Barriers

TW: anxiety attack, gendered medical stuff, mentions of rape and suicidal ideation

 

This is how not to be positive: save up all the yucky bits and do them at once. You feel worse after that, because there’s just so much of it.

 

It’s a bit weird, to be annoyed at someone for talking about my personal life in somewhere that isn’t locked down and filtered. The difference is, when I talk about it openly, I still have that choice. If I talk about it openly, it’s here, where my actual identity is protected. It’s not somewhere that I don’t choose who gets to see it, with my name attached to it.

 

See, there are people who still don’t know how bad things are. My parents won’t tell anyone, because it’s “not their place”, or rather, they don’t want anyone to know. It’s led to the destruction of a few relationships – family members ring me, and think I’m ignoring them when I don’t answer, not that I’m asleep or, you know, can’t talk. (I have checked – it costs about $900 to get a TTY, and I don’t have that.) It’s good in a way, because the ones I don’t want relationships with have disappeared, but still. I explicitly told them what they can and cannot share, to whom, and why. They won’t tell anyone anything because they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. This is reinforced by the one time they did tell someone – “She can’t talk,” my mum said, and explained that we keep in touch by text and IMs.

“You shouldn’t do that,” she was told. “That’s just encouraging it. You have to ring her every day.” Never mind that the last time I tried to ring my parents, I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and I ended up on the floor crying for an hour because they would not hang up, and tried to fit everything into the one phone call, rather than letting me go after the main part was done. Never mind that my mum can’t hear me on the phone, either, because she’s deaf. You know how strangers get to dictate your life because they’re better at everything than you.

I had a friend contact me out of the blue, wanting to know how I was. I used to have a stable of that sort of friend, and I pointed out, quite honestly, that it was three years, and he was contacting me on a forum account I don’t use anymore, and my situation had changed. I was no longer able to drive an hour and a half to see him. He would not meet me halfway. He suggested an event. I told him I was not able to go to that event because it would trigger me. He “didn’t know it was that bad”. I’m not sure what he expected – he contacted me because he remembered me because my name came up in a forum discussion of people who left because they were harassed into it.

I have a friend who is spiralling, much more than I am, even when I had the Mirena in. She asked for advice, and I gave it. We had just had a fight, because I could see she was spiralling, and I pointed it out, and her disagreement was a form of self-protection – she needs to tell herself she isn’t because if she realises she is, then she has to make changes, and that’s too hard right now. It got to the point where I bowed out of the conversation, making a small statement about how it was a personal issue for me and I couldn’t continue if she wouldn’t listen. The argument was to do with a work issue, you see, and I cannot stand by and watch people let their bosses act illegally, especially when it’s detrimental to their health. Specifically – I couldn’t get through to her that her work situation was hurting her, that the things they want from her are things that they can’t legally ask, and, specifically – that the things she was saying that she couldn’t do because of work were not things that they had either asked for or could enforce. She was, in essence, compromising herself, making herself unhappy, and saying it was because of work, and wouldn’t listen when I pointed out that this wasn’t the case, and it wasn’t legal for them to do so.

So when she asked for advice on her work situation, I gave it. Briefly, but only because it would be weird if I didn’t, and I kept from making it sound like advice in that I didn’t say what she should or should not do, but just stated what the legal best course of action was, and offered to help if she needed it. This was in her personal space, where I didn’t control the audience, so I didn’t give examples. Again, she didn’t agree. But instead of not agreeing, her comment back was almost bizarre in its defensiveness – and she said that my comment was more about my personal issues and didn’t apply to her, because her workplace was better than mine. Ultimately, she didn’t agree because it was me who was saying it, and it wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

I ended up restating my comment in more detail, and stopped trying to phrase it as impartial. “This is what you need to do. This is all that is necessary for you to do. This is all that anyone who is not your boss needs to know.” And then, to protect myself from another argument, to prevent myself from having to watch her spiral and drag me down with her, I cut her off. This was fuelled by a single thought – nobody gets to decide what about my personal life gets shared in a space I don’t control. She doesn’t get to decide whether or not what I’m saying is coloured by my experience, a thing which would be helpful, in most cases.

It was funny, because the part of my comment that she objected to was “if you feel safe to do so”. It’s a generic thing that people use when talking about reprisals from management – if you feel like you’re going to be sacked, performance managed, or treated in a less legally defensible but more negative way for coming out about your medical condition, don’t do it. Apparently, her workplace isn’t like that, and she feels I only said that because mine wasn’t, and I’m projecting. It’s called denial – the reason she’s spiralling is partly because of her workplace. There are people there she won’t tell, because she’s not close enough to them to feel confident telling them. For me, feeling confident = feeling safe, in this context. I don’t know what else is happening for her that I can hit her triggers so easily, or that being impartial makes her lash out. But I can’t be around for her to keep lashing out at, especially if it’s to reassure her that the thing she’s already decided on is right at the expense of legal advice being wrong. In my rephrased comment, in which I chose not to address her accusations, I pointed out that she had asked for advice and in response to that I gave it.

 

I talk about advice, here, and I am going to be super careful and say that I cannot give legal advice – I’m not practicing as a lawyer, so if I give advice, it’s at the YMMV, at your own risk level, where people ask me because they know I have the education and experience, and I might feel helpful enough to give them an honest perspective, but it’s like asking your plumber friend whether your shower head needs replacing or just a new washer – it’s probably just calcium building up and could do with a good clean, but he doesn’t know if he doesn’t look at it, and if you want him to look at it you have to pay him. If he’s in a good mood and it’s easy, he might just do it for pizza, but don’t expect it all the time and you’d better at least pay for parts as well.

 

The funny part about the whole thing is that when I give advice, it can’t be personal. I can’t influence it by thinking of any of the workplaces I’ve had, and my base condition wasn’t actually caused by work, so it’s a flawed connection at best. The more distance I have from it, the more pronounced this is, so I’ve only been noticing it in the last few months.

The first time it clearly happened I was in the waiting room at class. There was an argument over whether someone could be forced to advertise a work event on their personal Facebook. (The answer, in case you’re wondering, is no – unless it’s an account owned and operated for work by work, they can’t touch your personal social media accounts, even LinkedIn. They can expect you to until the cows come home, but they can’t enforce it if you don’t.) It was the first time I talked in the waiting room, and the whole thing came out without my brain even planning what to say, as if it was still an autopilot response to a client on a first interview screen. “Unless it’s a work account, you can’t be expected to post anything on social media for work. It’s an invasion of your privacy and it can’t be enforced. Work can’t make any rules about your personal account.” Everyone in the room stopped and stared.

“It was a joke,” someone said.

“If it’s a joke, don’t ask an employment lawyer,” I said, and I started crying. My class that day was terrible, because I’d spent all my preparation spoons outside, and I was a wreck. But I didn’t even mean to say it. It wasn’t me saying it.

And, each time, it gets worse. My brain still has the on/off switch for lawyer-mode. In lawyer-mode, I have no personal life. To function in that mode, I have to dissociate. I can’t bring any personal bias into it because I am not me. That’s why I can’t go back to work there, or anywhere like that, or switch into another role that uses my experience. I do not care. I don’t have empathy, or emotions, because I don’t have time. My brain is analytical and fast, and nothing else matters.

And that’s why I had to cut her off, because the personal cost to trying to help her is too much for me, not just because she’s spiralling, not because she feels it’s okay to use my mental health as a reason to justify not seeing her own issues and to breach my privacy to do it, not because she won’t listen to me, but the kind of help she’s asking for then batting away is a kind I can’t keep giving. It’s not just the ‘if she isn’t ready to help herself there’s no point’ or ‘people have to want to change on their own’ or ‘you have to say it in a certain way’. It hurts me to try to help, yes, but if it’s a small cost, it might be worth it.

A positive conversation would have looked like this:

Hey peeps! I need your opinion – should I tell my officemate this personal thing about me? He already knows I have X. I don’t want to tell everyone in the office, because I don’t feel comfortable with people I don’t work with knowing. What would you want to know if you were my officemate?

“Hey, you shouldn’t do that, it’s not required. Tell your boss, since he’s the only one you need to tell, it’ll cover all your bases. You don’t need to tell anyone else, unless you feel safe doing so. Most reasonable people only need to know what he already knows.”

Oh okay, but it’s really important to me that my officemate has all the info he needs, and I feel like I have to tell someone.

“Well, you’re not legally required to tell him. He already knows more than he needs to, and by telling your boss, you’re telling someone anyway. Your boss can make arrangements for you to have extra accommodations if you need them.”

 

This is what the negative conversation looked like:

Hey peeps! I need your opinion – should I tell my officemate this personal thing about me? He already knows I have X. I don’t want to tell everyone in the office, because I don’t feel comfortable with people I don’t work with knowing. What would you want to know if you were my officemate?

“Hey, you shouldn’t do that, it’s not required. Tell your boss, since he’s the only one you need to tell, it’ll cover all your bases. You don’t need to tell anyone else, unless you feel safe doing so. Most reasonable people only need to know what he already knows.”

I think you’re bringing your own personal issues into it because you didn’t feel safe at your work but mine is great! It’s all about me because I’m not comfortable not telling him all the details that were in my post and I have to tell someone because it’s really important to me to tell him because otherwise I might do something and he won’t understand. It’s not about my boss.

“I don’t think I came across clearly, so I’mma say this again.

You need to tell your boss, because it’s going to affect your work and he needs to know in order to arrange ADA accommodations and to tamp down any other issues that arise.

You do not need to tell anyone else anything unless you feel safe doing so and it is a thing you want to do. If they need to know about your accommodations to do their job, it’s your boss’ job to explain it to them, but that’s it.

Since you asked “what would you want to know if you were my officemate?”, if I were your officemate, I would not want to know, because I already know about X and that’s enough information to understand, and I don’t need to know any more.”

In other comments, she also said she couldn’t be fired because they train people over a long time so she can’t be fired as they’ve invested in her, that there are people in the office that she doesn’t want to know about this, and less than twenty four hours prior she’d complained about being harassed in this very same workplace and written it off because “they’re just guys and they don’t understand” but she didn’t feel very happy about it. After the last time, I hadn’t replied to that one, but I knew if I didn’t reply to this one, since she’d asked and our mutual friends are aware of my previous occupation, it would be strange. And, you know, optimism. With a rainbow on top.

So I wrote that, and then I defriended her, because otherwise it would be a circle of her not understanding, justifying not understanding, and I would spend longer in this not-me state where the only things that matter are laws and awards and every situation is a puzzle with people who need to be placated and treated gently until they do the right thing. (In my old job, I had two people tell me they intended to kill themselves because of their situation. In one of those situations, I was the only thing between them and doing it, and I talked them down. The other one I referred off to the senior partner, and then he yelled at me for it even though he’d told me to do exactly what I did. I know what it looks like, and I’m seeing it here. Perhaps I’m a shitty person for not trying harder, or not sticking around, but it would be really wrong if I compromised myself to help her see that she’s compromising herself.)

 

If I still had the Mirena in, I would not have coped with any of this nearly as well-but-not-perfectly as I have. Especially with the other things that have happened since Friday:

  • I was talking about my anxiety on an anonymous forum. Someone set me off by saying that my anxiety made me a “shitty person”. People started questioning whether my anxiety was real, said anxiety isn’t a medical term so I didn’t really have it, started saying how I should and shouldn’t act based on how I presented and what I said, and anyone who defended me was told they were either me or projecting, or rudely dismissed. Oh, and clearly I brought it on myself because I was meant to reply to everyone individually and everyone gave really good advice that wasn’t asked for and had no substance, and so on. Then! I received an email from someone who’d been reading all this, gone hunting, managed to identify me, and with the full knowledge that emailing me would give me an anxiety attack, because, you know, emails do that, emailed me, referenced the forum, and spent a good 1000 words saying how I was bad and wrong. I spent a few hours crying, and only today, after planning it in my head, wrote out a reply, carefully outlining how rude they were and that it wasn’t me on the forum, because since they clearly disregarded my mental health I wanted to make sure they had no reason to contact me through other means. Then I blocked them at the server. Also, I let the people who run the forum know. They told me that it’s my responsibility and I shouldn’t have posted personally identifying information. Which, you know, since I didn’t, I pointed that out, and suggested they discourage it, as while outing people on the forum is bad, they’ve created a situation where it’s okay to harass people off the forum, based on information as flimsy as IPs gained from hacking the forum and guessing based on extra information which may or may not be correct (as in, “this person says they like ZTD on the forum, someone writes ZTD meta on tumblr, they must be the same person because nobody else likes ZTD!”).
  • I went to class, and I went early because I wanted to do some shopping first, and I only go that far once a week. I put my shopping in the car and when I left the carpark, who should be right by the door but the man who decided that me clearly laying out the terms and conditions under which I felt comfortable entering into a relationship with him (i.e. I am not a convenient outlet for your sexual urges while you go through  a messy divorce, I do not want to be part of a messy divorce, and I am not interested in a relationship so I do not want to do this with you, and you know that because I asked to hide in the staff room while my coworkers were chasing each other naked through the workroom and wouldn’t stop even though I was expressly uncomfortable with that fact) was grounds to pick me up, carry me into another room, and slam me into a filing cabinet with enough force that I ended up with a concussion. I had been told he moved interstate after he realised that he caused my concussion and that I was freezing him out, so that was quite a shock.
  • I had some lovely drama with the welfare office, which will get a post of its own when it resolves.
  • Not only are workers comp harassing me, still apparently unaware that I can’t talk, I have several messages from the ex who thought it was fun to not only rape me, but trigger dissociative, non-speaking episodes because they made me “communicate better” afterward. (Also the one who wouldn’t let me leave his house until he tossed a coin to see if the universe approved or not. The universe approved, thank goodness. And that is not all, but he doesn’t deserve a post of his own.)

 

If the Mirena was still in, goodness knows how far I would have fallen apart. Instead, I can’t even cry; it’s just a nothingness, because I’m not really back in myself yet. When I am, it will be a thing for a while, but with the Mirena, every single reaction was so huge I couldn’t hold it in, or act with the perspective of even putting it aside until, like today, I could do it all at once and then go have happy time. It’s not any better, dealing with it that way. Lumping it all in right now, when I’m not entirely me, is partly just a copout.

 

Of course, I’m not done. It turns out the gynaecologist, of the “it’s just conversion disorder, you’ll get over it” fame, doesn’t have email or an answering machine, and every time I go in to try to cancel the appointment, their door is locked. Two locks, actually, right next to a sign that says “Please come in”.

It never ends. Remind me to tell you why the relay service is a horror, one of these days.

 

You know, when I’m me, and I actually care.

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