I once was the victim of subtle bullying at work. It is hard to describe how it happens. There were two of them. My department manager and my direct supervisor. Together the two of them conspired to make my life hell. My line manager was incredibly patronising, Each morning she would come to my desk, veer through the glass partition, grin widely and wave to me as if I was a child. It was infuriating. I ticked it off to just her being uncomfortable with my deafness. I now think it was just part of a tactic to systematically devalue me.
The bullying was not obvious. It was sly and cruel. For example the department manager would deliberately place roadblocks to prevent me completing my work. She refused to approve surveys for distribution. She would promise to do so but not do it. This would prevent me from completing my research. She did this for a year. My direct line manager would then pressure me to beat deadlines that I could not because the department manager refused to release the surveys. My line manager would claim that I was lying and making excuses. No matter that I provided her with copies of 51 separate emails requesting approvals from the department manager. I provided nearly as many from the department manager stating that she would do so within a week.
One day my line manager asked me to provide her with details of the social, medical and economic models of disability. This I did. She would ask me what I felt were key components of a disability action plan and how I would set the objectives. She would ask me for contacts for consultants for whom she could use to run workshops and consultations. I dutifully obliged. Come the day of the release of the disability action plan she had used virtually everything that I had provided her, word for word. I asked if she was going to acknowledge my input. She laughed sardonically and said … ” No…its all mine.”
One day I won an award as part of a working group. I received a certificate for this. I took a photo of it and posted it on Facebook with the line – “I wonder if my boss will offer any praise for this,” A few days later my line manager approached my desk and handed me a letter. I was to be disciplined for not completing the research and undermining the management. They had been monitoring my Facebook and they provided me with a copy of the offending post.
At this point I lost it. I ran down to Human Resources and stated that I wanted to make a complaint. I broke down and sobbed. I continued to sob for many hours. I phoned an interpreter friend to come and help me. HR were organising for me to see a counsellor through EAP. They managed to get an appointment. I texted my wife and told her I had broken down. She came immediately. The interpreter worked pro-bono for me at that first counselling session. I went home and told my wife there was no way I was going back to work there. She said that I didn’t have to. I sobbed all night. I was a mess.
I sobbed all weekend. It was so bad that my family took turns to hug me. My wife would hug me and need a toilet break and Tyler would take over. I would go sobbing out to the deck and Aden would follow and give me bear hugs. It was hell for me but it must have been worse for them.
The breakdown happened on Friday and by Sunday I was still a sobbing mess. I told my wife I needed help and she drove me to the GP. Because everything happened so quickly we could not get interpreters. My wife, who is deaf, had to interpret. The Doctor was from Middle East Asia and had a thick accent. My wife struggled to understand him and ensure I understood his questions. This is what it is like if you are deaf and have mental health issues that need support urgently. Family members have to take on the load because the system just cannot provide the interpreting support that is needed at short notice.
The Doctor gave me a month off work. He gave me some valium to calm me down. He offered me anti-depressents which I refused at the time. In time I calmed down. In moments alone I would cry. I would take my middle son, Finlay, to hospital for his treatment and I would basically sit in a corner crying every hour. It was an awful time.
About four weeks into this I was contacted by the police. I had apparently, while helping a friend move house, sideswiped someones car mirror. This was with a rental truck. I was unaware that I had hit the car. But getting the news was the straw that broke the camels back.
If I was bad before I was completely gone now. I howled and screamed, I wanted to punch walls. I would raise my fist to smash a hole in the wall and restrain myself. I wanted to just get in a car and drive away, as far away as possible. In the middle of all this were my family watching in horror. My wife phoned Lifeline for me through the National Relay Service. She watched as I told them I was planning to abscond. She dashed around the house and took all the car keys.
In the end I ended up at hospital. Again my poor wife was the interpreter. Interpreting the nurses. Interpreting the doctors. We requested an interpreter but nothing was arranged. My wife was by my side all through the night. She would have been worried and stressed while at the same time, under great duress, trying to be my interpreter.
Early in the morning she returned home for a time. She needed to change and get the boys off to school. They actually didn’t go, after seeing their father like that they were in no fit state to do so. While she was gone the social worker visited me. She was great except she had cerebral palsy and severe speech impediment. I could not understand a word she said. Eight or nine hours in I was still without an interpreter. I understood only four words the social worker said – “You need a rest.”
My wife returned. The initial plan was for me to be admitted to hospital. Eventually they sent me home and said the mental health team would visit my home the next day. We asked them to book an interpreter for this. They promised to do so but never did. Again Marnie, my poor wife, had to interpret.
This session went on for a couple of hours. At the end of it all I was given drugs and the mental health nurse was to visit me twice a week for the next two weeks. We asked that they book interpreters for this but they never did. Fortunately the mental health nurse was easy to lipread.
This is what it is like today in Australia for people who are experiencing mental health crisis. When it happens there is no response strategy to get interpreting support or any communication support in place. Families are expected to fill the gap. Often these family members are also deaf. Those without support just have to communicate themselves by hook or by crook while under great strain. It is awful.
I thank fuck for my family in this time. Without them I may well be dead today. I thank fuck for interpreter friends who helped me out. Most of all I thank fuck I have the language skills to at least understand what is happening because for many deaf people experiencing mental health crisis this is not the case.
I got lucky. I am sure others have died because they were not as lucky as I. This is happening in Australia today. It is not good enough. It has to change and now.