certainly more concentrated over the years.  The biggest thing to remember when dealing with what other people deem “normal living functions,” such as going on vacations, is that mental illness is an added challenge. The more condemnation I heap upon myself about the fact that I can’t function as others do, or that I take a lot of work to get me to a place where I can participate, I am sabotaging my progress.

I think that is the take away here.  Do not come down on yourself because you take more maintenance.  The fact that you even attempt to go outside your comfort zone, is huge, and even if others condemn you for being different or higher maintenance to function, don’t ever do that to yourself.  Pat yourself on the back for every step you take in a different direction.

Life is still what we make it, even if it looks different through the lens of mental illness.  I fight for the things in my life I feel I should be able to access just because I’m living and breathing, and much like a theater production, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that no one knows about to make something happen for a short period of time.  I have arrived at a place where I understand that now, and I just do the best I can.  If I can’t “do,” then I apologize and try to just “be”.  Be gracious to yourself, even if others are not.  Those who do not have mental illness as a constant companion cannot begin to understand what it takes to build a moment, but what is most important is that YOU do.

Worth Living

I could write a blog about the things mental illness does in my life that makes it difficult to or not worth living, but what a drag, right?  There is more to life than mental illness, and though it is the lens through which I view all things in life, it is NOT life.

I have worked with so many people, encountered so many people over the years, who are completely unwilling to own what they are and what they have as a human being.  It is unfortunate, as owning everything is what ultimately gives us victory.  I have never encountered someone who has been mentally ill for a long time and says, “I ignored my illness, never was accountable for anything my instability caused or did, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.  It made all the difference in my ability to be healthy.”

I have observed in my own life and the life of others that hope and fulfillment come from fearfully stepping into ownership, and I do not count self-medicating as a means of healthy treatment.  It just can’t sustain stability, as the means are often unhealthy in themselves.  That is not so say that there are not varying ways in which to address mental illness, but self-medication will show results quickly, and most often those results leave the person in a much more compromised state rather than one of power.

One of the things I am most proud of in life, is the relationships I have.  It is very difficult for people with mental illness to sustain healthy relationships.  It is just so very difficult to live with mental illness, maintain stability, AND have someone close to you.  I have been so fortunate to have healthy whole people actually want to be a part of my life, and I truly believe just one healthy relationship makes all the difference in the journey.  When you can’t find hope, they can remind you it still exists.

The thing about mental illness is that it is like another skin.  I see people continually trying to shed it like it’s a coat, and they end up frustrated and much worse off by investing energy in something that cannot be changed. I still, after 25 years, struggle with the desire to somehow get away from it.  That is natural.  It is unnatural to have mental illness.  But when that is the way life rolls out, you must, at some point, if you want to have any quality of life, move on from that mind set.

So every day I face a new set of challenges just within my own mind, before I ever step foot out the door.  I am not a person who enjoys being around other people a lot.  They drain me, so I must pace myself.  It’s not generally something others do that makes me shy away.  I get overwhelmed by the constant stimulation that occurs when engaging in social settings.  I fake being outgoing and engaging for a while, but the cost is high, and I can only affect it for a while before I need to withdraw and regroup.

I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t very social, like I was a bad person because I didn’t want to run all the time.  But the truth is, I like being at home.  I like solitude.  I like my husband, I would rather engage with him than run out to a social setting with people I don’t know well.  There is nothing wrong with going out to engage with others socially; not at all, but I simply don’t need it.  I do not feel I am missing out on something or that I am lonely.  I have a circle of people in my life, and as far as I am concerned, they are cream of the crop.  Why would I need to go further, when I can be with them?

My husband, parents, and siblings just happen to be my closest friends.  It’s nice when the people you are related to are also your most intimate friends.  I also have friends I am not related to.  Not tons, as I don’t need tons.  I have a few I spend time with occasionally, but my love for them is deep, and I know they love me.  I feel honored to have friends like I do.  I don’t deserve them, and I will always be there for them. It’s important to understand what true friendship is.  A lot of times, I think mental illness robs us of our “healthy things” equilibrium, and we end up adding people into our lives as friends when they really only want to sabotage us. We must learn the difference.

Some of the friends I have, I have had for 15 years and more.  They have grown with me, experienced loss with me, prayed for me and I for them.  Some friends are newer in my life, but they overwhelm me with their kindness and grace to me.  When I first started my new business, my friends came to me as clients and would tip me more than the cost of the service!  It’s not about the money.  It was their way of showing they believe in me, that they have my back, and they want something better for me.  I have friends who have come to me for services whom I know can’t afford to, and I that humbles me.  I reciprocate as I can, am compelled to do so, and am just so stinkin’ blessed to be able to try to give to them in a way that shows how much I love them.

My husband.  I can’t even start with him, as he is a shield in my life, and the ballast in my continual wave-tossed ship, and there are not enough descriptive words in the world to describe what he is in my life and my heart. My family, well, there is none like them.  We have traversed this thing for so long, they keep it real for me and let me know when I need to check myself.

These are what healthy relationships look like, and I can’t take credit.  God blessed me with wise and caring people who were willing to hang in when others bailed.  I cannot express how much better the journey is with a select few than alone.  So if you are thinking you don’t want to put in the work to find stability and balance in your life, consider the reward of healthy relationships that is waiting for you.  This is one of the biggest rewards that make life with mental illness worth living.

Creative Surges

I have been having a creative surge, and it is nice.  I don’t tend to write unless I am compelled, and generally I’m compelled from an uncomfortable place within me.  It’s a strange sort of electric sadness that propels me onward in my writing.  It has been dormant for some time, and it is difficult for people to follow your blogs when you are sporadic in your writing!

This morning I woke up knowing I was not in the sad place.  I am in a place of intense frustration, which generally renders me problematic to those around me and much less able to focus on expanded creative thought processes.  I am attempting to persevere, though, because I sense some valuable information may be forthcoming at some point for someone who is looking, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to help, if even just a little bit.

While I certainly do not have all the answers to life or even life with mental illness, I can say with certainty, I have beaten most of the odds when it comes to quality of life and longevity with mental illness.  I am staring 46 in the face, and I do believe I have learned a couple of take-aways from this life I have been living.

  1.  I am never gonna arrive.  I am never going to look at my life and say, “Finally, it is just the way I always wanted it!”  Not going to happen.  I am too much of a perfectionist and the winds of change blow too freely through my lifescape to allow me any sort of arrival I am content to stay with.
  2. I am never going to land.  I have a desire for a life that has meaning; significant meaning.  I have warred with this against the desire to have a little cottage with a true English garden where few know me and I can just live my days in peace and quiet.  The problem is that I have never been able to marry the two concepts together, and it is the warring between them that keeps me from being able to land in one place, not to mention a husband who would never stand for the quiet subdued life.

I confess, my desires pull me asunder.  I am continually trying to fulfill one or the other and generally failing all around.  Should I write?  Should I make money?  Why can’t I do both?  Why can’t one perpetuate the other?  Now THERE’S a novel thought!  Sometimes in the midst of the turmoil I make decisions that I think will aide in direction, only to find they contribute to the unrest and indecision already affecting my abilities to access creative processes.

I have had heard that I “must really decide what I most want to do and then go after it.”  That is just unrealistic as a blanket statement, because the truth is that sometimes you just can’t have or do what you most desire.  Sometimes you have to work a job that is not even close to what you want to do the majority of the time just so you can have a few hours every day or week to DO that thing you most desire.  That is often the reality of life, and no matter how much you want the thing your heart desires, this is life, and we are often more caught in the throes of it than rowing steadily along on top of it.

I once read that if you are in a place of confusion DO NOT blindly wander about like a person caught in a blizzard.  You never know what you will run into whilst you are blindly staggering about.  Stand still.  Wait.  Ahhhhhhhhhh!  The big W.  I just hate that word, but sometimes, most times, it does not “take two to make a thing go right.”  It takes waiting to make a thing go right, and I have found, though it’s generally in retrospect, that waiting makes the difference in how messy things get.

So, say it with me, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” and it is taking time to swallow where the waiting occurs. Ah Ha!  Food for thought!!  So you take small bites of your elephant, and I will do the same with mine.  In the process, I’m hopeful there will be more creative surges and fewer periods of waiting, though it is only a fleeting hope.

 

 

Lessons from the Farm

My most recent, past, work experience has been two years spent working as the Human Resources Coordinator in a correctional prison setting.  It was an experience unlike any other I have ever had, and it challenged me in more areas than I could ever have imagined.

When I resigned, on my last day of work, I gave a little goodbye speech, and mentioned that I knew the first week I worked I was going to hate the job.  That is very much the truth.  I knew right away the position as it had been presented to me was not exactly as presented.  I may have a doctorate, but it is decidedly NOT in accounting, and much of the position involved processing payroll and all that goes along with that process. My background is in organizational leadership psychology, the OTHER side of human resources that works on developing and empowering staff, working to eliminate turn over and employee resistance to change.

I can tell you that the powers that were, were not interested in the side of human resources I came from.  Even now I marvel at the nearsightedness of the leadership in that organization. I was continually told to “work” on morale.  But here is the thing about morale…

it exists in an intrinsic state, meaning it is intangible and is different for each person.  Yes you can hit on generalities that impact morale one way or another, but morale is largely contingent on how and individual interprets and feels about a situation.  Prisons by and large have huge issues with turnover, so morale thrown about as the answer to a problem when, in fact low morale is a side effect of a bigger issue, is ignorant and should not be present in top level leadership.

The phrase continually thrown about by leadership was, “Do we do what we say we do.”  The longer I was there the more I came to seriously detest that phrase, because it did not apply to anything consequential.

Lesson 1:  We do NOT do what we say we do, or low morale and turnover would have been addressed in a manner that actually encouraged staff and let them know they mattered to the organization.

What I learned?  I learned to endeavor to be authentic in what I do and to remember that people are what matter.  They are not commodities that are interchangeable.

I was sitting at a table in Cheyenne with lots of important people discussing the processes involved in training and hiring.  I mentioned a particular process that was being given way to much credit in the hiring process and mentioned that while it was a good measure of a certain period of time, it could not represent a good assessment of the individual.  The instrument was not being used correctly.  One of the individuals leading the forum pointed out to me, in a manner indicating I had no place to question, the instrument had been created by “all kinds of qualified individuals as well as academics, even…”

“Doctors?”  I finished the sentence for her and continued, “Yes I’m well aware who develops these instruments, as I have been trained to do so as well.  I’m questioning the use, not the integrity of the instrument.”  At that point one of the other staff said, “I think Dr. Noonan is probably the only person here qualified to assess the instrument.”

In the time I was with the organization, I was never asked to use any of my advanced skills.  I volunteered, was willing to do anything to try to make things better for my staff, but my knowledge base was never tapped, and I saw that happen with people across the organization.  It was as if leadership was threatened by having diverse and knowledgeable staff, yet that is the kind of staff they like to hire.

Lesson 2:  The abilities you bring with you will not be developed, and if you attempt to think outside of the box, the box will be flattened, and you will be categorically dismissed as a viable option for advancement in the organization.

What did I learn?  This was a tough one.  I learned I must not look at other people and places to validate the work I have done, because they may very likely discount me or be so threatened by what I have worked for, I will be considered a trouble maker and not considered for promotions.  I learned I must define my abilities and grow myself.

I have never loved a group of work colleagues as much as I love the people out at the Farm.  I did everything in my power to make things better for them, to protect them in their jobs, and to help them in areas where they were suffering.  Leaving was very difficult in the sense that I felt I was abandoning them.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was no savior, but I felt very responsible for their well being at work.  It just got to a place were I was being pulled too many directions, my mental health was deteriorating rapidly, and I had been asked to represent a side of a an issue with an employee I felt was a breach of my ethics both in my professional status and my personal code.

At some point you have to really face the “beat them or join them” mentality.  I was faced with either joining in on something I felt was unethical and implemented by the ego-maniacal with support from pure cowardice, or quit.  There really was no way to beat them, as the structure is corrupt from the top down.  Everyone wants to wash their hands of a situation and say, “Not mine.”  No one ever wanted to stand up and say, “This is wrong.  This should not be happening, and I refuse to budge on this, no matter the cost.”  I guess in a way they did me a favor, because I had no qualms about my stance in the situation.  My resignation was a definite period on the end of a too long, drawn out a sentence, but I made my reasons for leaving very clear.

Lesson 3:  It is impossible to truly support the unethical with ethics.  People become passive aggressive in situations where they have no recourse, and passive aggression is not good, because it perpetuates deception, lying, and manipulation.

What did I learn?  I learned that even when I’m in a place where I’m suicidal on a regular basis, fighting for, well, my life really, I’m still capable of drawing lines in the sand for things I know are not right.  It’s often ugly.  I’m not especially graceful at it, but I will do it when I know I must.

Working in Corrections is a thankless job and so very difficult.  The culture is really, truly dark.  But if you have a prison in your community, do not mistreat and badmouth those who work there.  For one thing, they are the reason you can sleep at night without worrying about inmates running amuck.  Another reason, is that they are the back line of law enforcement.  Yeah, I know things happen and not everyone is interested in operating with ethics in all levels of an organization.  I get it, but we need to show those who work such jobs that we appreciate their commitment, because I can tell you first hand they are not well treated by the organization that employs them, and we should be thankful someone is willing to work in those facilities!

I learned lessons at the Farm that broadened my scope of understanding of a culture that is very private and closed off from society at large.  Part of the way inmates are kept in line and part of the way staff are kept in line is the “need to know” mentality where very little information is given.  If you keep people in the dark, for the most part they will make few waves, because they are stumbling about, unable to see what is going on.  I also believe that the culture is extremely reactive rather than pro-active.  That is dangerous in any culture, because people are not prepared, and things that could be avoided with prudent planning are simply not addressed until the aftermath.

Now that I am no longer employed in the correctional setting, the walls of the culture have closed back in over themselves, leaving me standing on the outside.  There is so much I cannot talk about that happens in prison culture, and I suspect it’s not just about keeping what is confidential, confidential.  It is also very much about what I heard staff mention many times, “The community hates us,” and I would agree that communities do not like having prisons within view, but the employees there make it safe.  It is important to support the staff at prisons, encourage them to be involved in the community as accepted members, and let them know they are appreciated.

So I guess that is the 4th lesson I learned.  I learned to pay attention to cultures and systems that are different to my own and to always be cognizant of the fact that people need to be accepted and part of a community even if where they work is not especially applauded by the community at large.  We all play a role in life; in our communities; in our homes.  I don’t ever want to be the reason someone else struggled to succeed in any of those areas, and now having been there, I am especially aware of this in the correctional setting.

 

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