Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Wisdom of a Manager, Part 2

In April, I listened to a panel discussion with a group of upper level managers at work. When the topic of work load came up, one of them made the comment that his philosophy was along the lines of "Keep loading me up with work until you find me collapsed and convulsing in my office!"

I don't like it when managers state things like that.

The same manager also mentioned that he has an open door policy. We should feel free to approach him at any time and ask him for further clarification if he ever says something that confuses us. I e-mailed him requesting a meeting. I wanted further clarification on his "work philosophy."

When it came time for the meeting, I got straight to the point.

"You mentioned that your work philosophy was to keep giving you work until they find you convulsing on the floor of your office..."

"Yeah, it's a joke. And I don't expect everyone to have that same drive."

"Ok. But have you ever started convulsing due to overwork?"

"Nope. Of course not."

"See, I struggle so much when upper level managers say things like that. Even in jest. Because it is a legitimate fear of mine."

I continued to open up about living with Adrenal Insufficiency. About how I'm scared of getting burnt out. About how hard it is for me to sometimes keep up with schedules, especially if I am having an off day. About how since starting my career I was in the ER or hospital November 2012, April 2013, May 2013, August 2014 and ALMOST November 2014. About how I almost died. About how my own manager knows, but I used to try to keep it hidden from everyone.

I initially rendered him speechless as he processed through everything I disclosed.

"I had no idea. Wow. That sounds like a bitch to manage."

"Yeah. It kinda is."

"Amber, NOTHING is more important than your own health. As a manager, we trust our employees to state their limits and we will work around those. One, we have to make accommodations for things like this because it's the federal law. Two, I'd like to think we'd make accommodations BECAUSE WE'RE HUMAN! I'd hate to think we'd loaded you up so much that we send you to the ER. This job isn't worth it. No job is worth that. Plus, we are part of a team. Speak up. We won't look down on you. Everyone has their limitations. You just have a bit more dire consequences if you cross yours."

I am continuing to work on developing my voice and setting proper limits so that I do not work myself to the point of collapse. Every now and then, I misjudge and still require assistance. I had to complete several hours of testing at temperature a few months ago and by the end of the day I could not form coherent sentences. I went into my manager's office stating "Data, pretty... Pretty pictures... Good data... Data done... Read e-mail... Explain more... Monday." He took one look at my face and offered to drive me home, to which I gladly accepted.

We're going through another less fun time at work complete with tight schedules, long hours, and a ridiculous work load. I'm not particularly enjoying it as my husband is checked out on me and in a different state looking for a new job. But I have purposefully set up a good network of support. Management knows my health situation. Close coworkers will keep an eye on me and alert me if they see me starting to fade or grow increasingly irrational. Friends and family regularly check in on me and ask the correct questions to make sure I am ok.

It's crunch time, y'all.

And this gal will continue to do everything in her power to remain Clearly Alive.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Corporate Track Meet

The Wednesday before the nightmare in 2013, I actually completed a corporate track practice and then tacked on another 3 mile social run at our local running store afterwards. During that run, I got so dizzy that I fell. I bloodied up both of my knees and had to hobble back to the store.

 My hand would have been more busted up, but my cell phone took the brunt of the fall.
Photo from April 2013.
My extreme dizziness should have been a warning that my Adrenal Insufficiency was incredibly unstable, but I didn't realize it until it was almost too late. In the months that followed, I went from being able to run a 5k in 26:09 while holding on a conversation to barely being able to walk from the bed to the bathroom without passing out.

I had to drop out of track with no other explanation than "health." I could not adequately express my disappointment as I believed running in track was yet another dream cruelly stolen from me.

But dreams should not always be viewed as stolen. Sometimes, dreams are just placed on paused.

In 2015, I was healthy enough to rejoin the cooperate track team. I even qualified to compete at the regional meet in May. I was running the opening leg of the pyramid relay which consisted of five different sections: 400M Female - 800M Male - 1200M Male - 800M Male - 400M Female.

At the start.
Photo from May 2015.
I am not used to starting races in an individual lane, on a track. But I did it, setting both a PR for my 400M and beating the time of the other woman on our team. My husband overheard someone on our team state that I looked like a sprinter. This long distance gal, who had never sprinted before in her life, looked like a sprinter. Mission accomplished.

Our pyramid relay team.
800M, 800M, 1200M, 400M (aka me), 400M.
Photo from May 2015.
Our pyramid team took third in our event and our corporate team took second over all.

The 2015 Track Team.
I was wearing compression socks to try to avoid aggravating my shin splints.
Photo from May 2015.
I did amazing for my event. Afterwards, things began to go down hill.

My husband and I left the charter bus to head north of the city in order to put our group on waiting list for a particular restaurant. What was supposed to be only a 45 minute drive turned into over an hour with us trapped in traffic. When we finally got to the restaurant, they informed us it would be over a four hour wait.

As I continued to fade due to inadequate steroid coverage and dehydration, my mind became irrationally fixated on the task I said I would complete: procure a table at that specific restaurant. I am a bit ashamed to admit I shouted loud profanities in the restaurant as I stormed out in tears feeling completely overwhelmed and helpless, unable to complete the task.

This was a wake up call. I took more HC as we drove to our friends' house. I knew that my body would not be able to handle a turn around trip from Houston so we planned to stay the night with some dear college friends.

The wife said she'd be happy to prepare a gluten free meal that we could just eat at their peaceful home. I started crying when I realized that was the new plan. I knew that I could not handle being out in public at the moment, but I needed to eat food. This could not have been more perfect.

We were planning on watching a movie after dinner, but I was starting to get the dreaded low cortisol migraine. The wife saw how unwell I felt and stated, "Please don't feel obligated to stay up. If you need to go to bed, go to bed." I was so appreciative her stating that. I took some more HC, a zofran, and was in bed by 8:45pm. I awoke the next morning feeling better, but still not 100%. I then realized how badly sunburned I was. By this time I should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that sunburns are extreme cortisol utilizers. And yet, I forgot sunscreen.

PSA- Be CAREFUL of the sun on cloudy days!
Photo from May 2015.
After we packed up our things, my husband and I returned to Dallas. I'm glad I was finally able to compete in a track meet. Though I did learn a few things:
  1. Sprinting is HARD. It also utilizes much more cortisol than I was expecting. We're talking like half marathon levels to run 400M fast.
  2. Sunburns require extra HC. And aloe. Lots and lots of aloe.
  3. I might feel fine immediately after exercise, but I must be extremely mindful of the following 4-6 hours. This is when I can get into the danger low cortisol zone.
I'll remember these lessons and apply them to my next running adventures. I shall also never forget that this long distance gal was able to sprint, and sprint well.

28 August 2017 Update

In all honestly, I needed to go to the Emergency Room after the Track Meet. I had sprinted, gotten badly sunburn, and my body was giving all the signs of an impeding crisis. I begged my abuser to take me because I knew I needed IV fluids. He refused, because it was inconvenient for him. He left me upstairs, in the guest bedroom, while I was still writhing in agony from a horrible migraine.

Cortisol is only half of the equation. An emergency injection does very little to combat dehydration. Sunburns are extremely dehydrating. Although I did survive this event, there were hours of unnecessary physical torture due to my abuser. I was unstable for several days after the event.

Do not fear emergency medical treatment.

And if you are in a position where someone refuses to take you, call an ambulance.

You deserve to remain Clearly Alive.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Writing for the Mighty

Off of a recommendation of another blogger, I nervously submitted a piece of writing to the Mighty. I received the following response:
Hi Amber, 
Thank you for sharing your story with us. Unfortunately, we can't publish every story we receive on The Mighty, but we'd love to read more from you. We have a few writing challenges going on in our community. Would you consider writing about one of these topics for us?
I submitted another piece that I believed answered one of their writing prompts. I received another rejection, but this time, with a caveat:
Hi Amber, 
Thank you for sharing this with us. I read more of your blog after reading this story and came across this one -- that I really think would resonate with our community. Would you be interested in featuring this one on The Mighty instead?
And thus, my first Mighty post was published.

My picture and article on the front page of the Mighty.
I must admit, I panicked when I saw that post went live. On this blog, I have complete control over content and presentation of material. This was outside of my hands. Here was my voice, my struggles, my journey, on some unfamiliar website. It felt like my soul was exposed and incredibly vulnerable.

My first post went live and my biggest fear was that I would appear weak. My husband chuckled at the irony of the situation.

I submitted two more articles. I received two more rejections, and another caveat:
We don't have a lot of stories about Addison's disease or adrenal insufficiency. Would you be interested in writing an open letter to anyone who's just been diagnosed? What do you wish you could tell that person, based on your own experiences? What should that person know? What do you wish you'd known?
That led to this publication.

A few days ago, I received a hand written note welcoming me into the Mighty family.

"Thank you for sharing your stories with us and teaching our community about living with a Clearly Alive Mantra."
I want my written words to encourage others and inspire them. Life is not easy, and there is already enough negativity in the world. Additionally, living with a chronic disease that requires daily medicine is difficult. It is easy to slip into depression and hopelessness. I am done doing that. I choose life. I choose optimism. I choose to share my stories here. I want to prove that I am Clearly Alive, and I would like as many people to read my voice as possible.

I'm not sure how many more of my writings are going to be published on The Mighty. But I can tell you I am incredibly thankful for those that have been.

Just a photo of me, rocking my Mighty t-shirt.
Also, I have a cat.

Published Mighty Articles

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Next Chapter - Part Two

For my husband's last week in Texas, we were determined to complete his Texas "bucket list." Last Saturday, he ran a Tough Mudder with a friend. Later that night, we celebrated at a Brazilian steakhouse his new position with our closest friends.

"Howdy folks!"
On Monday, we hosted a happy hour with my coworkers so that they could say farewell to him. On Tuesday, we attended the state fair and said goodbye to Big Tex. The plans for Wednesday included the Mötley Crüe final farewell tour, and then my husband was set to start his drive to Reno early Thursday morning.

But the plans suddenly changed.

At dinner on Wednesday night, my husband received a voicemail from his new HR manager informing him that he needed to return her call as soon as possible. He stepped outside of the restaurant, and as I watched him on the phone I could tell something was wrong. He walked back in only far enough to motion for me that I needed to join him outside. It was there that he broke the news.

The job that he had been hired for had been changed.

The German CEO had decided that the job should be in Germany, and not America.

His Reno position had been eliminated.

Instead of a new job, my husband would be receiving a severance package.

There was nothing we could do.

A wave of emotions flooded through me, and I tried to handle them as gracefully as I could. He mentioned that both his new manager and his new HR were on the phone with him, and they both sounded distraught. They wanted him for this position. It was a perfect fit. But the German CEO believed that the job belonged in Germany. They gave us about twelve hours of advanced warning before his move.

When my food arrived, I couldn't eat. I looked at my order and thought I was going to vomit. I knew I needed to leave the crowded restaurant and process the news. I grabbed my cell phone and informed my husband that I was going to call my mom. As soon as I was outside of the restaurant, I sprinted out of sight. I felt a panic attack coming on. I found a random tree and sat down, failing at controlling my breath. One of the ticket scalpers saw me and attempted to comfort me by offering me his unopened beer. I'm thankful my mom had more practical advice.

"Amber. Take more hydrocortisone. Now."

The National Adrenal Disease Foundation defines an Adrenal Crisis as "the result of an extreme physical or emotional stress that does not get the necessary steroid coverage to meet that stress." My mom was determined to not let this unexpected extreme emotional stress spiral me towards a full blown Adrenal Crisis.

Taking additional cortisol during that moment did not numb my pain. It did not reduce the shock of the news. What it did do was enable me to respond appropriately. The inappropriate response was my refusal to eat any food. It was the uncontrollable sobbing to the point where I could not breathe. It was that dangerous unsafe voice tempting me to hurt myself. That was my life before I was properly diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency.

With proper cortisol coverage, tears are still shed. The shock is still real. The hurt is still there. But the doom is lessened.

I am so incredibly grateful for our friends who upon hearing the news dropped everything to make sure we were ok on Thursday. That even included allowing my dinner that night to be chocolate ice cream and broccoli.
My husband and I will weather this storm together. The past few days, we have come up with a plan of action. The severance package will allow him to search for employment in that area of the country full time. He left this morning to begin his quest. We will figure this out, together.

One more photo together before he starts his journey to the other side of the country.
And as always, I will fight to remain Clearly Alive.

I mentioned self-harm in the post above. I want to inform my readers that I am safe. I have a good network of support that regularly check in on me. Before I was properly diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency, I struggled with a dangerous voice inside my head that would tempt me to hurt myself. A few times, I would listen to it. A few times, my mom would have to come in and forcibly stop me. 

With proper cortisol coverage, that voice is silenced.

If I am ever overwhelmed while running low on cortisol, that unsafe voice returns. I am learning to recognize it quicker and react. I seek out help. I speak openly about it. By speaking openly, I can have accountability. Through accountability, I can remain Clearly Alive.

If you are struggling, know that you are not alone and do not be afraid to seek help.
I want us all to remain Clearly Alive.