Friday, November 06, 2015

Tortured Genius and the Final Conclusion

Be Yourself - Audioslave

To Thine Own Self Be True. It's not an easy mantra to live by but I tried. We are all influenced by various factors in our lives. Traumatic events, abuse, self-doubt and with the constant bombardment of "Hollywood Perfection" we struggle to cope with self-love. Not easy to accept and be yourself. I think I was mostly successful.

By the time I had my children, I liked myself pretty well. Yeah, maybe lose that excess baby weight but, as a person, I could look in the mirror or in the eyes of my children and know I was okay! Although I was at times terrified knowing that I could not call my mom for her sage wisdom and advise, I was in fact ready for motherhood and knew I could rock that role! Go ME!

That was the kind of self-confidence I was dealing with at that time of my life.

Ten years later, I had made the decision to part ways with my then husband. I told the kids we would be moving wherever I got a job. I ended up with a job in the Toronto area and so we packed up our lives and moved. Life was good and after settling down I had a quick change of employeers to the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. I had a split school situation that year and to find my place in the organization, I chose to find a location the following year where I could be full time in one setting.

That year I met the first two of three Terri's that would come to mean a whole lot to me, they were classroom teachers. The student I worked with was amazing, the staff at the school was great. It was a wonderful time. Financially I had to take a second job teaching piano to make ends meet as support from the ex was not forthcoming.

It was the third year with the board that things changed. The school, staff and student were all the same but the classroom teacher was different. She believed my role to be "slave" for my CP student rather than assistant. She said I was working myself out of a job. She insisted on everything being done for him before he even decided himself that he wanted help. She made my role in her classroom very uncomfortable but I sucked it up. I didn't realize that there was a profound change in my demeanour until the custodian commented that I never smile anymore. On my breaks, I would write profusely about what was going on and she took great offence to that thinking I was writing untruths about her. My daily planner never left my side and I pleaded with the powers that be to cut me some slack.

The family of my student moved the following year so a transfer of location was in the cards for me too. As an aside, the parents of the student were aware that I was being handcuffed from doing my job as they saw a regression in the ability of their son. He was refusing to do anything independently whether it was put his coat on or propel his own wheelchair, even practicing with the walker had taken a dramatic slide. Years later I met them in a store and they reminded me how valuable I had been for their son compared to the other support he has had. It made me feel grateful that I had been able to tough it out for his sake and the validation of a job well done didn't hurt either.

It is difficult for me every September on that first day meeting all the new students and with increasing frequency for me, new staff as well. But as many difficulties we face in life we "suck it up". And so I did. It was really no different every evening that I walked into the piano student not knowing if I had a new student or a make-up lesson for another teachers student. Exposing myself to the the unknown was a part of my life whether I was comfortable with it or not. I doubt many people even recognized my inner turmoil.

Year 4 was a professional success and I met some amazing people that are still a part of my life. But as that year ended, declining populations dictated that I once again be moved. I could have used my growing seniority to insist on remaining but I took the moral high road and sucked it up. In hindsight...well, hindsight is always 20/20.

Year 5 was the year from hell. By the end of the first week, I was begging and pleading to be moved to a different location. On the first day, I walked into the school to introduce myself and the principal barked at me and I immediately cowered. And unfortunately time would prove that that in fact was the most civil she ever spoke to me. Not that I gave her a lot of opportunity, I did my job and avoided her like the plague. In the mornings, I would arrive and sit in my car until my yard duty started and then to avoid being stared at by her, I would hide behind trees. She would later claim that I was late every day because she never saw me in the staff room or in the yard. I won't get into all the details of her levels of madness, partly because it is still too distressing and partly because I have blocked many of the memories out and only know what I do because I have copious amounts of daily notations. The student I worked with bore the brunt of the abuse on my behalf. An autistic child with whom I had an excellent relationship with, and his mother and the classroom teacher too.

There was no denying what was going on but it was a school community that lived in fear of the principal. I was her current target. If I had the day off, when I returned I would be chastised for some behaviour that allegedly occurred by my student in my absence. I sucked up this degradation to my character and professionalism until March Break. I had been crying everyday on my way to and home from work for months. I saw my doctor during the break and he knew immediately that things were not okay, he approved an extended leave from work. The board said that I was angry. While I think I had every right to be, I was more frustrated and demoralized than anything else.

I eventually made it back to work at the beginning of June, but not before assurances dictated by my physician that it would not be to that place of torture. I could never be made to return. I would not even go back to collect my personal belongings. According to the teacher who did it for me, guess who hovered like a hawk to see what I had? Was she looking for journals or personal writings?

The rest of my career was spent in a single setting. A setting where my strengths as an Educational Assistant were really able to shine, a high school. Two good years were followed by a change in department head whose greeting to me in September was "I never liked you from the moment I first met you". Well hello boss! Yikes! I had two more long term leaves of absence under her rule and it became my last school placement.

In a brief nutshell. it was December 2010 and I was transferred to a school where the worst of the abuse started for me with the board. I was to start after Christmas break. I never went back again. I could not go back to the place of so much trauma. I had a profound understanding of PTSD and the fear of going back to the pain. That placement letter was the bomb that exploded in my head.

Knowing I was good at my job but they didn't like me I tried to change myself. That's when the distorted eating and extreme self-loathing came into play and remains a struggle. My doctor was supportive of my mental struggles and I started seeing someone professionally in late February 2011.

When the first round of papers came up after my sick days were done in March and I had squeezed all I could out of EI, I called upon our former union rep to help me fill out the multitude of overwhelming legal papers. She was awesome and I was soon (less than 1 year later) approved for both CPP-D and mortgage insurance coverage. For the record I don't understand how anyone of sound-mind could navigate all those forms let alone someone who is struggling either physically or mentally!

The board insurance company stood firm on their denial of benefits. They claimed that any trauma/breakdown I was suffering was due to a car accident I had been involved in 40 years previously. And while that accident was horrific, the two simply weren't related beyond affecting how I viewed the world and leaving me vulnerable to the maltreatment of others.

Anyways, denial upon denial and we kept going up the ladder of corporate fish at the Insurance Company. All this time, the former union rep was supporting me. But mentally I was getting worse. Lawyers wouldn't touch it because I had a union and they should be fighting for me. Our union with the new president was shit, a board patsy! So, my union friend became my legal representative and with that designation and some lawyer-ish documents I was finally approved for short-term LTD. Meaning that they decided that I could not work at my previous job. But I received that designation in May 2013, covering me for the previous 2 years that expired April 2013!

And so mentally and physically unable to fight anymore and on the verge of losing my house (mortgage insurance only covered 2 years), I decided to leave. But before I did I hired a lawyer that specialized in disability cases. Upon reviewing all the paper etc he decided to take on the case. Yes, he cost money but I had long passed the point where I was capable of opening any mail that came to the house. Bills terrified me because I knew I couldn't pay them. Seeing the Board letterhead on an envelope caused me extreme anxiety and the demeaning and belittling tone they took on the phone had me screening every call that came in. If I was going to leave my residence, I would have to leave forwarding information. We decided that the lawyer would handle all communication with the Board and Insurance company from here on in. He took care of all the paperwork and BS from my tormentors and gave me peace of mind.

Faith of the Heart - Rod Stewart

Earlier this year, I was sent to see a psychiatrist appointed by the Insurance Company. I felt confident that he would indeed remain unbiased and not blame my Mother for what happened with the Board. My faith was misplaced. He took my words and the words of my professionals and twisted them, for they all knew me well enough to know that I am of at least average intelligence. His determination could have concluded the case, but he decided that with my ability to write my blogs and volunteer that I was smart enough to be retrained.

Logistically I was over the half-century mark in years on earth and by the time re-training was complete, I wonder how many employers would jump at hiring someone closer to Alzheimer's age rather than a 20 something ready to conquer the world. Did this re-training come with assurance that I would be employed and not lose my benefits on top of everything else? You have to look at the whole picture...not just the spot in the middle that is in focus. I had a career that I lost...not a job at MacDonalds that could be replaced by going to Wendy's!

Now, if you had asked me, I could have told you I'm smart. I was smart when I was 12 after my Mom and sisters passed away. I was still smart after my brother passed away when I was 22. And for the next 30 some years my intelligence level, if anything increased as opposed to going in the opposite direction. My intelligence saved me because I used it to keep myself going - I wrote about it all. All my life I've been writing. But even perfect diamond can crack with the right blow.

According to Psychology Today there is relationship between high intelligence/creativity and mental illness, although it is not a mutual exclusive relationship. You can have one without the other, but I bring up the concept as it relates to me. I think that it unreasonable for that psychiatrist that I saw to assume that a change of career will somehow cure my depression and anxiety.

Kurt Cobain was a tortured musical soul who took his own life, should we have taken the guitar from his hands and given him an accountants ledger instead? Would training Robin Williams to be a bus driver have saved his life? Could training me as an x-ray technician have made what happened at the Board go away? Or would it make it okay for them to hurt me? In many instances talent and demons seem to go hand in hand, in my case the demons where living and breathing members of the School Board. I couldn't make them go away.

October 2015, nearing 5 years off work and a decision was finally made. A settlement was reached. I paid a high price for the suffering that was doled out to me. If the same people had come to my home and robbed me of my personal belongings there would be some form of justice, they would be held accountable in some way. But my perpetrators/demons robbed me of my livelihood and career, the life I had worked so hard for. My house, my dreams, my life. I have to start over.

But at least I can start over. Not everyone has the stubbornness to want to prove them wrong. To prove that I am okay. That you didn't beat me, you broke me. There is a difference!

It wasn't easy and I don't wish these types of struggles on anyone. I wish I believed in karma so I could wait for the day when justice will be meted out, but instead they will become non-people to me. I write them off and give them no more space in my mind.

*If you or someone you know is struggling with abuse at the hands of their employer please support them anyway you can and understand that mental illness just means that we are given more than we can handle. We each have a cup that can "runneth over" and each one is of a different size.
Many of my supervisors were bullies who sensed the weaker in the herd to prey upon, no different than the schoolyard bully that we warn our children about. When the term schoolyard bully is uttered, everyone in that yard should be suspect - including teachers and principals. Sometimes they are also psychopaths.
FYI: I don't have a hate on for teachers. My mother and the most influential people in my life were teachers.

*If you know someone who is fighting for Long-Term Disability, know you don't have to fight alone. There is help out there. Don't be afraid to ask for it. You're worth it. Please, do not try to scam the system because it makes life so much harder for those of us who need the support for real.


Credit where credit is due:
Psychology Today
Huffington Post