If you're old enough, you will remember the Christmas show, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is a song by songwriter Johnny Marks based on the 1939 story published by the Montgomery Ward Company. Gene Autry's recording of the song hit No. 1 on the U.S. charts the week of Christmas 1949. It later went on to become a staple Christmas TV classic watched by children everywhere at Christmas time.
The simple story about Rudolph and his bright red nose was my very favorite ever and I still watch it to this day! You see Rudolph was the first person I was introduced to who was marginalized and stigmatized for being different. The story, when dissected, is about the struggle of being different, overcoming and accepting your differences, and excelling in spite of obstacles in your own lane. After all, Rudolph got to lead Santa’s sleigh!
It wasn't until recently that I realized why I responded to and connected with the character of Rudolph as I did when I was young. Trying to hide his big ‘ol shiny red nose under a black cover piece his father made so that it wouldn't show, is the perfect depiction of how those of us with mental illness try to hide behind our masks. Rudolph’s father admonishes him, telling him not to let his red nose show, as he realizes the other reindeer will not let his son play in their reindeer games if he looked ‘different’. I can sense an undertone of embarrassment in Rudolph's parents as they try to deal with the fact that their son is different and not like the other reindeer.
Only now in my 50s, does the brilliance of this simple Christmas show divulge its massive impact and message to me. Cloaked in cute snow scenes and cheerful songs and characters, the meaning is really quite deep. Take the Island of Misfit Toys for instance. These are the toys that are broken, somehow damaged and unworthy of being placed under the Christmas tree by Santa Christmas morning. They are discarded and unwanted, living in isolation on an island, hoping for rescue one day to have the opportunity for placement with a child.
Where am I going with this? For over 20 years of my life, I worked with Mary Kay Cosmetics. The structure of the company was such that those of us who were sellers of the product “independent contractors”. As a Senior Sales Director with the company, I had much latitude in regard to how I taught and motivated the women on my team that were part time Independent Consultants. I loved the freedom to be creative with the materials given to us to train with by the Company. Although the message was the same with regard to the products, we had the opportunity to put our personality, thought process and originality into the ways of training. The other fact I embraced, was that it was not a structured nine-to-five job. The hours you put in were your own choice and the money you earned was equivalent to the effort you put forth.
It is not easy to be your own boss per se, as there is much onus put on self-motivation and discipline. If you wanted a paycheck, you had to get out and earn it. For someone like me, who suffered from chronic debilitating migraines, fibromyalgia and mental disorders, I had the ability to work when I could and not work when I could not. Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword. Toward the end of my tenure with Mary Kay, I had several health issues I dealt with in addition to what I just mentioned. The responsibility was mine to have my team produce and meet the quotas necessary to keep my position with the company, which included the free car. The car is not free. Those of us who drove free cars had to work to make a certain amount of sales quota from our team in order to keep the free car, and yes, I did have the privilege of driving a Pink Cadillac for over ten years.
It became very apparent after a series of hospitalizations and severe health challenges that I would not be able to continue to meet those quotas. As I am an all-or-nothing person, I did not see staying on as a part-time salesperson as an option. After all, I had put in my time as a Senior Director for over 20 years and I was used to the perks and respect that came with that title. My choice at that time was to step out completely.
I also knew that it was on my heart for several years to write my book “Searching for Grey” and start my Blog. I knew I wanted to advocate and come out of the shadows on behalf of those of us with mental illness, and this seemed the perfect time. I immediately dug in to my new life and my husband and I moved from Florida to Indiana to be with our only daughter and her husband who had just taken a job there.
It was strange not working or being out with people very often. The book I’m working on is not set to come out until 2019, and I can only sit behind a keyboard for so long. Still, while not even looking for a job, an opportunity opened up for me to take a part-time job at a local well-known Boutique that I frequented quite often. I prayed earnestly about putting myself into a structured environment. I sought the feedback of those who knew me well and others who suffered as I did and if they held structured jobs, what had their experience been. I was very nervous as to my ability to have the responsibility of a very structured roll.
I was hired! Based on advice from my friends at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I was up front in my interview with regard to my mental disorders and challenges. There are things such as Facebook, Instagram and then of course my Blog, that I knew were out there and if found after the fact, I could be accused of misrepresenting myself. This is the dilemma for those of us who live with mental disorders and go into the workforce. To tell, or not to tell. I made my decision to disclose and to my surprise, they hired me.
The first couple of months were rocky as I was adjusting to a new environment, learning about a whole new business, getting acquainted with the other girls on staff and just plain trying to absorb it all and fit in. During this time, unfortunately, I had a psychiatric medication debacle with my old psychiatrist that left me very imbalanced. I had to confess it to my Assistant Manager as to my erratic behavior and being prone to crying spells in the restroom during my shift. All in all, I have to say they cut me a lot of slack during that time and my Assistant Manager seemed to take me more under her wing, which I was thankful for.
Then came my breast cancer scare, followed by surgery and recuperation, then two months later after that, my hiatal hernia and stomach surgery, which my doctor told me was an absolute necessity and had to be done. It caused me to have to take time off, I had to switch up some of my psychiatric medications for the surgeries and of course physically and mentally rebound from the stress of two surgeries practically back to back. I thank God they did not find cancer in my breast, but pre-cancer, and God spared me that bullet. The fact is that I did have a lot of instability and healing to go through because of the two surgeries. Still, I went back to work as soon as possible, and resumed my duties to the best of my ability.
Back to Rudolph! I always felt on the outside of the other girls that worked in the shop. At first, they did not know what to make of me. One of my co-workers said, “You know you are different right? You know you are very eccentric?” I had to laugh because that's an understatement. I knew there was an invisible line where I was on one side and they were all on the other. My coworkers didn't know what to do about my red nose. The customers however, loved me! My sales were great and I had excellent rapport with them. My manager even commented more than once as to that fact.
Unfortunately, after six months with the Boutique I chose to step down from my position. For the six months or so that I worked there, I felt very proud of myself for giving it all I had. I put my heart 100% into learning the business and working with the customers, and making sales. In my mind, I was a team player and volunteered numerous times to stay late or take shifts, if necessary, if one of the girls were sick. Just like in the story of Rudolph, those of us that are different are always tempted to put on the mask. It is something we struggle with, I believe, for life. This is why it is important for us to be in an environment where people accept us as we are, without the mask.
Because of this experience, I have learned so much. The biggest thing is I proved to my husband, my family and myself that I could work a real job. That I was up to working a 5 to 6 hour shift with only a 10 to 15 minute break while on my feet non-stop. I knew I bonded well with the customers. I could pick their style off of the rack and I connected with them while I helped them, like the woman who came in looking for the perfect black dress for her husband's funeral. Or the elderly lady who ventured in exhausted and worn out from trying to find the barrettes she wore as a teenager, the young mother, a recovered drug addict, who needed an outfit to wear to court to try to get her children back in a custody dispute; and my last encounter, with a woman of my age, who drove 4 hours to get here because her mother was undergoing traumatic brain surgery. She needed a wardrobe to last for about 2 weeks while she stayed with her father to care take him and of course be at the hospital with her mom. The woman was an only child and I saw the fear in her eyes that she had no one else to turn to. She purchased close to $400 worth of merchandise that day. That was my last sale. She hugged me on the way out as we shed a tear together. We laughed together over the fact that many of the items I chose for her she had already chosen for herself and she commented on my innate ability to pick her off the rack.
God opens doors and closes them. The scripture tells us that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. I had started to feel that my devotion to the job was overtaking my ability to find time to work on my book or Blog. I could hear the stress in my Publisher’s voice that I was falling behind in productivity. My husband and I were missing Church on a regular basis because of work scheduling and my daughter expressing disappointment with that. I wasn't able to volunteer with NAMI as working a shift zapped my physical strength and I had nothing else to give.
I respect and I had come to care very much for all of the women I worked with at the shop. I will never regret my time spent there. I know that I am Rudolph however and I have a mission on behalf of those of us with a Big Ol Red shiny nose. I have the Island of Misfit Toys that I know God called me to work with.
The most important thing I want to share with you in this blog, specifically those of you who suffer with Borderline, is that we can leave a stressful situation without burning bridges. It was 12 minutes until the end of my shift on the last day I worked at the Boutique. The three of us who worked that day were exhausted, hungry, tired and ready to call it a day. I knew that one of my co-workers had been expressing many symptoms of being overtired by the comments she was making in my earbud during our shift. For those of us with BPD, we tend to take things personally and will act out towards a person if we feel we are being put in a position to defend ourselves or our actions. I believe due to her tiredness, her demeanor towards me was very off. My shift ended with a verbal dispute between us that was not professional nor conducive to our relationship. Unfortunately, it took place in front of the customers in the shop and my co-worker. For the FIRST TIME in a situation such as this, I chose to take the high road. The typical BPD response would have been to argue back (loudly), curse the person out, perhaps even take down a rack or two of clothing on the way out! The proverbial bull in a China Shop attitude would explode in us and we would make a huge spectacle. Instead, at 5pm, I quietly clocked out, took my belongings, put my earpiece in the cabinet, and walked quietly and calmly out of the store and away from the situation. I call this my VICTORY walk, as I did not respond in the typical BPD way. I did however, break down when I got into my vehicle and sobbed all the way home!
Due to the fact that I handled myself in a professional manner, my Manager called me and did ask me to stay and continue working at the Boutique. Her recommendation was to change my shifts so that they did not coincide with this particular co-worker. I turned it down for many of the above-stated reasons, but I had the CHOICE to turn it down and my Manager professed that she would give me a good recommendation. In my life, and in the life of anyone with BPD, this is a huge accomplishment in showing skill management of our symptoms. What I want all the other “Rudolph’s” out there to know is that a VICTORY WALK is possible for you too! Even those of us with BPD!
On behalf of all of us who represent Rudolph to those of you that don't get us. Those who find us different and watch us struggle with our symptoms from Depression, Panic Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar, PTSD, BPD, OCD, and so much more, you may see our noses fall off from time to time. When it happens, you may be shocked and not understand. Why are we crying? Why are we having such anxiety? Why are we emotionally incapable of processing certain situations? Whatever the symptom is that slips out when the nose falls... we don't like it either. We did not choose to have these disorders placed into our brain chemistry. Yes, like Rudolph we know we are different.
I would ask for those of you who don’t get us, just like any other faction of society who wishes to be accepted as they are, be it gay, lesbian, transsexual, autistic, terminally ill, too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too black or too white, give us a chance. There is much for us to learn from you and yes, for you to learn from us. It is time for the boundaries of stigma held against the mentally ill to be smashed down. It is time to allow our voices to be heard and our input into society to be valued.
With you on the journey,