Last year when I lost Joy, I wrote about it. Where’s Joy? The article was written when I was at my lowest. My wife was in America and my boys were out working. It was my birthday and I was all alone. I needed to make sense of this enormous black cloud that was hanging over me so I wrote. It was an awful time.
Where’s Joy? – It is about my journey with depression. My psychologist called it reactive depression triggered by a workplace incident. Indeed it was. I had a horrific boss. She was a bully. She was a gaslighter. Subtly and cruelly she would dig the knife in.
It was an awful time at work. I left on a secondment for six months. It was a successful time too. I was offered an 18 month contract. When I had left my previous workplace my manager had just started. I had my doubts about her then. Especially when she asked me if I would rather go back to my desk and work rather than work with her and a colleague on reports.
You see, she didn’t like to have to adapt her communication. It stifled her style. When she asked me this I must have given her daggers because she physically jumped backwards. In answer to her suggestion I rather coldly replied – “No, I would rather be here, thank you.”
The warning bells should have been acknowledged when she asked a colleague who was unsteady on their feet to move desks. Supposedly because they were an occupational health and safety hazard to others. But I left soon after. When I left, I left a happy workplace. I left a great group of colleagues who I enjoyed working with. Laughs were never far away. I was determined to come back after my six month secondment. Indeed, I even promised a few people that I would. The boss had only been there a few months at that time.
When I left I had my doubts. I didn’t think the manager had the disability smarts. But I try to see the good side of people. Perhaps over time she would learn. I should have known better.
I returned after six months to what I can only describe as a tense and unhappy workplace. I was horrified. At management meetings they spoke about my colleagues with disdain. They called them liars, lazy, unprofessional, trouble makers, not good enough and so on. I will never forget my senior colleague standing in front of me and proclaiming of one young colleague – ” … They hate me, they hate but I don’t care. They re not good enough, they are lazy.” It was not a pleasant place to be.
And that manager. She would talk about people who had moved on to other roles. She would talk about them like they were dirt. She would claim they were never good enough and that they would never be welcome back. It was really horrific and negative. On Mondays, when we had these meetings, I would break into a cold sweat. I hated those meetings.
We were performance managing a couple of people. I had them in the meeting room crying. Crying because the manager had phoned them and abused them. Crying because they feared for their futures and their families. Pleading with me to help. I helped as much as I could. I gave them tips on how to manage the situation. Advised them to record every conversation, get in touch with the union, never to go into meetings alone and so on. That is how bad it was.
With performance management, it is the manger that manages it. I would implement strategies. record outcomes, have follow up meetings and measure improvements. I was so concerned about how the manager was handling things that I contacted Human Resources expressing my concerns and sought guidance. I spoke to a colleague about how distressed one of the people who was being performance managed was. They responded – “…They had it coming ..” This person was just about to lose his job, their future and perhaps even their house. No compassion – Just – THEY HAD IT COMING.
Finally I cracked with the manager, I got angry. I told her she wasn’t being fair and I had something to say. She tugged her ear lobe – at me, a deaf guy – and said – “Listen to me!” That was the last straw. I looked her straight in the eye, while pointedly tapping the table with my middle finger, and said, apparently very loudly – “No – I have listened to you for a long time, now you are going to listen to me.”
A little after that, after some horrendous gaslighting I broke down. I will never forget our last meeting when she mad me sit next to a window, and sat herself next to the door. She was implying I was a threat and would hurt her. I remember telling her she might want to leave the door open, just in case. She was subtle and cruel. I don’t hate many people, but by golly I hate her.
This all happened precisely a year ago last week. The trauma of the time came back to me. I was angry and teary and I was having flashbacks. You know, even when I left she did not let up. She would tell colleagues to unfriend me on Facebook. Warn them to be careful because management would not view them associating with me in good light. One former colleague contacted me recently apologising for not getting in touch. She said she had felt compromised, even a little brainwashed. It is not a time of my life that I look back on with any fondness.
And I hit rockbottom. At first I just wanted to give up and forget. I didn’t want the stress of a Workcover claim. I just wanted to move on. But I found a great counsellor. The counsellor reminded me of my value and what I had to offer. She helped me with my Workcover claim and it was approved. This was vindication to me that what I had experienced was real.
I remember saying to my counsellor that I had let everyone down. By quitting I had put my family at risk. We stood to lose everything. She was having none of it. She said that quitting, knowing the risks, was the bravest thing that I could do. “Gary.” she said, ” … you were bullied, the woman abused you, no-one has to put up with that.”
That was the start of my recovery. The counsellor gave me strategies to stop me ruminating. She said to find something to focus on. Just focus on it and think about it. Think about its shape and colour and where it came from. She told me to allow my mind just to get absorbed with the object. So I started macro-photography. Close ups of flowers, insects and objects. Every day I would take photos and post them on Facebook under the title of POSITIVITY.
Slowly and surely, with the help of Marnie, my boys, my friends and my counsellor I hauled myself out of the hole and began to look for Joy. Slowly and surely I began to feel her presence. She was there, I could feel it but I just could not allow myself to fully accept that she was back.
One day I was waiting to hear if I had been successful with a job that I had applied for. I was convinced that I had missed out. I could feel myself falling back into the hole. I grabbed my camera and I went for a walk. I walked some 200 metres from home and saw a a mother and father with their young child. They were looking up a tree and were very excited. I walked up to them and looked up, this is what I saw ….
There she was. This was Joy. I called her Froggy instead because it is a Tawny Frogmouth. But at that moment, that very moment, I knew I had found Joy again. I didn’t care if I didn’t get the job or not. I looked at Froggy and I sort of knew that this was a message, that everything was going to be OK. And it was, because when I got home my phone confirmed that I had got the job. I have not looked back since.
The pandemic is with us. It is horrible but I know one day it will pass. I am currently separated from my family. They in Victoria, me in South Australia. Borders are closed and we cannot see each other. But it will pass, we will once again be united. Whenever I doubt this I look at Joy in the guise of Froggy. She is now a poster that hangs over my bed.
Life is truly good, testing but good. I was reminded of this by new boss. My new boss is the epitome of compassion and someone that values others. I knew I was finally back when she said this to me …. And I will end this here … It’s a year on and Joy has been with me for a while … All I can say is – WELCOME BACK, JOY and stay!
Gary you have achieved much since taking up the position. Your own lived experience of being Deaf has raised the consciousness of the staff to what it means to live with a disability. Your advocacy provides a role model for all staff. Our organisation is fortunate that your skill and expertise, both as a disability advocate and skilled practitioner, adds a depth to its profile that has not been there previously.
What a difference a year makes!