Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Part II cont... How depression can really fuck up your life

Let’s fast forward now to July 20th when I returned from my daughter’s wedding, wishing I had taken more time off. The dean’s assistant called me into his office before I even had a chance to sit down and change my shoes. We had a new dean start June 1, and he had not given me the time of day in 7 weeks. Now I know why. You don’t get to know someone you’re about to axe. Before I sat down (with my notepad and paper to take notes…Ha!), he said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news…” After that I didn’t hear much. His assistant was there to serve as a witness in case I went postal, I guess. I heard him say, “I assure you that this is a budget cut, not a performance issue.” He let me know that I could be COBRA’d into benefits, but I almost laughed at that because if you’ve ever dealt with COBRA, you know you can’t afford this option when you’ve just lost your job. I remember he said I would get paid for 2 more weeks. That was my severance, and I assumed the last of my benefits, too. I was handed a packet of papers and told I could come back later to clean off my desk if it was too hard now with people in the office. WHAT PEOPLE? The asshole hadn’t shown up yet that morning, and the woman I had driven back and forth to work who was walking in the summer months hadn’t shown up to work. Overslept as usual while I held down the fort. I suspect they both knew what was coming and were too chicken to show up.

So I did what I knew how to do on Tuesday: send out thank you letters… because who else would do that? Halfway through, my printing privileges were cut off. I fought back the tears because I knew if I started, there was no stopping. Every few minutes the dean’s assistant came back to me to rip another epaulet off my coat like they do in the French Foreign Legion. “Can I have your ID badge?” “We need your keys.” “I have to get your procard.” Why didn’t she have a check list of things she needed and come to me ONCE, not several times. I texted 2 friends and my sister and kept a stiff upper lip while I cleaned things off while waiting for my printing rights to be restored so I could finish the 60 letters to donors. Eventually, I got the cart so I could take my things out. (Amazing what we amass in such a short time.) I filled out the paperwork that included my passwords and contact information and left it with the dean’s assistant. As I started down the hall, a good friend (who had joined choir with me) saw me and asked if I needed help. I did not want any, but she insisted. She ran down a floor while I took the elevator and waited with my things while I went to get my car. I didn’t dare start to cry, and I did not want to hug this friend good bye for fear I would, but again she insisted. I jumped in my car and sobbed all the way home, scared out of my gourd, dejected, humiliated, depressed, angry, frightened, mortified. The pieces were not coming together yet, but they would little by little.

But first I dropped a note off in the mailbox of my former boss who had decimated my character. I thanked her (in my sarcastic way) for making the last 3 weeks of my time there the most unbearable, humiliating time of my life. I assumed that everyone knew about my review when, in fact, they probably were privy to my lay-off and felt uncomfortable around me. But why the silent treatment? But more importantly, I taped her house key to the note and said, “Do not fear I will come to your house any more with your key. And you might have to get someone else to scoop your cats’ poop when you’re out of town.” Yep, that’s right. I watched her cats when she was out of town.

I took to my room in the dark and crashed. I gave myself that day to feel sorry for myself, no, that week before I would pull myself up and start looking for work. After all, I had 2 weeks’ pay! The guy I am/was seeing at the time came by after work so worried and upset for me. When he wanted to take me to the local bar, I suggested that I have a glass of wine and he be the designated driver. He looked at me like I was explaining quantum equations. Nope, he started ordering drinks for himself because, like I said, he was so worried and upset. I shook my head, knowing I had better find me another man. One who doesn’t drink this time.

I sat in that dark bedroom with Dr. Oz, The Ghost Whisperer, Oprah, and Dr. Phil for the rest of the week. (The shows, not the actual people) I did sign up for unemployment but thought they would deny me until my 2 weeks 'pay was over. Oh well. I got a letter from The Division of Employment Security the next week to call because of a glitch. I assumed it was the 2-weeks’ pay when, in fact, they wanted to know whether I was faculty. If I were faculty at the university, my July lay-off might become an August rehire so they wouldn’t pay out. But since I was staff, that wasn’t going to happen. I remember saying, “Is there anything else I need to do to get benefits started?” and the woman saying, “No, you are good to go.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. It never dawned on me that she meant…”in regards to this query” because I interpreted it to mean that I didn’t need to do anything in order to get unemployment benefits. That stupid decision made in the height of depression cost me over thousands of dollars.

A few weeks later I got an e-mail through facebook from the dean’s assistant. Do you remember I said I left my contact information with the office before I left? Do you realize that having worked there for 2 years, everyone had my personal e-mail and cell #? This woman and I weren’t even facebook friends and this is how she contacted me??? I know tons of people who choose not to get messages through facebook so would have never received this very important e-mail. She mentioned that payroll had not received my signed whatever form from that packet I was given on my last day. I never even looked at that packet that I thought merely explained my stupid COBRA benefits that I would never be able to afford. So I e-mailed payroll and explained the problem and assured them I would get this signed piece of paper to them ASAP. Apparently, it was something about not suing them for being laid off and they couldn’t give me that 2 weeks of pay without it. Stupid stupid stupid. Again, when she was coming to me constantly that day to ask for things to be returned, why didn’t she point out that I had to sign something before I left rather than wait 3 weeks now for the signature to get paid? With that done, I would get that 2-weeks of pay but “we” had missed the cut-off date for it to be done expeditiously. Another fuck up, but I move on. I cannot sleep and often stay up till 5 every morning. I wake up every day around noon or 1 even though everyone assures me I should go exercise and get out in the sub every day. Waking up to watch Dr. Oz, which is on at 1 here, was my goal every day. I would apply for jobs which is done entirely on-line these days, never forcing anyone to get out into the sunshine or mingle with people. I always got dressed and always made my bed, but short of that, I often found myself in a darken room day after day, too depressed to get out of my bedroom. It wasn’t the lay-off. It was that damn review that did me in.

I did not get a call for an interview until week #8. And remember, I have never once gotten onto the unemployment website to report my time. Luckily, I was smart enough to keep accurate records of who I contacted, for what position, when, and their response. However, that meant nothing in the end. Sometime in September I noticed that money had reached my bank account. I stupidly thought that it was unemployment when it turned out to be that 2 weeks’ pay that was late in coming because of that signature I owed them. This is important information. Halfway through October, I realize something is up and call The Office of Employment Security. That woman says my account had been closed because they hadn’t heard from me 28 days past my registering. WTF?? What have I done now?? I forgot or, in my depressed stupor, never updated my status weekly. (I had some savings that was I was using to pay my bills.) The woman and I were in shock and she scrambled to try to save me by offering for me to request my unemployment benefits retroactively. She sent me the forms dating back to July 20th in hopes I could log all my contacts and would get paid. And remember that log I kept? Thank God, because I now had weeks and weeks of paperwork to fill out to get paid retroactively. I did so gladly in hopes it would work. Long story, short. It did not. I was denied. Stupid stupid stupid. I can repeal, but I haven’t figured that out.

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Part I

I wrote and wrote and wrote today and after 5 pages realized no one would read it. So I am parceling out the next bits of information in installments. And I didn't write this for anyone but myself. I just needed to get it out. (My HR friend in Boston is going to have a field day with this one.)

Ok, how’s this for feeling stupid stupid stupid?? Or otherwise titled: How depression can fuck you over big time. And I mean BIG TIME. But that may take till Parts 2 and 3 to explan to bear with me. Details. Okay, so I lost my job in July. I was devastated to say the least, but I have been through a job loss before. That’s not what really knocked me off my feet. I hate to divulge these not-so-pretty details, but they play a big part in my crash of the Summer of 2010.

My boss, who I really really liked and admired, was retiring July 2nd. Two days before she retired, she reviewed me. Now, get this? I had not been reviewed since I had started 2 years earlier! I had assumed it was because we got no raises at the university so why bother with a review. I take that back. She tried to review me at 6 months, but because the asshole I worked with who had my job before me wouldn’t release information about my job, I was in no way, shape, or form ready to take over from him at 6 months. So she said she would review me later when I had a better grasp of my job. Make it clear that the young man whose position I took over (and was now the event planner for the college) was the most unprofessional, inappropriate, juvenile asshole I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We do not have flex time at the university, but he came and went as he pleased. As the events coordinator, it is understandable that he would take some flex time right after he coordinated an event and worked overtime. No grudges there. But he did it ALL THE TIME. Came in around 10, left at 10:30 for a soda at McDonalds, came back at 11, went to lunch at 11:30 for 2 hrs, and this went on day after day after day. In the 22 months I worked there, he was at work ON TIME fewer than 5 times. But of course, I had to answer his phone (which I am always happy to do), but he would never say where he was so I looked like an idiot on a daily basis. And then because of control issues, he would leak out information about my job a little at a time, watching me fall on my face over and over. He loved watching this, and yet I handled it my way. He loved taking advantage of me. I tried my best to make the situation lighthearted. I joked when he joked, answered his phone, took his messages, tried to get along, tried to do things on my own when I could, and did anything he asked of me (in the area of planning events). I can’t tell you the number of times he planned something and then didn’t show up and I was left coordinating the event.

So back to my review. TWO days before my boss retired, she gave me a review that knocked me off my feet. I have never in all my years of working read such a horrible piece of criticism. She blamed me for everything wrong that ever happened over the 2 years I had worked there. Said I was negative, not a team player, inappropriate, and had asked to be treated so poorly by this co-worker. I sat there in her office incredulous. I was in shock. Never once had she given me any direction or goals, said she did not like my work, felt I was inadequate. I did everything she ever asked of me, made her travel arrangements, paid her bills for reimbursement, ordered her supplies, redid every file n that office, made sure her office ran smoothly during 3 her surgeries. (Since she was retiring and knew it, she got some maintenance work done.) She indicated I was not happy there and needed to look elsewhere to find fulfillment in life. I kid you not. (Mind you, I had just orchestrated a retirement party for her the week before.) So I took this review rather hard. I sat there devastated and couldn’t speak while trying not to cry. When I took a breath, I said, “I can’t respond right now.” And I got on my tennis shoes while she said, “Go get some fresh air.” I walked out of the building and started sobbing uncontrollably. Deep, gasping sobs. I had no idea the implications, but I was devastated that (a) someone thought of me like this and (b) I had been given no indications this was coming. While walking to get some air, my daughter (the bride) called. There was no way I could hide my heaving sobs as she asked, “What’s wrong, Mom?” For the first time in a long time, she was so supportive of me. She was so angry with my boss. She knew I thought do highly of her, and she had hated the little pipsqueak I worked with for the entire time because of the way he treated her when she called or dropped by my office. She had no tolerance for his juvenile and inappropriate behavior even when I defended him and said he was good at what he did. She was livid. So she suggested we blow that “banana stand” and go shopping for her bridesmaids' gifts. Luckily, I had my tennis shoes on, my phone and debit card with me. So I texted my boss and said I was taking a sick day. No joke. Left my desk as is, light on, computer on, shoes, purse, backpack still sitting there at my cube. As she was taking the office out for her retirement lunch that day, I told her to go without me. She texted back that lunch would not be the same without me and she would reschedule for the next day when I returned. So off to the outlet mall we went.

When I returned the next day (all my things still at my desk), not one person said a word to me from that day forward. I kid you not. No one asked where I had gone. No one wondered why I left my light on. We all went to lunch and I was reserved, and the mood was definitely somber, but no one engaged a conversation with me. The next day, my boss’s last day, I left a long letter on her desk telling her how devastated I was by her review and that I felt I needed to write a rebuttal for my file. I told her that everyone must know what happened because no one would talk to me, and I was humiliated beyond belief. I got a lot out of my system but knew this format was not professional. Besides, she had not given me a copy of my review for me to approach point by point. (Remember, I had walked out.) I had decided I would take the afternoon off so I did not have to say good bye to her. She asked me to come in around 11 and talk because she didn’t want to leave “that way.” So I listened to her defend her piece of garbage while I sat there stone-faced. When I got up, she asked for a hug. You read that right. She said how much she enjoyed working with me and she hoped this didn’t put a wedge between us. I kid you not. I had to bite my lip from crying all over again. So there you have it. No way to repair the damage. No way to redeem myself. No way to make any goals because, guess what, Folks, she didn’t give me any. So off I went for my July 4th weekend to keep a stiff upper lip at my daughter’s bridal shower while my world was crashing all around me.

For the next 2 weeks I worked in silence, writing my rebuttal, doing last-minute projects while waiting for them to hire her replacement. The co-worker continued to come and go as he pleased, never talking to me, eventually going on vacation. The woman in the next office I had befriended and driven back and forth to work for 2 years because she didn’t have a car never said another word to me. And so I sent my rebuttal to the appropriate people, going over everything she claimed point by point. I was humiliated at the number of people who would see my review, at having to work with those people and face them again. I was devastated that my reputation was ruined because of this idiot I worked with. I mentioned in my rebuttal letter that he had spent a week sexually harassing me till I put a stop to it. I had tried every way I could eventually yelling, "STOP. DON'T EVER SAY THAT TO ME AGAIN." My boss had told me to handle it on my own, and after I handled it on my own and reported the situation to his supervisor, her response was, “I better have a talk with him. He did that to the other woman who worked here before you.” WTF???

At one point, my boss called me and suggested I started looking for a job elsewhere on campus, and I said, "Who would hire me with your review in my file? You have made it impossible for me to make my next move." She said, "Oh, no one reads those things." Seriously??? If she was unhappy with my work and really cared about my future, could she have not written me a glowing review and told me verbally that I stunk. Oh, let's back up the train. If she was really competent, could she not have reviewed me at 6 months and again at a year??? Now she was retired and her life was a bed of roses.

Part II: Was it all a plot?

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