No Direction. No Closure. No Bloody Idea.

It was always used against me, that I was so determined.  That I was a good student.  That I was so enthusiastic.  That I seemed so confident.  They pat you on the back with one hand and stab you with the other.

The passion I once had came from following my heart – I was born to be a teacher.  It’s as simple as that, really.  I was a mature age student, I’d travelled the world and worked in a variety of roles which seemed to naturally lead to this point.  I have (almost) always had the pleasure of being taught by teachers who were there for the same reason.  Students can tell!  Parents can tell!  Other like-minded educators can tell.  It has been such a crushing blow to discover the hard way how many school employees are there for other reasons – and they are usually in positions of power.  An accident?  I think not.

I can’t remember what I’ve called Him on this blog before but He explicitly said, “I’m a teacher now because I have a penis.  I’ll be principal before you’re an Accomplished teacher” (pay level after Graduate).

But graduates are always extra enthusiastic, you say, that’ll change.  Even if you allow for the fatigue of years in the role versus Brand New Enthusiasm, there is a genuine difference in motivations to teach that affect professional behaviour, values and workplace interactions.

In the early stages, they lapped it up from me, as they did the other graduates.  She wants to volunteer for that extra role?  Yes!  You’ve learnt about this new way of team teaching?  Great!  You can help lead the reluctant ones who just want to do it their way!  You bring new life to this school!  We are all better for it!

Until you speak up about something.

Until you say ‘too much’.

Even when what you’re talking about is criminal behaviour that everyone saw and commented on UNTIL you took it further, outside The Group.  It should have stayed Just Between Us.  You’ve just Ruined Everything.  How could YOU do that to US?

Then you’re trying too hard, cocky, speaking “above your station” and “talking about people (they’ve) worked with for years so you’d better watch out”.  But that’s just the beginning.  Warnings.  Subtle and blatant warnings that you don’t want to be A Troublemaker here…Mud Sticks…You’ll Never Work Again.

You always acted like a Slut.

Cocktease.

Over emotional.

Misunderstanding.  This is all just crossed wires, yeah?

Why was it such a fucking horrible, drawn out experience?  I can hardly choose one reason.

Because I was followed, touched, undressed, physically penetrated, cornered, bullied by a senior teacher?

Because it all happened around a primary school, on a camp with your young kids?

Because the children themselves witnessed so many inappropriate things that they voted to put a sign on the door of the classroom banning Him from entry?

That their parents approached me, saying that their kid was worried about ME and what He was like?

That I endured so much on my own because I loved my job so much?

That every single staff member in this small school found Him inappropriate, unprofessional or had questioned him before but when things became formal they vanished into thin air and lied during each level of investigation?

That the people; teachers of small children, that I eventually begged for help to be safe, that I’d cried and shared humiliating truths with; turned it back on me with the click of fingers?

That they used every clichéd slur and excuse in the worn out book?

That they bullied me and talked about me, told staff NOT TO SIT WITH ME AT LUNCH?

That the cumulative result of their actions was eventually to break me?

That despite my confidence, belief that I was meant to be a teacher, letters thanking me for the difference my efforts made with individual students…I wanted to be dead?

I said I was determined.  I moved to another school.  But information like that makes its way around, too.

He pled Guilty.  And I was the one disgusted with MYself.  I was revolting, a failure, a joke.  Everything I’d worked for.  Gone.

I thought I was in a different place.  That I had purged it all.  It’s 8 years this year since He started what he did to me.  I am still at home.  I still have no job.

I have had all the counselling, medication and researched every goddamn way to process and progress towards something.  Anything.  But this shit is like a cancer in your guts.  It’s toxic and it’s scary.  If you’re really unlucky, it’s wrapped around the core of who you are.  You can’t really get away from it, because you are it.  It has become you.

I have to live.  I have to earn money at some point soon.  And I can’t picture that woman in my head at all.  To be out there is to be extremely vulnerable again.

There’s obviously more I need to do yet.  What spurred me on until now was the idea that I could one day tell the story.  That they couldn’t gag me or threaten me then.  And I could shout it from the rooftop.  Mostly because they said ‘you can’t tell anyone’ so many times that I thought the only way to beat the shame was to tell – put it out there and it loses some power.  Or they lose some power.  Now I might have that opportunity and I’m frozen with fear/excitement.

Maybe one of the worst things they managed to do is make sure I never knew when to trust anything again, even myself.

Ode To Mental Health Professionals (And Their Funding)

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On this International Day of Mental Health awareness it seems apt to pay homage to the two people who have saved my head, and almost certainly my life, on some very hard days.  This is not your typical Thank you Speech.  No one can play the music to hurry me up or cut to an ad.  And Kanye cannot take the mic from my hand.

Through the combined efforts of my GP, Worksafe and the insurance company of my employer, I have sought the help of/been mandatorily sent to see a few professionals over the last five years.  The first GP I saw looked terrified and had a generally nervous demeanour which given the subject matter was problematic to say the least.  I saw his neighbour at the same practice and here we are today.  My GP is always in a hurry, as so many are, but he is one in a million.  When you have to see someone every month for a ‘mental health update’ and a new Medical Certificate for Worksafe you get to feel comfortable.  Our meetings are routine.  A part of my schedule. Every time I go, I think, huh that’s a month gone!  There are other times where I think Dear God, it’s soooo long until I can tell him this. My son has grown up in front of his eyes along the way.  My doctor has an eye on us both and was so amazing when I was pregnant and trying to stay on at work.  I would be crying so hard and refusing a Medical Certificate until he just said NO MORE one day.  I am grateful he was there to stop me when I couldn’t stop myself.  He is always on at me to exercise more and I’m like, Dude…still trying that gym thing?  I don’t know how many people see their local doctor and get to laugh like I (almost always) do.  He’s a gem.  And I am virtually unable to try for a laugh from any crowd, clearly.

There’s one other professional who has been integral to my mental health for a couple of years now.  I have seen so many random counsellors, psychologists and ugh psychiatrists that I know a good egg when I meet one.  This woman is one of the best.  We fit beautifully.  And she knows her shit.

The person I am talking about is a Mental Health Nurse.

Mental Health Nurses work in collaboration with your GP to provide supportive care through a range of services including counselling, home visits, mood and medication monitoring, group work and community integration.  MHN work with people who require long term support and engagement.  You can access the services of a MHN through a referral from your treating doctor.   In my experience, appointments are flexible, forgiveness always forthcoming when you forget the time again and they are always contactable via mobile phone.  There is more about the MHN Incentive Program here.

My gorgeous MHN works from a variety of locations and makes home visits.  I am permanently wondering if I’m at the right place (possibly, so is she) but I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the flexibility and accessibility of such a service.  Now most days I am pretty together and making myself presentable is a large factor in feeling confident enough to go out and be seen in public (lest any of the school community argh see me).  I don’t mean that in a rude or patriarchy-victim way – just to say that it is a part of my coping mechanism and how I work.  The people a MHN sees in a day make up one motley crew, I can tell you.  The needs and quirks of each person would cover such a spectrum that a Mental Health Nurse requires broad training, experience and a personality that is able to engage with all of us successfully.  This woman: she’s got it in spades!  This isn’t a love letter but here is what she offers me.  She is so warm and gentle, always smiling and engaging.  In her eyes I see focus, on me, on what I’m expressing.  I see empathy.  Genuine care and concern.  Once or twice I have seen them get a teeny bit watery when I’m really getting raw.  I cannot speak for anyone else but when you are raging about being silenced and lied about and there you are, just a pile of stripped back hurt, to see some feeling reflected back in the eyes of the person you’re confiding in is extremely important.  Acknowledgement.  Validation.  Life.  Thank Christ!  you think, It does sound as shitty as I think it does!  I’m not imagining it!  And you don’t want to tell just anyone about what Your Weakest feels like so it is important to know that they have human feels.  (I’m giving a nod here to the psychiatrists in the Worksafe system.  Well done, you, on becoming robots with prescription pads!)  My MHN also wears jingly-jangly silver bracelets and asks if she can eat her mandarin in front of me and I completely adore her.

The critical difference I have found that sets this service apart from the rest (when I’m not dazzled by shiny objects on her arm) is the combination of supportive counselling practice and a genuine knowledge of medications and therapies.  Supportive Therapy as opposed to Prescriptive (hi, psychiatrists!) or simply Analytical (Worksafe – how you doin’?).  She cares.  She hears me.  She notices little things that may be cause for celebration or alarm…she keeps tabs on me.  She explores new avenues of help, ideas from her colleagues and frequent training and I also benefit from the wide range of service users that she works with.  People young and old, intellectual and physical differences, addicts working on getting sober to war veterans with PTSD.  This broad knowledge of mental health practice and human experience she bears witness to through her work makes for a completely wonderful form of medicine.  Human Medicine.

Who’d have thunk it, eh?  People do better when they are treated by and as…individual people!  Hurrah!

Dear lady, whose name I can’t use (and it’s killing me, Mum always said “‘she’ is the cat’s mother!”), I am so grateful for your presence in my life.  You have helped me in so many ways.  I am better and stronger for having spent time with you and whoever else you work with is equally blessed.  Your positive impact on lives cannot be measured…who knows how working with you may affect my ability to make changes, take risks and build a new identity for myself?  It cannot be quantified nor given monetary value.  Which brings me to my next point.  This.  Australian.  Government.

The MHNiP is facilitated by Medicare Locals and Federally funded.  I pay nothing (nor does Worksafe or the insurance company, mind) for this assistance.

Introduced in 2011, there are 61 Medicare Locals in Australia — independent, federally-funded offices that co-ordinate primary health care at local levels.  That may sound like bureaucrat-speak. But it’s a solution to the fact many communities have disconnected health services that don’t really talk to each other or share information.  Medicare Locals bring them together, facilitating things like after-hours GP care. They also tailor services to individual community needs — think non-English speakers, Indigenous Australians, the socio-economically disadvantaged, the elderly, and so on.

Source: PolitiFact website
 

In 2012, the Liberal Party (that’s conservative for you international folks, not ‘liberal’ as you may know the word) announced they would “not proceed with” the Medicare Local system if elected, questioning its validity and suggesting it was an unnecessary “layer of bureaucracy”.  By May this year the position was officially that the system would be “under review” by an incoming Liberal government. I think we know what that means *arched eyebrows*  The future of Medicare Locals, after so much work to introduce them without disruption to service users and umpteen changes to the workplace for the Mental Health Nurses themselves, was raised during the recent Federal Election campaign.  The man who would become our next PM (that’s Tony Abbott #sadface) stated to a surprised audience that he guaranteed no Medicare Locals would close under his government. Abbott said they had initially wanted to abolish the program but now would concede to conducting a review – but no offices would close. At the official launch of the Liberal Party Health Policy (Australians, LOL with me here) it was declared that official health policy launch that “while the Medicare Local system may not be shut down, individual offices weren’t guaranteed” (source as above).

I don’t feel full of confidence – do you?

Medicare Locals provide frontline services in consultation with GPs and other healthcare professionals which are flexible and seek to meet the needs of the diverse Australian public.  Programs such as the MHNiP support vulnerable people with a variety of mental health needs to remain functioning parents, employees and even tax payers. They assist soldiers and returned servicemen and women.  This should appeal to a man who created an entire portfolio for a Minister for ANZAC Day, should it not?  These services actually save dollars by diverting users away from other, potentially more costly medical interventions.  There is also the preventative aspect which you cannot measure.  Early intervention.  Immeasurable benefits in dollars and human lives.

That I may not have had the opportunity to work with my Mental Health Nurse and make such progress with her support is a terrifying thought.

That another person may not be able to access this help after “review” and “possible individual office closures” from this government is plain dangerous.

As we talk more openly about mental health and seek to encourage people to ask for help before a crisis, now is no time to be playing semantic games about cost cuts and fiscal policy.  Look elsewhere for your savings, Mr Abbott.  While Mental Health Nurses and Medicare Locals go about their business of saving lives.

 
 

More Information

http://www.acmhn.org

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Lessons In Battle: Fighting The Compensation System

Something weird happened. I’m learning. And getting stronger.

I had the Case Conference in the city with my lawyer, barrister and The Other Side. I knew I didn’t have to see or speak in front of the enemy so I was not too stressed on the way in.

Five years of these meetings has taught me to play angry rap music LOUDLY and keep my sunglasses on en route. Don’t concentrate on anything except the words (along the lines of ‘fuck the haters’ or ‘you can’t keep me down’) and breathing. Kind of like giving birth – this is going to play out anyway so you just have to survive it. Later, you’ll recognise your own strength under fire.

The barrister and my lovely lawyer explained the way the Other Side would try to pick apart the case and listed its possible weaknesses in the legal arena. The way the other side would fight mirrored the ugly tactics of his defence in criminal proceedings…though I am seeking financial compensation for damage done. Guilt proven in Court. But even after this, they would still attack me so personally. My childhood. My behaviour. Though I knew these things on a theoretical level, having them listed before me so blatantly was just as shocking as always. A sucker punch. Down I went.

Five years since I first disclosed any of the harassment, assaults or stalking behaviour has taught me that the cliched comebacks and victim blaming never feel any less of a violent attack. Even as a list of possible legal arguments, Things They’ll Use to Discredit You are just as disturbing, shameful and remove all of the courage you’d built up to get where you are. I DID NOT GO IN PREPARED FOR THIS AND I FELL APART. Maybe you can’t steel yourself in this case but let’s just say I forgot how much that hurt.

The barrister spoke numbers. Wages lost, past and future, with pain and suffering topped one million dollars. Though I will never see that amount it comforted me a little to have it recognised even just between us. My loss has been a big one. That’s when I really started to cry and moan, “None of this matters compared to how much I want to be a teacher! When I talk to kids in the supermarket, when I read my son a story…I just ache with the grief that I can’t be what I wanted to be so badly. I was meant to be a teacher”. Head down, choking sobs My lawyer comforted me, her eyes watery, and the two of them left to “bring it” to the Other Side…and see what exactly their position was.

Five years of spilling my guts and expressing pathetic despair should have prepared me for that dark hole I fall into afterwards. It didn’t. I tried to read a book. Couldn’t concentrate. I could hear lawyers talking in adjacent rooms. I put on the trusty headphones and music at full volume. This time, strangely, it was Damien Rice. Delicate. Over and over. I sat up against the floor-to-ceiling window and let the tears fall. Honest truth…I thought about falling from the eighth floor into the concrete chaos below. Falling. Letting myself fall. Would the hurting end? What would my child think of me? How does such a positive, passionate woman with postgraduate qualifications end up sitting in a window wondering about ceasing to be?

My Dynamic Duo returned and I sat at the long conference table with them. They had presented our side and heard the response and counter claims from the other side. An offer was made for settlement on behalf of my ex employer…which didn’t have to happen so I consider that a small positive. It was a shitty offer but made nonetheless. Further details were put to me, some of which were outright lies and I was able to refute in detail on the spot. That pissed me off but cheered me at the same time. STILL LYING! The next steps and what can be expected were not so diabolical. As we finished up I felt … alright. My last words were, ” If I have to be out in front of a jury to fight for compensation, that wouldn’t be the worst thing”.

Five years of fighting a whole group of liars and bullies gives you little to enjoy. Being able to respond to bullshit and denials felt great at the County Court. If they want to make me do it AGAIN, I am very clear on the details and telling the truth makes it easier to repeat with surety. I’d like to avoid taking things that far of course but I know I’m strong on the stand.

To get home I had to play that fucked up angry rap again. It’s a blur, really. Just had a headache for the rest of the day and puffy eyes. I hugged my son with all I had and ate ALL OF THE CHOCOLATE IN TOWN.

Five years with this has taught me that the psychological responses to traumas remain the same. The blows really smash you hard. Send you straight back to the place you were then. During it all. The bottom. Five years have also taught me that what’s happening now is HARD but it’s not like the bottom. When you’re stuck with secrets and scared, you have no voice. Ever.
I’m still talking now and there are so many roadblocks from these assholes but I have a voice. I’m being heard. Not like I deserve, not nearly as much as I want, but I have a voice. And I survived the next step. I’ll probably survive the next one.

What Say You, WorkSafe?

This won’t be a long one but (insert scream here)…

Image credit here

Firstly, WorkSafe sent a letter asking if they could use me in their research coming up.  Not me in particular, just any workers.  But do I have anything to say which could help others?  Why, yes I do, sir.  Please contact me.  Or, employ me to design and conduct the research project – as I am also qualified to do so.  But now I just blog instead.

Photo credit here

If I get the chance, I will explain to the good researcher that there is a problem with insurance companies.  Professionalism.  Duty of care. The critical role they should play in getting people back to work.  I find mine lacking in this area.  This makes ‘recovery’ more difficult when it needn’t be.

Also, could we possibly have a bit of recognition for psychological injury?  Not to suggest that a physical injury does not harm and affect the inside, too, but WorkSafe, you are involved with me because I was sexually assaulted (etcetera) by my boss, and then heavily influenced to keep it quiet by others in charge.  This is not a simple injury.  It did not actually ‘happen on a Wednesday’.  I cannot go back to a school on ‘modified duties’.  At the heart of the issue, when you have me assessed every 90 days, you are essentially undressing me and requiring me to talk about my own body.  Not in the mechanical sense.  It can move.  In the violated sense.  The deeply personal sense.  The embarrassing sense.  The retraumatising sense.  Am I painting a picture for you here?

Therefore, when somebody makes a mistake or an admin person calls to question me; it’s not as clean cut as you might like.  I am a compliant person.  I do whatever is asked of me in this process and apologise the whole time for bothering you all.  I’m also trying to get better when I have a psychological injury.  So please don’t fuck with me.

Photo credit here

I would also like to comment on the process of exiting the ‘system’ roundabout.  I had thought recently that I would like to make some plans for the future.  I know that I will need to continue counselling and medication but I would like to think I might have the chance to rebuild my professional self and earn my own wage, not through blood money.  Now, you suggest I cannot do that in a school environment.  This is probably true, though I will never be happy to concede this.  I would also like to note here that should appropriate action have been taken AT ANY STAGE of this awful experience, I would not have had to forfeit my career, and you could have quite easily handballed me back into a teaching job which I loved.  But even as I type, I have never been approached or addressed with regards to my welfare, safety, wishes…nothing.  The schools, the Institute (especially, I might add), the Department and all parties involved (however tenuously) in my alleged repatriation.  I have initiated everything, every step of the way.  I have followed through despite what everyone around me did to make it harder for me.  And now when I think of my future, you give me this…

I was forced from a professional position which I earned after postgraduate university study.  I wanted it.  I sacrificed for it.  I thought my dream had come true.  When I had to be assessed for future employability options, I was told that I would not be put into a random position.  It would be somewhat commensurate to my position when I left.  I recently made enquiries about retraining options.  To get better, I need something to imagine.  Something to work towards.  I was told that I cannot be retrained until I have been declared Fit To Work.  Here’s the conundrum.  I won’t get better (from a psychological injury) without retraining.  Catch-22, yes?

Photo credit here

So what retraining is open to me when I perform a mental miracle (presumably after a Department-funded partial-lobotomy to remove the memories and flashbacks..)?  Oh, you only fund short courses?  In what?  What if I’d never worked in another role?  I was only a teacher?  How would you fix me then?

I offered to finance my own retraining and seek to complete my Masters in Social Work.  I could study things that matter to me.  Work towards helping others.  Make a difference.  It’s what I wanted to do at the start, but, funny girl that I am – I thought I could work in schools and be a positive adult for children before there was a need for social intervention.  Quaint, aren’t I?  A tragic idealist.

But I can’t do that either, can I?  Because there is a component of Field Placement.  An ‘internship’ providing essential practical experience.  And the chance to get my pride back.  But I can’t be in any workplace.  Even in that capacity.  Because I am certified unfit by my GP with regards to work before.  But I can’t legally make a positive change and become a distant memory for you all when I regain my independence.

Photo credit here

Small balloon of hope: deflated.  Back to the drawing board.  As usual, I’ll do it all myself.

Having A Soft Place To Land

Sometimes the only answer people are looking f...

(Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

I haven’t slept as well since I published the last post, showing off about my dreamy slumbers.  Typical, hey?  I’ve started a few posts and left them as drafts which I haven’t done before, either.  I’m someone who ties up loose ends.  I need closure.  To tick things off the list.  It calms me.  Gives me a sense of control.  So I don’t like this feeling much.

I have been spending some wonderful one-on-one time with my little man, which is extremely fulfilling.  I feel time moving in slow motion with all of this work stuff but his growth and our ever-deepening relationship is whizzing past me – too fast.  It’s a bit strange to schedule crying or my own tantrum for after his bedtime but it works pretty well.  I feel pressure (from myself) to give him the mother he deserves, the best of me, and keep the adult stuff away from him.  Sometimes I am worn out by the rollercoaster of Workcover and investigations but we are a twosome and I have to take a rain check on the part where I look after myself.  I’m not complaining…not even close.  These are fleeting moments in a wonderous, life affirming mother and child relationship.  I’ve said before that this has saved me from myself more than once.  It is my job to protect him from my pain and show him that I live by the values I want him to cherish.  I want him to stand up for himself – and others without power – which means navigating my way through the debris they throw at you when you speak up.  I want him to know that courage is soldiering on in the midst of that fear.  It’s okay to be upset and afraid.  It’s how you handle it that counts.  And there’s nothing wrong with learning as you go.  Nobody’s perfect.

These notions of integrity and fairness that I am trying to live day-to-day help me put one foot in front of the other but there is a kind of pressure building.  I don’t think about that (where’s the room in my head?) until someone drops the proverbial cherry on top.  Like the other day.  I was confronted with something that shook me…got me where it hurts.  And on top of the already simmering pot of emotions and battles…well, I am only human.  I needed a shoulder.

My initial impulse was to curl up and, as my mother would say, hibernate.  Go all ‘Castaway’ and remove myself from the rest of the world.  Bunker down.  This often works.  Somewhere safe I can lick my wounds, put things into perspective or take some positive action.  On the odd occasion, it can cause me to lash out and almost fight with the world at large.  Until I am strong again.  But this time I tried something different.  I reached out.

I knew there was someone I could go to and that they would take me as I came; crying, angry or just sitting in their presence.  Being.  Feeling safer and supported whilst I felt so vulnerable.  I thought to myself, ‘This is different, isn’t it?’.  Trusting another.  Enough to just turn up at your weakest and that is all they need from you.  Even better if they are similar/perceptive/clever enough to react in a way that is right for you.  I don’t think it is based on length of time you know someone or anything.  Who knows what it is?  Almost like a complementary chemistry.  An open soul who offers you a safe place to land.  Just the knowledge of such a possibility is often enough to comfort you through the tears.  I think such a find is nothing short of a miracle.

When I am most vulnerable and anxious I seek three things; chocolate, the chance to talk and a feeling of safety to be so vulnerabley me.  Rest assured, I can get chocolate at any time.  That’s not the tricky one.  The other day this person was my safe place and  I knew I could turn up and JUST BE.  And they are a new addition to my secret arsenal in this regard.  Which makes me feel better just for the knowing.

I am grateful for this person, and what they were able to be for me, in a very big way.