Back to work

Ooooh…
 You might not ever get rich
 But let me tell you it’s better than digging a ditch
 There ain’t no telling who you might meet
 A moviestar or maybe even an Indian chief

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.” 
 ― Sebastian Junger,

Let’s be clear, there are few people in the world who really enjoy their jobs, Hugh Hefner maybe, maybe some professional athletes, reality TV stars, but I’ll bet even that gets tired. Most of us would probably do something else than going into an office or other workplace, going to a bunch of meetings, sitting in a cube and dealing with people all day and that’s not even mentioning the phone or the commute. Everything else aside if we just got a big check every week or two, we probably could find something a lot better to do, maybe I would just grow tomatoes or learn some type of new hobby. Since I’m not a trophy husband, I need to go out and bring home the vegetarian bacon.

Let’s be clear, there are few people in the world who really enjoy their jobs, Hugh Hefner maybe, maybe some professional athletes, reality TV stars, but I’ll bet even that gets tired. Most of us would probably do something else than going into an office or other workplace, going to a bunch of meetings, sitting in a cube and dealing with people all day and that’s not even mentioning the phone or the commute. Everything else aside if we just got a big check every week or two, we probably could find something a lot better to do, maybe I would just grow tomatoes or learn some type of new hobby. Since I’m not a trophy husband, I need to go out and bring home the vegetarian bacon.

There is value to work, intrinsic value as well as the obvious financial compensation we need to get by in a capitalist society. We live in a world where some of the hardest workers are the least compensated. Some of the hottest, dangerous, and grueling jobs also pay the least money. Education can alleviate a lot of those characteristics of labor but as they say “mo money, mo problems.” One of my biggest goals was to have a career that paid well, was fulfilling, but most of all one where taking a shower was optional and not required when you got home. Most of my younger life was spent in what most people would consider crappy jobs. Growing up on the Cape in the 80s, most kids went to work as soon as they could get a working permit, in those days I think views of child labor were closer to the 1910s than the 2010s. It was not unusual for 14 and 15-year-olds to work 60 and 70 hour weeks late into the night from the early morning in kitchens and other places. In a lot of cases teen labor filled the spots that immigrants do today in the Cape’s economy. I learned a lot of my work ethic in those kitchens and learned from both good and bad bosses what it was like to be in the workforce. I had some pretty shitty jobs and I don’t look fondly back on doing stuff like fishing a dead squirrel out of a grease bucket, cleaning out the tampon bin at the Natick Marshall’s, working sick, injured and often hung over and other trials and tribulations of being in the lower service economy.

Nonetheless, there is dignity in work and since I had my stroke I was really looking forward to returning to work. Again as much as a job as a job, I’ve always felt my work is important, it is a small part, and a very small part of improving education in the Commonwealth, of working with schools, districts, principals, teachers, counselors, and other educators to build a better system to serve our youth and families.

After two months, it was time to go back. There would be some limitations, ordinarily my work might take me all across the state, initially and currently I’m not supposed to drive a car so that creates a limitation of actually going to schools and districts. That’s not to say there’s plenty of work I can do in my office and put together, in fact that is become the majority of my work in recent years. Since returning home, I’ve developed some independence, the ability to make lunch, go to the bathroom and everything else I took for granted before my stroke was slowly coming back. Luckily as far as getting to work and my appointments in the morning, my wife was able to drop me off at those places. Also because I live in urban area, public buses easily can ferry me from home and from my therapies and to and from my place of work in Malden.

For those of you recovering from stroke or have someone recovering, outside of the mobility in my case, the biggest issue is the fatigue. As I’ve said before, for those of her children it is the same exhaustion you felt when they were infants even if you’re getting sleep. It’s not like work is making more tired I’m just as tired, it’s just the need to function in a more complex environment with a ton of different people that you may not be used to dealing with for a couple months. Generally, people who go into education are decent folks who are do-gooders, this definitely helps in the transition. It’s important for people to understand at least in my case, that cognitively I’m fine, but being so tired, makes you less likely to pick up on every detail and have the patience to participate in every conversation. I think also there is a tendency after you’ve had some type of brain injury for people to try to talk to you like you are a child or hold you with some pity. I mean I do feel for people it is a delicate balance, that is being compassionate, so when in doubt just ask, we are still the same person before our injury albeit perhaps with an entirely different outlook on life. I know that sounds contradictory, but in some ways although we are damaged, we are going to come out of this even better than we started maybe with a little less strength, speed and power as we play in the low post.

There’s some stuff at work that has moved on somewhat and you’re trying to catch up on to where it moved to in some slow-paced form of whack a mole, sometimes you need to find out on the day that your work life froze, where that stuff wandered off to. There is a certain Newtonian physics to it, the issues of inertia and chaos theory collide quickly. There is also stuff that has literally been frozen in time, stuff that is exactly where you left it. A huge issue is just determining what it is you do around here. Quickly I began to realize there was lots of stuff to do in the real need to prioritize and plan both immediate and long-term steps. The issue of working in a large scale bureaucracy, is that usually your work is not your own, it intersects across the agency and across the state and there’s a lot to keep in mind with all these moving parts. I have a tendency not to get overwhelmed, I think they call it eating the elephant. The idea is that you’re not cannot eat the elephant in one sitting, you gotta visualize eventually finishing it, but also breaking apart into manageable pieces.

i have a proposition

I’m just finished my first week, a lot of it is socialization, everyone’s going to come up to you and see how you doing, and want to chat with you, that’s an important part of the job. Mostly I want people to see me as the same positive, relatively happy and joking person who is still very serious about the work. I then remembered how much I actually like working with these folks, dedicated, intelligent, hard-working people with an honorable mission for the most part. While it’s hard at some points to pay attention in long meetings or particularly on conference calls where I found I was hearing from the people that I really didn’t want to hear from and actually forgotten about, more work acquaintances than colleagues that I found really exhausting.

And the most important thing to learn and particularly because my job isn’t really physical but does require concentration is to appreciate your limitations. While inside your heart and soul you’re the same person with the same internal drive and fortitude, that thunderbolt has temporarily limited your physical stamina and drive. For me, this Dragon software helped. When I took a typing test the other day at OT, I typed 18 words per minute. With the software I was able to come up to my normal typing rate and not have the frustration of moving along at a tortoise’s pace in communication. I encourage everyone returning to work to swallow your pride a little bit and take advantage of any of the opportunities available to you under ADA or any other rules and regulations of your organization or agency. I’ve grown to appreciate all these protections and realize that most of us will take advantage of these as we age and are still important, productive members of society.

I also have to say in closing, how much I appreciate my employers my supervisor, my fellow employees and management in helping make this work. They’ve allowed me to adapt my schedule and be very flexible in allowing me to contribute to our collective process. Again those returning from injury are anxious to become productive members of society as part of our rehabilitation and to give back all that has been given to us, whether my society, our coworkers or our families and friends.

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