I’ve started writing this column at least five times. What I have to say is difficult. I think I should state my central point now and then fill in the details. Here it is: My employment status with NCFR will be… changing.
Now let’s go back a few years to the retirement of our longtime conference director, Cindy Winter. If you were an NCFR member then, you no doubt remember Cindy’s grand retirement party at the annual conference. What happened with Cindy thereafter is both wonderful and hilarious. She retired, but we wouldn’t let her go! Week after week, month after month, a project or function in the office always popped up that was work Cindy could do best. Our executive director, Diane Cushman, kept Cindy tethered to the office with short-term gigs that grew. It became an office joke about how well Cindy was retiring. After a few months, it was clear that this “temporary” and “retired” employee was neither of these things. Cindy isn’t the rocking chair type. And we still needed her. The organization still has Cindy’s wisdom nearby. And Cindy has a not-quite retired life that is vital to her well-being. Everyone wins.
By the time this column is in print, NCFR will have hired, or will have almost hired, my replacement. I’d like to be transparent as to why.
As far back as I can remember, I have suffered generalized anxiety that has been quite disabling at times. As NCFR members, you probably know that in addition to the psychic maelstrom and depression, there are myriad physical manifestations of anxiety too. I won’t go into all of them. Above all, the most crippling of them for me has been the soul-crushing insomnia. I have tried everything. I’ve done meds, no meds, exercise, no exercise, counting sheep and “talking to the Shepherd.” I’ve tried warm milk, chamomile, melatonin, progressive relaxation and mindfulness training. I had an expensive hospital overnight sleep study that was inconclusive, except that I was told that my REM sleep onset is slower than that of most people. I have a high-tech mattress. I sleep with two air-circulating fans in the room to produce white noise and minimize distractions. Like a scientist, I have experimented with all of these, changing one variable each time, so that I could figure out what helps and what doesn’t. With all this data it still boils down to the fact that I sleep just two or three hours at a time. The last full night’s sleep I had was in March 2009. Imagine tending to a newborn — only the baby never grows up.
I’ve been with NCFR nine years. Back when I started I was — obviously — younger and could cope with this bizarre disability better. But a couple years ago, the insomnia got even worse. After a bad night, I was an absolute zombie. My zombie days became more frequent. My short term memory really took a hit. It began to affect my work, which made for overwhelming guilt. The guilt fed the anxiety in a vicious cycle.
Now it’s clear — and this is so very humbling — that I can no longer cope with a full-time job. Diane and I came to the realization in June. We both cried. She said she can’t imagine NCFR without me… and I can’t imagine my life without NCFR. That’s when the “Cindy Solution” occurred to us both. I would spin off as a consultant, do the NCFR work that suits me best and free up much needed resources to hire someone who can do the things I can’t. I am so excited at the prospect of mentoring a replacement and cheerleading from the sidelines as he or she takes NCFR to new levels. There is no shame in having a mental illness. What would be a shame, though, is not to acknowledge it to the detriment of myself and, most of all, NCFR.
I will continue to have my NCFR email address and, because most members aren’t in Minneapolis, it’s quite possible that no one will even notice I’m not in the office full time anymore. I will continue my work editing NCFR Report. What else I do depends on the skill set our new coworker will bring to us. What I can bring to the table is nine years’ experience in the organization and a love of NCFR — you can’t buy that on the open market. I will also make a great pinch hitter. If, for example, one of our staff is out for medical or parental leave, I will have the flexibility to swoop back in and help out on a short-term basis. Management gurus say that the organization that cultivates a contingent workforce like this is smart.
Diane reminded me that when life shuts a door, it always opens a window. I don’t know what lies beyond the curtains, but it’s time to pull them back.