A life crisis hits and for many of us that doesn’t change the fact that we must find a way to manage this challenging situation along with a full-time job, family responsibilities and extracurricular activities. I faced the same set of challenges when my then teenaged son, Josh, quickly spiraled into a mental health crisis. On the work front, my biggest conundrum was assessing how much I wanted to disclose to my employer; second only to trying to figure out what the hell I was doing in that job anyway. As often results when dealing with a complex life situation, I ended up with more questions than answers.
Here’s my story.
While I was working to better understand Josh’s crisis, I also had to decide how much information I wanted to share with my employer. Even though nine months had passed since Josh’s first trip to the emergency room, I had kept silent at work because I believed or wanted to believe that the end of the crisis was right around the corner, and didn’t think a full disclosure was necessary.
Yet, there were other reasons why I wanted to keep this situation quiet.
I didn’t want to risk losing my job. My career was a big part of my identity, having played a prominent role in my life since I was fresh out of college. Being successful in business had always been very important to me, especially because I had struggled so much in school. I felt in some ways that my success would prove that I was smart enough, even if I couldn’t demonstrate that in the traditional grading and test-taking fashion.
As a young business professional climbing the corporate ladder, I had everything going for me.
Balancing a career and motherhood was always somewhat of a challenge, but it was something that I prided myself on being able to do in a way that I felt gave equally to both my family and my job. My career was always the means to an end. What I did for a living directly contributed to what I could do for my children and the life we were living. It directly contributed to how I measured myself as a good mother, equating what I could provide with how well I was able to care for my children.
When Josh’s illness hit, I found myself in the middle of hell.
The equilibrium that I had been able to maintain for so many years was completely thrown off by the fact that my child needed much more from me than the love and care I had been providing. Shifting the balance to provide more support was not in question, but maintaining some type of work and life balance proved difficult. It took a long time to find my way out of the labyrinth, both as I labored to navigate the mental health system maze but also as I fought to keep my head above water with my obligations to my job. Eventually, I found that I could plan around the timing of the many meetings, treatment team reviews, and medications check-ups and still meet my responsibilities.
Even before this crisis I had been assessing whether or not I was on the right career path. I had lost the passion for my position and the work I was doing. Facing the depth and uncertainty of Josh’s circumstances, I decided that my career, even as it lay in shards on the ground, was going to have to take a back seat to the more pressing issues I was facing, knowing that at some point, I would have to address that crisis, as well. (excerpt Closer to Paradise: A Mother’s Journey through Crisis and Healing; Motivational Press, 2016)
Two years later, I found myself in a place where I had no choice to but address that crisis. In the end, I walked away. It was a decision that, while not right for everyone, was very right for me.
While I didn’t come up with all the answers as I worked to bob and weave through my son’s crisis, I did learn a few important things:
- What feels impossible is often possible. When I found myself in the middle of this health emergency, my first thought was “there is no way I can do this.” And yet, once I stopped resisting what was happening I was able to start putting one foot in front of the other. I found that I could support my son and myself while maintaining my job. It was and still is possible.
- If you cannot trust your employer to support you through a personal crisis, you are most likely in the wrong company. While there were times when I had to engage my Human Resources department to assist in getting the benefits that the insurance company was working hard to deny me, I never told my direct line of management. To feel so overwhelmed by the situation and not feel like anyone at work had my back was quite telling.
- You never know what challenges your co-workers may be facing. I remember times when I had to sneak out to my car to take a call with one of my son’s doctors or go to a different floor in the office building so that I could have a good cry without the watchful eyes of my team. While I cannot say for certain what response I would have received if I had been more open about my situation at work. I do know that I am even more conscious and compassionate with those who I encounter on a day-to-day basis because of this realization.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”