May 21, 2004
Performance Anxiety

I don't cry during my Performance Review this year. 

I almost cry, a couple of times: once when JoAnne is showing me the comments from my co-workers ("Secra doesn't seem very happy to be here, most of the time "),  then again when I'm trying to articulate the despair and frustration I've felt, over the past few months, without making myself come off sounding like a great big whiney baby. ("I just don't actually care, anymore.")  Both times I manage to ward off the tears at the very last second, by pinching my nose and telling myself I am a robot, I am a robot, I am a robot, over and over again, until the hot twitchy feeling behind my eyes subsides. I'm not worried about what JoAnne might think if I were to accidentally shed a few tears, here in the privacy of her office. God knows my nice lady boss has seen me blubber into my Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water often enough lately  ...  usually at the front desk, usually over nothing at all, usually in plain view of God and the mailman and every single one of my increasingly nervous co-workers.  And I'm certainly not worried that crying will affect the outcome of my performance review, or the amount of my obligatory token payraise. That's a ship that has already sailed.

Mainly what I'm worried about right now is my mascara.

"Would you like a Kleenex?" JoAnne asks me gently, and I nod. I am a robot, I am a robot, I am a robot.  I dab carefully at my bottom eyelid with the tissue  --  once, twice, three times   -- and am dismayed to see it come back covered with inky black mascara residue.  Of all the stoopid, ill-timed mornings to go non-waterproof. It's like showing up for the hurricane in a terrycloth raincoat. 

"I'm fine," I tell her, blinking furiously. "Let's go ahead and finish this up." And we continue with The Performance Review From Hell.

Nothing in my review is coming as a surprise. I know that I've been horrible at work the past few months.  I know that my co-workers have been afraid to approach me  ...  that they're never sure, from one day to the next, whether they're going to encounter Normal Pleasant Helpful Secra or Sullen Homicidal *Talk To Me And Die* Secra.  (I know that *I* have never been 100% sure of that, myself.)  I've recently emerged from one of those hideous hormonal depressions that seem to swoop down on me out of nowhere, every four or five years or so.  It rolled over me last year like an oil slick, right about the time I was recovering from The Big Lumpy Thing In My Breast Scare (and I was forced to go off the pill, cold turkey), and it held me in its slippery, toxic grip for months afterward.  Mostly I just felt incredibly sad and overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time.  January and February were especially brutal. Losing a big bunch of weight in a short period of time played havoc with my already-overloaded hormones: twice I was sent home from work after suffering a major *Boo Hoo Moment,* right there at the front desk.  Once I fell apart because the Dirt Company file room was a mess ... once because somebody criticized a spreadsheet I'd created.  Both times, I had to go home and crawl into bed and just sleep for the next fourteen hours.  I finally started feeling human again about four weeks ago,  thanks mostly to new meds, old friends, getting used to the diet, getting lots of sleep, avoiding sugar and caffeine, avoiding the people/situations that push my buttons, paying closer attention to my body when it tells me to slow down, paying closer attention to David when he tells me that everything is going to be OK.  This week I'd say I'm feeling as close to "normal" as I've felt in about a year.  It comes too late to save me from the most abysmal performance evaluation I've ever received, in  25+ years of professional administrative assitude.  But at least I'm back to feeling glad to wake up in the morning, once again.

And I finally feel brave enough to wean myself from waterproof mascara  ...  even at work.

"I went to bat for you as much as I could," JoAnne is telling me sadly. Over the past few months I've tried to keep my boss in the loop as much as possible, about my various medical/emotional problems, without going into more detail than is strictly necessary.  Even so, she says, because I haven't made as much "progress" this year as they've come to expect from me   -- and because of all the negative comments from my co-workers, about how "rude" and "hostile" and "scary" I've been: if this were "Survivor: Dirt Company," I'd have been voted out at the very first tribal council   --  I'm only going to qualify for a token payraise this year.  On paper it breaks down to about fifty cents an hour.  She seems genuinely uncomfortable delivering this news, but I understand.  I know that she's in a tough position   ...  torn between wanting to support her assistant, who she likes and respects and doesn't want to go through the hassle of replacing right now, and needing to follow the letter of the Dirt Company law. She adds that she's definitely "noticed an improvement" in my attitude and performance the last month or so.  

"You do seem more like your old self," she says, and I nod in agreement.  I am more like my old self, and I'm glad that she sees that.  Maybe there is hope for next year's review. 

Through it all, I keep dabbing at my face, praying that whatever is left of my Almay Hypoallergenic *Non-Boo-Hoo-Proof*  stays put until I can get to the ladies' room. 

JoAnne has me sign a couple of review acknowledgement forms for the payroll department,  plus my copy of the review   --  which I stuff into my pocket, planning to hit the shredder as soon as I get back to the front desk  --  and then we're finally finished.  I stand up and thank her for her input.  

"I hope you are able to find a permanent solution to your medical problems," she says, not unkindly.

"The only permanent solution to my 'problem' is death," I tell her.  "I'm hoping for something a little less drastic."

And  I smile a little, to let her know that I'm kidding. 

Moments later I flee across the hall to the ladies' room, where I finally break down and shed a couple of quick hot 'reflex tears' ... mainly just from relief that the ordeal is over. Miraculously, very little mascara has melted onto my face.  Maybe I won't have to go back to using waterproof stuff right way, after all.  Lately, waterproof mascara been causing my eyelashes to fall out in horrifying clumps. Plus it irritates the shidt out of my contact lenses, it costs an arm and a leg, and it dries out almost as soon as I get it home from the store. But I've felt obligated to wear it every day anyway   ...  at least until the emotional storm blows over for another five years.  I'm just glad that the my stoopid performance review is over for another year,  and that I've done no irreparable damage to my relationship with my nice lady boss, and that I still have a job.  A ridiculous demeaning  job that bores me shitless and makes me feel like I'm wasting precious *time-and-life molecules,* maybe  ...  but a job, nonetheless.  Later this year, if I'm still feeling this way about my job  --  if I find myself still sitting at the front desk, intercomming people to ask them if they'd prefer their sandwich on whole wheat or sourdough  --  it might be time to drag the résumé out of mothballs and give some thought to pointing my 'career' in a new direction.

But in the meantime, I think maybe I'll pick up a tube of waterproof mascara and toss it into my desk drawer at work.  Just in case.

Have a nice weekend, everybody!

p.s. i'm FINE. honest. i'm better than fine. it was mostly a lot of hormonal stuff, but i'm feeling 100% better now and everything is FINE. ok?


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although i'd like to think i would have lasted longer than tina wesson  ...