Monday 9 June 2014

Though Picnic: I could have died out of foolishness

I’m done with this
Just about 10 years ago, after an expletive laden meeting where my manager displayed a level of unreasonableness I had never ever encountered in all my working life, I decided I was done with that job.
I walked out of that meeting and put myself on the job market, within a week I had an offer and I submitted my resignation letter.
To spite me, he said, he was expecting my resignation and that anyone could do my job, with that he started a campaign of undermining me and frustrating my efforts at a smooth exit. It took writing a letter to the senior management to get him off my back and stop his calumnious activity.
Why this stress?
I loved my job but I could not work under the circumstances I was made to work, especially by the time we got to that rotten meeting. Of all the managers I have ever worked for in my 28-year career, he takes the prize for the worst ever sociopathic person I ever had to call a manager, I have avoided every prospect of ever meeting him again since I walked out of that job.
However, before I got to write that letter to senior management, I found myself under pressure, extremely stressed, having sleepless nights and seemingly out of control of the situation.
Wake up to reality
I came to myself one day wondering how it could be that I was moving on to another job, about to return to school for a postgraduate degree, just returned from a two-week holiday and yet be at a point where my health was threatened by conditions at work. It was so bad that I took a week off sick just trying to get it together.
That situation was unnecessary, untenable and unreasonable, it was the point where I decided no job was worth dying for and that if I could not control the circumstances in which I found myself, the very least I could do for my sanity was to leave.
Sadly for Komla Dumor
Which brings me to the very sad story of the passing of Komla Dumor in January 2014. I have for long wanted to write about this, but felt the issue was almost too raw to tackle at that time, I did however post some tweets on the broader issue of personal welfare at work.
Komla Dumor was a distinguished, accomplished journalist and presenter who worked for the BBC, it was always a pleasure to watch the programmes he anchored. A few days ago, a friend on Twitter remembered him, and opined that he would have been packing his bags to travel to Brazil to cover the World Cup, alas, that was not to be.
BBC World News – Focus on Africa - Komla Dumor profile
An unfortunate backstory
A few days after his death from a cardiac arrest at the age of 41, some stories emerged about the stress and the racism Komla suffered at the BBC. Worse still were the palpable warning signs his body was giving him that he apparently put to one side until it culminated in his death.
Ever the professional, Komla did not once show the problems he was having as he appeared on television, yet this issue was eating away at his very being that it is rather unfortunate that he never got to walk away from it, for his health, his welfare and his well-being.
What the story in The New Statesman revealed was that Komla Dumor collapsed in a BBC studio and almost suffered a stroke 7 months before his death, which should have been the loudest ringing alarm bells to him to slow down, to rethink, to review, to reconsider or probably to resign.
The situation and warning signs
In a message he purportedly sent to a friend, he wrote of his high blood pressure, long hours at work; especially for a man with a young family, he was exhausted, aching, mentally and emotionally drained and all this seemed to be related to – ‘having “to endure lots of jealousy driven vicious insults, backstabbing from petty people” at the BBC.
How did Komla Dumor deal with this? In his own words, “I kept going, I smiled for the camera, I volunteered for extra shifts, I showed respect to my colleagues from directors to the security guards … I remain silent in my personal strife and misery. I kept smiling and pushing on to present better and to engage with my audience and increase my following, long days and frustrating times, but I kept going.
Only one thing is evident from that last two paragraphs, this job was killing him and what did he do? He threw himself more into it hoping it would fight for his validation, his respect, his survival, his recognition and more.
At what cost?
There is no doubt that his boss, the head of television recognised what a star performer Komla Dumor was, as “he said Komla we have decided to make you the anchor presenter for our coverage of the World Cup in Brazil.” That was not to be, Komla died in January, and the World Cup starts in 4 days’ time.
Maybe for not talking about what he was experiencing, he never got the therapy and needed support necessary to stabilise his health and save his life.
The salutary lesson is best left unspoken, to have to write of the death of someone younger, but there is much to learn from this about any situation with regards to what fights you should fight and the ones you should walk away from, not out of cowardice or weakness but out of knowing exactly what your body is saying to you and for self-preservation.
Beyond this, is not ignoring the symptoms, the circumstances and the burdens that accompany the dynamics at work where your health could be at risk. The fear of loss of status and livelihood when the loss of health and possibly the loss of life is impending is one to face boldly, for with life and health is the hope to face another day and challenge.
I was a fool
I look back at my own situation just five years ago too when for a year of observation from the chef de reception where I went for holidays in Gran Canaria, he noticed that it appeared my health was failing, yet I ignored all the issues, bounding along as if I had no care in the world.
I was more tired, sometimes particularly weak whilst the blotches that appeared on the soles of my feet, I dismissed as athlete’s foot that never healed. I then had shingles and soon that disappeared without any long-term postherpetic neuralgia, I hoped for a miracle cure that never came before I succumbed to the last resort of medicine, a resort that I should have taken probably over 12 months before. By the way, Javier, the chef de reception, predeceased me and he was younger.
I was dying
When I was finally diagnosed, I had just 5 weeks to live, if I did not respond to treatment. It was a kind of foolishness that was part of my cultural exposure in Nigeria where we never talked about how we felt whilst we prayed fervently visiting faith healers hoping for instant Shamanist cures after some ritual of the mind and the body – I could have died, it was that close.
Blog - A primer on cancer and chemotherapy – Explaining my diagnosis and treatment
In the process, I lost everything I hoped to keep through not addressing an existential health issue; my status, my job, my home of 10 years, my viability for the market, things I had acquired over 20 years given away without any return of value, it took me rock bottom, but I still had my life and my hopes.
It has been difficult, but the experience has become a story, one told in many blogs, and whilst I would never want to relive the experience, I do not regret that what I have learnt would probably make me a better man.
Do not play with your health, and no job is worth losing your health or your life for.

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