Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.

Parenting fails

Today I had the most surreal human resources experience of my entire career.

Backstory is simple – an associate at the firm has been having escalating interpersonal issues with other staff members and increasingly clients. Despite numerous conversations, significant amounts of coaching, disciplinary write-ups, and actual one-on-one mentoring with me, her professional behavior continued to deteriorate. After a 2 week paid vacation at the partners’ request, she returned on Monday and within hours of being back in the office she was again having angry confrontations and displays of temper with other staffers, most of whom are higher up on the organization chart. A direct conflict with me on Monday brought out the sterner, I-am-your-superior tone and demeanor, which completely sailed over her head and she trudged on in trying to argue with me, over professional courtesy and somehow made me feel as if I could be more productive being the yard supervisor at the nearest school yard. I finally warned her that I was about to fire her ass for insubordination, and she tried to argue with me about that. Shutting her up came down to squaring off with her, practically nose-to-nose, and suggesting she keep talking if she wanted to really see what I am capable of doing to her professional career. Wisely she turned and stomped off.

I gave up. I emailed the partners a brief report on the day’s events and stated my opinion we could either have rebellion with the rest of the staff (myself included) or we could terminate our employment relationship. I was to be back in the office Wednesday and we could discuss it further at that time. Get out the forks – I was so done.

This morning I was getting texts before 8 a.m. about her having temper tantrums and ransacking offices and desktops for files she wanted to review for the case she had been assigned. Not asking for the files, merely marching into offices, demanding them, and then starting to look through piles on desks when the other person did not jump quickly enough. Shortly thereafter my boss was on the phone with me asking if I could calculate a final paycheck, PTO payout, and the insurance COBRA information for her benefits. If at all possible, could I also come in and be present for the conversation? Things were falling into such disarray so quickly I agreed.

I got to the office around 1 p.m. and our meeting was scheduled for 1:30. At 1:15 she returned from lunch … with her parents in tow. She knew or at least strongly suspected what was coming and insisted her parents be present for the final conversation. The partners held firm and said her parents be confined to the reception area and she refused the meeting without them present. I asked the receptionist to please adjourn to the copy/work room, because I thought we were going to have to fire her right there in the lobby, but the managing partner related and  we moved into the conference room, parents included, where he and her supervising partner explained the firm was terminating the employment relationship, and I explained the terms of her final paycheck and severance (paid through May 31), her insurance benefits, and requested any/all final expenses by the end of the week. The investigator we use was also in to the office specifically to escort her to her desk to remove her personal items and escort her from the building. Her email and all electronic access had already been disabled.

Her parents did interrupt several times during the meeting, trying to plead their daughter’s case – she’s so brilliant, she’s so talented, she’s special and unique and is entitled to allowances for her delicate temperament. Yep, they actually used those specific words, although the quote may be inaccurate. The partners present were kind and firm about it – this was a conversation between an employer and an employee, of which they were neither, and it was only courtesy and expediency that they were allowed to be present.

She lashed out, but we remained calm in light of her outbursts. She insisted that her parents must accompany her to her desk, and we refused. Finally she went with our investigator, I stayed at the reception desk, and the partners went to their offices to get back to work. She wanted to talk to other staff members working in their cubes and offices, which our investigator did not allow, and it was a very tense 45 minutes before she and her folks finally left.

We are all very busy right now, and that hour is something none of us can get back. But I am so glad she is no longer our problem. Her parents tried to talk to me about the situation, explain or plead her case further in hopes of some reprieve, and I had to be very firm in repeating myself that I could not, would not discuss this with them. It was a very awkward wait for her to finish gathering her stuff. What do you talk about with parental units who insist upon accompanying their child to her firing/exit conference? If you’re me you smile vacuously, repeat that you cannot discuss this matter with them, and pray she hurries up and gets out of your life.

This young woman is very bright, possibly even brilliant. But the symbiotic relationship with her parents does her no favors. That said, it was not my place to counsel or discuss their responsibility in their daughter’s irresponsible and erratic behaviors. But dang, in my head I could not help comparing my own pretty normal kids with these people and their fucked-up parenting style.

I have young adult children. I know quite a few fully functional, independent 20-somethings. I am not someone who makes broad-brush generalizations about entire generations, but this was helicopter parenting on steroids.

Knowing my former associate as well as I do now, I know she is particularly high strung and overly sensitive and suspect she will struggle to some greater or lesser degree in most firms. Because ours is a pretty chill and supportive firm as far as lawyers go, and I have worked with several through the years. The fact that the most gentle of constructive critique unnerved her so completely speaks volumes. Her parents and their overprotective enabling do her zero favors.

The office was a quiet, sober place after the drama concluded. The managing partner emailed everyone that she was no longer associated with the firm and thanked the staff for their patience through resolution of this unfortunate situation and expressed hope to hire another couple of associates over the course of the upcoming several weeks. I think I heard a collective sigh of relief before I left to return to my other work.

Frankly I’m relieved as well. Only now after ties have been completely cut do I recognize how much a drain on my time and energy she has been.