Here we have the second of the guest posts I am hosting for my blog holiday. Please welcome @grohlmrs who normally writes over at dragonstuff.wordpress.com. Please leave a comment to let her know what you think.
Good afternoon, its lovely to be here guest posting for the gorgeous Charlie. I thank her for giving me the opportunity to write about a subject that has impacted greatly in my own life, the treatment of those with mental health issues within the workplace.
In the last couple of years there has been a real push by mental health charities such as M.I.N.D to stamp out the stigma of mental health problem. They active encouragement of people to be open about their struggles issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. Up until 4 years ago, I always believed it was best to be open about these issues.
I am now going to tell you about my personal experience of having mental health issues whilst being in paid employment. This is the first time I have discussed this in any depth, and my aim is to stick as much as possible to the actual details of what happened, rather than emotional impact of it all. However it is a very emotive subject and I cannot promise that that wont spill out in my writing.
I was at the time working in a County Council run home for adults with learning disabilities. It was a job I loved. The clients were very easy to care for, without the high levels of challenging behaviors that are sometimes displayed by individuals with learning disabilities, and the staff team I worked with were by and large people I enjoyed spending time with. Most importantly however, my role as a care worker was an important part of my self identity. One of the few things at that time in my life that I was especially proud of in relation to myself. I was a very good carer.
Two things happened in autumn 2011 that had a negative affect on both my mental health and ultimately my ability to stay in that job.
The first was a change of managers where I worked. The new manager (whom I shall refer to as Big Boss) had a reputation as a hard nosed cow who enforced the rules, but I have always been a conscientious worker so wasn’t concerned about this.
The second thing happened in September of that year and causes me much sadness even today. One individual I looked after was an elderly gentleman who had Down-syndrome ( please read http://wp.me/p6qaxF-c for more about him). On that day, whilst out in town with myself as his sole carer, he had a heart attack and died. The impact of this on myself was twofold. Firstly the shock of seeing someone die in front of me. The second being guilt at not being able to save him. At the time Big Boss could not have been more supportive (so I thought). She knew that I was already suffering from mild depression, so organised for me to have time off work, and a short session of counselling to deal with the feelings of guilt. She told me her door was open any time if I needed to discuss my mental health issues, and if she wasn’t actually at work, I could always email her. Like the naive fool that I was, I took advantage of the offer of a ‘confidential’ ear to talk to.
Fast forward several months to March of 2012. I had been taking medication for my depression for a while, but developed certain unaceptable physical side effects.The doctor decided to change the meds, but said I would need to withdraw totally from one before starting the other. She advised me to take a fortnight off work during this process as the withdrawal symptoms could be quite bad. I did as I was advised, and showed Big Boss the doctors note I had been given. Her reaction was not what I expected. She was not happy that I was having a further period of time off within a single year due to mental health problems and made it clear as far as she was concerned this would not happen again.
Forward now to November of 2012. I got a call from my brother saying our mother had been taken ill and was unlikely to survive the night. I wasn’t close to her, having been bought up in care, but dropped everything and rushed to see her. I arrived too late to say my goodbyes. I stayed with my brother for a few days to help him sort things, and contacted work at the earliest opportunity to explain the situation and ask for a few days compassionate leave. When I returned to work, I was taken aside by Big Boss and questioned about the time I had taken off. She told me that during her conversations with other members of staff, it had come to light I hadn’t seen my mother for many years, so why did I feel I had the right to take compassionate leave? She accused me of taking advantage if the situation for my own use.
She felt I had taken excessive time off work in the previous year, and I was bought up on a capability charge, and given a first warning.
Forward to January 2013. I had spent the day doing first aid training, and was following this with an evening shift. The training had triggered off a discussion about the events of September 2011, and I was feeling a little emotional. The week before I had also witnessed another client have an epileptic fit which resulted in her falling into the middle of a quite busy road. It was bloody scary. Not the seizure itself, but trying to protect her from cars who refused to slow down or stop as she was in the road. The evening shift was suppose to be spent with the same client, doing the same activities as the previous week, so I asked if I could swap clients for that shift. This is the ONLY time in the 18 months I worked with her that my mental health have a direct impact on an aspect of my work. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but the simple fact was the anxiety and panic I was experiencing that day was too much to allow me to safely look after this particular client on my own in an environment where she was at risk of harm. It was the right thing to do, but Big Boss refused to let me swap, saying I needed to pull myself together and get on with it.
By Late February it was clear by everyone working with me that Big Boss had issues with me. She watched me like a hawk and picked up on every thing I did that wasn’t 100% perfect. I tried. I tried so very hard to do everything perfectly, but the pressure she applied was designed to make me crack. It took an unlocked cupboard door to undo me. This cupboard contained clients daily files. The same files that were routinely left out in her unlocked office. However the cupboard should have been locked, and it wasn’t. I always admitted when I made an error as I believe in honesty, and this was a small mistake which had absolutely no consequence to anyone. The risk of confidential information being seen by other people (the charge that was eventually laid at me) was negligible as the only people who had access to the cupboard were the two clients whom the files related, and neither of them are literate anyway.
In comparison, serious errors were committed by others during this time, but these were excused by Big Boss as the staff who made them were in her view otherwise good, reliable staff.
My mistake had Big Boss decided, the potential to have been a serious error. She bought me up on a second disciplinary case. For this one she had to write a report about me, which I was to have access to prior to the disciplinary meeting.
When I read the report, I was horrified. I found out she had made detailed records of every phone call, email, formal and informal conversation we had ever had. She had manipulated this information to paint a picture of a highly emotional, unstable, unreliable woman. Inserted between these nuggets of ‘evidence’ were even more damning sections that recorded her opinion of me. This highly qualified, respected manager thought I was dishonest, lazy, untrustworthy. To quote her own words (which I fear will be burned into my memory forever) “I have strong concerns about the safety of the vulnerable adults in our care while been looked after by ______. I am not willing to leave her to look after clients without other staff being present due to these concerns”.
I read that report, and immediately wrote my resignation. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, there was no way I could continue to work there. She eroded my self confidence to a point where I couldn’t be sure the person she described wasn’t a true reflection of me, and even if it wasn’t true, I knew I wouldn’t be believe.
They still held the meeting, the day after my last shift (but two days before my notice officially ended) and terminated my contract as I hadn’t turned up for the meeting.
What this post shows (I hope) is how my manager allowed her negative beliefs about people with mental health issues to influence her opinion of me and my work.
Two years later on and I am in a much better place. Most days I can believe that I wasn’t at fault, though the doubt will always be there. It is clear now she systematically targeted vulnerable members of staff. Others were bullied into leaving after (the home shut early this year due to council cutbacks, very few staff were there to get redundancy payouts). I now have another job with the same client group which I absolutely love. It has made me wary though. I handed her plenty of ammunition to use against me, so now I keep my mental health issues to myself in the workplace, as its the safer option.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.