I bought a Chest of Drawers from Wal-Mart.com nearly a month ago.
Yet here it sits in pieces strewn across my living room floor.
The past two months has been Hell.
On May 28th, I moved into a new apartment as a Co-worker left the Company. With her departure came a deluge of new work to add to an already sporadic and large workload.
Then in June while wrangling this change and not taking any time off work to get settled into the new apartment, I was offered a new job that seemed be the answer to all my prayers.
A flexible schedule, allowing me to work at home five days a month.
On the job training in several programming languages.
A ten percent bump up in salary.
A smaller team (just the three of us, including me).
I struggled with whether or not to take the job. The timing felt wrong.
But I’ve always wanted to learn other programming languages.
I have worked as a data analyst using Statistical Analysis Software (SAS), Microsoft Excel, and Access for nearly 10 years.
And felt like I needed a change of pace. I wasn’t happy with the way the work was being managed at the old job and the lack of flexibility in the work schedule. For instance being given remote access (the ability to work from home) , but only supplement the 40-hour work week, not work a day from home.
This was a big deal, because I wanted to go back to school.
Wanted and needed.
Want because I desired the 2-year degree I started over 5 years ago.
Needed, because I was half way through the 60 credit hour program and paying $300 a month in Student Loan Debt with no degree to show for it.
The bump in salary would also help with that and the $400 a month electric bill I’d been paying for over a year to help out my younger sister.
I was really unsure about the new job.
Bottom line. I don’t like a lot of change. I have a tendency to make mistakes when faced with a lot of change in such a short amount of time.
A friend of mine who reads Tarot cards actually said she didn’t see it in my future and warned against it.
So I entered the interview with a luke warm feeling. Part of me hoped I wouldn’t get the job so I wouldn’t have to make the choice.
But I was offered the job in mid June. And at the time frustrations with the current job convinced me that I needed a change.
And so I accepted the position and started the new job in mid July.
From the start, I felt out of my depth.
The familiar process of routine data analysis projects and reports done in my old trusty SAS Enterprise Guide (a windows-based) environment was replaced with a Unix-based terminal window process geared towards monitoring availability of the same data I was so accustomed to using.
I didn’t really like working in Unix, but hey I’m a big boy. And I know part of being an adult is doing things we don’t like to do. Also, the monitoring process seemed to be a small part of what the 3-man unit was responsible for.
To top things off, I soon discovered that only one of the two analysts I was working with was proficient in any of the languages I was trying to learn.
So that began the fickle path of bouncing from one language/discipline to another as I tried to learn to navigate in the Eclipse Development Environment. Another new thing for me.
The lead analyst provided no training to help with the later and originally wanted me to learn via several books he provided in the various languages.
He sent the other team member and me a torrent of emails, including links to websites, books, and tutorials. Most of which were way over my head. My team mate was often equally perplexed. Though his duties absolved him from the training.
I was forced to use a book to try to learn XSLT, a subset of XML when I’d never even used XML let alone had any grasp of the essentials. And when I voiced me distress over this, my concerns were dismissed. And I was accused of “giving up too quickly”.
Lynda.com was a lifesaver and provided structured classes that made me feel like I was learning by providing a familiar learning environment that served up the training in increments. I got the feeling the lead analyst begrudgingly allowed this, as I did appear to be learning. I shared my examples in Eclipse and began creating detailed notes in the form of PDFs.
Right away I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information being thrown at me (often with little or no context) on top of taking two or three courses at once . And I was expected to reply to the emails he sent with some feedback that denoted my understanding…
If I didn’t respond or indicated I didn’t get it (which was more often than not) the lead analyst would come to my desk and drill me. Asking questions that I sincerely hope were meant to guide me to make connections he wanted and yield the much heralded “ah-ha!” moment.
Well, after hours of being verbally poked, prodded, coaxed, and probed, I usually made the connections to his satisfaction. But at the cost of sanity and ego. Sometimes he’d stand over me as I read excerpts from the books be provided with no clue how it fit into the what I was learning. I’d be working on one discipline only to have him interupt me to do whatever tickled his fancy that day.
It all seemed overwhelming. I usually ended those sessions feeling emotionally battered and exhausted.
But, I gritted my teeth and bore it. Thinking of the knowledge I’d attain and that eventually it would get better. It did feel great when I made progress in the Lynda.com classes. They were a beacon of light in what was for me an uncertain and tumultuous sea.
The lead analyst was off a week, leaving my co-worker and I to deal with issues that cropped up with the monitoring process. I put my training on hold to assist where I could. Though I often wound up shadowing my more experienced co worker. And not feeling very productive.
He’d often preempt my programming training to come look at monitoring issue, that he’d show me on his screen. Usually I Wound up asking him to document it and send it to me. As there was no way I could document an issue displayed on his PC; short of taking his seat, opening up a Word Document, and making screen prints myself.
Plus, he’s the subject matter expert. It really made more sense for him to document the issue than for me to try sans the screen prints and based on dictation.
Alas, I felt I had settled into a comfortable enough routine to go back to school. The loan periods were right and I felt like I could manage work and school. I often worked from home and the team seemed supportive and to encourage my pursuing a degree. Particularly one in programming.
Notably, the curriculum included all the programming languages I was being trained in at work. I sent my course schedule to the team, thinking that I’d be allowed to focus more time on schoolwork.
The first week back at school was stellar and I felt really good! I managed to get all my assignments turned in on time and did great!
Admittedly, the second week, I slacked off. I was taking a single online course and only had two assignments due that week.
Thursday and Sunday, to be precise, giving me ample time to work on them Wednesday when I usually work from home.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and this man were totally destroyed when the lead analyst decided out of the blue (Yep! With no warning!) to spend three hours guiding (*drilling) me through my first Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) tutorial.
SVG was not even on my todo list. Nor had it been a part of any prior discussions.
While the face-to-face sessions I had with the lead analyst were often grueling, the ones via Instant Messenger were a little slice of pure emotional Hell. If I took too long (more than a few seconds) to answer his pop-quiz style questions he’d throw up a question mark or ask if I was still there or stuck. As a result I felt rushed and stressed out throughout the conversation. To add to the already massive stress factor, I had no clue what he was talking about 99.99% of the time as it was truly my first glimpse of SVG.
I often felt like there was an expectation that I pick things up or figure things out (extrapolate) based on the drills.
To make a three hour long story short, I got offline that afternoon feeling emotionally drained and exhausted. I thanked him sincerely for his time and patience and literally crawled into bed and fell asleep feeling like an idiot. Like I’d somehow let him down for not having a clue.
“Thank you, sir. May I have another?”
I spent the next day (Thursday) reviewing the IM conversation and creating detailed notes in a PDF format.
And as I did so, I had an epiphany.
After four hours of rummaging through the deluge of recriminations, wrong paths, and wronger answers to unfair questions, I realized the same thing might have been accomplished if the lead analyst had simply created a working example, reviewed it with me or God forbid created notes detailing the process and given me an exercise that paralleled the example (hopefully leaving me to my own devices).
Friday was even worse.
Four and a half hours online ending in more confusion which apexed with my being grilled (*reamed) by he-who-must-not-be-named for not recalling vector graph references in the Algebra I hadn’t used in 20 years.
I felt two inches small.
I was also beginning to get quite pissed. I felt suddenly overwhelmed. My job has always been a kind of distraction from an often unpleasant family situation. I felt safe and secure in my work.
Now, it was another stressor.
Full of unknowns and even more worries than a poor family with few prospects that seemed to depend on me for Financial and Moral support.
I had an errand to run to my sister’s house that day, dropping off my niece’s replacement phone (the original having been stolen at a soccer game). I was so caught up in my own angst that I didn’t realize my little sister was in her own special brand of hell.
As I mentioned earlier, I had been paying her utility bill to the tune of $400 a month. The previous month I paid the bill (on the heels of $400 Student loan payment) and told her to make preparations to get the next month’s bill paid as I would only have money the end of next month and not in time for the due date. A month was plenty of time for her to go to an Agency or Charity for assistance as she had in the past.
But in classic form, she didn’t do this and instead called my mom and I in a panic the day the $517 bill was due (a Monday), crying bloody murder.
Long story…a little shorter, my mom loaned her $400, which she claimed was needed to avoid a disconnect, with my agreeing to reimburse mom the next pay period (Friday the same week). But according to my sister, when she went to pay it, she was told the full $517 was due. And so a family friend wrote a check for the full amount in exchange for the $400.
Shortly before dropping off the replacement phone, I talked with my sister and reiterated very coldly that I was equally sick and tired of family and work. And could not continue to support her this way in 2014.
This was not new.
I’d told her this in October 2012; that 2013 would be the last year I was helping her on a monthly basis. And I’d periodically remind her of this. Hoping she’d take steps to get her Social Security Disability (another story for another day) application filed. Previously, I connected her with disability attorney’s at a local law firm. They told her to file a claim, but two weeks later, she hadn’t.
Well, my mom was the one who told me the electricity had been turned off in my sister’s house because the check the not-so-good Samaritan had written bounced.
I was shocked and really overwhelmed that after all the crap my sister had been through, she would trust anyone with something obviously so important.
I had to catch a cab to my sister’s house and back on top of the $199 deductible the new phone would cost, because it was the second claim I’d submitted on my niece’s phone in less than six months.
I went to drop off the phone, angered that my sister let this happen and yet slowly coming out of my own emotional cocoon to realize she was in some real pain.
She greeted me at the door of the dark little hovel looking more dour and broken than I’d ever seen her. I gave her the phone and asked if she was alright.
She managed a smile that conjured memories of the little girl in pigtails I use to push in swings at the park.
I knew something was wrong, but the cab’s meter was running and money–as always-was very tight. So I left her…
The cab was blocks away from my apartment when I recieved my sister’s text message, apologizing for being such a burden and thanking me for helping her. It was a goodbye in every sense of the word.
I had the driver go back and I called 911.
Thankfully the door wasn’t locked.
I found my sister sitting on her bed in the dark staring into nothing. She was alone in the apartment; my niece and two nephews were at a neighborhood park and their friends houses. Two bottles of sleeping and pain pills sat untouched on the bed.
I held her while she cried.
I cried with her.
She said she just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.
And I felt ashamed because it was a thought I had had on many occasions. And quite a few times in the wake of those training sessions with he-who-must-not-be-named.
Depression is as much a part of my family as I am. But what right did I have to even think of such a thing when I was healthy, had a good job, and a shiny new apartment, which my sister helped me move into?
The Police arrived shortly thereafter and took my sister to a psychiatric facility.
Thankfully, the boys came home just after the police car pulled off with their mother, as I had no clue which houses they were in.
I called my mom and the aunts; the few family members who might be able to help. I had no clue what else to do. My thoughts went to the kids. Who could care for them?
Together, the three of us–my nephews and I–walked through what I slowly realized was a bad neighborhood to get my niece from the park, which turned out to be much further away than previous conversations with my mom and sister led me to believe.
My aunt, my mom’s youngest sister called saying her and my uncle were on their way to pick us up.
I got my niece from the park passing several questionable individuals along the way. Clarifying just how tinted the rose colored glasses my sister must have been looking through when she described it as a “nice neighborhood”.
Another shock for me.
I accompanied the kids to my mom’s house with my aunt and uncle. And managed to maintain a smile and conjure the lie that their mother had to go back in the hospital due to complications from the surgery she’d had two weeks prior. Which ironically wasn’t too far from the truth.
It turns out the pain meds from the surgery may have interacted with the meds she’d been taking for the Bipolar Disorder. And confined with depression and events…
I came back home that night and thought about the little girl in pigtails I use to push in the swing.
Sitting in the darkness staring at those pills.
And I felt ashamed for my own despair.
I stared at the pieces of the chest of drawer and told myself I’d get to it tomorrow. I needed to rest. I needed a long hard cry.
I felt guilty for speaking so harshly to my sister; for being so wrapped up in a once golden job that was slowly turning to brass before my eyes.
I tried to do the late assignment and the one due Sunday with no success.
I found myself stepping over the pieces of the chest-of-drawers; shifting between sadness and an odd detachment. I had little motivation to do anything.
I did pay the current utility bill, maxxing out the last of the four unmaxed credit cards.
So the electricity was turned back on.
I didn’t eat much Saturday. I’d promised to bring the kids pizza and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer DVDs, but by the time I managed to get out of the house with the pizza and DVDs (late that afternoon), their grand father (my sister’s dad) had picked them up.
I visited with my mother, ate a few slices of pizza and talked about the current state of affairs.
I told her about the trouble at work with the new training regimen. And the financial woes in the death of the last bit of tangible credit had and any semblance of budget.
That was when I began to realize that the responsibility I avoided in white knuckled terror was staring me in the eye in the form of that little girl in pigtails I use to push in the swing. And her three kids.
I lead a simple solitary life.
I live alone.
I don’t date.
I don’t have any true friends beyond a few colleagues at work that I occasionally
I’ve convenienced my life to the point that I don’t do stress weII. Or perhaps because I know my limits.
Suddenly, I realized that my sister and her family was depending on me. And I felt overwhelmed. In a lot of ways I think my sister and I traded emotional places.
I met with her counselors and she was home the following Wednesday with a batch of new prescriptions and renewed hope that I’d continue to help her financially.
I convinced the lead analyst to forego training on Wednesday and Friday.
But things only got worse.
Well…”you know nothing John Snow.”
Each day I came away feeling less and less capable, less worthwhile, and less sure of myself. I began to dread work and avoid the lead analyst.
And when I voiced my apprehension to him, asking he structure the lessons and cut them up in smaller segments, he completely dismissed my points. Saying I was: “focusing on the wrong things”.
I felt small, insignificant, and not valued.
But more than that, I felt powerless.
I’d fallen further behind in school.
Felt useless at work.
My finances were none existent.