Old Friends

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to hook up with my best friend from elementary school. We had been out of touch for easily 20 years. I looked forward to seeing her.

As a child, I had not known that she was badly sexually abused by her father. I knew her father was mean to her and everyone else, but I didn’t know about the sexual abuse. As an adult, I certainly realize now the signs were there.

Now, she had a husband and a daughter the same age as my daughter. I drove two hours to visit with them and spend the night.  It was enjoyable, but I was a little creeped out. Her husband and daughter treated her like she was a complete idiot…and she would just laugh it off. I felt like Goldie Hawn in “The Banger Sisters.”  I wanted to scream at them and tell them, “This woman is awesome!  She is smart!  Stop making fun of her.”  But, I didn’t. It was her business.

As time went on, she wanted to come visit me in the city, but there was always a problem caused by her husband, Dr. XXX (PhD, not MD). Something came up and he couldn’t drive her in or her daughter made plans so she couldn’t come. When she finally did come to see me, I had my elementary school yearbooks for her to see. Her father had thrown hers away while she was at college.  We spent the evening going over yearbooks and memories. Suddenly, things changed. She got on Facebook on my computer and spent the rest of the night messaging our friends from elementary school.  It was weird–I thought, “Maybe her husband doesn’t let her use the computer at home?”

Then, I moved out of the area and lost touch. I texted her a few times with no replies. I assumed she was just busy with her life and would get back in touch when she had time.

I finally checked to see if she was still on Facebook and there she was. But, I had been “unfriended.”  Ugh. This is awkward. I sent her a message, “Hey, how are you…blah, blah, blah.” Just ignoring the unfriending.

I received the following reply:  I’m glad you are well. But I can’t help but feel it’s inappropriate for you to contact me after not even letting me know you were moving.You had my cell number & as much as I reached out to you, trying to develop a stronger friendship, you couldn’t even return the kindness with a short call or text.It really hurt & saddened me.Friendship is so much more than Facebook. I wish you & yours the very best.

Odd. Because I had sent her messages. Then it hit me. The husband. She has married her father. A controlling, manipulative man who makes sure they have only one car so she can’t go anywhere on her own without his permission. Who puts her down so that she has such low self-esteem. Who makes sure they move frequently so she never develops any real friends.

The only regret I have is not being Goldie Hawn that weekend. At least I would have felt I had done my part.

You Know Someone

Do you know five people?  Do you have five people who work for you?  Then you know someone who has mental health problems.

According to NAMI (NAMI.org), one in five adults faces mental health issues in any year in the United States.  Of those, 60% did not receive any sort of treatment.  These mental health issues can vary from depression to schizophrenia.

In 2001, a study published by the Harvard Health Publications found that 18% of individuals age 15-54 who were surveyed reported having a mental health issue in the last month (Mental health problems in the workplace).

What are our responsibilities, as employers, to these individuals?  Do we just look past it unless it effects performance?  Many managers and executives would say so.  Let me tell you what is wrong with that:  it is inhumane.

Did you know that people with long-term mental health issues die 25 years earlier than those without mental health issues (NAMI.org)?  That alone should be impetus enough for employers to take notice.  We could help our employees literally live longer.

I work in healthcare.  My first job was in a psychiatric hospital.  Working with children.  Let me  tell you, what some parents do to kids, it is no wonder that there are so many mental health issues.  Those kids grow up eventually and enter the workforce.

Healthcare has its own share of issues.  I think many people who are drawn to healthcare have mental health issues…or develop them while working in the field.  Why?  We see people die.  We see people who need treatment, but can’t get it because of insurance.  We see people diagnosed with incurable diseases.  We see people become not themselves.  People who are drawn to work in healthcare are “caring” people.  The negative outcomes for our patients take a toll.  Yes, babies are born and people are cured.  But, they are eclipsed by that first patient who died in pain while you held her hand.  Or the family that begged you to find a cure that wasn’t there.  Or the insurance company that denied coverage of treatment that was working.

What are we, as employers, to do to help?

  • Make sure your company has an Employee Assistance Program
  • Educate everyone, from CEO to janitor, on h ow the EAP works, so that any employee can help another
  • Ask questions when you see one of your employees struggling–or have their manager do it–just make someone does it
  • You don’t have to listen to the whole story or lose your boundaries–just say, “Hey, it looks like you are having a hard time.  Maybe the EAP could help you.  They have all kinds of help available.”  Then, give them a referral card
  • Talk about mental health issues at staff meetings–you don’t have to go into the warning signs of schizophrenia, but touch on things like dealing with stress, even if it is just a handout
  • Smile and make eye contact with people–haven’t you ever heard the story of the man whose suicide note said he was going to the Golden Gate Bridge to commit suicide, but he would not go through with it if someone smiled at him on the way (The New Yorker)?

It is everyone’s moral responsibility to help people who are struggling.  If you are an employer, you see your employees every day and you know when something is “off.”  Take time to ask.  You don’t have to play therapist.  But, you may be the only one who asks and the one who makes the difference between someone getting help and someone getting worse.



Paybacks Can Be Hell

“Honey, I am on my way home from the school with a police car following me.  When I walked up to the school to get (our child), I was greeted by a police officer who said I was accused of abusing (our child).”  My husband was calling from his cell phone while driving.  I thought I would throw up.  How was this possibly happening to my family?  I assured him I would be home as soon as I could.

By the time I got home, my heart was still beating out of my chest.  The police officer and social worker had left.  Everyone in the household had been questioned.  They would be back to question me the next morning.  I called in sick to work.  I went over with each family member what they were asked.  I tried to figure out where this was coming from.

The next morning, a 22-year-old social work from the Department of Family Services and a distinguished-looking police showed up at my door.  The social worker started in with a series of questions while the police officer sat quietly at my kitchen table.

“Does your husband sleep with your child?”

“No, he sometimes falls asleep while he reads my child a bed time story.  He has to get up at 4:15 am to go to work, so he is really tired by the time it is my child’s bedtime.  He doesn’t even lay in the bed.  He gets on his knees and reads my child the story.”

“Does your husband wrestle and tickle your child?”

“Uh, yes.  That is called playing.”

I finally asked the social worker if she had any children.  I remember being young and thinking I knew everything and I really didn’t want to be the catty old bitch, but seriously, this is what they were basing a case on?

“No, I don’t have any children, but I know a dysfunctional family when I see it.”

Thank you, missy, I thought to myself.  Opinions are like assholes.  Everyone has one.

The police officer and the social worker left.  I sat at the table, crying.  Five minutes later, there was a knock at my door.  The police officer was back.  For the love of God, what could he want?

“May I come in?” he asked.

I welcomed him in and we sat at the table.

“I just had to come back to see you.  There is something seriously wrong here and I thought you needed to know.”

He proceeded to tell me that every child abuse interview at the school included him, the social worker from DFS and the principal.  Every interview except this one.  He was excluded from the interview between the principal, social worker, and my child.  He reported the irregularity to the Chief of Police and said, “the phone lines were burning last night between that principal and the Chief.  She has no explanation about why I was excluded this time.”

“I have four sons,” he said,”I know normal horsing around and playing.  You are just a normal family having fun.  There is something crazy going on here.”

That’s when it hit me.

Sitting in a colleague’s office about six months earlier, I’d seen a picture of our school principal on her desk.  I asked her why she had the picture.  “That’s my mother,” she said.  I was delighted to have this in common with her and complimented her on what a good job her mother did.

Fast forward three months from that discovery and the colleague and I had a disagreement over what was important.  She thought the most important thing that could be done was getting a communication survey out immediately.  I had other priorities.  We butted heads professionally, I wrongly assumed.

My blood pressure went through the roof at this point.  A letter was written by me to the superintendent.  His response was that he found no wrong doing on the part of the principal.  Well, of course not.  He was an egomaniac with a Napoleon syndrome (he was about 5’4″ tall) who never found anything wrong with what his teachers or principals did.

Over the rest of the school year, my child would be accused by the principal of other wrong doings that were proven to be false.

The daughter, my co-worker, at one point would listen in on a call I made to my employee health nurse to ask if I should remain home from work because I had been exposed to some contagious disease.  My co-worker went to the employee health nurse and said, “I’m calling my mother!  Her child should not be at my mother’s school, then.”  The employee health nurse basically told her to go to hell and that she had violated HIPPA.

By the end of the school year, I demanded my child be transferred to another school for the next year.  Keep in mind, this child was in second grade and had to go through all this because of a pair of vindictive, dysfunctional psychos.

The report to DFS was found as “inconclusive.”  It would remain on my husband’s record for five years.

Perhaps the most validating moment of all was when I broke down and went to the Director of Human Resources.  This woman was the most stoic individual I know when it came to confidentiality.  You would never be able to read her face if she didn’t want you to.

When I told her my story, she actually raised her eyebrows (a huge gesture for her) and said, “Let me handle this.”  Proof I wasn’t making associations in my mind that didn’t exist.  I would later learn there was a history of  Mama and Daughter causing similar chaos to those who didn’t kowtow to their whims.

This incident happened more than a decade ago.  The shame and embarrassment has hung on that long.  It is only recently that I have been able to talk about it.  None of us did anything wrong, but the system failed us.

Keep my story in mind when you see some of these wild child abuse cases on the news.  Sometimes, the system really does railroad people and make them appear to be monsters they aren’t.  All to satisfy someone’s bruised ego.