12 October 2011

Anger and me and M.E.

I have a webforum I spend a lot of time at. It's not a disability or health forum, and it's mostly populated by young people. High school and college age, sometimes younger. It's fun, and geeky, and I enjoy it. Sometimes we do Avatar Theme Weeks, where we change our avatars to all fit with a certain theme. People who are artistically inclined make avatars for those who aren't. It's all very fun and friendly and generous.

One of the weeks under discussion was 'Work Week'. I can't work, so I wasn't sure what I would do. I already have a lot of avatars, and when a theme week comes up, I try to find one of them that can be shoehorned in. So for work week, I decided, I would use this one: 
The drawing was made to represent a character from a story rather than me - really, Mom, despite that post yesterday, I don't swear like a sailor! - because when I remember my last job, I remember how much anger I had bottled up at the way I was treated. After posting this as my choice and saying why, I received a message from another member. "If you don't mind me asking, what work did you do previously?"

In answer, I wrote this:
I was in insurance, processing paperwork. The actual work I loved, and most of my coworkers I got along with great, but there were a few in management who were bullies, played favourites, and had a few people who were targets. I was reprimanded for having a few pieces of paper in my trash bin instead of the recycling bin, for leaving a box of tissues on my desk at the end of the day in supposed violation of the clear desk policy, for going to the bathroom too often. Never anything substantive. Never anything to do with the quality of my work. Since it was financial, the work quality could be judged objectively, by concrete numerical measurements, and so there was nothing they could say about it. So they had to look for petty things. But nothing they said or did was the kind of thing I could make a legitimate complaint about either.

The worst of the bullying happened around the time I got the virus that was the trigger for my M.E., and I'm sure the stress from that worsened the illness. There is evidence that the most important factor in the level of impairment from M.E. is how much rest the person takes in the very early stages, and those early stages were me going back to work for a few days, facing more bullying and stress, then getting sick again and having to take time off, several times, before I was finally not able to go back at all. I believe I would still have M.E. if I'd been in a healthy working environment, but I probably would be less impaired.

Wow... I haven't let myself think of those days in years. How the hell did I put up with it for so long?
 That was the first time I'd really considered how the stress from that time has left a mark on me.  I try to picture the me who would have resulted if I'd been able to take the full rest that I should have, with no demands of any kind put on me. She would probably be only forty or fifty percent impaired, instead of seventy percent. She'd still be able to walk short distances, and wash her own hair. She might even be showing improvement and able to consider going back to work a few hours a week.

And the transition to 'she' just happened as I wrote, because I can't see myself as her. This is me. I live in a bed, with occasional jaunts to the toilet or the comfy chair. I would like to be able to do the things that other person does, but I can't. I'm not her. I'm happy the way I am. If I were able to walk, I'd be happy that way too.

For all the anger I felt then, about how I was treated at that job, I don't seem to feel any anger about the long term effects it has left. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's too new. Maybe I used up all my anger yesterday - after I 'rageblogged', I had three or four more things happen that angered me. It was just an all around miserable day. But I suspect the reason I'm not feeling angry is because there's a dam holding back so much anger and rage that it would sweep me away if I let it all out at once, and it's going to have to be trickled out in small doses over months and years to be safely drained.

When I got my M.E. diagnosis, my two dominant emotions were relief that I finally had a name for what was wrong with me, and fear because the name was the name of something that didn't have a cure. But I'd be lying if I denied that there was another emotion in there, much much quieter than the other two, but able to be heard: jubilation that I wouldn't have to go back to work under those managers.

I ought to be very angry about that.


  1. This, unfortunately, rings lots of bells with me on lots of different levels. I was working as a high-school teacher (French, Spanish and a bit of English, since you ask) when I became symptomatic. After being diagnosed with M.E. I continued to work full-time for a short while before finally reducing my hours to a part-time timetable. This became increasingly difficult to maintain as my symptoms increased in number, frequency and severity and subsequently the school management decided to follow their official atenndance policy guidelines as my absences from work became more and more common. This meant that they were actively seeking my termination on the grounds of ill health. Following this policy was their choice. They did not have to take that path.

    In the end, because of increasing presssure to attend as well as monstrous fatigue, I took the very difficult decision to resign from my job. I felt angry that it had come to that and I felt disappointed, but not at all surprised, that the people I had sweated blood for for four years had treated me so shabbily. This was because they were incompetent, self-centred, feckless bastards who cared nothing for their staff nor even for the students.

    And then it hit me. In spite of the horrible, previously unknown feelings associated with unemployment and the unavoidable concerns about Money, Career and The Future, I also felt incredibly relieved. Almost overwhelmingly so. I was relieved that I would no longer have to exacerbate my sympytoms and permanently damage my chances of a full recovery by going to work on days when I was blatantly unable to do so. But there was more to it than that: I was also relieved that I would no longer have to work for, and associate myself with, such nasty people.

    Even as I write this, I am learning new things about how I feel about the situation.

    I hope that today has been a good day for you. Take care.

  2. I was browsing thru twitter and came across your blog. It looked interesting and as I scanned thru it this article jumped off the screen at me - I can relate to it so well. I too worked for a big insurance firm (in Glasgow) for almost 20 yrs.
    My health (CFS) forced me to resign back in 1997 after working there all that time - and getting all my professional qualifications etc. And I left with nothing at all financially - just a big sense of relief like you. But also very angry at some of the dreadful management tactics. Bullying, favourites, clichs, impossible targets, picking on very petty things, etc. My quality of work was always high & praised - but I got picked on for more petty things. And the yearly performance reviews were maybe 80% based on personality things.
    It was just awful. I always had to dispute what was written about me - but it was so exhausting just to prove that a small-minded petty manager was wrong. My husband said that the amount of preparation I had to do to challenge those appraisals must have been less than a lawyer preparing for a court case . . ! And none of it even got a salary increase - it was more to prevent a salary reduction. All while some other people (favourites etc) got away with murder, cutting corners and rubbish quality of work. But that didn't matter if you were "in" with the boss. An example of bullying - a friend of mine was told in writing (in his annual review) that he had to "change his sense of humour" as the younger members of his team didn't always "get" his jokes. He was a witty man with a dry sense of humour. And his work and experience were well respected. But how on earth was he meant to achieve that target ? His boss was nearer the age of his team members and just didn't like him.
    Anyway after feeling more and more ill for years and years (with a useless GP) I finally just had to walk away after 20 yrs - when chest pains were becoming regular on top of all the other symptoms that would eventually be diagnosed as CFS 5 or 6 years later. I still have a lot of anger about so much of that time - but very glad I am not still there.
    I will never know whether that job caused my CFS - or whether I already had it and that was what made the job pressures eventually impossible to handle for me. I guess I will never know the answer to that one.
    Sorry this is so long - but I just had to leave a response. As reading your story - and Chris's comments - took me right back in time almost as if it was yesterday.
    Again - I'm sorry this is so long.
    All my best wishes to you.
    Anne Dean (AnneDean10 on twitter)