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Diary of a Downsizing Survivor

January 1, 1996
Related Topics: Downsizing, Featured Article
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In May 1993, Dennis R. Hayward began to witness a company downsizing and a reengineering process. Fourteen months later, he discovered how the work overload, extra meetings and rumors had taken their toll. Because of job stress, Hayward ended up on the road to clinical depression. "We heard horror stories almost on a daily basis," he says. "All we could do was sit and wait for the Caesars to give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down sign." Below, he describes his depression and how he began his road toward recovery.

My breaking point came on a beautiful October morning. It was a Monday. The sun was shining, and the birds were singing. The grass was still thick and green. My morning drive to the office was nothing out of the ordinary.

And yet, the dread and despair I had been feeling for many weeks hovered around my head like a black cloud—following me wherever I went. Perhaps it wasn't a black cloud, but more of a dense black fog. It was so deep, so dark and so endless. There was an ever-present feeling of gloom and hopelessness—of being alone. I found myself seeking a kind of quiet solitude as far away from my friends and coworkers as possible. There was the indescribable pain deep within me—and an anguish I couldn't express. And sadness.

At work, I couldn't understand why I could no longer perform the simplest tasks. I knew the work, and I could have explained it to anyone in detail—but physically, I couldn't do it. I couldn't pick up a piece of paper and process it. It was as if I was paralyzed. Having always been a perfectionist, it was difficult for me to grasp why I was suddenly so totally useless and unproductive.

This had been an on-and-off pattern for months. And then the fear of losing my job and my mind at the same time became more than I could bear. I was terrified someone would notice my poor performance. My frustration and fear had finally brought me to a point where I knew I had to seek help. But from whom and where? How could I begin to explain something I didn't understand? And who could I trust with my story? Should I contact our HR department? Would HR be apt to help me, or instead would I walk in one morning to discover I've been terminated? Did the company care about me as a person, a human being and as an employee with 13 years of service?

It was probably one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made. I had been afraid to tell anyone what I was feeling. Aside from being labeled a nut case, as a man I had been taught, "Never admit your weakness." Men are supposed to be strong. We're not supposed to reveal emotional strain and mental problems. I expected to be humiliated. Instead I was amazed by the compassion of those who were ready, willing and able to help me.

If there's one thing we must realize, depression doesn't happen overnight. And so goes the recovery. What I had yet to understand was that my depression had been building and growing for many years. I had unknowingly acquired habits and thought processes over the years that made me a totally different person from the one I grew up with. These thoughts and habits weren't deeply rooted in my brain but were now a part of my everyday life.

So what I had to do was find a way to eliminate all the unwanted habits, ideas and thoughts, and replace them with positive energy. But where do you start? Where is the on-ramp to the road back?

Human resources encouraged me to find a behavioral counselor to lead me out of that frightening wilderness. I needed someone who could look objectively at all the garbage I had heaped upon myself and accumulated from outside sources, sift through it, and help me find my true self again. It turned out to be a cleansing of sorts—a purging of all the bitterness, anger, resentment and dissatisfaction with the events of my life. It was a way of cleaning my house and restoring order all at the same time. Like the first day of spring, following a cold and gray winter, when the sky starts to look a little bit bluer and the grass starts to look a little bit greener. There was a rebirth taking place.

Personnel Journal, January 1996, Vol. 75. No. 1, p. 42.

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