Mr. Plastic Picker had a headache
December 4, 2019
Mr. Plastic Picker had a headache last night. He was sitting in front of his middle management home office with spreadsheets open on multiple screens, pencil in hand with physical spreadsheets of names and numbers in front of him, and making tallies. “I have a headache,” he told me. “I’ve been getting about two a week.” He had thought perhaps it was his new eyeglass prescription and had gone to the optometrist a few times to double check, and his eyes seem better. But he is still getting headaches.
Mr. Plastic Picker is a physician and a middle manager also. Middle management is not for the faint of heart. It has driven multiple talented people out of their careers. I was previously for the last decade an avid reader of personal finance blogs (lenpenzo, Retireby40, Financial Samurai) which seemed to be overpopulated with former engineers or finance types who were pushed into middle managment, and then wrote blogs about personal finance and then retired early. Not Lenpenzo, the man remains my internet hero https://drplasticpicker.com/drplasticpicker-learns-that-half-the-internet-is-plastic-fake-but-not-lenpenzo-com-and-his-readers/! Here is his reply to a question about his coffee mug I posted on his blog!
Then I realized that my net worth far surpassed theirs (I don’t know LenPenzo’s networth and it’s not important), and why would I take financial advice from them? I am financially free as well, but it makes no sense for a pediatrician to retreat from the world. All those bloggers except lenpenzo had spoken of blinding migraines. And as a physician, I am happy they did something to save themselves – so they all left the workforce.
Mr. Plastic Picker is a pretty resilient person and never was prone to headaches. But I knew exactly what he was going through. I had never had headaches in the past until 2 1/2 years ago when I moved up into middle management. I began getting blinding tension headaches for the first time in my life. Acteminophen, ibuprofen, trying to sleep more, weight watchers, keto, bought 2 bunnies, yoga – I went through the gauntlet trying to cure myself. Like Mr. Plastic Picker, I was professionally succeeding during these headaches. Accolades, rewards, metrics going sky high, congratulatory work emails, with a click of a send email able to be the savior of another work crisis or be the hero for another physician or patient matter. But I was getting headaches.
The one thing that sets me apart from Mr. Plastic Picker is that I have more common sense. He is brilliant. He in one of those rare technical specialist who is also empathic. Everyone assumes he was MD/PhD when we were training in Boston. People make assumptions all the time depending on what you look like. He studied English Literature and Shakespheare, and was a short-story writer in high school. But he took the practical path and is grateful of what medicine has been able to provide our family, and he is a middle manager specialist with a stressful job. But I think the buried artistic soul in him, makes him more vulnerable to the little slings and arrows that being in the middle of a department of swirling personalities, budgets, egos and politics can do to a person. It really can be the “death by a thousand cuts.”
Even I, drplasticpicker, started getting those tension headaches when I became a middle manager. I often jest with my husband and tell him that even though he had higher test scores than me at every level of training, I am psychologically stronger than he is. I simply for most of my life, just brushed off people’s opinions and was like teflon – it just all rolled off. But at some point, you have to care. And even those that seemingly don’t care, like me, actually do. It’s a shield we put up to try to protect ourselves, but when the headaches come especially to those not prone to them – it is scary. Headaches indicate a soul, a world, a life in chaos. It’s a warning sign. We have to take action.
So I asked Mr. Plastic Picker to come for a walk with me. He agreed, then demurred, and then agreed finally. Watching him put down his pen resolutely and get up from his desk, was very satisfying for me. I can never make him do anything, he has to want to do it. So our tall children were settled with their homework routines, headache free, with our crazy black puppy at home to protect them – and we headed to the beach. Our walk was 6,562 steps per my iPhone and took about 45 minutes. I was able to pick up a 1/2 bag of trash, 1 plastic water bottle, and 1 pair of work gloves that had been on our neighbor’s retaining wall for 3 days. Obviously not theirs and I will wash and donate to GoodWill.
And this is when I gave my advice to Mr. Plastic Picker. I don’t have headaches anymore.
- Let’s go to the beach: Let’s walk at least to the beach so that our feet touch the sand. I’m not sure why but I feel that as long as our feet touch the sand, you’ll be better.
- Let’s walk to the water’s edge: Let’s walk to the water and see if there are any plastic bags that floated onto shore. There is still a bit of light left and the children are fine.
- Do you notice the sunset tonight? Do you notice the sunset tonight? The sky is so beautiful tonight. The reds and yellows. Wow, how beautiful it is.
- Can you walk with me while I pick up some plastic? Can you walk with me while I pick up some plastic? Just 2-3 pieces and I feel better. Go ahead and walk faster down the shore, I know your mind is racing just like your quick hurried steps to nowhere. Oh, you are turning back to be with me. Your steps are slower and more measured, and we are walking along together now. I found a piece of styrofoam. Thank you for walking with me.
- Let’s walk home together: Let’s walk home together. Your parents are coming home today and they love you. Remember middle management is just middle management, we are all just puppets in this corporate world. Work is never family, and I hate that term. Work is work, and family is family. To your family you would give your life, to your work never give them your life. You owe work to be moral, to be dilligent, to be professional – and tomorrow it will still all be there. Tonight, you have your parents, your children, your crazy black puppy who loves you so much. And you have me Dr. Plastic Picker. And I work and I’m in middle management too. I work so that you don’t need to worry, and that no matter what – one of us could quit tomorrow and we’ll be fine. Because we don’t value frivilous things and you did not marry a frivilous woman. And we don’t need too much money and have saved so much the last 15 years. We are free now. Because we can always just go to the beach and pick up trash.
And I prattled away to Mr. Plastic Picker sometimes seemingly nonsensical. He is much more of a quieter person than I am. I remember once in college as we were studying together but separate subjects in his dorm room that he was wearing ear plugs, because his girlfriend (me!) was talking too much. But I know he listens sometimes and in my prattling nonsense – I was trying to heal him because that it what pediatricians and wives do. He slept deeply last night. Its 618am and its raining too hard to go plastic picking. I hope the drumming of the rain helped him sleep, healed his telomeres. I hope the warm crazy black puppy that curls next to his face with her steady heart beat helped him regulate his mind.
A blogpost about middle management and tension headaches https://drplasticpicker.com/tension-headaches-drplasticpicker-cures-myself/