Possible Possibilities

It’s been nine months since I was here last. I’ve been studying for my Masters and working on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy ideas. It’s been wonderful to fill my brain with new theories and texts but reality bit when it came time to do field placement in the workplace. I freaked out. What I’ve been telling myself is progress may also be distraction…until now. I have another six months before I have to face that demon again. Maybe I’ll volunteer somewhere first? Baby steps? *teeth clenched* A new career possibility was my new dream…power in being useful and contributing again.

But actually I just want to be a teacher. Still.

I’ve braved some primary school functions for family members and once I determined that there were no familiar faces, I felt the same thrill. I’ll say it. I enjoyed a whole-school assembly.

Fuck it.

I felt like it was my home planet. I smiled at the students. Bit my tongue so as not to redirect some behaviour. Tossed out a few encouraging ‘thumbs ups’. School feels NATURAL and full of potential. Like it used to. Once.

So I did something the other day.

I printed out the application to Enrol To Teach.

It’s been more than five years since I was assessed by VIT standards so I would have to start again as a Probationary teacher. That means extra work but I’m not that bothered.

I don’t know whether I’ll go through with it. But I met a *lovely* school Principal recently and it occurred to me that a different experience in the workplace is possible.

Possible.

I don’t know where I will end up yet but this has been a big step.

Oh, and my beautiful lawyer sent me a christmas card this month, which marks one year since the YES on the financial settlement. What has the money enabled? I’ve avoided homelessness. I’ve paid for immediate help rather than going on waiting lists. I’ve set up a new home which is free of the drama and paranoia associated with a long work cover case. I’ve paid for text books and internet to keep me connected. I have paid for lots of relaxation massages to battle the physical tension.

I’ve started to lay the foundations for the version of me that I didn’t want to become – I was happy where I was before this – but that I’m now very proud to be.

The Power of Harassment

There is untold power and relief to be found in sharing your story.  There are some popular sites like Everyday Victim Blaming and Hollaback! which invite readers to share and support each other.  Reading another’s words which describe YOUR feelings about being harassed, assaulted or violated in any way can have an enormous impact on your sense of self – and create connections which help to strengthen us all.  The Power of Harassment is a site with a difference.  Make the time to go and have a look.  

Seven Years

It is almost seven years exactly.

Seven years since I walked into that school and felt all of the pride and excitement that comes with starting the job of your dreams.  Especially after returning to university to get there.  Giving up a professional income to study for this because THIS is where your heart is.  Where all of the best things can happen.  The classroom.  And it was mine.

Seven years since I moved into my first real home on my own.  Not a granny flat or weirdo share house.  Mine.   Two bedroom unit I would pay for with my dream job in the school I had chosen, in the beautiful small suburb on the edge of town.

I was in a relationship.  I had my home.  I was happy.  All my ducks were in a row.

Seven years since the school year started but I see now that by that day, I was on his radar.  He was a predator from very early on, if he has ever been any other way, I couldn’t say.  Certainly the gossip from those on his interviewing panel were that his references were questionable.  Inappropriate relations with staff, in general, were part of his MO.  But hey, they knew him.  He was a Nice Guy.  Further complicating my experience, the power plays and existing alliances amongst such a small, long term staff list would ensure I would not get any of the support that was rightfully mine when the time came; ethically, morally, legally or as the profession standard.

Seven years I have tortured myself.  First with denial – This revolting creature could not possibly be serious?  But I will never forget how he asked for a ‘team photo’ on school photo day and as they took the shots his hand slid down my back and squeezed my buttock.  But I look so happy in the photos.  My hair was shiny, my eyes bright.  My belief that I was in the right place with important work to do with students as a caring, empathic teacher was at peak level then.  And I fought it’s demise every step of the way.  Then I tortured myself with the guilt and shame spiral that I’d come to know well working in welfare with child survivors of sexual abuse.  No amount of reasoning and research means a thing when you feel so stupid and trapped in your own skin.  That theoretical knowledge probably makes it worse in some ways.  Another thing to beat yourself with.  How could I miss the signs?  How could I be fooled?  How did I get to this?  I am an educated adult in a fair country in 2007.  I am a Union member who knows my rights by heart.  I can talk.  I know who to tell.  How the hell can you have all of that and still sit at the bottom of your running shower every night and wail?  How?

It really has been seven years of screaming into people’s faces as they stare blankly ahead and pretend they can’t hear me.  I did it that first night.  We had the children on a school camp, you see.  While you wondered how your kids were on their first big camp away, they were tucked up in bed but the most senior teachers were both in a dark room with me.  One trying to remove my pyjamas, one joking about how I was young and “probably giving HIM an erection” as I fought him off and yelled about how much trouble he would be in.  She was awake.  She did hear me.  I fucking told her I was upset about it when he left the room and she said, “He’s just an affectionate guy” – hard to say in your sleep.

I just had to stop for a bit.  Seven years and it still hurts.  It is still hard to believe that two primary school teachers acted in that way with kids asleep in the cabins beside us.  He was supposed to be in a cabin on the other side of the camp.  With the fathers who had volunteered to assist.  On this camp so far away from home.  No car.  Only HIS car.

I am in awe of the human mind, how it worked to get me through that camp.  That whole year with HIM, in the office next to my classroom, only windows between us. Six months later, after he was sent home and the Police became involved.  As the Principal held a staff meeting to tell everyone that HE was suspended due to accusations by a staff member.  And the room fell in on top of me.  (Protocol that can be found on a Google search clearly states that this meeting should not have taken place, staff should NOT have been told but apparently the Principal should not be reprimanded because “he was new to the job”.)  I printed out the guidelines for him, you know.  Highlighted what he had to do next and the ‘chain of command’, if you will.  I spoon fed it. I knew enough to have little faith in either his abilities or interest.  And he pretended I hadn’t. Because they went to school together as kids.  He knew HIS wife.  HE was immature but harmless, couldn’t I see that?  They were both just NICE GUYS.

For seven years I have heard that.  From every level of the hierarchy.  I have been questioned, cross examined, shamed, blamed and talked about.  I worked for another two years (because I’m stubborn, and I truly believed in Right and Wrong) but this followed me.  Like they told me it would.  When I sat in her office, broken down, desperate, and asked the Principal for help as HIS frightening behaviour was breaking all kinds of LAWS (I thought that would scare him into action HAHAHAHAHA) and he stated very simply, “If you make this known outside these walls, your career will be ruined.  Mud.  Sticks.” I still thought he was being dramatic, or referring to other difficulties.  I did not realise that what he actually meant was that the three of them together would almost kill me from the inside out.  That he would laugh when a temp agency called to ask if I had worked there before.  That I would become unemployable because someone with authority over me in the workplace decided that he would have me, body and mind, whether I wanted that or not.  Every time I got the guts (or pissed off enough) to say something I was “being unprofessional” and “should reconsider whether I am suitable for the job”.  Said the ‘new to the job’ principal.  Was he also new to planet Earth and Australian Law?

For seven years I have known that the only option for me was to fight.  At times I had nothing left.  I considered how I could stop the insanity…only one way that I could see.  Then I would decide again that they couldn’t have all of me, the pricks.  I didn’t try to wipe myself out in defiance because that would be too much of a gift to them.  All gone.  Nothing for them to worry about.  I wanted them to have something to worry about.

For seven years I imagined bloody revenge.  Fiery vengeance.  Sometimes violent retribution.  What else can you do?  I did take myself to a counselor then and ask if I was becoming a psychopath, had I crossed the line?  What had I become?  (It’s particularly disconcerting when the targets inhabit primary schools, really makes you feel fucked up)  Just a normal person after trauma, apparently.  Using anything that my brilliant mind could dig up to release some of that pain.  I don’t think you can ever be the same though, after a mind shift like that.  My tolerance for hearing about other people’s trauma is much lower.  I am enraged.  Angry.  Sick to fucking death of sexual violence and manipulation and victim blaming bullshit.

It has been less than seven years since I first called my union representative and put this scenario to them.  Probably about three years since I saw a lawyer.  The union works with this law firm to aid employees financially and legally in a way I cannot emphasise strongly enough to you.  Join your goddamn union and investigate your rights at work.  That wasn’t enough to help me, true, but I have utilized those venues in the only way they are available to some of us – with the impending threat of a public hearing.  Seeking some financial compensation.  Not to get rich.  Hahahaha you don’t choose Workcover to get rich, kids.  Turns out you have to be a bit of a sadist, or one tough mother.  It’s brutal.  For bringing Rape and Stalking charges against your boss…faaaaark.

Even with all of the evidence that I had, the Police and Court documents, countless psychiatric examinations by strangers and sharp legal representation to face their scary lawyers…seven years to come to an end.  Three years of constant legal action.  He pled guilty, right?  Still three years for that to be recognised.  To prove that I was damaged by what we agree he did.  Prove damage enough that I might get some recognition in the eyes of…well…anyone.  I wasn’t fussy by now.  Only one option.  I had to fight for it.  I knew I couldn’t go on any other way.

Yesterday, I got the call.  My lawyer.  Her voice happy and light.  It IS over.  I’ve taken it to the limit and the other side has made an offer that indicates I was indeed the victim of some hellish wrongdoing.  There was a tussle, mind.  Some initial offers which were insulting to the person reading them out and all of us.  This kind of settlement could’ve meant a much higher one should I have been forced into  jury trial to prove employer negligence.  It could also have meant the same, or less.  Depends on the jury.  It would have meant more public knowledge and opportunities for more abuse and pain for me.  I was willing because I wanted to prove a point but I’m pretty bloody glad that I don’t have to, as I’m sure anyone would be.  Seven years is enough.

Turns out that there is no precedent for this scenario in workplace/employer law to get this far.  Has a boss sexually assaulted an employee?  Well, yes.  Was it like this?  Did everyone involved lie, bully and blacklist the victim?  Was that person able to fight this long?  Nope.  When I first called the union they did say, “Um, I don’t know where to start.  This is a new one for us!”

I wanted to make a mark on the world, you know.  And I hope I do it in other ways, too.  But in these circumstances, I have had a big win.

What I am hoping for is that this seven years and yesterday’s outcome serve as a warning to employers and other staff (especially THIS employer) that rape, sexual assault, stalking, harassment and gossip ARE WRONG, EVEN IN YOUR ISOLATED WORKPLACE!  A Duty of Care exists even if you choose to think that young women are “dick teases” who “bring it upon themselves”.  (Yes, direct quotes).  If an employer in the future only acts out of fear for his own hide rather than being a lawful and ethical professional, so be it.  As long as someone’s silent suffering is minimised or prevented.  The moral revolution necessary and thorough smashing of the patriarchy that enables this shit must come also but that’s work far beyond the capacity of the utter bastards in my story.  It was of course their strongest weapon.

If there happens to be another asshole out there preying on a Bright Young Thing who dreams of Making A Difference (and I think we know there is), and she has to call her union rep or a lawyer one day, I want to make sure they know there is a precedent in this area.  You are not lost in the woods entirely.  Because I tried my best to slash my way through and I think I left a trail with a little light.  It’s yours if you need it and I’ll be here somewhere if you need directions.  Funnily enough, in about seven weeks I don’t have to be an anonymous shell anymore.

Persistence

The Wonky Wheel of Life (SYL W4)

This post has taken some time due to technical difficulties…with my brain.  I realised the main thing is the thought behind the post, not the presentation of the diagram (seriously, why can’t I paste it in here??) so here are the results:

The scores are out of 5, 5 being the highest.

Photo credit here

Home: 4/5  I am very happy with my home, the environment I have created here with the Little Dude.  We have moved three times in his two years so it’s about bloody time!  This house feels safer and closer to the people that matter.  We have plenty of room, the creature comforts which make summer and winter less scary.  We have happy times here.  We snuggle in the mornings and we are close to all of the fun things we would ever want to do.  It’s more rent than I would wish but that’s the price of living closer to my family.  We tried further out and cheaper.  It’s lonely.  I would like to stay here for at least another year to let the dust settle a bit.  Please.

 

Photo credit here

Body: 2/5  Physically, I am pretty unhealthy.  I am lazy.  There’s no two ways about it.  I don’t like to sweat.  I stress-eat.  I comfort-eat. I eat to stay awake.  I inhale chocolate.  My inactivity is frightening since being unable to work.  I had a busy job where I was involved in physical activity throughout the day and rarely sat down to eat.  Now, I am home all of the time.  Due to the ‘what happened to me at work’ drama and resulting PTSD I feel more tired than I should.  With so much counselling and assessment by the insurance company, etc, I am often mentally worn out.  Quality of food and health suffers first.

I don’t engage in any classes or activities because I am still unable to get myself to feel brave enough to meet new people and BE SEEN.  It makes me feel ashamed.  How hard is it to GO OUTSIDE?  But the workplace and connected community is close by and I pretty much live in fear of being ‘recognised’ or gossiped about.  A lot of the time, I really can’t handle the idea of being looked at at all.  I just DON’T WANT TO BE NOTICED.  I signed us up for swimming lessons to start tomorrow and I bet you I chicken out 😦  I need to look after myself. For Little Dude and myself.  But I’m not.  And I’m not yet convinced I will try too hard.  This needs a LOT of attention.  The 2 I did score was because I’m not, by nature, a body-hater.  I call fat ‘curves’, I like having them and I consider myself some kind of superhero for being able to carry and nourish another human being!  I mean, seriously… So that 2 is for the basics, function and general form.  But inside, the poor thing is tired and sluggish.

Spirit: 3/5  This part of me has received a lot of attention through PTSD, counselling and mindfulness.  I have HAD to concentrate on my spirit to keep myself strong (strong-ish?  strong-er?).  I am thankful for that.  Hey, I’m only human, so it is always going to be a work in progress, isn’t it?

Photo credit here

Family: 4/5  This is probably too generous and my family is all sorts of wrong in many ways.  But in the last year the most important bunch of us have banded together in a way that I didn’t think possible.  My Mum and I are closer and have grown to become more alike – meet in the middle, if you like.  For the last 31 years I have thought we were from different planets and we have been ‘estranged’ before.  I think I have referred to this in another post; the women in my family have proven to be stronger, more resilient and a source of real pride for me of late.  The gentlemen – well – they are not playing active roles any longer.  If they did before.  The difference is that my expectation of them has changed.  I came to a place where I decided that I needed/deserved/sought a basic level of respect, interaction and reciprocity.  They could choose to meet me there or I’d let go of the wanting…which was so painful and an eternal disappointment.  I’m sad that my father behaves as though I don’t exist any more but I don’t feel the aching any more, the loss, the gap.  It’s easier than the roller coaster ride with my fingers crossed.  Regarding my brother…I am safer mentally and physically away from him.  More self preservation than a loss.

As for making my own family, as I’ve also said before, I would of course have preferred that Little Dude’s Dad and I were in love and we could be in the same house.  But he was kinda a mixture of my father and brother now that I look at it.  Sooooo, self preservation, yeah. Had to let that ship sail.  Okay, push it away from the dock.  He can still be who he should be for the Little Dude.

I couldn’t be happier with my Little Man and I.  If it goes that one day, someone is special enough to be a part of that, so be it.  But if Mr Little is to be the only man in my life – I’ll die a contented lady.

Photo credit here

Friends: 2/5  This is a tragic area, much like my physical health 😦 When things get really hard I have tended to distance myself from friends (“Save yourselves!  Don’t hang around for this garbage!”)  and with what happened at work a few years ago I not so much backed away as was catapulted into a dark corner.  Singled out.  As the Police got involved, I held on to a couple of friends for dear life.  But falling into the kind of pit sexual violence tips you into makes it hard to keep close relationships.  I figured I was an embarrassment, ‘too much work’, a bit of a downer, ‘obsessed’ with my ‘situation’…the list goes on.  A few months ago I actually wrote ‘goodbye’ letters to the last couple who were left.  ‘Dear Madam, You are better off without me.  I am a drag.  Best wishes’.  It felt HIDEOUS but sort of a relief.  I had saved them the trouble.  Released them.

Photo credit here

That acted as a catalyst for them to make contact and for me to say ‘er, I need you around’.  They said I wasn’t a disaster friend and I chose to believe that.  I have sought out an old friend on purpose even though I wanted to hide from her.  I have always seen her as an example of a strong, successful woman and when we’re together we are A-MAH-ZING.  She would have been a wonderful life saver during the worst of THE TROUBLES but I would never have dreamt of involving her.  Welcome to my nightmare.  Missed me?  She’s one of those golden ones, the friend that you can miss for years but when you are in the same room, it’s all the way it used to be.  I am very grateful for her renewed presence in my life.  I just have to keep on it this time.  Not send her away.  She can save herself if she needs to..!

Career: 0/5  Not surprisingly, this is the ICU of my life.  The empty saloon with a tumbleweed rolling past.  It’s a cemetery.  And this is a HUGE problem for me.  I have been at school for EVER.  I love to learn, study and build on my skills.  I have drawn a lot of strength and pride from my employment experiences in the past.  It was 99% of my identity.  I had BIG PLANS.  I was excited and inspired.  I wanted to be in leadership roles, inspire and support.  At this moment, I have a five year blank in my CV (I lowered myself to ask those feckers for a reference and they LAUGHED).  More than that, I have lost all confidence in myself and my worth as an employee.  Who’s going to take me one?  A ‘dobber’?  A whistle-blower?  A troublemaker?  All that I worked for and all that I was is ashes.  Who am I from now on? I.  See.  No.  Light.  Here.  I haven’t given up.  I just don’t have the strength to tackle this yet.

Photo credit here

Looks to me upon quick reflection that I need to work on looking after and valuing THE SELF (physical/career/purpose).  Eeek.  That sounds HARD.  But I don’t like to fail and I refuse to give up so 2012 will no doubt see me delve into my bag of tricks for some new ideas here.  I hope that the saga ends legally and I can become inspired about my abilities again.

 

The Curse of The Thinker

The Thinking Man sculpture at Musée Rodin in Paris

Image via Wikipedia

*I feel I should say that something here may be a trigger for some but the tricky thing there is – I might never know what is a trigger, they can be almost anything.  I am sorry. I don’t want to upset anyone.

I think too much.

The feeling today is a tightness; in my chest, my jaw and strangely, my back is really sore and aching.  I’d like a massage to force my muscles to relax.  I know it works.  But get this…

I worked up the guts to get one not too long ago.  It’s the eyes closed part – I don’t like it any more.  But my GP said I should do it. So I go into one of those random places at the shopping centre (maybe my first mistake, sure, but finances versus need, you know).  I just closed my eyes and tried to relax.  Going ok until he stands to the side of me and I can feels his crotch up against my arm.  Not rubbing or really pressing, just there.

I want to say that I don’t believe it was on purpose.  There was no…sign…that it was on purpose.  But if I could feel him, couldn’t he feel that he was touching me?  Am I being stupid to think that he didn’t know?  Or am I being over-sensitive, assuming sinister motives?  Do I sound stupid even asking that?  Do I want anyone to answer me, because I’d feel stupid to hear the answer?  Argh!

I actually feel like asking a male, If you were standing so that you were against someone’s arm, you could feel that you were against them, couldn’t you?  I imagine if I did, they would laugh.  My face is scrunched up as I type.  Yuck.  But that wasn’t what upset me the most about that day.  What upset me was that I didn’t move my arm.  I froze.  My body was frozen (AGAIN, learn a lesson, ffs) and veeeery slowly I was thinking, ‘Is he touching me?  Does he know he’s touching me?  No.  He must.  This is so awkward’  That’s what I was thinking.  It was AWKWARD.  What the hell is wrong with my brain?  I thought, ‘If I move my arm, he’ll realise he was in contact with me. He’ll be really embarrassed‘.  What.  The.  Fuck?  I can feel it still. And I didn’t move my arm.  I’m so mad at myself now!  How is this logical?  I spend many days inside the house because the thought of people SEEING me completely terrifies me.  But someone is making contact with their genitals and I DON’T WANT TO CAUSE TROUBLE. Don’t want to get it WRONG.

This is really shitty.  Can this be true?  It has taken me this long to accept that my body didn’t react with FIGHT earlier THE OTHER TIMES.  For me, it becomes like an out of body experience.  Like trying to run underwater…I think in slow motion, but my brain is at least faster than my body.  I am paralysed.  Just at the times I should kick and lash out…

This is terrifying news for myself, I have to say.  How am I supposed to protect myself when my internal systems fail, even after all that happened?  Shouldn’t I know better?  

That makes me think of a time not long ago when I had forgotten to put the bins out and they were overflowing.  I didn’t want to put them out after dark because my unit is at the back and I have a long walk in the dark to get to the curb.  But I talked myself into it.  As I reached the curb I noticed a man.  I don’t know where he was going.  He might’ve been a neighbour.  But he walked right behind me all the way to my front door.  So if he was a neighbour, he was a thoughtless or pervy one.  I was trying to be cool, DIDN’T WANT TO LOOK SILLY IF I GOT IT WRONG.  As if getting it ‘wrong’ would be worse than being RIGHT about it.  Anyway, I didn’t change my stride, just kept walking and thought, honest to god, ‘I really hope he doesn’t rape me.  I can’t be bothered with that‘.  It was like fatigue.  Can you have that? Assault fatigue?  Can it really go through your head like ‘ugh, that’d be annoying…’?  I’m so angry and hyper-vigilant in my day to day life, everywhere I go and even when I go nowhere.  Then I’m confronted or feel threatened and I think, ‘ah, this will be really shitty if I’m correct‘.

It is crazy but sort of makes sense to me in a way.  Like there’s another voice saying, ‘You’ve tried your best to be safe.  If they go for you here, there’s nothing more you could’ve done’.  Fucked up reasoning.  No one could understand unless they had felt the exact same way.  It’d make me feel better if someone did but I don’t really want someone to feel that tired of trying to stay safe that they give up a bit.  It’s sad.  I can see the ‘well, if he tries when I’m putting my own bins out…’ defeat but why didn’t I instead think, ‘I’ll punch you in the face’?

Someone ‘playfully’ pinched my chest recently (someone safe, no danger) and I flipped the hell out.  Nearly spat on her.  Said in a low, threatening voice, “Don’t.  You.  Touch.  Me!”  But I thought that night, ‘I really hope he doesn’t rape me.  I cannot be bothered with that‘.  What??

Okay, didn’t know I was consciously thinking about that.  This post is one for the next counselling session.  It doesn’t sit very well in my stomach…*face still scrunched up*

Makes me want to head straight to the kitchen to eat until I feel sick. Which is what the last counselling session was about.  I’m trying, after more than a year of scratching the skin off my wrist, to let the poor thing heal.  But I am eating so much.  And it’s a change in my behaviour enough for me to bring it up with the counsellor.  Like the alarm bell is going off (one system still works then) so I’m verbalising it so I don’t let it go too far.

I really don’t like admitting major weaknesses in what I once considered a pretty tough, intelligent character.  You know?  I WANT to feel good and strong and RELEASED again.  I don’t feel hopeless.  I feel pissed off, like my grand plans for living a great life have been hijacked by that really shitty man and a really shitty process to pursue some form of justice.  Feeling really hard on myself now.  Stupid.  Oh dear, those Tim Tams have no chance.  So I’ll go to bed feeling sick and full and that I’ve tried to punish myself.  For what?  Fark it’s hard to have your emotions in their raw state, then your brain analysing them and deciding if they’re valid/smart/worthwhile enough.  I mean, I take pride in the fact that I’m a ‘thinker’ but that can really come back to get you sometimes.

Night is worse.  Day time you have things to do.  There’s routine, I guess.  Easier to be distracted.  Night time?  It all swirls around in my head.  It’s like someone flicking through all of the radio stations and not picking one…does that make any sense?  Just bits of thoughts. Too much.  Have to focus to shut it up.  I’ve got to stop for now. Blah.

Tonight I watched ‘Outnumbered’ out of the corner of my eye while I typed this and the little girl, Karen, said this:

“Your head has lots of drawers in it…and at night all the stuff just wiggles around in your head and makes weird films for you.  It’s just like…I don’t need that”

What she said!

 

Courage Under Fire: When Speaking Up Makes You A Target

MEDREACH 11, Soldiers share CLS, Malawi, May 2011

Image by US Army Africa via Flickr

The other day I wrote about the down side of The System.  I saw mention of some research that found injured workers who received benefits recover more slowly than those who go back to work early. This is linked to the mental health side of a physical injury as we see on the commercials, no doubt, but simplifies things for individuals unable to work due to extreme stress, breakdown or sexual assault.  It also glosses over the fact that I would prefer to be at work, thank you.  I tried with everything I had to stay at work.  I have stated all along that if I had received any support (or in fact was not further traumatised by bullying, gossip and blatant misconduct on the part of senior staff) I would probably have never had to leave work.  The findings of the study are correct in that a continued link to your workplace, where you can contribute positively and maintain relationships, would be of crucial benefit to one’s mental and emotional health.

But what if it your workplace that is inherently unhealthy?  What if you try and try to work ‘through it’ and eventually find that though you do a great job and receive positive feedback from the outside, on the sly your boss and other members of a small staff use opportunities to make your presence there as difficult as possible, lest you try to ‘dob them in’ too?

When I started I was a bit of a golden child there, teacher’s pet. Maybe that’s a leftover from being the eldest child.  I put my hand up for things that other people had let go (bit boring, time poor, other commitments) as I was awash with new enthusiasm and sickeningly happy to be there.  I was a happy, confident person.  I was a little politically minded (in a general sense, enjoyed discussing issues and dilemmas) and eager, but not stupidly so.  I knew what I was doing and I thought it was a reasonable fit; older staff wanted to pull back from roles and us younger ones were happy to pick up the slack given that we were beginning our careers.  Win-win, no?

From being a ‘strong asset’ to an unwanted problem.  That didn’t happen because my work or productivity changed.  I continued to do a tricky job IN SPITE of the hideous things that were taking place.  I know that I was pushed out because I verbalised clearly, ‘I’m not the problem.  These people did this and you need to deal with it’.  That offended the sensibilities of some at this organisation and made me public enemy number one.  I wasn’t trying to throw my weight around – I was plain desperate to be saved.  I’d been seriously sexually assaulted, had this fool coming to my house, calling me, texting me…the other witness, my senior, warning me to shut up or she’d ‘be in trouble’, too.  Literally, these two were on either side of my workspace every day.  The big boss was across from me.  I haven’t even thought of that before.  The sheer pressure of being surrounded, metaphorically and literally.  I feel panicky thinking about it.  No wonder I was feeling strangled.  I was bloody surrounded!  If I’d had an office in another building it would have felt like less of a vice. Probably.  I’m sure they’d have found a way.  But maybe I would’ve had room to breathe.

I really don’t know how I went in to work.  I don’t have a face that hides emotions.  I was scared to leave the house, or even any window or door unlocked for goodness sake.  I got a dog (who was a destroyer, but mostly of soft furnishings).  But I walked in there each day, bar four days after the most serious assaults.  I should have been awarded a fricking medal.  (Classic over-achiever, see?)

I could have recovered.  That’s the part that hurts me the most.  It’s what I talk about in counselling, it’s what makes my chest hurt and why I cry.  Why I am not able to work, really.  Yes, I was violated. Yes, I was threatened and manipulated.  Awful.  But once I got to the point (boiling point) where I said enough’s enough and took the matter outside the workplace, I should have been able to work on getting myself back in order again.  It wasn’t like that, though. It was the opposite in every clichéd way you can imagine.

“She’s been here longer than you.  We used to work together.  She’s very helpful.  She’d never do the things you’re saying”

They’re going nowhere.  If you can’t hack it, you need to leave”

“You’d better be very careful who you accuse of things around here”

Heart rate’s up, chest tight.  They’re the most pathetic looking bunch, too.  The person who made those threats above – the smallest, least intimidating physically.  Everyone’s favourite ‘nice guy’.

“He’s not the best leader but hey, he’s such a nice guy

“The women love him.  Think he’s cute”

“He was the best of a bad bunch on the day” (Referring to his interview to become boss)

“Better the Devil you know and all that” (He was promoted internally)

And, one of my favourites, “He cooks a mean barbecue” (Ummmm…)

So he was never fit to be in charge in the first place and no one would believe the anger in him unless they’d experienced it themselves (it’s unnerving when a tiny, well-groomed man goes so red in the face, you think it will explode).  And he made decisions not based on merit, or even laws and Health and Safety obligations (forget moral obligations), but pure nepotism.  Still does today.  You can tell, I hold his actions and negligence responsible for the last few years of my life in this state of seclusion.  In my mind I punch him in the well-groomed face. In reality my heart leaps into my throat if I think I see him go past in the local area.  Not because I’m scared.  Because I’m angry (*find much more intense adjective for that).

I did leave at the end of a year, not because I wanted to but because they made it so it was my only option.  I hate that.  I’m not a powerless person.  I am not a victim.  I am not a pawn.  But in the course of maintaining strength, independence and an awareness of my rights as an employee, I became those things anyway.  I got through one layer but they put up another.  And I really took a blow.  Lost all faith in myself and anyone around me.  I knew I was good at my job, I don’t mind if that sounds arrogant.  I worked hard and the job itself was a natural fit for my strengths, interests and personality.  It still is, though I feel in my heart I will not be able to return in any capacity.

And the rumour mill still turns.  ‘They’ ask after me.

“Do you see her?”

“What does she say?”

I have a friend who is still there.  We started together and she is AMAZING.  Someone who would cut off an arm or a leg to give to you. A beautiful soul.  One of the good guys.  But we aren’t friends in public.  Certainly not on any social networks.  We try to avoid being seen together.  Isn’t that sad?  It’s coming from both of us.  I don’t want anyone to bother her, question her or drag her in.  She knows that people talk, that they would not hesitate to question her if they knew we spent time together.  So we sort of mutually agree to be secret friends.  My heart is so heavy when I really feel the impact of those statements.  Grown women who spend their days maintaining a special bond, but only in whispers.

This was not what I started to post.  Unintentional but I’m sure many would say, obviously what I needed to get out.  I’m not even sure if it makes sense to read.

Whatever the case, I have concluded that I cannot blame myself.  I could not have tried to do anything differently.  And if I had, the result would have been the same.  Whatever I did, ‘they’ put the pressure on.  It’s taken five years to really feel like it wasn’t my fault.  But I’m there (99%).  What I have to do next is get through the sense of loss. The rage.  The feeling of having been failed.  That I spoke up but that in my case doing that was not enough.  I am still talking now and the process is so very slow.

That said, I would not hesitate in encouraging others to speak up. The more times you call their bluff (or at least get help to get out), the less isolating it will be for the next person.  Let’s make standing up to criminals and grown up bullies the norm.  Even the playing field a little more.  We deserve nothing less.  And that’s the world I want to raise my child in.  I’d tell him to speak up.  And so I must live it.