Despair in the workplace, an invisible stalker

Despair in the workplace, an invisible stalker.

By Mike Cook

For the Bellingham Business Journal

A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law in Portland. The call was remarkable from a couple of perspectives; I had not spoken to or seen my daughter-in- law in over four years, that being a function of my choice. The second remarkable element to the call was my experience that I knew the person I was talking to from a long time ago, several years anyway. I was so taken back by the call that I asked for another and this week we spoke for nearly an hour about the personal journey she has been on over the past few years.

My daughter-in-law is a professional architect, a medical planner, a specialist in the design and functionality of medical facilities. She graduated at the top of her class, won an award for design leadership and then proceeded on to a professional career where she impressed her colleagues and clients while simultaneously managing to piss off almost everyone she eventually came in contact with in the workplace, most importantly her employers, and there were many. Her talent was obvious, her behavior erratic. Inevitably in any working situation she would find the person she could least afford a conflict with and take them head on, with predictable outcomes, she’d be let go.

At home she was progressively more and more hostile and disrespectful of her husband, my son, and after witnessing several episodes of her berating him in front of me, my wife and her children I made a choice, I was not willing to support her in anyway unless she made some changes and sought professional help for whatever was behind all the chaos she created. As she often did with those who disagreed with her, she added me to the pile of relationships destroyed and people who couldn’t be trusted and our prolonged period of silence began.

As you might imagine, I was then quite taken aback when she called a couple of weeks back. My wife and I were visiting friends in Wyoming and driving when she called. My wife saw her name on the phone’s caller ID and said, “Yikes, it’s her, do you think it is a misdial?” I answered and she actually identified herself by name and reminded me that she was my daughter-in-law! What ensued was a conversation that I can only describe as magical. If you’ve ever had a rift with a family member or friend and had them come back to you maybe you can relate. Having given up hope of recovery she was back!

What I learned this past week when we spoke was that she had completely broken down this past November taken a medical leave and faced her worst fears, there was in fact something behind all the chaos, she was diagnosed with ADAHD, a version of ADHD, (Attention Deficit Disorder), that involves a failure of her brain to produce Dopamine, a neurotransmitter critical to brain functioning. ADAHD often goes undiagnosed, is incurable yet treatable and more common that most of us realize.

Long story short, in a couple of weeks my wife and I will be travelling to Portland, eager to reengage with our daughter-in-law as despite her behavior the joy of a fully functioning family has been on hold for several years.

There are many things about our beloved American culture which are not working right now, as a nation it might be said that we are mentally imbalanced, we are in denial. The condition my daughter-in-law has been identified with is not one of the problems, our system of inadequate mental health care is one the problems. She’s fine now but there are many in our society who do not have the resources my daughter-in-law had at her disposal.

About 7 percent of American adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. Nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population likely took antidepressant medication during the past month, yet suicide rates have risen to the highest since World War II. The odds of dying from suicide or an opioid overdose — the “diseases of despair” — are now higher than that of dying from a motor-vehicle accident.”

Michael Gershon, Washington Post, September 6, 2019. Americans Face a Rising Tide of Despair

If we as a nation are going to continue to pursue the benefits of a system, capitalism, that places material accomplishment above all other pursuits, we must face the consequences, we are now reaping the inevitable consequences and limitations of the system we have chosen. The negatives have become too visible to ignore. Personally, I don’t think it is time to abandon our system, but it is time to face the costly consequences that the future holds for our children and grandchildren if we continue to “kick the cans down the road” as we have been. The inadequacy of our services for dealing with mental health and the ensuing challenges in our places of work are just two of many consequences we’ve been ignoring, and the piper is here to collect.

Future columns will address income inequality, gender pay differences, those left behind by the digital economy and more.

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