"They're going to fire meeeeeee," my friend Mindy sobbed into the phone, so loud I had to pull it away from my ear to avoid going deaf.
"It's going to be okay," I assured her. Mindy had always been a strong lawyer with a good reputation.
"No, it's not!" she screeched. "My boss pulled me aside today as I was leaving..." she paused to blow her nose and take a shuddering breath, "and he told me that I needed to 'pull it together' or take some time off."
I sighed. I knew Mindy was going through a custody battle akin to World War II. "Min, what are you doing that your boss would say that?"
She sighed and blew her nose again. "I cried at my desk yesterday," she admitted. "And then, in a meeting... I didn't have my part of the presentation done. I've been late to work. I've... oh God a whole bunch of things. Look, I know you had a rough divorce and you... managed to keep it together." She hiccupped and sighed. "I need to know how you did it."
And here's what I told her:
One. Compartmentalize your life. When going through my divorce, my planner was my best friend. You can keep it in your phone, use your PC or (like me), do it the old-fashioned way and use one with actual paper. Either way, everything (yes, I mean that) got scheduled. Make dinner for tomorrow. Pick up kids from school. Prepare for Tuesday's meeting. Call the dentist. And of course, my favorite -- LMS. You can look at that planner and LMS was given a specific time every day. LMS specifically meant Losing My S**t. Which translated into crying, screaming in my car (yeah, I did it), cursing about my ex on the phone with my mother... anything that I needed to do that may have seemed irrational or completely off the hook if done at any other time. Most importantly, LMS cannot be done while at work. In the car on the drive home, in your kitchen while cooking dinner or even in bed after kids are asleep. But never, ever at the office. You may argue that you can't control when you lose it. But believe me, knowing you have a specific time that you can (and should) lose it actually helps. "I won't think about the papers Tom served on me now. I'll think about it at 6." File it away. Compartmentalize that because otherwise, it will take over every moment of your life.
Two. Be honest, but realistic. When I filed for divorce, I had a frank conversation with my boss about what was going on. When you chat with your supervisor, be realistic about the changes you're facing; whether those are time constraints or full schedule conflicts. If you foresee serious problems, ask if there is anyway for you to have a few hours extra one day a week, try to negotiate an earlier (or later) workday, an alternate schedule or simply see how much leeway you are going to have going through this period in your life. Smiling and telling everyone that you're "just fine," and it's business as usual might find you late at night still working at your desk, sobbing as you eat Nutella out of the jar while trying to finish a report. Not a pretty picture. If you don't have any leeway with your hours, then you will really need to...
Three. Enlist an army of support. If you now have to pick up kids from school at 3:30 p.m. and your workday doesn't end until 5:00 p.m., then you need to circle the wagons and rally the troops. Find other moms you know to help out, even if it's one day a week each. If you have family, ask them to lend a hand until you can work out something more permanent. If your kids need help with homework and you failed math, find out if there is after school student tutoring in the library. I used to work on spreadsheets as my kids got tutored in Science. Anything you can ask for help -- do it. Even if it's your mom who cooks dinner for you once a week; one less thing you have to do will help you keep your sanity.
You can make it through this difficult time without losing your mind -- or your job. And one day, one of your friends at work may stop by your desk and tearfully ask how you "kept it together." You can smile knowingly, pat her hand, and open your planner.