About Paula Kiger

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Sandwiches for Superheroes

This post is made possible by support from Reward Volunteers. All opinions are my own.

During our family’s recent journey with my father-in-law through the hospice process and his eventual passing away from terminal throat cancer, the life season demanded a focus almost exclusively on him: his medical needs and his emotional navigation of death and dying as our house started to look like a durable medical equipment supply store.

Not that I approached it from a “what about me?” perspective but I was taken aback, heartened, and SHOCKED on the rare occasions when someone would say “What about you? How are you doing?” One steadfast hospice volunteer, who came to sit with Dad weekly, always said, “You know I am here for you as much as for him” (at which point I would immediately escape to the bedroom for a nap).

Similar to the way our family members’ less immediate needs got overlooked during Dad’s illness, siblings of kids dealing with life-threatening illnesses and intensive special needs often inadvertently get pushed to the back burner of life. As a family tries to cope logistically and emotionally with keeping the ill child alive, moments small and big (a third-grade holiday play, a need to say, “Mom, Lindsey was mean to me today on the playground”) get lost in the cacophony.

These kids are as heroic as their siblings who are fighting a more visible battle.

What did approximately a thousand peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares have to do with a filling the gaps in the lives of sibling superheroes?

Reward VolunteersThe morning of February 5, 2017, dawned chilly and clear, exactly the kind of weather marathon runners crave.

But I wasn’t there to run (and technically arrived long before the sun). I was there to help fortify the runners of the Tallahassee Marathon and Half Marathon.

Reflecting on my food-prep team’s work that day, making more peanut butter and jelly quarters than we could possibly count, I am reminded that race-day volunteers may not cover 26.2 physical miles and there aren’t any medals, but it still is an accomplishment of its own kind. Like the participants in all the various projects represented over at Reward Volunteers, we are able to share in dividends like these:

We get to support others who are working toward their goals.

Marathoners train for months leading up to the race, battling self-doubt and pushing their bodies to do things they aren’t sure they can do. When you’re one of the first people they see after crossing that finish line, and you’re able to help them refill their physical tanks after using up all their inner stores, it’s an important role.

We get to meet new people.

I had a crackerjack team of fellow sandwich-makers that morning, many of whom I had never met before and wouldn’t have met had we not found ourselves elbow deep in peanut butter on a frigid Sunday morning. It was a way to establish some new bonds with fellow Tallahassee community members.

We get to be part of a community.

This one is a bit hard for me. I was already a member of the running community, because I was a runner for years. But a cardiac issue has curtailed my running; this is disappointing since most of my social network was composed of runners and Saturdays usually were kicked off by a joint run followed up with brunch. Making these sandwiches, supporting other runners, was a way to still be a part of it all.

Some details in life are critical yet unheralded. Runners who don’t have access to nutrition right after a race have a physical problem (because they desperately need to replace burned calories). If no one secured the food donations, planned out the post-race celebration area, opened the bread, spread the peanut butter and jelly, cut the sandwiches, and made them easy to access, the post-race celebration would be dampened as hangry runners tried to cope.

Proceeds from this marathon supported the Hang Tough Foundation, which has a mission of helping siblings of sick kids enjoy the freedom of childhood at a time when their parents’ attention is diverted.

With every peanut butter and jelly sandwich I made, I knew eventually a kid would be shown by Hang Tough “this is for you too.”

More About the Reward Volunteers Program

In case the Reward Volunteers Program is new to you, here are some of the basics:

  • It’s a site that allows you to log your volunteer hours and keep a record of all the good you’re putting into the world.
  • By logging your hours, you (or your organization) can win prizes.
  • Reward Volunteers also provides information about volunteering opportunities in your area.
  • Organizations also benefit when they register to be a Reward Volunteers organization and their volunteers log their hours.

For more information, click here (or let me know your questions and I’ll get you some answers!).

Grab Bag!

As I compose this blog, our nation is transfixed by the crisis occurring in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalist domestic terrorists were protesting; lives were lost, people were injured, and divisions among people in our nation seem (to me) to have only widened.

Wiser and more prominent voices have addressed these events better than I could (but I still have something to say at the end of this post).

In the meantime, I have had several experiences this week — opportunities to pay some social media love forward and opportunities to benefit from people’s generosity (such as the thread Berrak created in LinkedIn for those of us looking for jobs) — and want to share those with you. I call it the “grab bag.”

Online Connections

A vendor who deserves some attention

My sweet and incredible friend Rachel asked us to follow her brother-in-law, Jordan (a/k/a watwoodshop), on Instagram. He makes beautiful cutting boards like this one. According to his Instagram profile, they are $40 and you order by DMing him on Instagram.

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: Follow Jordan’s WatWoodShop on Instagram by clicking here.

A REALLY cute dog who needs followers

I have helped promote Melissa Lamson’s work for the past few years through my responsibilities with Weaving Influence. We were talking the other day about her irresistibly adorable French bulldog, Rocky (bluefrenchierocky), and how Rocky needs more followers on Instagram (okay, to be specific, she wants Rocky to have more followers on Instagram. It’s almost as though she speaks for him!). Here he is:

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: Follow Rocky on Instagram by clicking here.

A fun local Twitter account that issued a challenge

I am admittedly more of a wine person than a beer person BUT I am a sucker for people who love with they do and enjoy making our community a more fun place. As soon as TLHBeerSociety reached 300 followers and challenged the Twitterverse to help get them to 400, I was in!

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: Follow TLH Beer Society on Twitter by clicking here.

An opportunity to commit an act of kindness and help the You Matter Marathon

The You Matter Marathon, where participants share a “you matter” card each day in November, is entering its second year (here’s a look back at last year). The You Matter Marathon has big plans to distribute a million “you matter” cards in November 2017.

The YMM is one of the causes being featured by the Kind Foundation this month. If it earn the most “votes” (votes are generated by people doing acts of kindness), it will be rewarded with $10,000! (printing and postage add up when the goal is a million cards.)

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: Do an act of kindness and help the You Matter Marathon earn a vote; click here for details.

An opportunity to support a worthy candidate for political office

My incredible friend Nicolette is running for Orange County Commission District 4. It’s a non-partisan seat. She’s running (in my opinion) for all the right reasons, but a campaign for public office is neither low-stress nor low-budget.

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: If you live in Nicolette’s district (Orange County District 4), vote for her (or at least vote). Whether or not you live in the district, use this link to donate if you are so inclined. (AND, if you are local to me in Tallahassee, support the Women Can Run event — I know they would appreciate scholarship donations too.)

I know some MidLifers Who Need Millennials and Vice Versa

I am excited to be participating in the Bridging the Gap campaign this fall; the campaign pairs Midlife women with Millennial women in an effort to “bring the ‘over the hill’ wall down.” Each partner will do a blog post featuring the other. I have a feeling lots of new friendships will be forged!

Online Connections

Here’s what to do: I am in preliminary discussions with two millennial bloggers to be my partner, but I am not positive either will pan out. If you are a millennial blogger (you have to have a blog and a public Instagram account) interested in participating, let me know! (Even if I have a partner already, I am happy to try to introduce you to a midlife blogger in search of a partner.)

My Personal Requests

Although I always say I blog to flex my writing muscle, I’d be lying if I said comments don’t matter! I was so fascinated by the story of Moss H. Kendrix, who I blogged about recently, and would love to get a few more eyes on it (and comments!). Here’s the link.

I am also still searching for additional part-time work (from 1:00 until (?) every day). It might be virtual, it might be somewhere in Tallahasssee. It might be writing/editing, it might be something completely different (I love providing stellar customer service). If you have any leads, send them my way! (And thank you to those who already have.) Here’s a link with more info.

What’s In It For You?

My main hope is that some deserving people (and dogs!) get followed, some worthy causes supported. To up the ante on that, I’ll treat one of you to coffee at Starbucks (via a $5 gift code)! Honor system — you don’t have to tell me who/what you supported, just that you did. You can also earn an entry by leaving a comment with your recommendation for who/what my readers and I should follow/support.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Back to Charlottesville, Unfortunately

I do believe that there are voices more wise and prominent than mine, as I said in this post’s introduction, BUT here’s what I want to say:

White privilege and racism are real and alive in our country today. I’ve written about white privilege here and how my views about how #BlackLivesMatter evolved here.

As I said on my Facebook wall earlier (slightly modified here), the actions we can take in response to racism are myriad. Some of them DO involve public statements, speeches, blogs, and overtures. Others involve much more tiny, yet influential, choices: speaking up when you’re in a conversation and someone says something that denigrates another race/gender/status, giving $5 or 5 minutes to a cause (such as Being Black at School or Equality Florida) that helps support the very difficult work of overcoming racism (and yes, dismantling the inequities that white privilege has created).

Let’s not leave our fellow human beings holding the bag on this.

Online Connections

Five Minute Friday: PLACE

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” Today’s prompt: PLACE .

Five Minute Friday

When I first started thinking through the prompt “place,” I began feeling sad about all of the wonderful places I haven’t been to recently. Of the fact that our limitations right now (budget, time) are going to keep us close to home.

I thought about the fact that I couldn’t say the last time I dipped my toes in the ocean, about the fact that I may not make it to my “happy place,” New York City, in 2017.

I said to myself, “gosh, you haven’t been anywhere beautiful.”

That’s not a pitiful intention —- but I love traveling and it fortifies me, thoroughly.

My husband and I did spend Sunday afternoon, however, at the coast (about a half hour south of Tallahassee). It was so short it was more of a tease but …. It WAS beautiful. Nature, sunshine, water, reeds, animals. Peace (and the yummy food was a plus too!).

I’m struggling, too, though with a deeper need for place. As I search for another part time  job, the first one that would be out of my house, I can barely visualize not being at my dining room table, at the laptop. Honestly, WHAT WOULD I WEAR? More to the point, how would I fit in? It’s easy to get used to talking mostly through my keyboard rather than to people, face-to-face. Conversely, I do miss the day-to-day of office life (even though it had its decided down points!!).

Place is elusive; staying centered calls on us to be confident and grounded.

I wonder where my kids will find their places as life goes on, especially with my daughter graduating from college next year.

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday linkup.

6 Ways Our Marriage Resembles a Tree

Twenty-five years ago (8/8/92), I stood on the Brooklyn Promenade and said “I do” to Wayne.

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Intrigued by the SITS Girls prompt, “If you were to describe yourself as a tree, what kind of tree would you be?,” some arborial thoughts on our 25-year old marriage.

We aren’t a “flashy” tree like the Hawaiian Rainbow Shower (Cassia) tree, known for its eye-catching blooms, its frequent changes in appearance, or its notoriety.

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Source: Flickr

Instead, I like to think we have these qualities in common with other trees:

Longevity

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Source: Flickr

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are the longest-living trees known to man. According to the National Wildlife Federation, they grow straight at low elevations, “but at high elevations, the trunks become twisted.”

Same after 25 years of marriage. Growth gets a little less straightforward as the years go by.

Faithfulness

I read that elm trees represent “dignity and faithfulness.” This elm tree in Oklahoma City, the “Survivor Tree,” survived the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and became an important part of the memorial.

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Source: Flickr

My daughter visited the Oklahoma City memorial earlier this summer and, comparing it to the 9/11 Memorial, said “it was so different in comparison, a place of looking forward.” We both place a high premium on being faithful to each other; it matters and I believe it will continue to make difference “looking forward.”.

Fruitful

Our biggest blessings are our children, Tenley and Wayne Kevin, so a tree that bears fruit is in order. And we’re Floridians, so let’s go with “orange.”

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Source: Pixabay

Extending Open Arms

Even though I don’t consider us, as a couple, all that public or outgoing, we have made it a priority to deepen family ties. Ready for a tree pun? This involves, um, “branching out.” I love this beautiful live oak tree here in Tallahassee at Lichgate.

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Credit: VelvetteGypsy on Pixdaus

From trying to make every get-together, and Wayne’s incredible cooking for those get-togethers, to the last three years taking care of Dad, reaching out has been an important part of our marriage.

Deep Roots

Deep roots are essential to a good marriage. I couldn’t find a great example of one type of tree that has the deepest roots in the world. Rather, I found this blog post explaining that strong root systems need water, oxygen, and space. In other words, it’s not necessarily the kind of tree you plant but how you treat it that makes a difference.

Determination also matters, as Nietzsche points out:

Wedding Anniversary TreeNietzsche was right, as was the blogger who emphasized the fact that you have to always be vigilant to create the right conditions.  

Strength

Smithsonian Magazine says this about the Baobab tree: “Its bark is fire resistant. Its fruit is edible. It scoffs at the driest droughts. It shrugs, and another decade has passed.” Sounds about right for 25 years of marriage!

Wedding Anniversary Tree

Source: Pixabay

It may not be the prettiest tree on the planet but it is still there, while others have come and gone.

Twenty-Five Years Later

My favorite marriage quote came from Ann Landers:

Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.

 

Now we are caught up in celebrating the new marriages of relatives who were babies (or not born yet) in August of 1992, like my niece Olivia, who will be getting married in September (this is us at a recent party for her and her fiance, John Landon).

Wedding Anniversary Tree

My wish for all these new marriages is longevity, faithfulness, fruitfulness, open arms, deep roots, and strength.

And for our marriage, 25 years in, a happy anniversary to us!

Five Minute Friday: Try

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” Today’s prompt: TRY.

Five Minute Friday

Even though it may violate the FMF principles just a tiny bit, when I read my friend Mark’s phrase: “You can’t walk ten miles into the forest and expect to get out in five” earlier this week in a piece about his addiction, I knew I had to try to make it a part of my Five Minute Friday piece.

“Trying” makes me think of the first therapist I had (I was in college). Her main takeaway about the way I told my story was, “you make everything sound so hard.” I have always, since then, wondered if I am overcomplicating things.

Another therapist I had in my 20s told me to think like Yoda (I may be messing this up a bit): “There is no ‘try,’ there is only ‘do.’”

As we struggle to find a way for me to shore up my income now that Dad is gone, I am struggling, trying to find a way to share my gifts that simultaneously provides for my family.

I wonder what Yoda would say. Well, okay, I know – DO. Don’t just try.

I’m ten miles into the forest of debt and I’m not going to get out in five.

Writing is so integral to who I am, I think part of the key lies in using my writing in whatever job I take on, whatever new responsibility.

I wish I could think of something Yoda-ish to close out this five minutes with, but I’m drawing a blank.

Maybe: “Write I will”?

I know I process the hardest things through writing about them. Maybe that is why this time has presented itself, with these challenges.

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday linkup.

Next Steps: My Job Hunt

Now that my father-in-law has passed away, it’s time to reshuffle the career/life deck of cards. While he was with us, I had to be home, and that requirement limited my vocational options.

Writing this blog is my way of forcing myself to put some of the building blocks in place (resume updated? check!) and organize my thoughts (while simultaneously asking for help/ideas/support).

First Steps

I am transitioning out of my freelance commitments at Weaving Influence and the Lead Change Group. I started working there in October 2014 (although I had been a friend of the organization before that), and am abundantly grateful for what I have gained from WI and LCG. It has definitely been more than a paycheck.

I updated my resume (here it is!).

I added a passage to my LinkedIn profile, detailing the demands of being a caregiver. I don’t know why this seems like such a renegade thing to do because it was most definitely “real” work but the management skills, empathy, and paraprofessional medical capabilities needed to shepherd someone through mini-strokes, dental crises and two recurrences of cancer have to count for something.

Options

There are several options as I see it now, some more realistic than others.

Add A Second Part-Time Job (virtual or brick and mortar)

Now that Dad is gone, so is the restriction that I be at home. For that reason, my “Plan A” is to keep my part time position with a B2B newsletter, which takes from roughly 6:45 am – 12:15 pm every day, and add “something else” to the mix.

Maybe that “something else” will be, for example, something out of the house from 2-6 pm.

Maybe it will be something virtual (I have feelers out for that).

There are pros and cons to both. I love working from home and honestly wouldn’t mind working from home, 100%. However, I also realize there may be some value for me, growth-wise and spirit-wise, to interact more directly with human beings in person more than I do now.

(Note: I know I have left out the option of “one full time job.” Time will tell and obviously that’s not ruled out, but I love my current B2B newsletter job and am not ready to give it up barring the most amazing offer/opportunity ever.)

Write a Book

On the one hand, I feel that writing a book is one of those things that you should only do because you have to, not to make money or meet some other perceived external need.

On the other hand, I work with many authors though Weaving Influence, and I often find myself saying, “I wish I had my own book to promote.”

I have set aside my idea of writing about Camp Gordon Johnston (for now). I am toying with the idea of writing about caregiving, but want to do that while the memories are fresh. I also have an edge idea of a picture-book type thing (comedy) related to elder care.

Hmmm.

Be an Elder Care Sherpa

This is the one that, if I had a little more courage, surplus organizational skills, and enough income to build it as a practice, would, in my opinion, eliminate (or reduce) the types of frustrations we had as caregivers, for an easy-to-navigate resource directory, for advocacy with physicians/dentists/other providers, for assistance centralizing all of the pieces of information we were invariably hunting for, for helping cut through the conflicting pieces of information we received. The key to being a kick-a** elder care sherpa (in addition to the courage and organizational skills) would be a true heart for eldercare (especially the element of serving the families doing the eldercare) with the counteracting asset of not being personally emotionally invested in each elder’s life.

The challenge of being a loving family member, marginally equipped to handle all of the onslaught of needs/requests/demands while also working to make a living, is daunting. An eldercare sherpa could help streamline the demands, in a caring yet businesslike way, while *possibly* helping that family find a little more peace of mind (and get a little more sleep every night).

Strengths and Weaknesses

As I cast my net to seek new opportunities, and in the event you’re reading this and are aware of something, here are my top three (self-perceived) strengths (and a bit about weaknesses):

A love of writing, decent writing skills, and an intent to always improve

The ability to apply social media skills to helping people extend their messages and refine their presence online

Being capable of “connecting dots” and helping find unlikely intersections between people/entities that help both be better

As far as weaknesses, I guess the upside of my weaknesses is that I have pretty transparently written about them here, here and here. (TL:DR – taming the confidence monster.)

I know I have a tendency to focus on a single pine needle to the point that I may not realize the entire forest is on fire, but attention to detail is not always a big thing (unless the forest is on fire).

Why Change Matters Now

There’s a very practical reason I need to change now. With Wayne’s dad gone, I need to redouble my efforts to contribute to our family’s bottom line, especially until we can make a change to our housing situation to save money (and that’s going to take time).

While I am very flexible about what I do next, I also agree with my friend Dwayne and what he said in his awesome blog post about finding purpose:

Our souls know what we are meant to do, and will nudge us in that direction when we are heading somewhere else.

I was also talking on Twitter with @lisamunro, who asked via this tweet, “Do you feel that your work is a calling? If so, how do you know? Can we have more than 1?” Her question led me to revisit this tribute post to my friend Jarrod, who passed away at far too young an age. I closed out that post with this quote from Leigh Caraccioli (I would link to Leigh but I can’t find a recent link, sadly):

When you live your passion, there is no line dividing what you do and who you are.
They are one.

 

Besides these two wonderful, inspiring quotes, I won’t add some self-help inspirational offering from Pinterest about how wonderful change is. I know change is a good thing (mostly) but primarily I am torn between a tiny sense of adventure, the fact that I’m still processing the freedom, emotional and physical, that came with dad’s passing, more than a little anxiety, and the hope that I can find someone/someplace where I can make a difference while meeting our family’s financial obligations.

I would love any ideas/networking recommendations you have to give!

Communications Job Search

Five Minute Friday: Inspire

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” Today’s prompt: INSPIRE.

Five Minute Friday

My thoughts on inspiration tonight may be a bit on the “dark” side as opposed to the “shout it from the rooftops, I am so inspired by [identify inspirational person/thing/book/place/moment].”

It’s difficult to write about the specifics without revealing some fairly private musings and identifying the person involved.

There are inspirations in our family. People have overcome physical challenges. People have overcome the loss of siblings who, while not at all forgotten, do inspire us (or I guess I can only speak for me) to be better, to try not to leave important messages unsaid, to know tomorrow is never guaranteed.

There is one thread of inspiration running through our family’s story, and I now see that the way we have framed that may actually put one of the people at the center of the story in the most awkward of positions.

I don’t think that person wants to be the fulcrum on which our balance of inspirational material centers. I don’t know that an apology matters. I think they would understand why we framed things the way we did, why I personally blogged about it the way I did.

But I am left with the reminder that glorifying others, and telling them how inspirational they are, does not always make them feel good. Sometimes it creates more pressure than we intend.

I will think, harder, the next time I single someone out as an example, and try to be more sensitive to the way they process what I think is a positive. They may not want or need the attention. It may have the opposite effect of what I intend.

I do love a good inspirational story though!

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday linkup.

Five Minute Friday: Collect

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” Today’s prompt: COLLECT.

Five Minute Friday

I am tempted to write about another kind of “collect” – emphasis on the first syllable as in the “collect” that is read during a church service, but a different “collect” (emphasis on the second syllable) is in my head.

I went to church with my daughter at her church for the first time Sunday, and when it came time to collect the offering, I found myself inserting my donation into a POPCORN BUCKET. I mean, her church is quite laid back but I didn’t understand at first.

The church is doing a summer series, “Summer at the Movies” and the entire theme is around movies and theatres (hence the signage on the way in, the popcorn being served, and the …… popcorn buckets used to receive offerings).

I love themes.

But I also love the fact that no matter what the outside receptacle, the contributions we choose to make are consistently the same. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the trappings that don’t matter.

When I go to my family reunion Saturday, someone’s baseball cap will be used to collect the money we contribute annually to pay for paper goods. That always makes me smile …. so functional ….. so “family reunion.”

I am so glad I had the opportunity to go to church with my daughter. The theme was “Finding Dory” and (spoiler alert) how, despite being separated, her parents never stopped believing she would find her way back to them.

They worked every day to make sure she had a path back (several paths back) and they, being parents, remained in one place so she wouldn’t get confused.

Don’t we all need a central source of love that always believes we’ll make it back?

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday linkup.

Mental Health Days and Leave Policies: What Works?

I saw a link to She took a day off to focus on mental health. Her CEO’s response has gone viral several times last week before I finally clicked on it. I had suspected, before I read the post, that I would love it. I did love it, but it also raised questions and generated dialogue among my Facebook friends beyond “wow that’s great.”

In summary, when Madalyn Parker advised her co-workers that she would be out of the office, she was transparent about the fact that she hoped the time off would help her cope with depression and return to work more focused and mentally healthy.

In a follow-up post, Parker’s boss, Ben Congleton, said this:

I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health.

Destigmatizing Mental Health

First, I agree with Parker and Congleton that mental health should be treated no differently than a physical ailment such as an infection or broken bone.

This infographic from Deloitte lays it out well:

Workplace Mental Health

My acquaintance Pauline said in a recent post about her mental health diagnoses:

The stigma that came with each diagnosis was reinforced by the fact that pretending everything was okay was the only option.

 

Policies about Leave Time are a Inconsistent and Challenging

While Parker’s specific story resonated with me, a tweet about it on Twitter activated a different personal emotional hot spot. Here’s the tweet:

Workplace Mental Health

It didn’t hit a hot spot because of Cohen’s question/opinion, but it hit a hot spot because I worked for years at a place I loved, but a place which didn’t have separate sick leave vs personal leave for years (a split between the two types of leave was adopted eventually).

I suppose my breakdown of the issues related to how leave policies are defined would be something for a different post (or a human resources professional), but here are the immediate emotions/thoughts it unlocked.

When you have an “all the leave hours in one bucket” policy, you may be more likely to go to work sick because you want to save your leave time for either discretionary activities (like vacations) OR for your children’s illnesses, for maternity leave, or for obligations. An all-in-one policy is also somewhat unfair for people with children (who have to take off for their children’s illnesses), for people who may have more severe health issues who have to use that leave time for medical reasons and don’t get to take as much “fun” time off.

I know the above paragraph may not sound like it’s about mental health, but it certainly was for me. Once I spent all my leave time on maternity leave (the organization subsequently acquired short-term disability policies, which helped some), there was very little time left to take care of me. 

More About Leave Time

It is so easy for us to get in a bubble about the topic of leave. One friend, who works in retail, said this:

I would never think of saying such a thing as that to my boss. At a previous job in retail, I learned that the ever-changing shift work was setting off so many triggers with my condition, I requested and received an ADA compensation that I have regularly set hours. The management were forced to meet the requirement but they gossiped about my diagnosis, and used it against me until the day I left. I can’t take that chance again.

This topic brought up so many other rapidly ricocheting thoughts in my brain.

I thought about all the enrollees’ families (mostly moms, but dads too) I talked to in two decades at Healthy Kids who could. not. leave. their. hourly wage jobs (many in retail, as my friend alludes to above) to take a child to the doctor (even if they had transportation), to take care of their own physical health (much less mental) without risking getting fired.

THEN, my mind went to the people I have met in Central America who would, I am pretty sure, just find it laughable, absolutely not an option, and downright hilarious that we worry about “having time off to center ourselves.” The ability to do something, ANYTHING, to earn enough to feed their family for the day, the walking for hours and having to fend off violence and shakedowns just to get, for example, fish to sell, is such a far cry from the experiences many of us here in America have.

My Personal Experiences

I mentioned above the effects of an all-in-one-bucket leave policy, but I also can truly and honestly say I have never taken a mental health day. That is not necessarily a good thing, but I haven’t.

I think one of the reasons I have never taken a mental health day is the fact that I was afraid I would never go back! Something about forcing myself to go to work, to push through, was a better strategy for ME (not for everyone). I wasn’t sure what a mental health day would do. I think I was afraid a day would turn into a week and I would fall farther down into whatever hole drew me to take one day off in the first place.

The Whole Person Matters

Last week, I wrote about the Ignatian-Jesuit concept of Cura Personalis, or “care for the whole person.” None of us are “just employees.” We bring so much more to work with us (and I must mention that approximately 40% of us are contingent workers, so we have even more vague boundaries than ever before).

If supervisors don’t recognize that mental health is integral to our well-being at work, and if we don’t learn to articulate what we need (and if workplace policies and government regulations don’t provide a safe space to do that), something will be lost.

Hopefully what’s lost won’t be our minds……

Workplace Mental Health

Editor’s Note: I shared this post with Ben Congleton (Madalyn’s boss) and here’s what he said (7/28/17) — I am inspired all over again:

Hi Paula,

Thank you for your kind words, and for continuing the conversation. I’ve been encouraged by the power that a simple act of gratitude has had to create more dialog around mental health in the workplace. It was Madalyn’s courage that made all this impact possible. I’ve been inspired by so many positive responses and I know there is more to do. I hope that my actions inspired more leaders to realize the impact they can have in their organizations. 

I see a future where talking about mental health will be as easy and as normal as talking about the flu.

Be human,
Ben