Thursday, November 7, 2019

Maximum Leverage - A Rock Bottom Story

November is the cruelest month. Many of the darkest times of my life occurred in this light- and joy-deficient time of year:  when I was suicidally depressed (three decades apart at Brigham Young University and at Western Washington University); getting diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe codependency; being pressured into signing a Settlement Agreement with fraudulent and unethical government lawyers; losing my home; losing my virginity; breaking my heart; health and family crises; being abused by malignant narcissists at every level; and having my whistleblower lawsuit erroneously dismissed on a frivolous legal technicality two years ago.

This November, I feel better than I've felt in my entire life. I give all the credit for my improved mental health to my family, and to writing. In particular, this month marks two and a half years, two hundred and fifty essays, and over 300,000 words of therapeutic, honest, sometimes sad but often funny storytelling and public advocacy.

To celebrate Movember, today's blog essay brings together many of the great themes you'll find at the heart of all my stories:  Pivot, Rock Bottom, My Story So Far, Mindset, This is what 'Impact Litigation' Looks Like, Dear Evan Hansen, and of course "I Come From Good People."

This summer I published a series of connected blog essays about my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s office. I accused them of a pattern of unethical, incompetent, and dishonest conduct, and presented extensive documentation supporting my accusations. My subconscious apparently determined it was time to say everything I had to say about my employer-abusers, tie it all up in a bow, and move on. 

I intended to post one final essay in the "My Story So Far" series, to be called "Pivot," in which I described how I’m cheerfully moving on with my life. But I still didn’t know how the Court of Appeals was going to rule on my pending appeal. As the summer passed without a ruling, I started drafting two separate “Pivot” essays discussing the relationship between the eventual litigation milestone  win or lose  and the new directions my life and writing were taking regardless.  

After the Court of Appeals ruled in my favour, I published the cheerier version of my essay. In “Pivot,” I announced that I was “done writing about my former colleagues and my workplace trauma.” It was time to write about other things.

Shortly after I hit “publish,” I discovered the insurance defense lawyers representing my opponents had made a strategic blunder, the impact litigation equivalent of getting involved in a land war in Asia. As I sheepishly acknowledged this week in Re-Pivot, during the coming months I expect to continue writing about the challenges facing disabled people  as well as about what happens when lawyers start lying, and then won’t stop. In the meantime, I'll end this particular trilogy by sharing what’s left of the less cheery version of my draft “Pivot” essay.

When I originally started writing my Pivot essays, I saved my drafts in separate “win appeal” / “lose appeal” folders. The two versions eventually evolved to “verb” and “noun” alternatives. 

Here’s how the published essay “Pivot” began:

The verb “pivot” means to reach a point and then turn in a new direction. Like a basketball player. Or the Titanic. 

Here’s the beginning of the rock-bottom version of “Pivot,” which I intended to use if I lost my appeal and was forced to declare bankruptcy:  
piv·ot  /ˈpivət/
noun:  the central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates.
synonyms:  fulcrumaxisaxleswivelpinhubspindlehingekingpin, gudgeon   

The noun is the older, more literal meaning of the English word “pivot.” The verb usage reflects the word’s subsequent metaphorical expansion to cover any change in direction. But the key is the original image of a fulcrum.

An effective pivot gives you enough leverage to move a particular obstacle. As the classical mathematician and engineer Archimedes supposedly said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Everyone quotes Archimedes when they’re looking for a big stick. Smart, funny people find the right fulcrum.

If the Court of Appeals had affirmed the trial court’s erroneous legal ruling, they would have eliminated my last hope for obtaining reasonable financial compensation for the injuries to my family. The Court would have also slammed the door shut on clearing my name and salvaging my professional reputation. Plus Washington’s easily-twisted “whistleblower protection” statute would have stuck me with an unjust bill for the other side’s legal fees, and forced me into bankruptcy. By many reasonable child-welfare measures, that significant risk meant rock bottom for my small family.

Some would say it’s been another tough year for the Leishmans. We are tough people. But kind. And funny. As I described in “Mindset” and other essays this year, I’ve learned to recognize even the biggest challenges as opportunities for growth and change. In particular, money is just money. 

By the time the Court of Appeals issued its decision in September, all that was left of the worst-case version of my “Pivot” essay was a noun and a couple of witty quotes about being broke and unemployed. I even made a list of the ten most likely outcomes that might come to pass over the next couple of years. The worst possible scenarios all involved the kids and me moving in with my sainted parents on the other side of Bellingham.  
Is that really so bad?

But don’t take my word for it. 

Currently one of my nephews lives at my parents’ house while he finishes high school in Bellingham. On Monday nights I invite him over for dinner at our house so my parents can get a break, and so my unruly children can practice their table manners. 

As Oliver and I were peeling potatoes last week, I overheard my daughters tell their cousin how lucky he is because he goes to Squalicum High School and gets to eat Grandma food every day.

I pointed out that I was busy making delicious mashed potatoes for ungrateful mouths, and suggested my parents have been phoning it in since they retired. Most nights Grandpa probably picks up pizza from Little Caesar’s. My legalistic arguments were met with deaf ears and rolled eyes. Everyone knows I can’t compete with Grandma. 

When you have this much leverage to work with, rock bottom can’t scare you. It doesn’t matter how heavy your burdens become, or what direction you end up going next. My children and I are blessed because we come from good people.

Previously in Rock Bottom Stories: “Pandora's Box.”    Next: Better-Ish.” 

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