Frank Pomata – How I Fired Myself and Found Myself

As the saying goes, “Man plans. God laughs.” After a lifetime spent denying I even had a mental illness, to myself as well as others, my life took a turn when I took on a job, became overwhelmed, and decided to “exit stage left.”  In the wake of that negative event, I ended up finding myself.

The year was 2013. After several months of unemployment, I’d finally landed a new job with a former employer. I was thrilled to be back with an organization where I’d previously thrived. These people knew me, I knew them and I would essentially be doing a job (After School Program Director) almost identical to the one I’d held 9 years before. On paper, the stars had aligned.

Almost from the beginning, I could sense things were not going to go smoothly. My office at the school was not equipped with a computer or working phone, my Assistant Director had health issues and could not report until several weeks later, and my current supervisor had his hands full wearing several hats at the parent agency making it difficult for him to offer me his full support.

That being said, I forged ahead. I’d been out of work for several months. I did not want to disappoint my wife, my former employer and of course myself. Meanwhile, the problems were not getting resolved, and then one day my boss tells me I have to go to a mandatory meeting in Manhattan having to do with our AmeriCorps volunteers. OK. A change of scenery. I’d worked in the big city before, I knew the subway system. So far, so good.

I arrived early at the designated office. There was another Director of an After School program there, too.

The woman we were to meet with ushered us into her office and proceeded to hand us a huge binder and launched into an hour-long briefing on the reporting requirements for this federally-funded program. In my head, I was saying “OMG!  I have to do all of this for just two members of my team. Yikes!”       

I had supervised AmeriCorps volunteers in the past and never dealt with this, so I was kinda blind-sided. After the meeting concluded, the other Director and I picked up our binders and headed downstairs in the elevator together. Both of us were shaking our heads and I said aloud, “How am I supposed to do all of this in addition to everything else I have to do to run my program??” I returned to the parent agency and told my supervisor I didn’t know if this job was going to work out for me. He tried to encourage me to stick with it, said things would get better and he would try to find more time to resolve the problems I was encountering. I did not have much confidence that was going to happen anytime soon, esp. since I knew he would be leaving soon for a two-week vacation at Disney. I told him I didn’t feel well and needed to go home. On the way home, I stopped at a pharmacy, obtained a couple of boxes of sleeping pills and went home to take a very long nap.

Suffice it to say, I was found and my life was saved so I’m here to tell my tale. This is what the folks in the field call a “critical incident.”

Alarm bells were ringing in my head as I lay in the hospital bed. I couldn’t dodge this one. I was basically forced to sign myself in for treatment at the hospital’s Psych Ward. Naturally, we called my boss, informed him of the situation and told him I could not return to the job. What seemed like an awful turn of events at the time ultimately led me to acknowledging my illness and the need to seek help, feeling better, and eventually I returned to the workforce.

Has the stigma around mental illness disappeared? Nope. However, I no longer feel like I have to hide in the shadows for fear of negative perceptions or discrimination. Now, I check off that box on the job application where it says “Do you have a disability that may require accommodations?” I don’t have to say what my disability is, but at least I have been up front, put my fears behind me, and laid the groundwork should I experience a crisis or need some sort of adjustments from my employer.

Last year, thanks to inspiration from Mike Veny, a respected speaker and author on Mental Wellness, I began a telling my story in public forums. By dispelling myths and informing the public and the business community, I hope to be a catalyst for change so the stigma around mental illness no longer has the same power it has today. That’s how I fired myself and found myself.

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