A Step Too Far

CN: sexual harassment/assault

 

There’s a lot of things going on. Specifically, there’s lots of men being disciplined, suspended, or sacked (or… resigning, prompted by a forceful request…) after being accused of, or having evidence of sexual impropriety released, in the media.

A footballer was suspended for sharing a picture of a woman without her permission.

Production was suspended on a TV show after the lead actor was accused of assault.

A producer resigned and parts of his company followed, resulting in withdrawals and shutdowns on several projects.

 

In one case, the only people affected were the perpetrator and the victim. The perpetrator was disciplined subject to the policy of his employer and their supervising company. The victim did not pursue charges in order to retain her anonymity since the picture was shared online.

In many other cases, there are more people affected; not just family members or friends of the people involved, but people whose only connection is that they had a job which is now on hold or gone. Their only fault, if they have one, is that they didn’t say no to taking the job, which in this climate, may not have been a viable option when juxtaposed with one’s need to have money for things like food. Some of those people did have the financial freedom and the knowledge to choose not to, and they chose otherwise in the first instance. But terminating that project now, even if it is a financial loss to them, is not a thing which just affects them.

Continue reading A Step Too Far

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The Problem With Solidarity

CW: rape, PTSD, underage sexual grooming, sexual harassment, gaslighting

 

I am heartily sick of everything being a rainbow. (More particularly, I’m sick of people selling things with rainbows on it and saying they’re allies, because monetizing this whole travesty is ridiculous and offensive.)

 

That’s not what this post is about. Monetizing solidarity is a thing, and I do not like the thing, but what I also do not like is the concept that solidarity is mandatory and harmless.

It is absolutely dangerous and harmful.

It’s easy to like a post when the ACTU stick up a picture of Sally McManus’ head and say ‘workers united will never be defeated!’. It’s not easy to then get your job back after you’ve lost it, even though your right to participate in a union is supposedly legislatively protected. Disciplinary action based on employer monitoring of private social media pages and firings/warnings based on ‘not representing ‘our’ brand’ have been upheld as much as they have been overturned at FWC, and that’s just going to get worse the more integration is seen as necessary – as workers need to brand themselves to be attractive to employers, and social media representation and follower counts become part of that. That’s a financial consequence to solidarity.

That’s also not what I’m talking about.

 

Continue reading The Problem With Solidarity

Oh, Supergirl…

TW: workplace harassment

 

I don’t know what’s been worse for me – watching Supergirl and seeing Kara being bullied at work, or being told every time I bring it up and point it out in some fannish space that it’s not bullying, it’s a positive mentor relationship (or something).

 

Let’s get something straight – part of the problem is the people who don’t believe workplace harassment is a thing that happens, or that women don’t bully people, or whatever the excuse is. It happens. It’s a thing. Workplace bullying can cause PTSD.

 

SPOILERS for Supergirl up to the current US airing follow.

Continue reading Oh, Supergirl…

Normal

TW: workplace harassment, anxiety, ptsd, exposure therapy, rape survival

 

That last post was not the one I was meant to write. I meant to put all that off until Monday, and take the weekend to myself, and self-care and be strong and handle everything well. Obviously, that hasn’t happened.

 

One of the things that was asked of me in the appointment was about exposure therapy. It’s pretty much the only thing that’s definitively known to work, and it’s highly specific, because it involves being exposed to something triggering and/or the exact trauma, and dealing with it, in order to re-learn that it’s safe. It worked the first time I was raped, and I kind of instituted it myself – I had to live in the room where it happened, I had to see people who were involved, I had to go to places where he was. I didn’t get over it, but I coped until I no longer had to do those things. Now I can go into the mall, but it’s a crapshoot as to whether I’ll be assaulted for how I look, so that bugs me more than the prospect of running into him, which I did every week for two years as I cut through to class from the bus stop, no matter what route I took.

Specifically, he wanted to know if I did it in the office or if I was given tasks to do outside the office. The idea that I do it outside the office was a bit weird to him, because most times it’s done in the office because that’s a controlled environment.

 

The thing is, with being assaulted because of how I look, and being treated the way I am because of my condition, it’s not meant to be a thing I get used to, and exposure therapy is very limited, because it’s supposed to register as Not Okay that someone comes up to me while I’m sitting on a bench, texting my mum to say I bought her a thing, and they pat my clothes and tell me they had to interrupt me to tell me how good I look. If I ignore them, they’re meant to take that as a sign I don’t want to interact, not assume I’m deaf and forcefully make me look at them to lip read. That particular lady then got hit by a bicycle. I’m assuming she learned from that.

But with my condition, things like going outside, dealing with people, that is exposure therapy, because for 18 months the only people I interacted with harassed me. There was the one who trapped me at my desk to tell me that having crystals on my wall was against my religion, the one who would dictate over my shoulder while stroking my back, the one who showed pictures of someone’s mangled genitals around because they were disgusting, and of course, the people I actually worked for, who don’t deserve mentioning. I can’t do that in an office, because it’s the whole concept of having an uncontrolled environment that’s the problem.

 

The thing that triggered that post was simple. I discovered, I forget how, a website, where a lady takes questions about workplace issues, gives her answer, and then people in the comments go on about how great she is. I frequently disagree with her answers, but it’s only recently I’ve started to comment, because I keep going to it out of some desire to torture myself, and of course, exposure therapy. It makes me upset, and if I am upset because of something else, I can transfer the upset to that. Until now, my comments have been so late they’ve been ignored.

 

Today, in between being a terrible person because I wondered if the coup in Turkey meant Greece got Konstantinoupoli back, I wandered in to check whether anyone had replied to what I said yesterday, and apparently, I replied early enough to not only get dogpiled, but the lady herself had replied! Some of the commenters literally take her word as something akin to the Gospel, so I’m not sure that I was meant to be upset by what she said, but it was, and I actually cried for like a second.

The topic in question was the use of work email for personal reasons. People apparently think that’s okay. My comment was that in some workplaces I had seen, it was not, and was considered stealing company resources (the fact that it is an extraordinarily low cost aside), and it was common here for personal use to be covered by a social media policy (with some real life examples), and that having such a policy could be a tool to discipline people whose work is affected by an imbalance of personal use, but that I viewed some allowance as a good morale boost/retention strategy. Even commenting on this site triggers a shift in my brain, back to that old not-me, and I’m convinced it’s part of why I’m backsliding, the same way as I immediately felt better once I stopped mainlining Phoenix Wright games, even though those are a vastly different field to mine.

Today, apparently using work resources for personal use is perfectly acceptable, policies are infantilising, and the kicker is that she thinks my perception of workplace norms has been warped because they were weird.

Of course, everyone agreed with her, hence the dogpile. I was like

I responded, because I’m stupid, and pointed out that I’m aware my work history isn’t normal, but in my area, this is not. I gave a bit more detail, an analogy, and deleted a thing about misrepresenting the company as it was long, although I should add that back in. She holds fast that it is not, actually, you know, dodgy to use work resources for personal stuff, and that’s why she thinks it’s not normal.

I’m aware that where I have worked and the environments I have worked in are not normal. This is why I got out even though nobody actually agreed with me until after I got out and they saw the damage and had proof in the form of a successful workers’ comp claim. I don’t need some lady on the internet telling me that it’s normal to send personal emails from a work address with work stationery and that places that don’t let you are bad and that one workplace skewed my perception of normal, or people saying “but it was her first job and she didn’t know better”, because it wasn’t my first job I used in the example, and they’re talking about a workers’ rights organisation, i.e., the people who are like ‘you got fired for being on Facebook at work? no probs, we’ll sue and fix that right up for you for free!’. I’m extremely aware of what normal is.

But having a policy that said “limited personal use, during lunch, no torrenting, no social media” isn’t infantilising. Here it is normal. That’s a pretty standard thing. To say that isn’t normal is basically saying all the other stuff that happened is normal. I flat out stated that I know some of the things I went through are nor normal; this is considered normal, here, in this particular climate, where at-will is not a thing, 457s are overused and undermanaged, casual workers have more security and yet can’t rely on hours, and every position must have a contract. It’s different. Here, it is normal. I drafted a hundred of them. There are other posts on this site, that are like “an employer can do that, it’s not illegal, it might be weird, but it’s allowed”. Why is this thing so abnormal? If it was pens and paper, and someone took a pen and a ream of paper home every week, that would be theft, right? Or putting personal mail through the franking machine? Small, but not right.

 

By saying that is the abnormal thing about everything I’ve been through? That hurt me.

I’m terrified about speaking up for myself because if I said “hey, this thing wasn’t done on time because I wasn’t told to do it and when I asked about it I was told not to do it”, I got told “but you should have known to do it anyway”. I complained about being dragged into an office for three hours to have everything explained to me because I said that receiving instructions in text speak was Not Okay, and I got told that “it’s the only way I can make you understand things”. I had to stay late, because I lost that time while it was decided what to do, and changed, and every abbreviation was explained to me because she was incapable of writing full words. I couldn’t manage my own workload because I worked for three people and if I was seen doing something for someone else I would get confronted = “Why haven’t you done my work yet? It’s urgent, I just emailed you.” Doesn’t matter that I’m half in a cupboard, doing other urgent work, and the email was sent while she saw me in the cupboard specifically so she could complain that I hadn’t read it yet. I made myself sick and was throwing up, so she followed me to the toilet and told me off for not being at my desk and how she had to follow me to tell me the thing she’d already told me. I never got lunch. I had a panic attack and I was told to get back to work, and when I refused I was given the silent treatment.

Work only realised how bad it was when the partner couldn’t find her on her work from home day – her work from home day was her day off, you see, and of course she couldn’t be found when her client complained. They made her stay at work longer, meaning I had to work longer, because I couldn’t get anything done if she was there, because I had to physically find every document in the files for her, in her personal filing system, where there were four copies of everything because she needed a new file to take to each meeting (this was one of the things I should have known to do, even though she told me she already had the last one and that was fine), because she couldn’t find it, and I would know where it was. I closed the door behind me and she complained that I slammed it and I received a warning for being impersonable. Clients, other people, both internal and external, would call me instead of her, and she encouraged it. The internal people said it was just faster and they didn’t want to deal with her. The external people put up with it, because she would just hand them back and say I could deal with it, never mind that I shouldn’t have been doing so, and chances are they would have called me back to explain it to them anyway. I received blank files and it was expected that I would know to have everything ready for court, because I knew what to do and she didn’t want to give instructions. It was expected that I would spend twenty minutes on the phone screening new clients, because she didn’t like to be surprised and if a client didn’t want to discuss it with me, I got in trouble, because that wasn’t my job. The time I put a call through without asking her first, because it was a new phone system, an urgent call, and she was waiting for it, she gave me a warning because she hadn’t been able to emotionally prepare for the call. Nobody else expected to rock up to work and have the day’s files laid out with a printed timetable on top. She arrived to work early and was annoyed that it wasn’t there, yelling at me in front of everyone, because she was early and I should have magically known to have it there even though I was working solidly through until 8pm the day before and it was one of two times she was in the office before me, so I wasn’t actually, you know, there to update the file with her emails from overnight, and put it on her desk. She wouldn’t check her email for months at a time, so I often received work when it was too late, making everything urgent. (She didn’t know I was off sick for over a week. I got back to over three hundred emails, because she sent me all the work anyway. Meanwhile, I’d been receiving emails at home from the court, because they knew they received an incomplete application, and I hadn’t done it.) When I was given emergency access to her inbox when she was off sick (and then away for no reason for a month with no warning), she got back and stopped giving me instructions because she decided I could just check her email for her and do it all without her being involved. I had to spend an hour every morning fixing accounts, and both the only accounts person who would touch her accounts and I were told off for being social during work time. Then, because she wouldn’t manage her accounts herself, that became my job too, and I had the accounts manager calling me all the time, demanding that I drop everything because a bill hadn’t been paid and to follow it up and answer all her questions right then.

When I had a panic attack that left me unable to move or talk, I was told it was important so get back to work. She gave me the silent treatment, because “I think of you as my daughter, so if you’re going to act like a child I will treat you like one”. Her actual daughter got appendicitis at school, and the school called me instead of her. I had to explain what appendicitis was, how it felt, how it was treated, and whether I thought her daughter was making it up. I wasn’t allowed to say no. Another time I had a panic attack I was forced to go around the office apologising for being disruptive because it was decided it would make me feel better.

 

Using the work email to be like ‘hey, I won’t be home, can you cook tea?’ or ‘you need to get on a plane, your mum is dying’? That’s downright normal compared to all that.

 

The two kickers – workload was reassigned. We were meant to have input. I explicitly asked to be moved and to not work with the man who repeatedly wandered out of his office to talk to me and put me down for whatever he felt like, as well as advising me on my career without actally being asked to do that. I was stuck with him on top of what I was already doing, because “it’ll be good for you”. I walked out after a week or two weeks; I can’t remember now, and I stopped journalling because I didn’t have the energy to go through it all a third time, because I had to ring my parents when I got home every day and tell them everything that happened, and if I did not they would ring me and not hang up until I did, and then email me until I picked back up, so I don’t have a reference. What I was already doing was being yelled at for having a panic attack because work was given to me for Monday at 4:30pm on Friday with the statement “it’s okay! You can just do it when she’s not here! You’re just being stupid!”

 

The only way I got a day off to go to the doctor was because I had booked it months in advance. I hadn’t been able to take a day to go to my surgical followup, and I’d had to go in on my previous two days off, and I’d been told off one of those times for having plans on my day off. I went to the doctor, who sent me to the psychologist, who told me that he would support a workers’ comp claim.

 

My claim was only accepted when she resigned under mysterious circumstances, and instead of me taking her job as planned, they gave it to someone else, who knew her. Everyone knew her. I imagine the conversation went like this:

“So, we have an outstanding workers’ comp claim, what do you think we should do? We’re due in court next week.”

“Are you kidding me? You have no grounds to contest this. You’re lucky she isn’t suing you in the civil system! Withdraw, now, before this goes public and destroys your reputation.”

I think, anyway. They didn’t even ask me for the keys back, so someone must have told them that the only thing they could do was to leave me alone.

 

And not being allowed to use company things for personal stuff is the thing that isn’t normal? And you’re giving advice on workplace issues?

What the hell?

 

It took me a year to re-learn how to dress myself, because that was something that was also policed. “Your neckline is too low. Nobody will like you like that. Your necklace is twisted.”

“Don’t touch me,” I said, and I pushed her away.

“What’s wrong with you?” she said.

 

I am never going back to work. I know this. You just don’t get over being systemically harassed. No amount of exposure therapy makes that not be a thing that reaches in and pulls it out.

Naturally, there are a bunch of comments that are calling me stupid, what I said stupid, and nobody is going to accept that a thing is not okay, because they want my normal to be just like theirs, and won’t listen to anything else, just saying the same thing over and over. They can’t differentiate an example from being an exclusive solution – citing that a thing worked and in this office here is how it worked = “but we don’t have admins so we can’t do that so it’s bad”. They think my example means I was disciplined for it and are mocking me, when they haven’t even been able to read it properly = “but her grandmother was sick, any decent person would make an exception once or twice”. They all say she, because she is the default there, something about feminist representation. That hurts too.

 

I have been through a lot of not normal shit. Someone saying “please don’t send personal emails from our work account” isn’t that. At all. Dismissing me by saying that it is? Dismisses my entire experience.

 

I suspect this is the catalyst for breaking up with the site. It will be a positive change, I think, to not get caught going through links being like “other people had this happen to them to and wait she said it’s okay? At least other people know how it feels. Wait, do not just go apologise to make you feel better, that’s stupid, apologies don’t work like that…” for hours at a time, until the flashbacks are so strong that I can’t see the screen and the air is stale and the lights are bright, the walls are red, and I hear her voice in my head.

 

Disconnecting

TW: description of flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms, suicidal ideation, self-harm

 

A very important part of my coping mechanism, i.e. how not to die, was called “no people day”. It’s very descriptive for a reason.

 

I haven’t had a no people day since February. A few hours, here and there, but not full days with no people, no devices, no social media. It’s really not working well for me.

 

In February, the moderator for a daily picture community I followed had to go away for a month, for family reasons. Nobody else would, so I stepped up to do it. I had just quit my weekly link-compiling job because people were harassing me about how I picked the links (rules are not a thing) and following me into my personal space for it, so I had time, and it’s just a picture a day, right? And crossposting it from the main site to social media. Ten minutes a day, maybe?

Since then I have not had a day to myself. It’s not a matter of just going in, posting the picture, and leaving again. I have to decide what picture, upload it, name it, link it, format the link, check the page is working, crosspost it, check the crosspost is working. I have to deal with comments. I have to act as secretary for the moderator, passing on her messages.

It isn’t fun any more.

 

Part of the reason it isn’t fun is because, increasingly often, now that it’s not a temporary thing (or rather, it is, just nobody knows how long for), the comments are things like “you should have posted this picture instead!” and “your titles are weird”. The other week there was an entire, two-day-long saga because apparently I was supposed to know about something that happened on the other side of the world and I was supposed to post pictures to celebrate it, despite the picture comm having a rather specific theme with nothing to do with current events at all. Then, when I worked out what was happening and made a post with the requested pictures, I got told off because people were afraid to look at them because apparently,  you know, pictures of naked people on social media isn’t the best kind of post to like and therefore share with all your friends. Obviously, which is why they weren’t posted until someone specifically asked, they were clearly labelled, and I said they would not be posted again.  Today is the third day in a row for the “you should have posted this picture instead!”. It comes from two people. One of them posts another picture in the daily theme and makes me feel like I’m not doing a good job enough for her because she always has an other favourite picture and everyone tells her how wonderful it is. The other one just tells me I should have posted X instead. Again. And she repeats herself until it gets posted. Today I told her that if I was actually doing something wrong she could just tell me so I could work on it, and if people didn’t like the themes (things like all the pictures have a man wearing brown so the page is titled Brown, pretty much because having a title makes the embeddable link pop up with a preview picture rather than a no content warning) then I could call all the posts the day of the week instead. Given that I use the titles to find whether I posted a picture recently, it would be annoying for me, but though I watched it before taking over, I’m not exactly the target.

 

Another part of the reason is that it’s hitting a lot of triggers I haven’t worked on because I didn’t know I had them, or that they were permanent. One of my jobs at old work, the place that gave me PTSD, was to update the Facebook page every day. I did this over breakfast. I got into work at 6am, got all the emails from overnight, printed them out, filed them, worked out what was important and what actually needed to be done (separate things), and at 8:15am I went downstairs and got a bacon sandwich with no butter. It was usually ready for me. I took it back to my desk and ate it out of the bag while I found a rights-free image, or an appropriate link, or whatever I’d been told to post, and I would make a post, check on comments. I was so good at it (page views drastically increased) that suddenly I was monitoring everything except Twitter, and only because I lied and said I didn’t have one, and the marketing manager had an app on her phone for it, so she handled DMs. So that routine also included taking enquiries, assigning people to clients, and then, naturally, “since you’re doing it anyway”, actually taking and interviewing new clients. And if I wasn’t done before my actual supervisor got in any time between 8:30am and 9am, well. Trouble. That bacon sandwich was usually my only food for the day.

I used to do stupid things, like take pictures of a toy in front of our sign and make a message about what kind of things we did. Easter? Well, the Easter bunny was there, literally. The skeleton that lives in an interview room? He got a name. This is what an office looks like, so if you come in you can see what it looks like first and prepare accordingly, if you need to. For ages after I left, even after they realised it wasn’t a good idea to have an employee with access to their social media who wasn’t actually at work and revoked my access, I was receiving notifications about these pictures, because Facebook (correctly) had determined that I owned them. ‘Add a description!’ it would tell me. I broke down one day and emailed them, saying I didn’t have access to the page any more and please just stop.

Miraculously, they stopped. So I thought I had gotten over it, you know. Facebook became my safe place. Sometimes I post things on there that I want people to know that I can’t say, and while I have filters and tightly control who can see what, have a ban list about three scrolls long, and don’t put information on there or post on public posts with my own name, it’s been mostly okay. My mum got an account last year and the influx of notifications every time she gets a new app and has to share it is very annoying, so it feels less safe, but right now I’m working on boundaries with her and every time she does something that hurts me I take the time to explain why and tell her the consequences, because she says to this day she didn’t know what was happening to me until I actually managed to get workers compensation for stress, which is nearly impossible here. (True story – I walked into court for the very first mediation, which I thought I wouldn’t have to attend until my lawyer emailed me that morning and asked if I was coming, and the mediator took one look at me and said “well, obviously, she can’t work, and we have to put her in a separate room”. One look.) I haven’t been able to get through to her that she is part of the problem, because when I got home at 8 or 9 pm (yes, that makes for a 15 hour day with a 15 minute break!) I had to ring her and tell her everything that happened, and if I didn’t she would just ask and ask and ask until I told her to shut up. Talking is one of those things that’s supposed to help, but for me it just solidified the abuse in my head, making it more real, because I had to go home and re experience it every day, to be told things like “well I can see both sides, you did it wrong after all” and “it’s not that bad, think of the money” and “you won’t get another job if you leave so you have to just get through it”. Three years later, I have a new trigger. Maybe I won’t ever get another job, I definitely did nothing wrong because it’s impossible to please someone who tells you not to do something and then wants the manager to give you a warning because you didn’t do it, and gives instructions written on post-it notes in text speak, oh, and expects you to do all her work for her on top of your own and everyone else’s. But over three years later, and I’m finding new triggers, and things that bother me now that didn’t even six months ago.

 

Part of that is that I haven’t had a no people day in months. Part of that is that I haven’t been sleeping, because I have had some kind of sinus thing for a month now and if I sleep I can’t breathe. Part of that is I have to deal with extra stuff that is so bad my partner is now very annoyed at me as he had to get stitches because I threw him into a mirror because he tried to stop me cutting my stomach open to get rid of a uterus that shouldn’t be there and the thing inside it that is controlling my mind and changing my body.

 

Part of that is that after I passed out this morning after experiencing an allergic reaction yesterday (itching->rash->unconscious->swollen throat), I woke up, rushed out to get my mail and found it wasn’t there, forgot deodorant again because my brain won’t remember anything, got home and showered because when I passed out I not only lost my knitting but spilled a drink on my head, and finally I settled into the computer to catch up on stuff before the rugby tonight (GO BLUES). In the page widget, there was an option to boost a post that wasn’t familiar to me. Apparently, the moderator, after being offline for two months and leaving me in charge indefinitely three months ago, decided that overnight was a good time to start sharing articles to the Facebook page, and just the Facebook page. This missed out the main part of the community, so I had to get the link (and backtrack to an official source, no less), and make an actual post for the main site, then because everything gets crossposted, post it back to Facebook, and this on top of the normal picture post.

This is mildly annoying. Anyone can post pictures to the main site, and there’s one other person who does – she has her own picture community, and if she posts one that fits with ours she crossposts it to us, and then I just crosspost that everywhere else. (Incidentally, if I don’t post a picture that someone else wants, they can just post it themselves, but they never do, they just comment to my post to tell me I didn’t include it. That’s why nobody else stepped up to actually post – they don’t want to, even occasionally.)

What I experienced today was not annoyance. Instead, I was sitting at my desk at old work, dressed in business clothes that felt too plain and wrong (the one day I wore something nice, on a day I was meant to have off, but I had to go in because my supervisor did and then she ignored me until five minutes before I left early because I had plans, damnit, I was told that my clothes were not appropriate. I was told that when I dressed any way, actually, and it took over a year after leaving before I re-learned how to dress like me), exhausted because I’d gotten home at 9:30pm and only slept for two hours because I was awake early so I didn’t miss the first bus (and even now, if I go to bed before 4am, I am awake at 4:36am, so I can get ready for the first bus), I was eating my bacon sandwich and being told off for eating at my desk, and told I didn’t have to post to Facebook today because the marketing manager had found a link last night and posted that because she thought it was interesting. I was visiting work with my parents, when they drove me in to pick up my stuff and drop off my Secret Santa present and my medical certificate for the time I was off due to emergency surgery, and the marketing manager ran up and said all the Facebook followers  wished me a good recovery, because she’d told them all I was away. I was getting emails during busy times, saying “post this by 11am because we have to keep content steady so we have the best chance of reaching people at peak time”.

And I was in her office, waiting for instructions because she’d emailed me to go to her office asap and then she was saying “you have to go apologise to everyone for having a panic attack, because that is rude and disruptive, and then I will tell you what I want you to do.”

I was at my desk, and she brought me two days of work at the end of the day after she’d held it back for a week and I said I didn’t have time and she was telling me off because of course I had time and everyone would help me even though they never actually did, and my supervisor would be away anyway, and it had to be done by Monday. My brain was blank and words wouldn’t come out so I started crying, and I was told off for that too.

 

And I would really like to have a no people day. I want to make a bunch of flowers for a birthday present. I don’t want to have to make screencaps and edit them to have pictures to post. I don’t want to wake up next time and have to be at the computer because if I don’t post the pictures by 6pm I will get comments asking where I am and if I am okay. I don’t want to have to post pictures at all. I don’t want people who asked me to look after the page because they were away to be posting content and screwing up the content metric. I don’t want to know what a content metric is or when the best times to post are or how to maximise post reach without paying because I learned all that in an office and I was so good at it that I got more to do even though I was already working 70 hour weeks to do at least three people’s work. (Fix the printer, the toner’s out again and you can do it cleanly! I don’t want to walk down two flights of stairs, can you just run an executable on the server real quick, while I wait? You’re better at maths, here’s a five year old file, can you sort out a schedule of costs? I’m at the country office, can you just interview the client for me and put a memo on my desk for Monday? How dare you leave a memo, that’s not how this works. A client’s going to kill himself and I’m really worried, can you call his doctor? You’re qualified anyway, just ring the client up and advise them, I trust you not to give them wrong advice since you’re so good at everything.)  I don’t want to get comments that the pictures I posted are the wrong ones or not good enough or there should have been twenty pictures and not four. I know these pictures are important, because the main target is women over 50 who are single or housebound and it’s been repeatedly expressed how nice it is for them that they wake up and see new pictures every morning and the comments are the only interaction they have with other people. The social media audience is wider, but they have their own entire subcommunity and they tag each other in comments and know each other, and because I was lurking before taking over, I’m uncomfortable being involved in that. I ignore everyone’s birthdays and just try to post a picture every day so that people can go to the page and not have to deal with stuff or feel left out because they don’t want to make their birthday public.

 

“Just turn off comments!” is the general thing people say when you say you don’t want them. But there’s a community in the comments, and I can’t take that away from them, and besides, it’s not my decision, because while I’m doing all the work, it’s not my community. If there is spam, and I just turn off notifications, then I don’t get the spam and I get yelled at for allowing it, because only moderators and people they specifically empower can delete spam. Similarly, if there is an actual issue, I wouldn’t get notified unless someone messaged me privately, and that’s not meant to happen and it’s why I quit the compiling one. And if I just ignored them, then eventually people would resent me. What I do right now is reply to some comments, the ones that ask about the pictures or provide actual feedback, and let the rest go. I still have to read them, though, to decide which is which.

 

I can schedule the posts, and I have bought some days that way, but I can’t schedule and crosspost, so I still have to go do that. I haven’t had a no-people-day in four months. I cannot deal with this by having a no-people-day and recharging my introvert batteries.

 

And now I have to go be on and happy and watch the rugby, when all I want to do is cry and sleep and not have to then go and report on the result and cook for a ton of people because they don’t have their own tvs or whatever. And crosspost this. Of course.

Anti-People

TW: discussion of flashbacks

 

I like the internet. For one thing, it lets me talk to people who aren’t here. One of the things I’m meant to be doing in my “recovery” is (“re-“)learn to express emotions when I have them, because I only survived this far by shoving everything down. One of my auditory flashbacks is the senior partner saying “it sounds important, so just go back out there and do it”. That happened when I was collapsed on the floor, unable to move or breathe. It’s a joke, and it isn’t.

The expressing things isn’t working. I have about 30 friends on my Facebook account. I keep everything on filters, because there are people on there who can’t be trusted. (One of them is a man, who decided, when I chose to ignore someone harassing me, to explain his idea of my medical condition to that someone, because he was annoyed. This led to that person harassing me more, because all that he understood was that “she wants to talk but she can’t”, and he was all set to “look after [me]” all night. Then the explaining person added me on Facebook and informed me that he was a friend of one of my therapists and that was how he knew me, even though I’d never seen him before or been introduced, and I still don’t know how he found me on Facebook, since I didn’t even know his name until I got the invite.) I keep them there because they think that that means they are friends with me, but it means I can use the events they sign up to to know where they will be and therefore where I should not be. So, if I express something on Facebook, it only goes to about eight people, and only one person reads it. It’s meant to feel safe that way, but it doesn’t, because Facebook is also where people harass me for money, and where I get ads about gendered underwear, and every few months, it decides I’m pregnant.  Facebook, though, is the only way I can keep in touch with my relatives interstate, and with music people, which I need. I use a lot of spoons on getting through my arbitrarily-filtered feed every day.

Today I pointed out a spelling mistake in an article, one which has been repeated as week after week, the writers copy +paste and make small changes. A reply came back from someone else, because I had put the correct spelling in my comment and it is apparently the done thing to refer to people in those articles by made-up but similarly sounding names which are varyingly offensive and sexual. I normally don’t post on that page at all, because the people there think that sort of thing is highly amusing and appropriate, and it’s the least of the things they say. Because I had posted, though, his reply came as a notification, because I generally forget to turn them off. Behind my screen, though, I felt safe enough to tell him he was being rude, and that everyone on that page was there to be supportive, not offensive. He never came back, but I didn’t want to have to deal with that. Apparently I’m meant to be proud, because standing up to him is meant to be progress, but it means nothing, because he’s just going to go off somewhere else and say the same things, and I will not see it because I won’t follow.

 

 

Because of reasons, I have ended up taking over control of a daily community. A daily community is one of those pages where every day, you get a picture, belonging to a common theme, like an inspirational calendar but online. Every day, I spent up to an hour picking pictures, uploading them, and then posting and cross-posting them, because nobody else would. Apparently, that doesn’t stop everyone else telling me what I should post. Despite the theme of the community having nothing to do with sport, yesterday I was told off for not posting sporting pictures, because apparently there was a game and a riot and something or another and it was exciting to a certain subset of the community. This comes after people have taken it upon themselves to post pictures they feel I have omitted, generally – like the sporting pictures I was meant to have known to post because one subscriber out of 7,000 was interested – highlighting anatomy. One of the places these pictures go is Facebook, where you can’t link to these sorts of pictures, let alone post them. And, also, they make me uncomfortable. When I was watching the community, before I took it over, I skipped most of the posts, and now I take particular care to post something for everyone at least once a week. And yet, people still tell me I’m not doing well enough, because I should know something I don’t. None of these people stood up to take over. Because I have to do this every day, I do not have my last sanctuary of cutting off people entirely, because I always have to get on a computer, on Facebook, and I cannot have a day with no internet. And so, every day, someone is yelling at me – for something I did, or did not do.

 

I write stories, which is a thing I used to do a lot more. I stopped because someone told me that my stories were too hard for them to understand because they do not speak English. I was very upset by that, because it was a story I cared about and felt guided to tell, and I don’t think it’s my obligation to choose words that people can understand over words that fit with the story, that the characters would use. Since then, I have received many similar comments, the most recent ones coming with an ending of “but it was a good story anyway, may I please translate it/record it/share it/alter it”. When I expressed, in an anonymous forum, my feeling that I didn’t want people to comment to my stories because I felt it was intrusive and unnecessary, that my work should be able to go out on its own without people needing to come to me with their questions and write essays on what they liked and didn’t like, I was told that I shouldn’t post them because it wasn’t socially acceptable to not want comments, and that that preference made me a bad writer anyway. That wasn’t all they said, but you get the point, I hope. But if you liked a story enough to want to transform it, then why would you spend a page telling me what you disagreed with in it? “I don’t think this is in character, but it was well written anyway,” isn’t really a compliment. It’s not something I asked for. If it’s well written, why isn’t it in character? Why do they feel the need to criticise before they say anything positive? Why do they feel it’s necessary for them to contact me directly and force me to observe their opinion? It’s their opinion, and ultimately they’re saying it either doesn’t matter to them (if they want to transform it) or it’s something I can’t control (their level of language). And then, of course, it triggers a flashback.

But it’s not socially acceptable to want to avoid triggers, so I don’t post my stories anymore. It’s hard enough to write in here, making sure the words all come out right, when the red line under a correctly-spelled word makes me cry and hear their voices in my head. I cry when I’m going to fill in a form and start typing something like an account number or a postcode and the field turns red and tells me the input is incorrect when I haven’t even finished typing it in. I can’t read red writing on a screen on the best of days, anyway, but it being there is enough, because I should have known to be better even though the site wouldn’t let me. It, too, is yelling at me for something I should have known to do even though it’s illogical or impossible.

 

So it gets worse, and not better. It’s meant to get better, because it’s exposure therapy, but it’s not something I’m even meant to get used to, because when I ask for help dealing with it, I’m told that people being like that is not normal, and that’s not what I need to be exposed to.

 

I know there are people who like my posts here, have subscribed and read them. I am very grateful to you, because I hope that my words help you somehow, even if it’s just that you see once sentence and think “I am not alone because someone else feels like I do”. I am grateful that you don’t comment, because I do not know how to deal with that yet, and I want to release you from any obligation to do so, because I’m sure that at least sometimes, it’s as hard for you as it is for me. We all know the other is out there, and that can be enough, even if we have to huddle away in a dark room which doubles as a Faraday cage.

Broken

Trigger warning: stimming involving deliberate physical pain, harassment/discrimination on grounds of disability

The three year anniversary of my secret, unceremonious departure from work passed the other day, unmarked. I know what day it was because everything happened so fast – I had a day off, I made a doctor’s appointment, then I was shipped straight off to a psychologist, and next thing I had a medical certificate and I never went back.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t remember the actual thing that pushed me over from trying to do the socially acceptable thing and stick it out to walking out, shopping bags filled with my things and my mum on the phone, talking me through walking out because otherwise I would have been paralysed, stuck in an uncomfortable chair, scratching a new scar into some exposed piece of skin and not knowing how long it would take for the tears to run out.

I had tried to get out the right way of course, buoyed by patently unhelpful remarks like:

  • “think of the money!”
  • “you won’t get another job if you leave”
  • “it’s not that bad, everyone has things they hate about their job”

I had tried to look for work while I was still employed. The situation was so bad that the manager, who otherwise was doing everything he could to make it not his problem, pulled me aside and offered to be a reference. I suspect he was still at the point of thinking I was the problem, and thought that maybe facilitating a departure would be better for everyone; but still, that is an unusual thing. Everyone knew what was going on, even outside that insular little self-destructing bubble. I went for interviews until I couldn’t anymore, and I was told to “stay there; it’s good experience!” because I was never good enough for anywhere else. I sneaked out on my lunch break, called a bunch of recruiters and tried to sign up as a temp. They all said not to bother – they wouldn’t be able to place me, because there wasn’t enough temp work and people preferred to use temps they’d already worked with.

And so I took the only option that was left to me – medical leave and workers comp. That was its own special hell, but it was still a better hell than the one I left.

 

Except, and this is a thing they don’t want you to know, workers comp actually makes you worse instead of better, especially with mental health claims. I was written up as the standard term for otherwise-unspecified mental issues, a modernised secret code for nervous breakdown, “acute adjustment disorder with anxious and depressed mood”. It’s what they call an inability to cope in a situation when they can’t diagnose anything else easily, and it’s a shortcut that’s used to be able to actually lodge a claim, since a diagnosis is required to lodge a claim. As a result of being given that diagnosis, the ‘acute’ part being code for ‘short term’, I was forced into a return to work meeting only two months after, which took the place of my psychologist appointment, and I was expected to agree to return to work even though I had received no treatment and no medication was working.

I only got out of it by crying in the doctor’s office. The doctor, an older male, didn’t know what to do, so gave me what I wanted. It was a tactic I learned to rely on when nobody would listen.

As a result of that delay in diagnosis (which I only received six months ago, two and a half years after leaving work), I haven’t actually been able to access any treatment for my condition.

A further complication, is that, as I said, workers comp makes you worse instead of better. In my case, it was because I had to fight to even get what I needed from them. A lot of people realise how hard it is and choose to return to work and pay for their expenses out of their regular pay, but over 2/3rds of those people then still end up leaving that job. Of the people who fight, very few succeed in having mental health claims accepted, and the track record for physical injuries is not much better. In my case, the acceptance was something I fought for, and was a result of my very unique situation. But the effort put forward in fighting to get that far did nothing but exacerbate my condition, because the stress didn’t stop, and between lawyers and agents and insurers, I was constantly triggered.

Even when it was accepted, it wasn’t easy. Another thing they don’t tell you about workers comp is that they only decide to pay based on their own assessments of what you need. They control your treatment, and in some cases, deny it for little to no reason. I found a good counsellor, but they wouldn’t pay for him because he wasn’t approved through their insurance company. I had to go to their doctors for regular assessments, and if they didn’t say something was needed, it didn’t get paid for. I received no assistance for medication or re-training, because my claims agent ignored me, because I wasn’t considered well enough for a return to work. I couldn’t just slot back in to my old job, either, and not because leaving annoyed people, and it was clear that I wouldn’t be accepted back into that workplace when half the staff walked out in the space of three months. (I was the first. I made people realise they had choices. Go me.)

It was the continuing need to be monitored, subjected to assessments (with no notice and no support), and a general apathy to anything I had to say, that resulted in my condition escalating to what it is now. “I’m allergic to that, I can’t have it,” became “well, you have to take it or take a lactose intolerance test”, which makes as much sense as it looks. (I still haven’t been able to unconvince anyone that I’m not lactose intolerant, by the way. However, lactose comes from milk, milk is an animal product and I’m vegan, so I just say “I’m vegan” now.  People listen to that more than “I would have an anaphylactic reaction and possibly die”.) I had to submit a new claim for a pre-existing medical condition otherwise they wouldn’t let me take over the counter pain medication. Then they wouldn’t accept the claim unless I submitted to a full physical examination.

It was only a year after I left work that I began to lose my words, and a year and half until they went completely. It started so small that nobody believed me, even when I sat there and gaped because the word had gotten lost in my brain, or when I wrote and the letters came out backwards, or when I typed something and no matter what I did, the letters were not the word I typed. I had to quit dance classes because people were laughing at me because I didn’t talk (among other lovely things like telling me off for my clothes or my hair, deliberately misgendering me, and excluding me from social time), and it was too much to push my non cooperative body through contortions when I couldn’t snap back and say ‘my arm won’t go that high’ when I was told off for not having perfect form even though they knew I was unwell. ‘Straighten your leg or you won’t get better muscles!’ is not a thing that I could cope with on a bad pain day when my leg wouldn’t straighten and my knee wouldn’t support my weight. I had one last interview, but the words didn’t come out and naturally, I didn’t get it. Soon, assembling carefully individualised applications was too much effort, needing days instead of hours and enlisting a proof reader only meant that my applications were censored because they weren’t “nice” enough. So, I stopped that too.

And then, I had an assessment for workers comp, and the psychiatrist yelled at me for ten minutes because I couldn’t talk. I had tried desperately to get the appointment changed so somebody could come with me – they had refused, even when I enlisted two lawyers and the Ombudsman. It was on my medical certificate that I couldn’t talk, and they had kicked me out of a meeting for not being able to participate, so it’s not like they didn’t know.

But he yelled at me, told me he knew sign language and that my signs weren’t real (bear in mind that I have only managed to retain about 8 signs, because my language skills are just that shot), and I think he hoped if he yelled at me enough I would be shocked into yelling back. Instead I burst into tears and when someone finally got me a paper to write on I couldn’t even hold the pen for my hands were shaking so much. He said he would send a report that I was unfit for work because I couldn’t talk, and instead, I received a formal warning for non-participation and was told that my benefits would be cut.

 

I received a diagnosis only after I signed away my entitlements and had to make to with a teeny tiny payout until I become eligible for welfare. It’s not even a complete diagnosis, because the one I have is so little known that they don’t know how it works or what it affects. They can’t treat it, either. I just have to wait it out and hope it magically gets better.

 

This is not just my story. Some people’s minutiae are different.For some, it’s a slipped disc that turned into a pinched nerve and ended up needing fusion. For some, it’s cancer from exposure to a carcinogen that metastasised and ended up being missed or undertreated. But the fact is that many people are told they have to stay in jobs that are literally destroying their brains, and then they can’t get the help they need because the system is broken, and then it’s too much to fix.

For me, it’s called PTSD. Most people will say something like “but you weren’t raped, or in a war, so you can’t have that”. However, if it walks like a duck that has nightmares and flashbacks and a paralysing inability to cope in triggering situations, it probably is a duck that has PTSD. Any trauma can make PTSD. But because mine went undiagnosed for so long, other issues have become intolerable. Dysphoria, for one, OCD, for another. They all piled on top of each other and magnified until my brain literally overloaded, and, like a surge protector, shut off to protect itself. They can’t tell if I’m in so much pain I can’t sit or walk properly because my brain says I am or because something is wrong or both or something else, because part of my brain doesn’t work. My brain has physically changed to reflect this, too – there are lesions which formed in that specific time where my headaches changed that correspond to times when losing my words became bigger, and where the pain is on any given day dictates how well I will be able to do things.

 

There are little things as well, things that people have no hesitation in calling stupid. When you fill out a webform and the box goes red because the input isn’t correct even though you haven’t even finished typing it? That makes me cry. I can’t check my email because if I get too many messages, that makes me cry. I can’t handle phones ringing, or microwaves because they make that dinging sound. There are certain words and phrases that trigger instant flashbacks. I can’t do deadlines.I have to avoid going to bed at certain times because I’m still conditioned to wake up before dawn so I can get to work in time, even though it’s been three years. I had to get that bus to go to the hospital, and I cried all the way there, never mind that buses cause migraines for me. I can’t have people hand stuff to me. I put something down and I can’t remember where I put it, even if it’s less than a minute later. The red line that says spellcheck doesn’t recognise a word makes me cry. I cry a lot.

If I had been given the right help when I asked for it, I would be back at work, with the cushy promotion I was promised, and everybody would know not to mess with me because when stuff went down I was tough enough to do the right thing for me and then enforce it. I was not, because the system is broken, and stacked against the people it is designed to protect. It is not just me who is left like this until they find someone who believes them or kill themselves. And now, I am faced with having to go on disability, because nobody knows when, or if, I will be ‘better’.

Naturally, I will have to fight for that too, and they will send me for assessments, and the same thing will happen again, because the system? Is broken. That can’t be changed. Correct identification and appropriate, non-compulsory treatment? Will allow people to survive in it. (I say non-compulsory, because if someone says ‘you have to do x useless thing or not eat’, it stops being helpful and becomes a source of resentment. Also, if it’s non-compulsory, they can’t control it, so people can craft it to help them.) Unfortunately, all these systems are broken because an inherent flaw – they are not designed to put money out, but instead, to keep as much of it in as possible. They’re not designed to be helpful, or to encourage being swift, non-judgmental, and correct.

That’s why there are entire industries dedicated to mining it, assisting with it, interpreting it, and breaking it down. There is not an industry dedicated to preventing a need for it.

I don’t even know if that would have made things better for me, or for people like me. All I know is that as soon as I get a letter telling me that I have to be at x appointment at x time or I will not be able to eat because they will take my entitlements away (and yes, as soon as you are approved for a payment you are entitled to it), it will trigger me, I will cry, and it will set my recovery back again, if indeed there is such a thing at this point.