Well, Either You’re Closing Your Eyes to a Situation You Do Not Wish to Acknowledge, or You Are Not Aware of the Caliber of Disaster Indicated. Ya Got Trouble, My Friend, Right Here, I Say, Trouble Right Here in River City.

In case you haven’t heard, times are very tough.

unemploymentMillions of people have been laid off from their jobs and the national unemployment rate is 7.6 percent as of January.  In California where I live it’s higher, at 9.3 percent.

The state of California is broke with a $42 billion budget deficit and it’s only getting worse by the day as the state legislature can’t seem to come to an agreement on the budget.

Can we all agree that times are tough?

I’ve known this all along but somehow I guess I didn’t really get it.  I’ve been suffering from “not me” syndrome.  “Yeah, it sucks.  Yeah people are hurting and I wish I could do something, but at least it won’t happen to me.”

Before anybody get’s too worried about me, no, it hasn’t happened to me… not yet, anyway.  For weeks, maybe even months, Douche Bag has been saying that we have to tighten our belts and cut back on spending, but he’s also been saying that we were not going to be facing any lay-offs.  “Senior Leadership” has stated that it won’t benefit The Company that Created the HMO to lay people off because after you pay severance packages you don’t realize any cost savings for at least a year if not longer.

Last week an e-mail went out from the President of Operations addressing the current economic crisis.  The e-mail said that we were facing some lean times.  It said that in an attempt to deal with these lean times they were taking certain measures to ready ourselves for the tough times ahead.  Among those measures was freezing the salaries of the top 500 employees.  This is a good move.  It proves that they are not just out for themselves and that they are trying to take care of their employees.  The e-mail went on to say that while The Company that Created the HMO was still going to give merit increases, they were reducing the overall budget for the increases by 1%.  Normally, my region’s budget is 3% so this year it would be 2%.  Not great news but livable.  In addition they were still going to give out the annual bonuses that we traditionally get in March.

Honestly, I had full expected to get absolutely nothing this year.  Not an idea I enjoy but not surprising, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when the follow up e-mail came today.  While The Company that Created the HMO as a whole is following those measures, it has been determined that some regions will need to take additional measures, determined by the market they serve.  Northern California is one of those regions.  Not only will the top 500 Executives have their salaries frozen, but not a single one of the Northern California non-union employees receive a raise before fourth quarter when they will re-evaluate our financial status.  (Read, probably not then either.)  We will still receive our bonuses, which comes as a surprise to me but, raises will not be happening.  And then the big shocker, the e-mail stated that it will not be sufficient to maintain our 2008 staffing levels.  We must reduce the number of full time employees.  There’s no other way to read that, there will be lay-offs.  I think, perhaps, it would have been good if they’d included in that information when and how many they are planning, but at least now we know that it’s going to happen.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the last few weeks, as rumors started flying, about how I could see this playing out and there are a number of scenarios that could play out that would leave me vulnerable.  I have the most seniority in the department, besides Douche Bag, and my function is somewhat unique, in that no one else in the department does what I do.  It could be that the seniority will save me, but on the other and it could be that the seniority also makes me too expensive to keep around.  It could be that the uniqueness of my position will save me, but then again I do have a counterpart in another building that does the same thing and there was a time when our jobs were a one man operation for all of Downtown Oakland.  There has already been a proposition that the functions I currently perform should be consolidated to this other person leaving me free to take on other responsibilities.

I see three possible scenarios with that as well:

  1. Captain Oblivious will approve the proposal to consolidate the function to my counterpart and I’ll continue working here fulfilling other responsibilities – and potentially finding a way to like my job again;
  2. Captain Oblivious will deny the proposal with concern that doing this would leave me vulnerable to being laid-off;
  3. Captain Oblivious will approve the proposal and instruct that I be laid-off.

I have a peace about this.  There’s nothing I can do to change how things will play out.  I go to work everyday and do the best job I can do (when I’m not reading or writing blog entries or Tweeting) and wait to see what happens.  In the end there’s not much more I can do besides leave it in God’s hands.  I trust that he will lead me through it.

Yes, times are tough, but things will turn around.  They always do

Disappointment and Revenge

disappointmentIn slightly less than two months I will be “celebrating” my seventh anniversary working for The Company that Created the HMO.  Very shortly after starting this job, I discovered a local deli that has the best sandwiches this side of the Big Apple.

Not long after starting this job, Green M&M and I decided to join Weight Watchers.  We’re both overweight and we both wanted to do something about it.  At the time that we joined Weight Watchers they were pushing their points program where you’re allotted a certain number of points depending on your current weight and can “earn” additional points for physical activity.

I had become very fond of this chicken sandwich that my little deli makes with broiled chicken breast and melted cheese.  I always got mine on a Sourdough Roll which must be about ten inches long, with Dijon Mustard, Jack Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato, Pickles, Onions and Alfalfa Sprouts.  Let me tell you, this sandwich is awesome!  When Green and I were on Weight Watchers I did an estimation of how many points this thing must be and I estimated it at 11 points.  If you’re familiar with this program you know, that’s a lot of points and if you’re not familiar with the program it may not sound like a lot but when you consider I was only allotted about 34 points and I was an “active drinker” then (as opposed to a passive(?) drinker now) I needed to save the points for the all important vodka tonics (diet tonic thank you very much!) and wine that I’d be having in the evening.    Needless to say, the diet failed and I gave up a long time ago which is neither here nor there for the story I’m trying to tell.

This deli is three blocks away from my office building, on the same street and less than a block from our sister building where evil lives, and they are always very busy with a long line (The deli, not the sister building where evil lives.)  The sandwiches are awesome, but sometimes it’s really not worth the trip and the hassle.

Sometime around mid October brown paper went up in the windows of the previously vacant store front diagonally across the street from my building and not long after that, a logo went up in the window indicating that this location was going to be either a new, or an additional location, of the deli with the 11 point sandwich I enjoy so much.

One day in October, I asked the owner, Emil, “When is the new location going to open?”

“Soon,” he replied, “Hopefully next week.”

“Great!  I can’t wait.  Is it a second location or a new location?”

“It’s a second location,” he told me.

A few weeks passed and the new location hadn’t opened yet.  “Emil!  When is the other shop going to open?”  It was the second week of November.  I enjoy my 11 point sandwich but I don’t want to make the trip and be near the axis of evil if I don’t have to.

“End of the month,” he told me matter-of-factly.

“Great!  I can’t wait,” I tell him enthusiastically.

A few more weeks passed.  Thanksgiving came and went.  It was the middle of December.  “Hey, Emil!  Seriously!  When is the new shop gonna open?” I asked, ribbing the good-natured restaurateur.

Emil shakes his head now, “Oh, I don’t know Kevin.  I hope soon.”  He seems a little distraught about the subject, but I opt not to engage.

“OK.  Good.  I can’t wait!”  If I can get my 11 point chicken sandwich and not have to walk the three blocks and be anywhere near the evil fortress, I’m happy.

Mid January I walk into the existing location for the deli.  I want my sandwich and I’m just not going to hassle Emil this time.  Emil, is no where in sight.

This past Friday, The Unsvelt Girl who Runs and I went to lunch.  She had to go to one of the other buildings where The Company that Created the HMO has leased space which we are currently responsible for.  We walked to the building six blocks away and then went to a hoagie place across the street.  While we’re eating, The Unsvelt Girl says, “Oh, the new Aroma’s opened today.  There was a line of people out the door this morning when I went out for coffee.”

“Now you tell me?  Why didn’t we go there?”  As long as I’ve been waiting you’d think I’d be there the first day.

“Because there was a line of people out the door!” She replied, and I must say, there’s a certain logic in that argument.

“Fair enough,” I reply.  “It’s going to be after lunch when we walk back by there.  Can we just stick our head’s in and see what’s new?”

“Sure,” she says.  And so as we walked by the new location on the way back to the office we stuck our heads in the door to see what’s new.  The new restaurant is beautiful, all new modern fixtures, nice marble slab counters.  Nice and modern.  Still no real seating, but that’s fine I guess, it is supposed to be a deli after all.  But I zoned in on the menu board and saw the magic word that at once thrills and terrifies me.  The new Aroma’s, or Aroma’s East, as I call it, because it’s a straight shot, three blocks east, down the street from the original restaurant, has a nice selection of Gelato in addition to a plethora of bakery type confections all of which call to me relentlessly, desiring me to come in and submit to them with reckless abandon.

We left the restaurant and returned to the office quaking in our little space boots in sheer terror of the evil with which we’d just come face to face.

Today, being low on funds, and not wanting to take a lunch break, thus prolonging the length of time I’d have to spend in the office, I ate a bowl of Kraft Easy-Mac for lunch.  Not at all surprising, this did not satisfy me for very long.  I have a bowl of microwave chili, which I wanted to save for another day, in my drawer so I was trying to decide on a solution to the hunger that crept upon me a couple ours later.  I could go to the little convenience store in the lobby and look for something but I’d almost certainly end up with something much more fattening and calorie laden then what I really wanted.  And then it hit me, “Wait!  Aroma’s East is open!  I’ll run over there and get a sandwich.  Just nothing so substantial as my usual 11 point chicken sandwich.

So away I went, off to the awesome new location of my favorite little deli from which I’m sure to order many an 11 point chicken sandwich.  I walked into the deli and looked up at the menu board… But wait, there was no 11 point chicken sandwich.  No matter, right?  I mean, it’s the same restaurant, they must have the same things, right?

Emil greeted me, “Hello, Kevin!  What can I get you?”

“Well… I don’t know?  You guys aren’t making regular sandwiches here?”

“Yeah,” he enthused, “we have panini’s.  We’ve got chicken… roast beef… I’ve got an Aroma panini still.  That’s vegetarian.”

“Yuck,” I reply without thinking.  “Yeah, I see the panini’s but you’re not going to have, you know, regular sandwiches.  Like you have at the other place?”

Emil looks at me with a blank stare for a minute.

“If I want a regular sandwich like I always get, I can’t get it here?” I ask.

“Oh.  No.”

“I have to walk up to the other place?”  I ask.  I’m still in disbelief.

“Yeah,” he answers taking on a slightly impish grin, as if somehow this will get him out of the very deep trouble he’s in with me and which matters not one iota to anyone else.  This is most disappointing.  After all the anticipation, this new location does not do me any good and might do me harm!

“But I wanted a BLT.”  Surely, if I keep pushing it he’ll bend.

“I don’t have that,” is his simple reply.  This is not going the way I wanted.  “Don’t you like chicken?  I have chicken panini’s”

Don’t I like chicken!?!” I think to myself astonished.  “Don’t I like chicken!?! I’ve been getting the same damn 11 point chicken sandwich with nary a variation for seven years! menu_cheesecake_godivachocolate1Don’t I like chicken?  Of course I like chicken.  But today, I don’t want chicken.  I want a damn BLT!”

“I already ate once today.   I mean I already ate lunch once today, I don’t want all that!” I answered…

So I ordered a piece of chocolate cheesecake instead.

I guess I showed him!

Those Just Tuning In I’m Just Letting Ya Know That Imma Slacker

Sometimes I wonder if The Company that Created the HMO knows it’s their fault I don’t work more while I’m here er– there.

The work I do is very tedious.  A lot of routine, repetitive bullshit that I couldn’t care less about and so it takes a lot for me to get motivated to do the work in the first place but then when I do finally get to it, I have really inferior tools to work with.  The Company that Created the HMO insists that we are on the cutting edge of technology, and they may be right when it comes to the hospitals and the medical services we provide, but when it comes to our administrative tools, GOOD GOD are we behind the times.

My job consists of opening e-mail notices that there is a new request in our Intranet based request system, scrolling down in the e-mail to the link, clicking the link and WAITING for the slow-ass intranet site to respond.  Once it finally opens, I review the request (rarely are they wrong) and then I click on an edit link and WAIT for the slow-ass intranet site to respond.  I then select “In Progress” from a drop down menu, send a notice to the requester as to when their request will be fulfilled and put the request on a spreadsheet for the vendor.


So that’s the part of my job that actually has any kind of deadline and has to be done in a timely manner.  The completion of those same requests in the slow-ass intranet system is supposed to be done in the same calendar month but there are no consequences and I put it off because the system sucks so bad I get pissed off when I do it.

So here I sit, staring at my screen waiting for the request in question to open so I can click edit so I can wait for it to reopen so I can select complete from the drop down menu and move along to the next one, rinse and repeat as needed.  While I’m waiting for the system to do its thing I start getting distracted.  The internet is a shiny object you know.  So I click over here to WordPress and start a blog post.  Before long, I’m more focused on the blog post then I am on the request completion tedium.

So you see, dear The Company that Created the HMO, it really is your fault that I’m spending company time, on company equipment doing things that are for my personal enjoyment (well, mine and the legions of people who are(n’t) reading my blog, waiting with baited breath for the next installment) but which benefit the company not one iota.


Note to the reader:  The real irony in this post is that as soon as I started clicking over to WordPress to write this post, the request system to which I’m referring started working flawlessly, moving between screens lickety-split!  Go figure.  I guess I should attempt to slack off more frequently!

Someone ‘Splain This To Me

In our weekly Tuesday Morning Torture Session yesterday, Douche Bag distributed the following document which supposedly has gone out to all of the Northern California Region employees.  At the top was the official logo with the burning people and the name of The Company That Created The HMO and it read as follows:

Northern California Region

Employee Live Call In Guidelines

November 2008

Purpose: Live call in refers to a process of requiring employees to call and speak directly with their managers (or designee) when they are unable to work their assigned hours.  The live call in process is designed to work in conjunction with other efforts to improve attendance.  Together, these efforts will help ensure a superior healthcare experiences for our members.  Having employees speak with or call in to a manager/supervisor creates an interaction where employees are supported to stay home when they are sick and find alternatives to calling out when they’re not.  If conditions other than illness(es) exist, alternative options can be explored such as coming in later in the shift so as not to miss the entire shift or other potential work accommodations.  This can help employees maximize the use of their sick leave benefits and minimize the impact to operations.

Impacted employees: All employees in Northern California

Expectations of impacted employees:

It is critical to our mission of providing superior healthcare to our members that employees and managers work together to manage attendance.  Therefore, impacted employees and their managers who do not follow the established expectations of the live call in process may be subject to disciplinary action or the corrective action/issue resolution process.

1.  Follow the established procedure for reporting absence:

a.  Call the identified number when unable to come to work

b.  Notify their manager (or designee) of his/her absence at lest two (2) hours before the employees scheduled start time whenever possible (and in accordance with relevant collective bargaining provisions)

c.  Provide the following information:

i.  The time and date of the call and the shift for which they are calling in sick

ii.  The general reason for the absence (i.e. illness, family members illness, etc.)

iii.  Expected date and time of return to work; and

iv.  Phone number and best time for the manager to call the employee back, should the manager need to contact the employee,

2.  When an employee leaves a call back number, the manager may elect not to call the employee back when in their judgment, the absence does not warrant a call back.  Call backs are for the purpose of verifying lengths of absences, offers of assistance and other similar information to aid managers in planning appropriate staffing levels.

Expectations of managers:

1.  Inform employees of the call in process and answer any questions they may have

2.  Provide the telephone number to which employees will be calling to report their absence

3.  Answer the established phone line on a regular basis

4.  When an employee reports an absence (from NCAL Attendance Management Guidelines section C-5)

a.  Establish estimated return to work

b.  Keep a record of the discussion in your anecdotal file and note the absence on any formal monitoring tools utilized

c.  Refrain from discussing reason for absence but make note of relevant information the employee voluntarily shares

d.  Ask the employee to bring in a Work Status Form if you have reasonable belief that the absence is questionable.

e.  Advise the employee of procedures to be followed if the absence may qualify for protected time, i.e. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

5.  The manager will speak with those employees with ongoing attendance problems upon his/her return to assess the circumstances, and if warranted take appropriate action in accordance with the Attendance Management Guidelines.  (Union represented employees – in accordance with the provisions of their respective collective bargaining agreements.)


It is critical to our mission of providing superior healthcare to our members that employees and managers work together to manage attendance.  Therefore, impacted employees and their managers who do not follow the established expectations of the live call in process may be subject to disciplinary action or the corrective action/issue resolution process.

So here are the things I need explained to me.  First of all, “The live call in process is designed to work in conjunction with other efforts to improve attendance.  Together, these efforts will help ensure a superior healthcare experience for our members.”  This tells me we have a significant problem with attendance, but also that it is taking it’s toll in the Medical Centers.  I do not work in a Medical Center.  I work in the Facility Management office of a high rise building seven miles from the nearest hospital.  I never see, talk to or touch, a member (except for all the ones that work in my building and none of them in a medical capacity.)  Even if I had a problem with excessive absences, it wouldn’t impact the members.  More importantly, this tells me we have a problem with morale, in that setting, that our “Senior Leadership”, as they like to be called, can’t seem to identify.

Having employees speak with or call in to a manger/supervisor creates an interaction where employees are supported to stay home when they are sick…” First, I don’t need support for that and secondly that’s my business.  “…and find alternatives to calling out when they’re not.”  Again, this is my business and no one else’s.  “If conditions other than illness(es) exist, alternative options can be explored such as coming in later in the shift so as not to miss the entire shift or other potential work accommodations.”  If conditions other than illness exist, they’re still my business to deal with as I see fit.  If my employer feels that I have excessive absences, they have the right to track them and give me a warning about it and ultimately if it’s effecting my work or productivity then they must deal with that.  But this is a separate issue from an across the board mandate about how to use ones sick time.

This can help employees maximize the use of their sick leave benefits and minimize impact to operations.”  The argument against this is right there in their own words, “use of their sick leave”.  This document applies to our union employees who are granted sick leave, and vacation days separately.  Their sick days are for calling in sick.  Unexpectedly, needing to take a day off.  Calling in for something they didn’t have the ability to plan in advance and take a vacation day for.  It also applies to those of us who are non-union who are granted Paid Time Off (PTO) days each month which are to cover all forms of absences, sick and vacation days alike.  Neither group is granted “personal days” which means that if there is a personal issue that must be dealt with it must come from one of the time off categories they do have, and The Company that Created the HMO does not really have the right to tell us how or when we can or can’t handle these personal issues.

This first paragraph of the “Guidelines” clearly implies that our managers are to take it upon themselves to determine if our reasons for being out are justified and acceptable or if they think we should arrange our time differently than we have, yet Douche Bag in discussing these “guidelines” insists that it does not mean that, and that the only thing that’s changed is that we have to speak to him directly and not just leave a voice mail.  “If anything this means more work for me, not you.  You just have to call and do the same thing you’ve been doing, only talking to me.”  The problem with this theory is that DB is notorious for not telling the rest of the staff that an employee is not going to be in that day until noon, by which time it’s become clear to the rest of us that the person will not be in.

The list of expectations of the employee states that we should give a “general reason” for the absence.  This makes perfect sense, except that it is a contradiction to the first paragraph that clearly suggests that the manager will determine whether the absence is acceptable to his standard.

Here’s one of my favorites, “2.  When an employee leaves a call back number, the manager may elect not to call the employee back when in their judgment, the absence does not warrant a call back.  Call backs are for the purpose of verifying lengths of absences, offers of assistance and other similar information to aid managers in planning appropriate staffing levels.”  I’m pretty sure if this document had been given to me in soft copy and I’d highlighted that paragraph it would have included something along the lines of “So we can check up on you and make sure that you really are sick and staying home taking care of your self and not taking the day off to take your children to Disneyland, or take your car to the mechanic or have a vasectomy that you didn’t want to discuss with your boss or some other such nonsense.

I’m fairly certain we were not intended to see this document that we were given.  It seems clear to me that The Company that Invited the HMO would have preferred that we not see the “Expectations of Managers.”  “b.  Keep a record of the discussion in your anecdotal file…”  “c.  Refrain from discussing reason for absence but make note of relevant information the employee voluntarily shares.”  Might as well read, “Make subjective judgments about the validity of the employees reason for being absent without gathering any reliable information from the employee first.  Do not blatantly violate the employees rights but do it secretively and as subversively as you possibly can, so as to avoid any culpability should legal action ensue.”

Country Dumbkin, in her infinite “wisdom” piped up during the Tuesday Morning Torture Session that this was unreasonable.  “What’s the point?  They think we’re going to be afraid to talk to you and so we won’t call in sick?”  Bingo!  And if the Village idiot picked up on this…?

Don’t misunderstand me.  It’s not that I have a problem with talking to my boss when I call in sick.  No, I don’t want to, because he’s a putz and I’d rather just state my plans than have any sense that I have to justify myself, but I can do it without a problem.  Traditionally, I use voice mail so that I can leave one message for everyone in the office without having to make multiple calls.

What I resent is the implicit sense of being reprimanded.  There is clearly a problem that needs to be dealt with but that problem is not how I go about calling in sick.  It also seems clear to me that the real motivation behind this has nothing to do with how we call in sick but rather to try and prevent us from doing so.  The real motivation is to try and force us to disclose what we’re doing with our personal time so that our management can decide whether or not they feel that the reason for the absence is justifiable.

I think the part I resent the most is that we (the staff) discussed in the Tuesday Morning Torture Session that this is nothing more than an intimidation tactic and Douche Bag insisted that it was not.  He actually said, “Well, let me put a positive spin on this…”

We sat and looked at him, waiting for the “positive spin” and after nearly ten seconds I said, “Too late.  If you have to think that hard to come up with positive spin, then I don’t believe you anyway.”

Upon further consideration and discussion with Unsvelt Girl Who Runs I’m not entirely convinced that this document is legitimate.  I’m not inclined to think that Douche Bag is lying to us, at least not knowingly, but it’s hard for me to believe this is a legitimate document.  The Company That Created The HMO is fond of sending out mass, Corporate Communication and I’ve read a lot of it.  This document doesn’t read like the majority of those documents.  Furthermore, there is a specifically formatted, document template that the company uses for all Policies & Procedures/HR Guidelines, and this document does not match them.  You will, of course,  have to take my word for it because the recreation above doesn’t look anything like the document I received, let alone matching the template to which I’m referring.

Their are two working theories in place:

Theory A: Douche Bag, who is decidedly passive aggressive (occasionally rather aggressively so) has issues with how things have been going but doesn’t have the balls to deal with it directly.  The flaw in this theory is that this document was, without a doubt, not written by Douche Bag himself.  When the document was discussed and he mentioned the part where it discusses alternative accommodations, our Financial Analyst piped up and said, “Is telecommuting considered an alternative accommodation?”

I looked over at her and said, “Considering you’re the only one in the department who has that option?”

She didn’t respond verbally but it was clear from her expression that she didn’t appreciate the comment.  I do not care because it needed to be pointed out and there is a considerable amount of inequality going on in my department.  I don’t expect it’s going to change, and in fact I’m pretty sure it’ll get worse, but I feel like someone has to make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed.  If I’m the only one who will carry that torch, then so be it.

Later when Douche Bag couldn’t “put a positive spin on it” and I called him on it Financial Analyst, who had otherwise been fairly quiet about the whole thing (the only one in the meeting who was) said, “We’ve talked this to death.  Let’s move on.”  One could argue that her tone was somewhat defensive.  Perhaps it was, or perhaps Unsvelt Girl and I are reading into it to support the following theory.

As we discussed the idea that this was possibly not what it was presented to us to be, she brought up the possibility that perhaps Financial Analyst wrote it for Douche Bag.  I have never had a reason to read anything that Financial Analyst has composed so I don’t know how likely this theory is.  If it’s true though, it is rather strange.  One has to wonder what could possibly be the motivation behind it all.

Theory B:  Douche Bag‘s boss is somehow behind the whole thing and his incompetent Adminary, who Unsvelt Girl and I, not so affectionately refer to as Tri-dub or Wicked Witch of the West (because she’s in the other building which is west of ours) was the actual author.  It reads like someone who is rather ignorant and thinks more highly of their intellect and abilities than is justified, wrote it.  Since that is an excellent description of Tri-dub it would not be so far fetched to believe that she authored the document.  It is also not so far fetched to believe that Douche Bag‘s boss is behind the concept of the document.  It is, however, difficult to believe that he would use deception in such a manner as to suggest that this is a regional policy if it isn’t.

What is really going on, I do not know.  What I do feel confident of, however, is that there is much more than meets the eye and I’m really grown tired of all the games and half truths that I’m dealing with.  I desperately need to find new employment, but I’m afraid that with the economy in it’s current state, and unemployment numbers being what they are, finding new employment isn’t likely to happen any time soon.  Sigh!

Ding Dong

I’ve just come from the men’s room where I was poised to take care of some personal business.  If you’ve read my list of Random Facts then you know that I tend toward a bit of a stage fright issue, so you can imagine my predicament when I’m standing in front of the urinal, shmeckle in hand on the verge of release and I hear the toilet in the stall immediately behind me flush and almost at the same instant the stall door opened.  Despite my discomfort, I’m sure you’ll be very relieved to to know that I was, well…  very relieved.

So there I stand, unit in hand and my men’s room cohabiter at the sink when I hear a door bell.  Bear in mine I’m in the men’s room.  (Heh heh, “bare.”)  In an office building.  On the 23rd floor.  There should be no door bell’s ringing here.  The tile walls behind the urinals are surprisingly shiny, which is simultaneously amusing and unexpected.  It’s also a little disappointing, because despite their shine, you can’t really see anything good.  But I could see the world behind me in the shine.  I looked up to see a handsome young man, four inches shorter than myself, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and a fluorescent orange “The Company That Created The HMO construction services” vest.  He’s standing at the sink and scurrying to get his hands washed and rinsed so he can answer what I then realize is his ringing cell phone.

“I’ve never heard a door-bell in a bathroom before,” I said.

He laughed and told me that it’s the only way that it get’s his attention, otherwise it just rings and he doesn’t notice it.

As he was walking out of the restroom I was reminded of another incident that took place in that very same spot more than a year ago.  There I stood with my pants open, hose nozzle on full blast, if ya know what I mean, when out of the corner of my eye, I see the door open and a familiar figure walking in.  Vickie A. took six steps into the men’s room before she realized that the figure she saw before her, one that she too recognized, did not belong in her restroom.  I couldn’t help but laugh and having grown up in a house with Vengeful Mother and CPA Sister and only one bathroom, I wasn’t bothered by her presence.  There was, after all a wall between her eyes and my accoutrement.  Poor Vicki was so flummoxed that she just stood there for a minute looking at me and babbling about how it’s true what they say about how we stand while we’re doing our business, before she finally turned around and sprinted out the door.

She continued to work on the same floor as I do for another year after that.  I suppose a kind and benevolent person would have let her live this down.

Unfortunately for Vickie, I am neither kind, nor benevolent.

Cold Turkey

Yesterday, I confessed to an addiction.  Today, I’ll tell you about another.

I’ve been a drug addict for six years.  It’s true.  Every single day for the last six years, I have taken mood altering substances that my body very quickly became dependent upon and without which I turned into an unrecognizable monster oddly reminiscent of an enormous ass, but one that would sooner kill you then feel like you’ve let him down or disappointed him in anyway.

I’m not talking about anything you’d snort or inject, in fact, I’d have to check with Ex Con Older Brother to be sure, but I don’t think you could even buy these drugs on the street.  The internet?  Sure.  But not the street.  No, the drugs I’m talking about are the Doctor sanctioned, Government approved, Pharmaceutical Company foisted kind.  Yes, that’s right.  I’ve been taking Anti-Depressants for the last six years.

Today, however, marks the last day of this addictive behavior.  No longer will I assault my synaptic pathways with artificial fortification.  No longer will I ingest these foreign substances to do what they will with my psyche.

[ Gosh, I feel a little like I should be standing barefoot on a couch after an overnight drinking party shouting at my friends about our flaccid penises (peni?) and making deals about losing our virginity by prom night.  And if you don’t get that reference – American Pie – then I don’t want to be your friend anyway.]

Today I am taking back control of my emotional well being.  It isn’t actually, really cold turkey  I made this decision back in April when I was taking 300 Milligrams of Welbutrin and 40 milligrams of Celexa on a daily basis.  I felt like I was in a haze all the time.  I felt like I wasn’t able to access my feelings.  Like I wasn’t having a genuine experience.  And I felt like this ride was never going to end unless I stepped on the breaks and got out of the car.  So I did.

This whole ordeal started a little over six years ago–  Well, really it started 33 years ago with my childhood and my genetics and my divorced parents and my general state of misery, but I don’t have all day to write and you don’t have all day to read and if I tried to put it all in here, WordPress very well might explode, but not before you found me boring and hit that nifty little arrow in the upper right corner to take you to the next random post!  So with that being said…

We’ll pick up this ordeal six years ago.  I had been working for about four months for The Company that Created the HMO and wasn’t really loving it (I was an Administrative Assistant for fuck’s sake) but it followed a nine month period of unemployment where I could barely pay for my car with the unemployment checks I received ever other week, let alone rent and utilities, or assisting Green M&M, who graciously allowed me to move in with her, with expenses.  I had been drinking a lot, and feeling really dejected because I wasn’t able to find another job and I was at a really low point in my emotional cycle.  So when the opportunity with The Company came along, I really had not choice but to take it.

One day I had had a blow up with a co-worker and I didn’t know what to do about it so I made an appointment with the Employee Assistance Program Counselor, ostensibly to talk about work relations and how I could deal with this person.  I sat for an hour with this Counselor who talked to me for five minutes about my coworker problem and then asked me all kinds of questions about my life, my childhood, how I live now, etc., etc., etc.  Then she said, “You sound depressed to me.  Here.  The Company that Created the HMO offers all these classes and they’re bound to fix you.”

OK, so that last part may not have come out quite like that, but all these years later, that’s how I feel about it.  The counselor referred me to the Oakland Adult Psychiatry department of The Company that Created the HMO where I was pared up with a Psychologist that I would get to see once every six weeks (whether I needed it or not, I guess.)  They never did offer me any assistance with the coworker and we continued to have conflict until the day she went on maternity leave and then decided not to come back.

Once every six weeks, I’d go to this appointment with this woman who looked strangely like a Yahoo Messenger avatar making the “angry” face and who always made me feel inferior and pathetic.  She kept urging me to go to this Depression Overview Class that was offered.  It was supposed to give me a better understanding of what I’m dealing with and was a precursor to the eight week Depression Management Class she also wanted me to take.  I resisted it for some time but it was obvious to me that I was not going to get what I needed from attending these sessions with Avatar Face and something had to give so I went.

Up to that point, I had been determined that I was not going to take medication and I did not want anyone else to know what I was going through.  I resisted the class because then people would know.  I gave in and attended the class and one of the things they focused on in this class (not even 2 hours) was the idea of medication, how it works, and why I should take it.  I will acknowledge that it has been six years.  I will acknowledge that I was uncomfortable in the situation and wanted to go home.  And I will acknowledge that I was desperate for someone, somehow to make me better and take all this pain away.

All those acknowledgments being put out there, do not change the fact that what I remember the instructor of this overview class saying was that I’d take meds for two to three years and that while I was taking them, not only would the stabilize my neurotransmitters but it would correct the problem in my brain that causes the imbalance in the first place.  So, OK.  Two or three years…  I can accept that.  Especially if I’ll be all better after.

I set an appointment with a Psychiatrist at The Company and got a prescription from her for Paxil.  The prescription was, take 10 milligrams a day for the first week and then bump it up to 20.  About this time I inquired with Ex Con Older Brother who I knew was also taking Paxil and he informed me that it worked, for him, like flipping a switch.  That he started taking it and almost instantly things changed.  I really wanted that for myself so within six weeks, with the Psychiatrist’s approval I increased my dosage twice, first to 30 milligrams and then to 40.

It took a little while for it to completely kick in but once it did, I felt great.  Best I’ve ever felt.  I had confidence, I enjoyed people, I was in great emotional shape.  It was around this time that Green M&M and I decided that neither of us had anything to lose and so we decided to give a “friends with benefits” scenario a try.  This was when I found out that some of those side effects they tell you about were going to be a problem.  I was having serious sexual side effects and couldn’t’ get past them.

I asked my doctor to help me out with this problem and her solution was to take me off the Paxil and put me on Welbutrin.  Her instructions were to taper off the Paxil over the course of 10 days.  Which I did.  Which is when the aforementioned unrecognizable, enormous ass, monster appeared.

I crack jokes and be obnoxious about this because it’s easier to face, but the truth is, it was an emotionally excruciating, hold on for dear life, MY GOD HE’S GONNA BLOW, volatile two weeks and I really didn’t think I was going to make it.  It’s easier to laugh now.  I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live commercial parody not too long ago about a Birth Control Pill that would make a woman have her period only once a year.  In the fast talking, fine print they talk about how during that one week-end out of the year you better hold on to your hat ’cause your gonna lose your shit, etc., etc., etc.  It says that you should alert your law enforcement officials as they may wish to lock you up as a preemptive measure.  That’s how I felt.

When I think about these times I feel a tremendous amount of gratitude toward Green as well as some shame over the way I acted.  In truth her actions set me off on more than one occasion but my reactions were out of control excessive and she put up with a lot of vitriol from me during that period of time.  It would probably have been easier for her to just walk away, but she didn’t.  She stood by me and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.

Anyway, once the psychotic episode passed and I was back to “normal” whatever that is, I was on just the 300 Miligrams of Welbutrin.  It’s the only Anti-Depressant with little or now sexual side effects.  What I’ve learned in the recent past is that it’s also commonly know to increase anxiety in those who are prone to it (I am.)

I took Welbutrin by itself for nearly four years, never really feeling like it was doing me any good, but afraid to say anything for fear of what they’d recommend next.  But when the time came that I couldn’t stand it anymore, this image approximates what I was feeling.  I felt like I was standing right down there at the bottom of this mammoth wall of rock, knowing that on the other side of this structure was millions of gallons of water just waiting to burst through and destroy me.  I felt like I was standing at the bottom of that wall looking up at the top, and just watching as the wall slowly crumbled knowing that at any moment the water could break through and all would be lost.

At that point my Psychiatrist recommended adding the Celexa to the mix, and while I’ll admit that it did seem to help for a time, it really just put me on top of the dam.  No longer was the wall crumbling.  No longer did I fear that it would all come crashing down on me.  Instead, I was standing on the road, looking out at all the water, all the feelings and emotions, knowing that disaster lay before me, but then again so did the potential for good.  But either way, I couldn’t get to it.  It was inaccessible.  And if I tried, I just might drown.

It’s strange, but knowing that all that was there, and that I couldn’t get to it had a two fold effect on me.  First it sent me into a deep despair.  On the advice of my therapist I took a leave of absence from work and went into an outpatient treatment program that is offered by The Company that Created the HMO.  I don’t particularly feel like the program itself offered me anything of value, other than time away from work to regroup and collect my thoughts.  But six weeks later when I was back at work full time and I was more in control again, I realized something else.

In a very real way, the meds have been that dam for six long years.  The only reason those millions of gallons of water are back there waiting to crush me, is because I built the dam and backed it up, rather than making an effort to tread it as it flowed through.

I never wanted the drugs.  I never should have taken the drugs.  I will never again take the drugs.  What I needed was therapy.  I needed steady care from someone who could help me to come to terms with my issues and help me to find that I’d be OK all the same.  I needed a life vest and a kayak, and an oar (am I over-doing the metaphor?)

I took the drugs because I heard “You’ll take them for two years and you’ll be fixed.”  I took the drugs because The Company that Created the HMO isn’t interested in dealing with life long problems, they want to send you to a class that amounts to them saying “Suck it up.  You’ll be fine.”  I took the drugs because once I started them, I was afraid to stop, lest I end up in that puddle of anger and tears and desperation on the floor in my closet that I had been during the Paxil/Welbutrin transition.  I took the drugs because I didn’t know how not to.

But I finally made a decision.  The best decision I’ve made for myself in a long time.  I will not take the drugs anymore.  I started this process in April.  I was taking two tablets of each medication.  So starting on May 1st, I took one and three quarters.  On June 1st, I reduced it to one and one half, etc., until today, Friday, October 31, 2008.  THE last day, I will take my drugs.  Starting tomorrow, I will be drug free.  Starting tomorrow the last brick will have been removed from that dam.  The waters will flow freely and I will wade through them until I’ve learned to swim peacefully from shore to shore.  It may be a struggle sometimes.  Some days will surely be worse than others, but so far I’m strong and steady.  The current isn’t that bad.