I’m going to say something that may come across as somewhat controversial. But I hope you’ll stick with me…
The last few years have been pretty rough, right? I mean, I remember this time last year thinking I wasn’t ready for 2022 because I still hadn’t recovered from the trauma of 2020. And now, here we are, mere hours away from 2023. In fact, as I write these words, it’s already 2023 in a number of time zones on the other side of the world.
I don’t intend to make light of the fact that the last few years have been difficult. Whether people want to believe it exists or not, COVID certainly had a profound effect on all of us. The people of the U.S., and maybe a good portion of Western Civilization, are more divided politically and socially than ever before. We can’t seem to have conversations to figure out how to move forward. We just want to point fingers and blame shift and target others for all of the problems we face because we can’t stand the thought of taking responsibility for ourselves.
I know all that is true and is still happening all around us.
But I have to be honest with you… 2022 has been a pretty freakin’ good year for me. Actually, I think I need to write that again. But this time I want to make it more of a bold headline so that it gets everyone’s attention…
2022 has been a pretty freakin’ good year for me.
There… That’s a little better. Because it’s the kind of thing that I should be willing to shout from the roof of my building after the previous… oh, I don’t know… let’s go with five-ish years.
At the beginning of 2022, I was working a job that was draining my very soul. I hated going to work with every fiber of my being. I was so depressed that even the thought of waking up in the morning and attempting to face the day was nearly paralyzing. I say nearly paralyzing because 99% of the time I managed to do it. I managed to face my day and face my clients and perform the job required of me so I could keep earning a paycheck and keep a roof over my head and food on my plate.
At the end of 2021, I realized that I was finally aging into the health problems that come along with mid-life and genetics. When I was turned away from the Red Cross to donate blood on two separate occasions due to high blood pressure, I decided it was time to see a primary care physician for the first time in my adult life. Sure, I’d been to urgent care and had physical exams here and there, but I had never had a doctor that I could say was my doctor.
That was my first step toward making a better life for myself.
Of course, the way these things work, I wasn’t able to get in to actually see that primary care physician until May. In the meantime, I took my second step toward making a better life for myself… I sought out a therapist.
In February I began meeting with a counselor regularly for the first time since I was in high school. And when I say these counseling sessions were long overdue, I mean they were about 15 years overdue. Sadly, a good bit of my first month in counseling revolved around the stress and displeasure related to my job.
For the record, I want to state that I hated my job. However, that does not mean I hated my employers. At the time, I was working for the finest mental health provider that I have ever worked for in my career in mental health support. The people in that company genuinely care about their employees and would have backed me up based on any decision I made regarding my clients and their well-being, even when it meant putting my well-being first. Because they understood the simple concept that you can’t help others if you aren’t helping yourself.
When I say I hated my job, I mean just that. I was tired… burned out… exhausted from the day to day struggle of dealing with clients with various mental illnesses or disabilities who, judging by all evidence presented, had no desire to better themselves but would rather treat me, their mental health skill builder, as a glorified taxi that got them to appointments and the grocery store. It was a thankless job that became worse when one tried to empathize with one’s clients and take on their burdens on their behalf.
I was at the end of my rope.
Through counseling and discussing my own mental health, I soon discovered that one of the clients on my caseload had to go. This was a particularly difficult client to work with and she was tearing me apart on a daily basis. I had been working with her for nearly a year and had even attempted to read up on her condition so as to educate myself on better ways to communicate and, ultimately, help her live her life and respond in more healthy ways to the people around her. I’d been holding on to this client because, based on the way we got paid, she accounted for most of the work I got done throughout a week. Losing her would almost certainly have meant a pay cut.
Through counseling and discussing my own mental health, I decided I didn’t care about a pay cut anymore. I dropped that client and I stopped dreading my work day. No… that didn’t mean I suddenly loved my job. But it certainly gave me breathing room in my schedule and it felt as if an enormous weight had been taken off my shoulders.
That was the third step toward making a better life for myself…
Once I was finally able to meet with my primary care physician, it was decided that medication for high blood pressure would be the way to go. I joked that I’m finally an old man who has to take medication every day. But it’s one little pill and it’s doing it’s job. My blood pressure has dropped to normal levels. And when they ran all my bloodwork, I was relieved to find that I was overall in a good place, health-wise. Yes, I’m overweight. Yes, I could stand to lose the equivalent of a small human being. But I’m, thankfully, not at immediate risk for anything serious.
Then I took a fourth step toward making a better life for myself…
Counseling alone was not taking care of my depression. Yeah, I got rid of a client that was causing me a world of stress, but that did not seem to make getting motivated to get out of bed in the morning any easier. I reached back out to my PCP and asked about some kind of medication for depression. This wasn’t out of the blue, as we had discussed the possibility during my initial check-up. But at the time of that initial check-up, I was still trying to give counseling a complete chance and did not want to rely on medication. After all, I’d just started blood pressure medicine… Why add to it?
But eventually I decided it was worth trying an anti-depressant, too.
You know what really did it for me this year? What really made 2022 into not just a good year, but a great one? I got a new job.
Back in the summer, I was talking to a friend from college who was sharing all the positive experiences she’d been having with her current employer, where she’d been for a little over a year at the time. She was working under someone that we had both worked for previously when we were all with another company. Apparently, the two of them got to talking and decided they wanted me to come and work with them whenever something opened up.
It wasn’t right away, but eventually something opened up. I submitted my resume. I interviewed. Twice. And, I have to say, I nailed both of those interviews. In fact, I was later told by a number of individuals who were a part of the interview process that, even though they had other people to interview, they were already ready to offer me the job. In due time, they offered me the job. And I accepted it.
And as much as I hated what I was doing for a living in my previous job. As much stress as it put on me day after day… I had a hard time deciding to let it go. Because I was making a decision to leave a job that I had been doing for nearly three years. It was a job that, in spite of my misgivings, I was actually good at. I knew the ins and outs of scheduling with clients and completing my paperwork. And I was about to give it up for a job that I really knew nothing about.
Seriously… In the weeks leading up to my start date and even a month into my new job, if you had asked me what I would be doing, I could not have told you. I’m still not sure I can articulate it properly. I know my job title… but even that wouldn’t tell you what I do for a living.
But I can say this… I love it. I love my job. I love the work that I do. I love the people I work with. I love the company I work for. It’s a completely different culture than anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. When the powers that be say that they want us, the employees, to have a good work/life balance, they mean it. But what they really mean is they want our lives to be the priority over our work. Yeah, the work we do is important and it has to get done, but we’re not, as one of my supervisors likes to put it, performing brain surgery… we’re not saving lives. Work will pile up and we’ll get it done. If it doesn’t happen today, so what? That’s what tomorrow is for.
I mean… that’s not free reign to procrastinate. But it’s also giving us permission to not stress ourselves out over the details.
Y’all… I actually look forward to going into work. I actually feel like I’m making a difference and helping people in real, tangible ways. Do I still struggle to get up some mornings? Of course I do. But I haven’t been terrified about facing my day in months. And that is a very good feeling.
I can’t say what 2023 will bring. But I plan on riding this positive wave coming out of 2022 for as long as I can.