Being A Union Member Saved My LIfe

I’ve been out enjoying the freedom that can only come with the successful end to a seven year Hell.  I’ve wanted to post about that because it actually IS bloody amazing.  I had no idea just how much this pain weighed me down until I was able to end it.  Sometimes this new feeling is so amazing that I almost cry.  Tears of relief and pride.  Life still does its thing, throws some curveballs and takes you on a merry dance, but I’ve been able to deal with that stuff in a completely new way lately.  Oh, this is why I haven’t written since I won, because I don’t even want to cry about being happy…ah well.  The memories come up like an approaching tidal wave.  Hello, old friend.  Now do fuck off. 

In Australia at the moment, we have a neo-liberal government of nightmares.  One of their many plans of social attack is decrying workers unions.  They have latched onto the corrupt actions of a few high profile union bosses in order to generalise horrifically about the nature of unions.  This suits their economic and policy agendas as they strive to divide and conquer. Who benefits from an individualised workforce without a collective voice?  Only the rich boss.  Who suffers, directly and potentially in the future?  My friends, we ALL do.  Unions represent workers in a variety of ways.  It may be popular to bandy about terms like ‘slush fund’ and ‘fraud’ (though less so when it is a Government minister who lines his pockets, hmmm?) but again that is paying attention simply to the loudest voices.  What do unions do that we don’t hear about in the news?  That a destructive Prime Minster doesn’t want you to think about? (Don’t worry – I can criticise him because I’m UNEMPLOYED)  What a Labor leader is devaluing when he questions union membership like today?

I could dig up some gutsy, coal-face worker stories to demonstrate the struggle of the lowly worker to fight slave conditions and dangerous practice.  I could remind you of the lives lost in protest, in desperate battles to be treated as human beings by tyrants and corporations simply for needing to earn money to feed yourself.  Perhaps a look at conditions in the sweat shops in Bangladesh that we shake our heads at from our relatively safe haven?  Or ask a tradie apprentice if it’s ever mattered to his/her workplace safety that a union member had a voice?  I can only tell you what union membership did for me.

I’m here because I was a member of the Education Union.  

It is as simple as that.

I wish we lived in a world where simply “knowing the truth” meant anything to anyone.  I knew the truth of what happened to me at work and I repeated that phrase as a mantra for many a year.  Because it was *all* I had.  That and an ache in my soul that led me to believe not being alive was the only way out of this.  The kindest thing to do for myself when every other option was cut off.  Knowing the truth is pretty much bollocks.  You have to have a voice to tell it.  An employee union is that voice.  

I assumed that my voice was enough.  I assumed that brazen criminal actions were enough to get some assistance.  So I forgive you if you also think that ‘right wins in the end’ and that ‘strong people can stand up for themselves to negotiate’.  But you’re wrong.  And not because there are not brave people standing alone.  Because powerful people with vested interests do not allow individuals to negotiate or influence a goddamn thing.  If you think Gina makes time to discuss workplace safety when Tom has a concern from inside the shitty mine, you are kidding yourself.  If you think a principal gives a young female teacher as valid a voice as the middle aged ass he went to school with and who is his deputy, you are kidding yourself.  If you think that a small building site manager is as interested in Sean the apprentice’s physical and emotional safety at the hands of his peers as he is in getting the project finished and making his cash…you get the picture.

A union is a collective which needs members to have any influence on workplace or social policy debate.  Though every worker benefits after we strike and go without pay to seek wage parity (and are very quiet on those days about unionism) they usually mock and repeat tired stereotypes that indicate at the very least that the Underbelly franchise has permeated deeply into their psyches.  

The day to day work of a union?  It’s a bit more boring than that.

I telephoned my union when I had another day off work, at home, wanting to die to escape my workplace/abusers.  I loved my job.  But my colleagues were killing me.  Read back for the details of sexual violence and stalking.  I’m leaving them for today.  But the only place that could help me have a louder voice (and I’m pretty loud on my own)?  The union.

We didn’t get any fancy boozy lunches.  I paid for my own coffee at a local place when they met with me.  They heard my tearful story.  They took notes, consulted relevant law, researched other similar issues.  I researched the process myself but I couldn’t guide myself through it in the midst of being victimised.  I needed a calm voice to repeat and remind me of the process ahead.  I needed to be able to cry and swear.  They could remember the protocols.  I had shit on my mind.

They reviewed my stream of consciousness notes and helped formulate official documents.  They found me counselling and Victims of Crime help.  

They always called me back.

At one point, as the managers made things even harder, the union reps asked me why I wouldn’t just give up.  I thought, well, we’re ALL beaten now.  I’ve come this far.  We have done it together.  I got angry and suggested that they were letting me flail alone, too.  What does an individual have to fight the system if their collective says it’s too hard?  Just an echo.  Of their own tears.

So they stuck with me.

The Education union were a literal and metaphorical support for me at the Worst Time In My Life.  They didn’t help me because I had something to offer them.  I’m pretty sure I was hard work, to be honest.  The case was.  The union helped me because they know that one voice can be ignored.  One person can be squashed.  Damn, they almost got me to the point of thinking that the union voice was not enough, either. But I pushed them and they pushed me.  We stayed.  Kept fighting.

We fucking did it.  We bloody got there.  We pushed so hard and so long that those bastards know that not everyone can be squashed.  Not everyone will be sent away.  Not everyone can be ground down.  

So maybe they watch themselves a bit more, huh?  Maybe they remember this, the fear of being exposed publicly, if someone else ever comes to them for help.  Maybe they just remember that one little voice has a group to call on.

That’s powerful.  That’s important.  That’s Absolutely Compulsory for any chance of a just and fair society.

And then the union collected my legal fees and paid them.  Because they believe a single worker should not be $50, 000 out of pocket when they’ve been the victim of obscene behaviour in the workplace and subsequently lost their ability to earn a wage at all.  Because they believe a worker’s voice matters.  Because they heard me.  

That is what unions do.  That is why they matter.  That is why they need members.  My $5 a week saved my life and my home.  My mental health.  And maybe a little something for the next person who feels that one voice is not enough.

I feel this ability is under threat when the discourse is politically motivated to undermine the union movement.

The union movement is the heart of Labor and rights of the common man and woman to be safe when they toil for a living.

Please don’t let Labor forget, or the government we have to bury, this very important part of our democracy.  Unions are us.  We are voices that deserve to be heard.  I will always fight for the right for one person’s voice to be made louder with the help of a union network.  Always. I hope other people realise this too, before they find themselves needing help.  What if it is taken away?

 

Total Recall

**The contents of this post, like all of them, may contain descriptions and scenarios which may be triggering to sexual assault/rape victims**

There are some things you hope you can avoid in life. Meeting an Anaconda.  Contracting Bird flu.  Surviving a helicopter crash.  You know, because they sound like bad experiences, right?  Traumatic.  Dangerous.  Scary.  Certainly unforgettable.  What if you had to face them TWICE?

I am going to add to that Things You’d Like To Avoid List being cross-examined in Court.  Hands up if you have been in the witness box..?  I don’t know about your experience but I can tell you about mine.  And how close I came to having to do it again the other day.  Which was TERRIFYING.

When the man who sexually assaulted me, ok, raped me, was charged, the case was heard in the County Court in the city.  I had to testify.  And I had to be cross-examined by the defence.  I can remember such acute details of that day.  In other ways it feels like a hazy bad dream.  I was very anxious about testifying.  In one way I knew that it was my one chance at being heard.  Yes, the chance to roar.  But what a way to go about it!  The police officer who was with me from taking my initial statement to that day in court (she was amazing) helped as much as she could.  But there really is no preparation for being a witness in your own rape case.

The night before Court I had one of my younger sisters stay the night at my house.  She talked to me, held me and let me cry.  That’s something no little sister should ever have to do.  But I needed her and she was there for me in the perfect way.  She can summarise people so succinctly that you would think she was twenty years older.  Wiser.  From a young age, my sister could see right through anyone and tell you what you needed to do.  Her six-year-old self told another sibling one day, “Look, get a job.  Clean your act up.  No one can take you seriously when you’re not helping yourself”.  I like to think we have that in common.  So she was the right companion for a really shitty time.  I had a notebook at the
time (many, really.  First, I was a teacher and they are mostly stationary freaks.  Secondly, I had Court notes, inspirational quotes, counselling notes…anything and everything).  This notebook was mine to help me get through the experience of testifying.  In it she wrote on a random page ‘Every Dog Has Their Day’.  She was referring to HIM being a dog in the derogatory sense and that his day was coming, and I was the one who held the power.  Pretty smart, no?  My siblings don’t read this blog but my mother does, I’d say.  She knows who I’m talking about.  Bravo, again, mother.  Job well done there, too.  That girl is a winner and most of the time, wise beyond her years.  I still have that piece of paper.

The policewoman took great care to keep me out of sight in the Court foyer but the OTHERS, my colleagues who KNEW what I had gone through and how I had come to EACH OF THEM over time ASKING FOR THEIR HELP, walked past me in a pathetic group.  They had to ready to be called to testify and it seemed to me that they clung to each other like the yellow-bellied cowards they are.  Our eyes met once and I like to think that my glare was like lasers, cutting them down.  It was probably more like a sad little puppy at the pound, watching their family leave them, abandoned and facing death.  I tried for daggers, though.  I really did.

I consider myself very lucky that I was able to testify via video link (or however they do it) from another room in the Court.  I think I would have fainted at the very least if I had been able to see his eyes.  I imagined leaping out of the stand and throttling him.  Spitting in his face.  Screaming, ‘You know what you did!’  But I really just would have vomited, I think.

It was bad enough knowing he could see me.  Someone told me that his wife was sitting next to him in Court.  That made me feel all sorts of things.  Was she there because she believed it all to be a lie?  What would it be like for her to see me describe what her husband did to me?  Would she hear something I said and in an instant, know I was telling the truth?  Know that he would say that?  Do that?  Would he watch the screen and see my face?  Or hang his head?

I hugged my sister as tight as I could and was led into a small room far away from the Court room they were in.  There was a lady who was in the room with me, a minder of sorts.  She explained the screens in front of me and what would happen when Court was in session.  It seemed to me to look like the control room at a tv station.  There was a monitor on which I could see the Magistrate and another where the lawyers would be visible as they questioned me.  I sat at a small table and the minder was to my right.  The door out, the one that called to me ‘here I am, in case you wanna run’, was to my left.  I remember I wore a blue shirt that day, buttoned up all the way.  I held a small teddy in my hands, hidden from anyone’s view under the table.  My very little brother had given me that teddy and I squeezed the hell out of it, held it tight.  Of course, I still have that teddy.

I don’t remember the prosecutor questioning me, to be honest.  I will never forget the defence.  He was a round-ish man with grey hair.  Pompous looking.  An air of arrogance and contempt for me.  The inference in his very manner was that I had caused a lot of trouble and he thought my words a joke.  I had wondered if Court would be like it is in the movies.  It was.  Except nobody leapt to yell ‘Objection!’ and save my skin when the questioning got out of control.  I remember the female Magistrate’s face – a floating head on her own television screen – peering at me with her brow furrowed.  I noticed when the Defence became cruel, she moved forward, trying to read me.  Was I handling this?  Did she need to stop him?  I remember thinking she was quite compassionate and her face showed a human interest.  Unlike the Defence barrister.  That pig of a man.  He was rude, vile.  He pushed me.  Mocked me.  Accused me of lying.  He described my body parts.  He described my genitals to the Courtroom.  Yep, my vagina.  How I had described my genitals in my statement.  WHAT HE DID THEN.  It was revolting.  They let me take breaks.  Maybe I looked too upset.  I sipped some water and howled.  My sister told me later that hearing my guttural moans through the wall but not being able to get to me was torture.  I can’t imagine.  The minder was very nice considering she was not there for me, just to ensure I was safe from myself and the technical side of things was working.  I had my head between my knees and she lay a gentle hand on my shoulder, just for a second.  It was a comfort that she felt my pain.  What a job to do!

I was questioned for most of the day.  When I was done (well after I’d passed done, I’d say!) the Prosecutor and policewoman came in to see me.  They explained that HE wanted to change his plea to guilty if they would remove the Rape and Stalking charges, leaving two counts of Indecent Assault and thereby suspending a probable jail term.  They said that this was a good outcome given the difficulties in getting a successful conviction in a rape case.  I knew the statistics well.  I also knew I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.  I knew that the other people from work, including the woman who’d been a party to it all and gave new meaning to the term slut shaming, would lie on the stand to protect their negligence.  I went to my boss about HIM, then eventually about HER as she bullied and degraded me.  He warned me they were friends and I’d ‘better watch what I said next’.  In the end I had to go beyond the workplace – which also failed.  But that’s another topic.  The legal system, however, did NOT fail me.

Though this experience undoubtedly sounds shitty, and it was, I want you to know that I do not regret testifying one bit.  I would encourage and support any other person in a similar situation (for which I am sorry) to be heard if they can.  You don’t feel brave or strong at the time.  You indeed put yourself at the mercy of another abusive person in the defence for a time.  But what you MIGHT do is slap that bastard in the face with the TRUTH so hard that he changes his plea.  In the midst of the tears and exhaustion, there was a part of me that knew I’d had a victory.

I wrote a Victim Impact Statement for sentencing which took place the next day.  I asked the Police if I could be there but they said no.  I wanted to read it out myself.  The policewoman did, however, call me to describe what had happened.  She told me that the Magistrate had read out my statement to the Court.  What I wrote was pretty raw.  It is also an empowering thing to do if you are ever faced with the same situation.  Another chance to be heard.  It’s never enough but you have to take what you can get.  Apparently the Magistrate said in her sentencing that she wished that the Plea Bargain had not been struck because she felt HE deserved jail.  I can’t tell you how much that matters to me.  So HE got a suspended jail term of 12 months and a fine (I scoff at the fine…I mean, seriously?)

It is possible I will have to testify/explain myself about this issue at least once more before this is done.  This I have reconciled myself with.  Er, in a fashion.  As much as one can.

What I was not at all prepared for was facing the witness box again for something else.  Recently I found myself facing the possibility of this helicopter crash in Family Court.  The similarities between the two experiences are actually disturbing.  I didn’t realise as it was happening (eternally optimistic or deliberately in denial?) but when faced with being cross-examined the other day it hit me like a familiar Mack truck.  And I fell apart.

Knowing you are telling the truth can take you pretty far in life.  Helps you ‘fight the good fight’, though you’d rather be out playing somewhere.  I told the truth then, and I was telling the truth in this other personal battle.  I was feeling pretty strong and (unfortunately) had a routine of sorts to get my mind ready for Court because of what happened to me before.  But there was a second in time when the lawyer was talking to me the other day and she mentioned taking the stand and I said, “Well, I really want to avoid that actually because oh my god I’ve already done it before and I …”  That lawyer didn’t know what I was talking about.  Oh, the feelings inside me.  I firmly believe in cellular memory.  Your body remembers experiences, even ones the mind works had to forget.  Well, my body remembered my first cross examination.  And it FREAKED OUT.

It passed, though.  I survived.  Court is done for now.  A deal was struck – again.  But I am left with a couple of thoughts.

My own ability to move on is more impressive than I thought.  It feels like I’m stuck in this trauma many days but really I am only troubled by SOME (read: more than enough) things which affect my day to day experience.  I don’t think about the legal process all the time.  I couldn’t.  I’d be hiding under my bed.  (If you are/ have been that person, I’m not mocking it.  I understand why you could feel that way).

At the same time I am so fucking angry that I was rendered unable to be a witness in Court FOR THE SAFETY OF MY OWN CHILD due to what these people had done to me in the first place.  I was shaking, crying, ashamed, having flashbacks.  Shit!  In lots of ways, I try to forge a new path and keep on trying.  Life my life and be happy.  Some days I run, some days I drag my ass and wish I had a teddy bear to hold.  The other day in Family Court was a stark reminder that while these experiences can make you stronger, some parts can really just kick your ass.  Damn it.

PS  Really, if you can do it, standing up in Court IS WORTH IT.  You can do so much more than you think you can (and so much more than you should have to!)  Take a swing at the bastards if you can.

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.

 

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.

Tell Your Story Walking

I feel like I always have to back up a negative with a statement to make clear:  I appreciate that I live in a country where there is recourse and financial support as a result of what was done to me at work.  Doesn’t make it a more pleasant experience.  The ‘system’, as I’m sure many have experienced, is disjointed, impersonal and bureaucratic. I imagine this to be less traumatic if you are describing a back injury or a sprained wrist but to describe a psychological injury for strangers over and over again is never easy. Kind of like stripping off and walking into an office of people.

 

Photo credit here

Dream sequence…Naked me walks into a call centre.  Hi!  Can I describe how I have lost myself?  How when my boss touched my body I didn’t kick him in the face like you imagine you would if someone tried to hurt you?  How I am ashamed to be seen and assume people on the street know what happened?  That I am considered unfit to work in my chosen profession – because of people still in that profession?  That I am medicated to leave the house?  That I’m not ready to be released ‘into the wild’ again yet?  Yep.  Still a loser.  Can we do this again in a month?  You bet!

I don’t bother claiming most expenses or looking for what could benefit me.  It’s too hard.  Too much paperwork.  Too weak.  Needy.

I know on an intellectual level that these avenues are available to me without judgement and because it is the least I deserve. Unfortunately, as with most things, that knowledge doesn’t affect my internal dialogue.  The voice (metaphorical one, I swear, Doc) that sneers, ‘You look pathetic.  On WorkCover.  People like you are just lazy.  Get the f*uck over it and move on’. That voice is an asshole.

So yesterday I got a letter for an Impairment Assessment coming up.  Sounds good.  I like to do well in everything and am a bit of a test nerd so obviously I feel nervous about ‘passing’ like it’s high school graduation.  Unfortunately, to pass this test, I need to remove any shred of ego or dignity and describe, in detail, how I am affected MENTALLY in a way that I feel is permanent.  I won’t be lying but that is the tragedy.  And I have to say it all to a strange man (I mean, do they even think about these things?) in a rushed appointment.  He ticks some boxes, gives me a numerical score and if I score high enough I will receive  further financial support.  It would be recognition of a sort.  More therapeutic for me would be a public declaration of fault directed at the perpetrator, the two other senior staff who bullied me, pressured me to say nothing and blamed me for it even happening.  I would now like to add the guy at the ‘top’ who stated that ‘from what he’d heard about me’ in the office he worked at, he didn’t see the need to investigate my complaints with any real intent.    Dereliction of duty?  Gross misconduct?  Bloody rude?  That would make me feel better, cost nothing (except their careers) and I could carry on.  Memo to the Prime Minister.  Save some bucks and let me feel real closure.  I’d face the public for that.  I fantasise about it.

Then last night at ten to five (last job of the day, was I mate?) I got a call to say that it’s time to be assessed again for payments to continue.  I have monthly assessments with my GP and weekly counselling.  I’m getting assessed for MENTAL IMPAIRMENT and you would also like me to repeat this process for another stranger?

Photo credit here

Dream sequence…Step right up!  See the Crying Lady!  She can talk about her private parts  in front of anyone!  No shame!  Watch her write it down for the lawyer…say it out loud for any number of psychiatrists…She jumps through hoops to say, get this, how BAD she feels!

Another test.  I don’t have to study.  But I won’t even get a certificate.  Or a measly sticker.

 

Have Your Say – Have You Been Bullied?

solitude

It Takes A Village…

A subject very close to my heart is that of bullying.  It comes to light in the media once in a while, most tragically when someone takes their own life such as in the recent case of Sheniz Erkan in Melbourne, Victoria.  After suffering harassment at school and via the Internet, Sheniz stepped in front of a train and was killed.  She was laid to rest today in Melbourne at a Mosque filled to capacity and then some. This has been on my mind all day.  The following post is inspired by, but does take presume to comment on, Ms Erkan’s personal circumstances.

At first, the story of another young person committing suicide as a result of intense bullying behaviour just plain broke my heart.  I felt sad for the young woman who would never be; her family, who will never live another day with her in their lives; her friends, for whom I just cannot imagine the grief and disbelief that their close friend is gone forever.  I read more of the story which led me to the reader comments.  The Internet allows us to comment immediately on articles of note right from our mobile phones.  This is a very powerful technological tool.  It connects the reader to the media source, a Letter to the Editor you can send without taking the time to put pen to paper and perhaps think about your words.

I hope that Sheniz’s loved ones see the messages of support and empathy.  It may bring them some comfort in a dark moment. Some of the other comments (or inconsiderate jabs) will be like a dagger to an already broken heart, presuming arrogant moral superiority and casting judgment on a young person who’d obviously been in deep psychological and emotional pain.  There were several comments from individuals saying “I’ve been bullied and I just got on with it…kids these days are too soft”.  Deep sigh. This notion that targets are weaklings, over sensitive and ill-prepared for the ‘realities’ of life as we know it is a cop out. Or as I like to call it – victim blaming.  Others attacked the bullies, “lazy parents of feral kids who need to be pulled into line”.  Who are they pointing at here?  Bullies are always the offspring of low income/single parent/parents under the influence?  All of the above?  Lord, save me.  Many screamed “name and shame the bullies! They deserve a taste of their own medicine!  See how tough they are then”. Eye for an eye.  A life for a  life.  This kind of knee-jerk reaction (whilst a little scary and medieval sounding) does demonstrate public recognition that bullying at this level is harmful and wrong. That it causes long-term harm.  That something needs to be done. But revenge is punitive and the issue here is more complex.  

The spectrum of replies on this page demonstrated to me the core problem with tackling this issue.  The public themselves are divided on what bullying is, who is to ‘blame’ and how to stop people hurting others.  Is it any wonder that we cannot agree on acceptable behaviour and reasonable consequence?  Is it any wonder that there is no continuity in policy and procedure?  This is evident in schools, workplaces and homes around the world.

Because that’s another facet of bullying that must be dragged into the light.  The term itself suggests visions of the ‘playground’ at school, a few kids circling the lone ‘nerdy’ kid.  Probably small and possibly ginger.  But it’s so much bigger than that.  Bullying is an inadequate term for intimidating behaviours, and the absence of any action to contravene such behaviour (suggesting complicity), which in various forms go on in workplaces, social groups and families everywhere. This encompasses a myriad of actions and behaviours from the school ground taunts to aggression and violence in the home, allegedly where one should feel safest.  I do not like the term domestic violence because to me the word domestic infers that it is of less importance than a violent street assault when in fact it is a more heinous betrayal perpetrated by someone you trust.

do·mes·tic/dəˈmestik/

Adjective: Of or relating to the running of a home or to family relations.

Noun: A person who is paid to help with menial tasks such as cleaning.

Synonyms: adjective. home – inland – interior – homemade – household – native
noun. servant – menial

(Dictionary.com, 13/01/12)

See what I mean?

Dismiss or belittle bullying and it’s effects at this micro level and you risk losing any hope of tackling the other connected issues.  Or is it the very bullies themselves, now in grown up jobs and roles, that thwart decisive and inclusive action?  You wouldn’t tackle an ‘issue’ very effectively if you employed similar tactics in the course of your own life, would you?

My experience of bullying behaviour began in the workplace and swiftly moved from one person with an agenda to a complicit group who began to see a strength in their number.  To speak up against this was to be a ‘trouble maker’, ‘outspoken’…put your head on the damn chopping block.  Even with the most noble intentions, the strongest of people can become worn down when harassed and pressured to shut up and conform.  You can question yourself, your own perception of reality.  ‘I’m causing trouble by bringing this up…Everyone will judge me…It’s going to get worse…I can’t stand the pressure any more…I’m such a loser, worthless…THIS IS KILLING ME’.  That leap doesn’t take very long to make. And they chip away at you, day by day.  With words, threats, isolation, gossip, manipulation of others, the creation of little lies to set you up to fail.  Because they need the power.  My rapist/stalker/bully/boss openly said to me that he’d entered that particular field of employment as he knew he’d be promoted quickly “with a penis” (verbatim) and he’d have “so many women’s minds to fuck with”. Again, verbatim.  At times he was so incredibly brazen and candid in his inappropriateness that while I assumed him to be intolerable and offensive as a human being, I didn’t take his comments with the deadly seriousness I should have.  Or am I blaming myself, like they did?  Hmmm.  That’s the power of a bully.  Their targets eventually question themselves and their actions rather than being able to lay the blame where it belongs.  With the perpetrators and their complicit followers.  How can a bully cause harm to an individual if the majority are with the individual?  They couldn’t. Bullies count on the fear and inaction of others to enable them.

Bullying is repeated verbal, physical, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful and involves the misuse of power by an individual or group towards one or more persons. 

http://www.bullyingnoway.com.au/talkout/faqs/default.shtml#carers

The question that emerges then is if people – witnesses to bullying – are so easily silenced by the dominant ideology of their environment (extreme examples: KKK, Nazi Germany), can they conversely be pushed to react to stamp out bullying behaviour and support the threatened?

Research shows that like sheep, we are all influenced by own environment, if it’s cool to bully it will continue, if it is not cool to bully, then it is OUT. The peer group decides what is acceptable and what is not. Thus it is useless dealing with bullying in class if it takes place in the staffroom, the carpark or on the school bus and these areas remain unaddressed. 

Field, Evelyn M  http://www.bullying.com.au/media-psychologist/confronting-school-bullying.php

I do not have the comprehensive answer.  I do have some really crappy experience which led me to moments of such darkness and utter pain that a part of me understands how an individual can come to the conclusion that they cannot take that pain any more. From that experience I can tell the contributors to the newspaper forum I read today that suicidal thoughts are not the selfish whims of weak people.

They are the sounds of a human soul being stretched to it’s extreme limit.  A suicidal person believes with all that is left that they are unable to be helped, a burden or embarrassment to their loved ones, a broken vessel. That is not selfish.  That is heartbreaking on a level almost impossible to digest. It is a travesty.  And it will do no good to denounce the decisions of those in pain, waking up wishing they could be someone else or no one at all.

I am only sure of one thing.  These individuals, especially teenagers still finding their feet (and their voice) in their world, need to know that it is okay to say NO.  It is okay to say, help me.  It is okay to admit that another person/group of people is hurting them.  IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT.  If we really want people to be brave enough to stand up we need to stand with them.  And mean it.  Don’t leave that lone voice calling for help.  Bloody step up and say, I’ll stand next to you and I’ll say it with you.  Now this takes a lot of guts because no matter your age.  People fear standing outside, risking being ostracised and judged.  But don’t you see?  If more of us cross the floor to make some noise and stand up for what we must feel is right (if thousands of mourners thought so today) then it will become less scary. We can mess with the numbers and change the balance of power.  If you help the person who is hurting, you also take one more voice from the ‘group’, the bully, the POWER which intimidates and strangles.  Which can kill.

Dedicated to the souls of those who fought with all they had, until they could not fight any more. Rest In Peace.