Saturday, December 31, 2016
No soup for you
This was the email exchange between my former employer and myself when I realized my symptoms were becoming a serious problem. If you read my other posts (Dog eat dog) or (Nowhere to run) you can get more insight as to what problematic symptoms can look like. I didn't want to take time off. My job isn't stressful, my home life isn't stressful, the stressors in my life at the time were dealing with my symptoms, medication side effects (read this for a better understanding of how bad the medication side effects really were), and exhaustion from keeping myself together through it all. I actually did a damn good job considering all I was going through. I figured if my boss ever payed attention to my writing or videos he would be impressed for what I deal with vs the person who comes into work. I held it together because of how dedicated I had been to my therapy, especially DBT.
I'm not resistant to bipolar mood swings or energy shifts. I can't change them but I have the skills in order to survive them. Since day one of finding out I had bipolar disorder I became 100% dedicated to living a life better than I had before as a mentally sick and undiagnosed person. I'm not an inherently strong person, I'm just good at finding ways to create strength.
I didn't want a reward or recognition, I figured if he ever saw my blog he would understand my dedication to the job. It would give him, or anyone, a small peek into the living hell that mental illness can be. That's not what happened. He decided I am no longer fit to work there. I asked him where my bipolar disorder has interfered with my job and he stated it's not anything I've done, it's what I could do.
"All I see here is an unstable person."
I held it together that long, took 2 weeks off when I knew my symptoms would interfere with my job performance, all in consideration for his business and the respect I had for my position. That's my responsibility as someone who has a disability to my employer- if my medical condition is going to interfere with my ability to do the basic functions of my job then I need to handle it in order to return to work capable or resign if I feel like there isn't a short term solution. I asked for time to handle my situation and communicated my backup plan if that failed- a voluntary stay in the nut house. I also did what has helped me get through the past 4 years- I typed out my demons into this very blog.
I don't write just to hear myself henpeck the keyboard or to reread my insufferable grammar because I stopped paying attention to english lessons by the age of 9. This is a medical condition that needs to be recognized as such. It's not made up. I was accused of using my disorder as an excuse to get out of my responsibilities, something I had never done but 8 months into my employment, without ever being seen as using my disorder as an excuse for anything, it was decided this one time I need time off to handle my situation was me just blowing off my work duties and trying to get away with it by claiming it was bipolar related.
I write to bring awareness but most importantly, and what is the driving force behind this blog, to let other people know that they are not alone.
The isolation that comes from struggling with mental illness can kill you. I mean that literally and figuratively. I have never experienced relief like I have with being crazy out in the open. By myself I felt like absolute shit. I've never experienced loneliness like living with my illness kept to myself, no matter if those close to me know and are supportive. Screaming to the world my deepest and darkest moments has been liberating in a way that you can never imagine. I write to provide relief and brings others hope.
And for that I was fired.
I included the email because of one line in particular. "Your health is more important than your job at [bicycle shop]." I knew exactly what he was saying there. It wasn't an empathetic line to let me know he understands how important my struggle is. He was letting me know how he felt about the situation. I thought I was being paranoid about the email until I went back to work and he fired me. After that moment I realized I wasn't being paranoid, it actually was a passive aggressive insult and it stung. I was going through hell, and like Churchill said, I had to keep going, but to be dealing with everything I was dealing with and then have a sentence like that come from my boss made my hell harder to wade through.
During my 2 weeks off I had to face the reality that I might be getting more than 2 weeks off, although involuntarily. I didn't know how I would be able to survive the financial hit of losing my job while I was trying to drag myself out of the depths of the mental disorder abyss. I started a Gofundme to help with my 2 weeks of pay that I would be losing, and so many people were generous enough to help me hit my goal, but that goal was bare minimum to survive, it didn't cover everything but I figured once I go back to work feeling better would make getting back on my feet easier, even if it would take a couple of months to get caught up. The whole time that one line from the email stuck in my head. There's no way someone would get fired for taking care of a medical emergency, is there?
If someone had their foot ripped off would he have said "your foot is more important than your job at [bicycle shop]?" I don't think he would have. My former employer put no faith in the reality that is mental illness. He also didn't believe in climate change so I guess I might have set my standards too high in the first place. I didn't have time to consider that before taking my medical leave- I was going down hill quick and staying at work would have leave to behaviour that would have justified a termination. But would he fire someone for taking care of themselves, having seen me struggle for 5 months with being yanked off one med too quickly, being put on another one too quickly, the horrific side effects of lithium, and finding out it was the wrong medication to be on in the first place? Would he fire someone over a broken foot?
Sure as shit, when I walked into the building I saw both mechanics pretend they were balls deep into whatever they were doing. You could tell they were avoiding any chance of making eye contact with me. My worst fear had been confirmed not even a foot into the door.
He asked me into his office and I walked in to find my blog open of the computer screen, he had used the cursor to highlight a couple of sentences he would read to me in a bit as to why I was a threat to the reputation of the company. I saw a stack of papers that were my blog posts printed out, he had gone through and in unmistakable neon yellow streaks, had highlighted parts of my work, which he also read aloud to me as reasons why no one would shop there. Another couple sheets of paper lying on his desk contained quotes from videos off of my YouTube channel that he had written down. They were also read aloud to me as justification as to why, despite a doctor giving a note clearing me as mentally fit to return to work, I was probably going to be unfit to do my job in the future.
He had taken the time to read, watch, study, and gather what he saw as evidence for justification for firing me. He did not have an answer when asked what duties I had neglected. He would try and redirect the conversation. In VA you don't have to tell someone why they're being fired but it was pretty obvious in this case and his inability to answer my question about duties neglected was a reflection of the fact that I had been doing my job, he was just attached to the fear associated with mental illness.
He threw my psychiatrist's note out, the one that cleared me as psychologically fit to return to work. He said he doesn't care what a doctor says because he's not clearing me as mentally stable enough to return to work, even though he hadn't seen or spoken to me in 2 weeks.
I explained the medication switch and how everything is getting sorted out correctly and I asked for a probationary period. 2 months of me returning to work and him being able to see that my situation was getting better. I asked for this knowing very well that my job performance hadn't suffered before my 2 weeks absence and that it wouldn't suffer during the probationary period I was asking for. Hell, it was only going to get back to where I started before all the mess- overachieving Gwyn mode.
He said no. He said he was done with me.
That sentence in the email above gave me a hint so I spent my last $35 at the time and got a pocket sized audio recorder. I had it on me and rolling when I was supposedly going to my first day back to work. Like I said, in the state of Virginia your employer doesn't have to tell you anything about why they're firing you. It could be because you have bipolar disorder, brown skin, or the wrong set of genitals. Doesn't matter, they don't have to tell you anything. But you also don't have to tell the other person they're being recorded according to state law.
I recorded the conversation because I wanted to save my ass if he ever came after me for a defamation of character suit because I was going to talk about the situation if I had been fired due to having a mental illness. I do not say the name of the business, the names of people involved, and have wiped my social media clean in order to prevent other people from targeting them. The local bike people know the shop and I can't change that but the blog views have been skyrocketing lately and I don't want a faceless internet hoard hunting them down.
But I recorded that conversation so I had a legal right to talk about what happened to me.
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