Monday, February 15, 2010

When life gets in the way

I apologize for the occasional and spotty nature of my posts here in 2010. I had a string of professional obligations and deadlines to keep, and then the last couple of weeks were completely dedicated to coping with the illness and finally the euthanasia of my beloved cat of twelve years. It was very hard to watch her go, then let her go, then realize that she's gone when I got home and saw her favorite spot on the sofa was empty, and it takes a lot out of you.

The work world would have you believe that emotions are something that you turn off when you cross the office's threshold and that you just have to push your pain aside when you're at work and fight through it. I think it's fair to say that, while there's an element of truth in this, it's mostly a load of crap. We are who we are all the time, not just at work, and we carry with us at all times the pain and problems of our personal lives. When a loved one, regardless of its species, is ill/dying/deceased, it's impossible to ask someone to simply scrub their souls and psyche of this pain from 8 to 5 and act like nothing's wrong. Something is wrong; deal with it. I told several coworkers about what was going on with my cat, and I received a great deal of sympathy and empathy from them, along with offers to help in any way possible. This in itself was helpful, as I was able to give them plenty of advance warning about the day that my husband and I would take the cat to the vet for her euthanasia--I would not be in that day, and I would not be checking voicemail or email. My colleagues knew what was going on, and they proceeded to help me with tasks that might be affected by that day.

My father died unexpectedly when I was in college, and I managed to continue school without missing a day. However, there were some legal issues surrounding his death, and I knew I might have to be absent from classes at some point in order to go to court. A very kind fellow architecture student and friend of mine wrote a letter for me (and I signed it) that described for my professors my father's death and the legal situations surrounding it, and while I was committed to completing architecture school, I may occasionally need to be absent while I tended to these other issues and that I would do what it took to stay up on my classes and my degree. Upon receiving this letter, my professors were extremely kind and responsive, willing to work with me if something came up. Fortunately, I never had to go to court, but it was good to know that I wasn't going to be punished grade-wise for handling my life.

This same courtesy extends to the workplace. If there's something big going on with you, it's helpful to at least let a couple of people know so that they can help you get through a rough time, even cover for you if need be. As my cat declined in health, I found work to be a welcome respite at times because it gave me something to do that didn't involve death, but at the same time I found that certain tasks were just too much for me to do/tolerate. Some of my colleagues were willing and able to help me where I fell short, and that kept my projects moving and kept clients happy. While we have lives to lead and personal problems to solve, we do have to keep projects moving at work.

There were times in the past couple of weeks that I found myself to be unable to be useful. I was distracted, slow-moving, and exhausted--I felt like I had ADD combined with the flu. A couple of times when I felt this way, I left early and either made up the time the next day, or I just used sick time. When life really comes at you, make sure you've got things covered at work if you can, and then give yourself a break. Being at work when you're really angry and upset and worn out is the least productive thing you can do for yourself and your employer. Take the time off, go home and cry/scream/sulk/hold your loved one, and come back later when you've had a chance to recover. Even if you have to take the time off as unpaid leave, it can be worth it. (It's better than staying at work and acting like a jerk to everyone.) If you're not familiar already with your employer's rules on bereavement leave, now is a good time to find out how many days you get and for what family members does it apply.

In the coming days, we'll talk some more about life getting in the way of every day interactions. In the meantime, if you have a topic you'd like to see discussed or a question you'd like to ask, feel free to do so either in the email from the sidebar or in the comments of a post. Thanks!

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