April 05, 2022

Dodging a Big Bullet

Sometimes it truly is a matter of timing and sometimes the stars align so perfectly. 

As a woman in her 50s I naturally started tracking my cycles in order to keep track of when they have stopped for a year, which basically means you’re then in menopause.  Sure enough, they started becoming irregular, often disappearing for months before coming back.  Imagine my surprise then, when it didn’t stop.  I mean it didn’t stop at all.  For weeks.  Then months. 

I reached out to my family doctor.  This alone was a bit challenging as my doctor typically spends a lot of time doing stuff other than actually seeing patients (like teaching, etc.).  Fortunately, I was able to see an associate at the same clinic, who immediately asked me to set up an appointment for an ultrasound.  Being in a small-town type of area it took a few weeks to get that appointment, after which I had to wait a few more to see the associate again to discuss the results.  She told me that based on the ultrasound she wanted me to have a biopsy.  Biopsy?  This didn’t sound good, but I tried to tell myself it could be a number of things.  So, a few weeks later I had the biopsy and then waited on tenterhooks for a month to get the results of that. 

Talk about a sucker punch!  She came into the exam room and told me I had Cancer.  Endometrial cancer.  This is cancer in the lining of the uterus.  After I took a few moments to basically have a nervous breakdown, I asked what it meant and what options there were.  She told me it appeared that we had caught it early and was only at Stage 1.  She was going to hook me up with a gynecologist and explained that I would likely need a hysterectomy.  A few weeks after that I met the gynecologist.  She was very reassuring, telling me that with a full hysterectomy (which includes ovaries), I should be good to go.  My sister was more devastated than I was over that news until I reminded her that I already had a son and that I was unlikely to have any more children at my age anyway, so didn't need any of that plumbing.

Knowing that my workplace would be shutting down for two weeks over Christmas, I asked if there was any way she could do the surgery just before the shut-down in order to minimize the amount of time I would need to take off work.  I figured with the two-week closure plus the 12 days of sick time I would largely be okay to start working from home part days until I was deemed okay to return to work.  She wasn’t sure she could get me in that fast, but said she would see.  I went to work and told my supervisor and HR about my diagnosis and that I hoped to have surgery ASAP. 

I guess I traded in some saved up karma because a few days later she called to say a clinical partner had a cancellation for the following week and she asked for the surgery time in order to slide me in.  Yay!  In short order she had her office set up a pre-op day for me.  Now that was an ordeal!  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say it started with a drill-your-brain-through-the-nose covid test and carried on from there.  I also met with the head of anesthetics who told me there were two ways the surgery could end up happening: (1) the old way of slicing through the abdomen; or (2) vaginally.  The second option was my hoped-for but they couldn’t know for sure until they had me on the table.  This option was preferred because the recovery is so much easier than option 1.  He offered to set me up with a morphine-type self-administer pump to manage the pain after the surgery, but I insisted I would be okay with Tylenol Extra Strength.  I explained to him that I’d had other surgeries (plate in foot, caesarian delivery) and knew I would be okay with just that. 

I was pleasantly surprised that we did end up with option 2.  I did have five tiny incisions all over my abdomen where scopes were inserted to light and display the surgery space for the doctor.  As promised, I only needed the Tylenols.  The evening of the day of the surgery when the nurse asked me about my pain level I told her honestly, that it was about a 4 out of 10.  I was definitely not in a lot of pain.  For being only out of the surgery for about 6 hours that was pretty impressive to them.  The nurses gave me lots of water, popsicles, and even some food.  I slept lots.  I was even able to walk to the bathroom unaided and use the facilities.  They were pretty happy.  The next day the surgeon came in mid-morning and checked my chart, took a quick look at me, and asked if I wanted to go home that afternoon.  Considering they initially wanted me to stay 2 days, I was thrilled.  I called my husband to come get me.  I left with a list of after-care procedures.  The only thing that happened that I wasn't prepared for was being drop kicked into full-on menopause.  Hard.  Suddenly with no ovaries, no more natural female hormones.  

Now you’re probably wondering how my mention of good timing fits into all this.  Here it is:  In mid-January I got a letter from my family doctor saying that she was closing her practice at the end of February.  I was about to be orphaned.  If she had made that decision even six months before, I would probably have just continued to lightly bleed because it was annoying, but I was not experiencing any pain so wouldn’t have thought to bother going to the emergency room to seek medical advice.  Knowing how long it can take to find a doctor in this area, I could well have just put it off until it was too late.  As mentioned, I have high pain tolerance so I might not have been diagnosed until the cancer was stage 3 or 4.  Instead, the stars aligned, I got seen right away and had surgery right away.  A month after the surgery I saw the surgeon for the follow up and was told I was cancer-free!  What an amazing feeling.  So I really and truly did dodge a bullet, simply because the stars aligned.

April 04, 2022

The Slap Seen 'Round the World

 Yeah, here comes my piece of mind about the Will Smith / Chris Rock event at the Oscars.  

Rock deserved it.  Should Smith have gotten up in front of the world and done it?  Probably not.  But nevertheless, Rock deserved it.  

Smith finds himself being vilified, but I completely disagree.  What he did, from the perspective of a woman, is defend her honour.  Maybe an old-fashioned viewpoint, but I've never waved the feminist banner.  I like having doors held for me and being told "after you" when getting on an elevator, etc.  If someone said something insulting about me, I would certainly hope my husband would jump to defend me and offer the guy a slap or something.  Let the world know that this woman has a protector and the protector is him.  

In any other situation, such a verbal attack on someone for a medical condition would be almost grounds for a bullying case.  "Going through chemo?  You're gonna really appreciate the weight loss. You could stand to lose a few."  Can you imagine the fallout from saying something like that to another person in a public setting?  Is it any different?  I don't think so.  

What about if Jada had strode up on stage and slapped Rock?  Wouldn't the conversation be different then?  Damn straight it would be!  She would be lauded for standing up for herself.  Rock would have likely offered an apology then and there.  

Yes, it did seem that Smith started to laugh at Rock's statement.  Was it a real laugh or one of those polite ones people offer when they don't want to necessarily make a scene?  I don't know and don't really care.  He reacted to his wife's distress.  I've seen articles and memes that allude to an alleged affair with Jada and someone else.  I don't care.  Nobody is perfect, certainly not even me.  If Smith and Jada have seen fit to work past any such thing, then that's kudos to them.  Either way, it's really none of my business.  To all the world who are vilifying Smith, you have no idea what Jada's mental state is in dealing with her illness.  Rock's comments could have seriously impaired her mental state.  That's just not acceptable.  

In the end, I'm more ticked off about the In Memoriam bit than the whole Smith/Rock thing.  As a tv viewer, I look forward to another look at the year in review and a moment to see and briefly mourn those who have passed.  This year's Oscars had the screen zoomed in, but then zoomed way out so the focus could be on the dancers.  To be honest, I don't give a crap about seeing dancers, I want to see the stars who have passed.  They could have saved Betty White to the end and just done something special with the dog at that point.  

Here's what they really should have done...they should have let the dog loose on Smith and Rock and have it chase them around the stage.  Now that would have been entertainment!  

February 04, 2022

I Protest aka The Redneck Agenda

I live in Canada and like anywhere else, the whole vaccination discussion and restrictions due to Covid is wearing thin.  We all want to go back to some semblance of normal, but I think for the most part we’re following the science and doing our part to stay safe and healthy. 

Recently a bunch of truckers decided they wanted to protest the border being closed if they were not vaccinated.  They decided to start a convoy to Ottawa to carry the protest to the federal government.  Despite the fact that our government has no control over the United Stated government’s rule that truckers must be double-vaccinated to enter the United States, the movement gained momentum.  Before we knew it rumours were flying around that the convoy was long enough to stretch across our two largest provinces (it wasn’t).  A go-fund-me page was set up and millions of dollars were donated to support the protest and the protestors.  

The convoy and various independent supporters landed in Ottawa and proceeded to essentially blockade and occupy the city.  I’m all for peaceful protest, but these guys went on to desecrate the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the National War Memorial, and the Terry Fox memorial statue.  For those of you who don’t know who Terry Fox is/was, he was a man who had lost a leg to cancer and at the age of 22 decided to literally run from one side of the country to the other to raise money for cancer research.  He almost made it halfway before having to stop his race and dying from cancer shortly afterwards.  In the 40 years since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for cancer research in his name.  This is his legacy.  So, to see the statue of a Canadian hero being defaced on top of the other desecrations was too much.  These protestors had stomped their way over a line.  

The protest continues.  What these folks also don’t realize (or refuse to acknowledge) though, is that their protest has absolutely no hope of forcing the government to resign and allow them (the protestors) to assume control of the government.  It also has no hope of forcing the US government to allow unvaccinated individuals across their border.  It certainly has faint hope of forcing the government to end restrictions, mainly because this control rests with the provincial government and not the federal government.  It also has absolutely no hope of forcing the government to lower the price of gas.  I can’t even remember all the list of things they are supposedly protesting now.  

Before recent events I would not have said this, but exactly how uneducated do you have to be in order to be a redneck?  These people are saying the Covid vaccine has been rushed to market without testing.  Apparently they know better than all the scientists who have been working on a vaccine like this since the SARS outbreak of 2003.  As for being untested, this vaccine had the largest testing pool for clinical trials since the beginning of time.  Tens of thousands of people wanted to be used as test subjects.  Also, if you’re going to make a successful protest to the government, learn the facts first about what your government actually has any control over.  Not only that, but don’t show up at your “peaceful” protest with flags depicting racism and hate.  Leave the swastikas at home because they have no place at this kind of event.  Showing up with this stuff and then spewing bigotry and hate is not the way to make a positive impression on the government, except maybe the conservatives.  Only this morning I heard on the radio that our local conservative representative called counter-protestors “idiots”.  Not the way to gain my vote! 

It is unbelievable how polarizing this whole Covid event has been.  People I know personally are showing me how they truly are not the sharpest knives in the drawer.  However they land, I just want to say that these so-called protestors do not represent me or my opinions in any way whatsoever. 

 

November 10, 2021

Resilience - A necessary tool to have in the box

Fortunately for me I'm pretty resilient.  Always have been, and let me tell you it's a skill.  Throughout my life I’ve been continually amazed by other people’s apparent ability to completely cut off relations with some people.  Unfortunately for me I've been the one cut completely off on more than a few occasions.  Here are some of the highlights:  

Back in the summer of 2008 we were taking our son and doing vacation stuff for three weeks before he started junior kindergarten.  We told everyone that needed to know, and even let our son have a long conversation with his grandmother as they wouldn’t have a chance to chat for some time.  We left for the first trip – an 8-day excursion to the US for a rally to do with our old classic motorcycles and other enthusiasts.  On our return my son wanted to tell his grandma about the trip.  I dialed the number for him and got an out-of-service recording.  I tried again thinking I’d misdialed, but same result.  I tried her boyfriend and left a message that her phone appeared to be out of order and asked him to get her to call us.  Crickets.  We left on part two of our vacay, which was a short four days away this time.  On our return there was still no contacting my mother, which was weird.  

A few days later my brother called and told me she’d changed her number and didn’t want me to have it.  Her mental illness had obviously caught up with her because the reason was that I apparently asked her to babysit all the time and she was tired of it.  I asked him if he was sure she meant me because our sister has 4 kids and lives in the same city.  I, on the other hand, had only one child (born on mom’s birthday yet!!) and since I lived a 3-hour drive away I had never asked her to babysit.  Not even once.  My son was heartbroken because he thought grandma didn’t love him anymore.  When her illness swung the other way months later, she sent Christmas gifts through my sister and I made her take them back.  Mom’s mental illness had messed with my head all through my youth and I wasn’t going to have her playing her games with my son.  That was almost 14 years ago now.  

Almost 4 years ago my father and his wife (who were 70 at the time) decided to take my son on a 3-week long road trip to western Canada.  By way of background here, my husband has complex PTSD and it has affected my son as he was only not quite 8 when it happened.  For most of his young life his dad has been a distant, unhappy, sometimes silent, often angry, person.  It’s hard enough to deal with for me as an adult, so our son, who simply isn't old enough to have developed the same resiliency, has had his own issues – i.e., overly sensitive, not reacting with proportional anger, sadness, etc. to situations, and so on.  I tried to educate my dad and his wife on how to manage some of the inevitable situations they would see, but they pretty much ignored me.  I truly wish they’d listened!  During my nightly calls nobody let on that life wasn’t all tickity boo.  At the end of three weeks, they were going to be back a day earlier than I expected.  I offered them our spare room for the night so they could rest after a full day of travel, but they refused.  Instead they asked if I could meet them in the small city near us so they wouldn't have to drive the extra half hour to our place in the country.  We had dinner at Swiss Chalet and I paid to thank them for their taking him on the trip.  Afterwards they all but ran away in their haste to get on the road.  Then my son explained some of the trip’s travails to me on the drive home, but it wasn’t until a few days later my dad called to let me know my son had expressed his wish to be dead.  I assured him my son was not suicidal.  

On questioning my son, I discovered that he would try to talk or tell them something and be pretty much ignored or spoken over.  (My stepmother can be pretty intense when she gets going and her narrow view of the world doesn’t allow that a child can have anything too important to say, or have too much knowledge. This despite my own membership in Mensa and my son's own advanced intelligence.)  My son was frustrated and said he’d be better off dead than being ignored.  Surprisingly my folks never followed up on their “concern” over his possible suicide intentions.  I know they were upset at spending so much time apparently arguing with my son.  As I explained to them, they had only to call me and talk to me about it and I could have (1) settled it up on the phone, or (2) arranged for a flight and have them drop him at an airport.  I told them their expectations were unrealistic.  Ten years before they had taken my stepmother’s two grandchildren out east and had a perfect trip.  Well, for one thing, that was ten years ago.  They were only 60 then.  For another thing, they practically raised those two kids and it was unrealistic to expect my son, who they only saw maybe a maximum of six times a year due to geography, to behave the same way.  Not only was he an entirely different person, but they didn’t really know the person he was.  It didn’t matter what I said.  They cut off contact in the summer of 2018. 

Last December I reached out to a friend who lives in the large city that’s three hours drive from me.  Her birthday is just before Christmas and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday.  She didn’t answer and I left a message, singing Happy Birthday to her.  I thought nothing of her not answering because she could have been working or at an audition, or any number of things, and I figured she’d call back soon.  Crickets.  Nothing for days.  I tried again.  Still no answer.  This time I followed up with a text message.  No answer again, so I figured I’d send her an email and ask if she was okay.  By now I was getting worried that I hadn’t heard anything from her.  I couldn't even drive to her place because I knew she'd given up her apartment in the summer and I had no idea where she'd landed.  Covid was doing its best to kill off anyone in its path and I was concerned for her, even though she is pretty OCD about germs.  Now it so happened that she had a friend who worked in the film industry and who had emailed me a personal video message from the actor who played Will Riker in STNG.  (I'm a fan.)  As a result I had the friend’s email address.  I knew how crazy she was about keeping her friends separate, but I was worried, so I reached out to him and asked if he had heard from her and to please ask her to call me as I was concerned.  

The next thing I knew I got a text from her claiming she was unwell and then proceeding to berate me for contacting him, claiming I’d betrayed her trust, etc.  I told her how I had managed to “track him down” and why and suggested that instead of flinging accusations she might consider that my concern might have come from a place of love.  I told her that I’d never been less than a friend to her (truth be told I was always a better friend to her than she was to me).  I told her she should understand my concern as she knew very well I’d lost 7 friends that year to cancer, heart attack, and even covid, but that if she wanted to finish it off by shitting all over me for being worried about her, just let me know not to bother with her anymore and I wouldn’t.  Crickets.  She cut me off.  She never replied and now 11 months later I think she may regret her harsh words and actions and just doesn’t know how to apologize.  Call me stubborn on this one, but I can’t make the first move on this one.  I’m still hurt.  She needs to be the one to reach out.  I tried and was ignored.    

On one hand you have my mother and my father, both have cut off all relations.  It hurts a lot when family does that, especially my dad.  Then on the other hand you have a friend of 16 years, who when we met, was heartbroken over a mutual friend who had died before they’d reconciled some argument.  Perhaps I’m seeing a trend with that friend now that I think about it.  Still, we had 16 years invested into that relationship and she tossed it away like so much trash she didn’t need.   

I can only just shake my head at what might have been in each case.  My mother has completely missed my kid's school years.  My father has missed out on seeing him move from little boy into a man.  My former friend?  She's missed having someone in her corner, who had her back, someone to laugh with, remember old friends with, the whole gamut.  It's really her loss when you get down to it.  Still...

September 29, 2021

To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate - There really isn't a question

I guess it’s time to give my Piece of Mind on the whole covid vaccination/no-vaccination argument. 

When the vaccination was first announced, my initial thought was, “I’m not getting vaccinated”.  To be clear, I’m not anti-vaccination by any means.  I’ve had a variety of them throughout my life after all, and have ensured that my son has been vaccinated all along too.  I just didn’t want a vaccination because I’ve always been really healthy and know that any flu or cold only gives you little more immunity for next time.  However, Covid is different.  It has been from the start.  It’s highly contagious and more virulent than your regular flu.  When I sat and gave it some heartfelt thought, I realized several things: 

1.  I’m older (over 55) and have had to deal with some recent personal health issues;

2.  I have an older husband (over 60) with underlying, pre-existing health issues;

3.  I have two people in my life – a sister-in-law and a best friend – who are going

     through treatments for cancer and so their immune systems are compromised;

4.  I work in a closed First Nation community with the natives deemed high-risk.

These considerations all made the decision pretty easy.  Fortunately for me, the government prioritized First Nations to the front of the line when distributing the vaccines and the governing council of the reserve decided that all staff members who worked on the reserve, but who were not members of the First Nation community, would be offered the vaccine.  To make it even more helpful, they also decided to include staff members’ families who reside at the same residence and therefore were considered to be within that person’s “bubble”.  This is how me, my husband, and our son were vaccinated near the beginning and I truly appreciate the consideration of the First Nation in doing that for us. 

Now, our provincial government has declared that everyone must have proof of vaccination (or valid medical exemption) in order to go into businesses that are deemed ‘non-essential’.  This includes dining in at restaurants, hair salons, fitness clubs, etc.  Ironically, although I must have proof of vaccination in order to dine in, the servers and other staff are not required to have proof of vaccination to work there.  Although I do understand the logic (i.e., you can’t force people to vaccinate for their job except in hospitals and certain other settings), I do think that part wasn’t really well thought out by the government.  What will happen though, is that the poor worker at the front door of your local restaurant, aside from finding you a booth, will now be the one who has to verify your vaccination status.  This will definitely lead to some hot heads in the coming days. 

There are many arguments on both sides of this.  I believe one of the strongest is the whole issue of your personal health information being confidential as per PHIPPA (Personal Health Information Privacy Protection Act).  People have lost their jobs over intentional or accidental breaches of this Act, and as individuals we have long been told to guard our personal information.  Now the government wants you to voluntarily (not really) prove that you have received the Covid vaccine.  Arguably, failure to do so when requested therefore tells everyone that you have not been vaccinated – which is still giving up personal health information.

From the perspective of someone who has been vaccinated, I like the thought of perhaps not having to practice such stringent avoidance among other similarly vaccinated people.  As for the unvaccinated…I’ve got nothing for you.  Most anti-vaxxers I’ve discussed the issue with say, “If you’re vaccinated and the virus will be not so bad for you if you get it, why are you worried about me?”  The simple answer is that I’m not really worried about whether you get it or not, or whether I give it to you or you give it to me.  I’m worried about getting into a car accident and needing to be in the ICU at the local hospital, but you’re using what should be “my” bed because you got sick with Covid.  If you’d had the vaccine, the virus would likely not have been so bad that you needed hospitalization. 

Out in western Canada it’s so bad that hospitals are at capacity with 90% of their Covid patients being unvaccinated.  Ninety percent!  That is not a small number by any means.  They are talking about potentially having to triage and prioritize their patients.  This means that they will essentially have to decide who receives potentially life-saving treatment and who doesn’t.  Personally, and this is somewhat harsh, I say that if you can’t be bothered to get vaccinated, then when I need a bed at the hospital and I have been vaccinated, let’s put you in the hall, or even back in your car and send you home, and let those who really give a crap about their personal health and that of others have the bed. 


August 03, 2021

Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Gaslighting

It amazes me how many of these exist.  Not only that, but how many I have personally encountered, and by “encountered” I mean that I have had to deal with them due to either a personal or a working relationship.  

Narcissists have an over-inflated sense of their own importance.  They believe the world revolves around them and often have a great need for attention.  A lot of times they have problems with having empathy for anyone else and they are typically lacking in self-confidence, although they cover it up.  I’m not talking about conceit, but more like extreme conceit.  

Psychopaths are actually suffering from a mental illness.  They lack the ability to display real emotions, such as happiness, love, or empathy.  Many don’t have a lot of friends, or at least no friends that will stick around for a lot of years or when the going gets tough.  Believe it or not, there’s actually a list of about 20 signs of a psychopath.  Some of these are:  Superficial charm; grandiose sense of self-worth; prone to boredom; pathological lying; manipulative and/or cunning; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect or emotional range; lack of empathy/callous; failure to accept responsibility for own actions; and several other markers.  Psychopaths can also be narcissists.  

Think back on your life and you may realize some of the people you know or have known fall into these categories.  Have you ever questioned your reality or sanity after dealing with one of them?  It’s not you, it’s them.  

Gaslighting is manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity, or skills.  Gaslighting is a “tool” used by the narcissist or psychopath to mess with you.  It develops gradually, so gradually that you’re not even aware of it.  In fact, if you are being gaslighted and try to fight back by questioning the person, you may find them responding by saying they don’t know what you’re talking about, or by asking a question that has you doubting yourself.  Gaslighting is actually a form of abuse.  If you’re always apologizing or wondering if you’re going crazy because you’re apparently so confused, or even wondering if you’re being too sensitive, then the truth is you’re probably being victimized with gaslighting.  You start questioning your reality.  

When I look back on my own life, I see it clearly now.  My husband (who has had to deal with his own psychopath and resulting PTSD diagnosis) claims I’m immune because I grew up with a mother who would probably come close to qualifying as a psychopath, if not a full blown one.  She would tell lies and believe them.  For example, when I smoked during high school, she found my cigarettes hiding place in my room (because she regularly went through my stuff).  If you asked her to her face, she would tell you I didn’t smoke.  However, she would often come into my room to “borrow” one or two.  She would also say really insulting things to my face and if I called her on it, she would tell me not to be so defensive.  

Throughout my school years, I definitely encountered a few, particularly in high school where (in hindsight) I even had one for a teacher.  In that instance I had marks that showed I was apparently doing well in that course, yet I failed.  When I questioned the teacher about why they failed me, I was told that I hadn’t shown any evidence of having learned anything.  Huh?  

All too soon I was in the working world.  I was relatively lucky for the most part as I was able to direct my career so that I worked with really great people.  I pretty much accomplished this simply by leaving a job if I wasn’t happy.  This worked well enough in the big city, but when I left to move to smalltown Ontario, the story changed.  Not being from the area originally, nepotism definitely worked against me.  I looked and looked, I even placed ads on Kijiji, and was finally approached by a woman about working for her hearing clinic.  The thing was she only wanted someone part time and I was pretty clear in my ad and in my correspondence and conversations with her that I wanted executive assistant or office manager work and it had to be full time.  She finally offered me a full-time office manager position.  I started work.  My first day she was an hour late.  So, I basically sat in the receptionist’s area and she showed me around the office.  

The boss finally arrived and we went into her office.  I should have realized from that moment but I was so desperate for a job.  She told me she wanted to keep it quiet from the rest of the staff that I was coming in as ‘office manager’, at least until I had been there a while.  The second thing was that she wanted me to work at a reduced salary from what we had already (I thought) agreed to.  Stupid me, in my desperation, agreed.  

Over the next eight weeks or so the receptionist showed me how to do invoicing, how they like the phones answered, how the filing system worked, and started showing me how to clean hearing aids or change the batteries.  One of the clinicians spent time with me to show me how to contact clients who had not been in for some time and what I should say on these calls.  Then the clinician supervised as I made a few of these calls, before leaving me on my own to make them.  Well, for whatever reason, the boss (who was rarely in the office) called me in to tell me I was making those calls all wrong.  She also said I was not grasping how she wanted the invoicing done.  She said not to let the receptionist teach me, that she would teach me the right way, but then she never did.  The result was that I started to doubt my abilities, wondering what I was doing wrong as far as the invoices went, or calling the clients, because the two individuals who were showing me this work thought I was doing well enough to manage on my own.  I got the receptionist to show me again with the invoicing.  I was doing it the way she had shown me.  I listened some more as the clinician and the receptionist both made contact with clients who had not been in for a while.  I was doing it just like them, but the boss didn’t think so.  

I did everything I could for her:  I came in early and I worked late, despite having a child to get home to or pick up from the sitter, and having a husband who worked shifts.  One night she asked me to stay after everyone had gone so we could chat.  From her demeanor, I thought, “Finally! We’re having a breakthrough.”  She said to me, “You’ve been here and observing for two months now.  If you were going to change things to improve the office layout or the client experience, what would you do?”  She and I spent over two hours discussing the office and its procedures, how it might be rearranged to make it flow better, you name it and we talked about it.  I went home to my husband feeling very good about that meeting.  The next morning at 8:30 she invited me into her office and let me go!  The really awful and mean thing she did was on my separation papers she listed me as “receptionist” under job function, and under reason for termination she wrote, “I don’t believe she is really suited for reception work.”  

I couldn’t believe it.  It was easy enough to figure out.  She wanted the knowledge and input without paying for a consultant.  She never intended to keep me.  She never intended to make me office manager.  She was using me.  That’s it.  And because I was actually good at the work, she made up things that I was doing wrong in order to justify her treatment of me.  

Now, part of me wonders if small towns breed these gaslighting psychopaths.   It took me about a year to find my next job.  This time I was offered the position of executive assistant with a mental health and addictions agency.  The boss told me at my second interview that she was very anal about the work, so I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  What she neglected to tell me was that by anal she meant micro-manager.  Over the course of five years, she gradually wore out my confidence.  I would often rant to one of my coworkers that I had good skills but just couldn’t seem to get it right.  The coworker kept trying to reassure me.  The only light at the end of that tunnel was that the boss was 15 years older than I and would likely be retiring, and after five years she did.  But what a rollercoaster until then.  (Ironically enough, part of my duties was to answer the phones. In my whole 9 years with that agency, I never had a single complaint about my “reception work”.)  

At my initial interview, the boss had indicated she wanted someone with specific skills (which I had) but in reality she didn’t actually seem to want the person (me) to utilize those skills.  I had been told that she wanted to create a staff newsletter and that it would be my responsibility.  Hot damn!  I had totally and quite successfully done this before.  So, I created a layout, came up with ideas for regular columns, created a name for it, sourced out related cartoons that we could get the rights to publish.  I asked her for some time to discuss it and when we did meet, she shot down every idea I put forth.  In flames.  It ended up languishing in a folder in my desk for almost nine years.  

I regularly planned large all-staff functions.  I was not allowed to even decide on the flavour of soup that would be served.  Every decision had to go through her.  No wonder the woman worked 80 hours a week.  Half the time she spent procrastinating and the other half was spent wasting her time on the minutia of any work produced (like deciding what soup to have).  I couldn’t even contact the landlord to say the elevator was acting up.  She either made the call herself or I had to let her approve my written note ahead of time. 

When she finally announced her retirement and a replacement was hired, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  That is until she “helped” him conduct my performance review.  She had stuck around for several months in order to help him transition into the position.  Despite the fact that he had been working with me and observing my work for six or seven months, she decided he needed assistance in my review.  How the review process worked there at the time was that the staff member (me) filled out the form, complete with rankings on skills like “exceeds expectations”, “meets expectations”, and “needs improvement”.  The boss filled out the same form.  Then we would get together and discuss the review before creating a final form that included all our comments and that we both agreed on.  I didn’t realize she would also be filling out one of these forms. 

I filled mine out.  One of the criteria was typing of 65 wpm with accuracy.  I checked “exceeds expectations” because I was easily typing over 100 wpm at that point.  When we got to this part of the review, the former boss stated that she needed to correct something.  She went off to her computer and came back with the now-revised form.  She had removed the 65 wpm criteria and stated that I “meet expectations”.  I protested, but the new boss let that pass.  In going over comments, hers were fairly negative but he had obviously seen something she didn’t because his comments were largely positive. 

One thing she said, which completely baffled me, was that she basically had an issue with my work ethic because I had not attended two large functions which I had been key in planning.  After the meeting I was allowed to take their version of the review and add my final comments to it before signing off.  Well, I guess she didn’t realize I kept all my timesheets in a spreadsheet each year.  That comment about missing a couple of key events had me really scratching my head, so I looked at my timesheets compared to my daily appointment books.  It turned out the only two events I helped plan that I ended up missing were after hours social events. 

The first one (which was two years before and shouldn’t even have been a consideration for this year’s review) was the retirement party for a long-time staff member.  In point of fact, he largely planned it himself and all I did was facilitate payment.  And as to why I missed it?  It was scheduled for a Monday evening.  My husband, who as I previously mentioned in this post has PTSD, had a really, really bad weekend.  I had spent the entire weekend not sleeping.  I stayed dressed and with my shoes on.  I kept all the car keys in my pocket and had hidden all knives.  I was very worried he might try to kill himself.  So on the Monday when I finally got him talking again and he settled down, I called in sick to work.  I told the boss exactly why I was taking the day off.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted.  You’d think a mental health and addictions agency boss would understand.  She said she did at the time. 

A year and a half after that, the second event was her own retirement party.  I spent a lot of time working on the planning and had plans to be there.  Unfortunately, I got really sick.  I mean really sick.  So sick that I came into work on the day of the party and she and the new boss immediately sent me home.  After realizing these were the two incidents she meant, I wrote my rebuttal notes.  In the signature section there were two checkboxes, one to say you agree with the review and the other to say you acknowledge having received it.  I added a third one to say I disagreed with the review and that’s what I checked. 

Four years after that the agency amalgamated with two other local agencies to form a new one.  A new CEO was hired and this one was the worst psychopath of all.  He displayed all the traits of a narcissist as well as a psychopath.  One by one he eliminated the senior managers who dared disagree with him or stand up for the clients.  As he got rid of them, he had junior managers assume their duties…often in spite of the fact that they weren’t yet ready to move into senior management roles.  He displayed clear evidence of playing favourites as well.  He lied regularly to staff, to the management group, and to his board of directors.  As his executive assistant I was witness to it.  Sometimes it was overt lying, other times it was lies of omission.  I sincerely doubt he had ever given policies more than a cursory glance, in particular the governance policies, and I know he never read the agreement with the main funder because he acted contrary to that agreement in so many ways.  He made large (tens of thousands) financial commitments without consulting the finance manager, or anyone really.  Who knows, maybe he had a Magic 8-Ball.  The finance manager left as she was very concerned that she would be blamed for so many of his actions.  She provided 8 weeks of notice and two days before her last day he stopped in at her office on his way out of town for a two-day meeting and told her he was sorry they hadn’t had time to get together for an exit interview.  Then he just said goodbye and left.  I know this because I was there and witnessed it.  I was let go a month later and I believe it was because I kept trying to get him to adhere to policy, although he simply said I was let go because we were “incompatible” and he didn’t think I was happy there.  

The lesson here is to pay attention and if you feel yourself starting to doubt yourself where there was confidence before, then it’s time to take a step back and examine what is truly going on around you.  If it’s a personal relationship, get out.  I mean it.  Get. Out.  If it’s a business relationship, same thing:  Get Out!  If you can find another job or transfer within the company, do it.  If you are in a position where you can’t, then document the hell out of everything.  Put it in a folder safely at home and call it “CYA” which means Cover Your Ass.  You just might need it someday. 

July 12, 2021

Pandemic Education Woes

Like most parents in Ontario in 2020, when the March break started and it was announced that it would be extended by a couple of weeks, we figured that would be that.  Little did we all know.  Before the end of that first few weeks, the government announced that schools would remain closed until September!  All the kids had to move into online learning.

A few years ago we decided to drop our home internet.  We live in the country and in a valley, so our only option for home internet was satellite or dial-up.  We had opted for satellite when we moved there.  It was great for the first several years, but then it got slower and slower.  I call it "traffic volume", but my husband, who spent the majority of his career working in high tech, and in particular with satellites, said it was because business customers are more important to the provider so they, quite literally, dialed the stream back on home customers.  He called numerous times to complain and we would see improvement for a while, but then it would start to get slower again.  

It got to the point where it was so slow, it was only slightly better than dial-up.  This went on for a couple of years where we would have kind of moderate, almost okay, service for about a week each month, and then it would dry up so that we couldn't even get emails.  Some loud phone calls and persistent complaints revealed that for some bizarre reason we had been pretty much permanently dialed-back for the past couple of years.  As a result of the complaints we were refunded one month of service (ring-a-ding-ding) and turned back on full.  I'm not sure why any of the techs had been able to make this apparently simple discovery over the past few years of complaints, but we'd had enough.  We dropped the internet.  

In its place we decided we would go with cell phones for each of us, with data plans.  If necessary we could use the phone as a 'hotspot' and allow the computer to use the phone's data for a short while.  For my teenage son this was a kind of torture because it meant he couldn't play most of his games online.  For his schooling, it meant that we had very inconsistent internet access for his sudden shove into online learning. 

My son was a grade 10 student at the time.  As I said above, we live in the country.  As a result, none of his friends lives anywhere near us.  This means that school is his main source of contact.  Aside from that, he does better in an in-person learning environment.  He needs the teacher for direct contact and motivation, so they are available to encourage him and to also respond to any questions on a one-on-one basis.  This was now gone.  A lot of things added up to big problems:  unreliable internet, no classroom setting, no friend contact, no motivation to do the work independently.  Consequently, he had to repeat grade 10 English, math, and science.  His fourth class had enough marks for him to pass without having to repeat it.  

September rolled around and classes did indeed start.  He was very happy to head back to school, even though it meant he had to wear a mask from the moment he got on the bus until the moment he got off the bus.  Schools moved to a "quadmester" format, which had its own challenges.  He spent all day, every day, for a week on one subject; and all day, every day the following week on a second subject.  The quadmester was basically half of a regular semester, or about 10 weeks long, with only 2 subjects being covered per quadmester.  

He had already started grade 10 English when schools shut down.  So in September the teacher gave him, and others in his position, a big assignment to do on the required reading book.  If they got it done by the time of the end of the first quadmester and did well enough, they would pass grade 10 English without having to repeat it!  He got it done.  He did have to repeat grade 10 math, but it was okay.  He got through the science by also doing an assignment.  He started his grade 11 work.  In the second quadmester, which started in early/mid November, it started to look like there might be another shut-down soon.  

After Christmas holidays, which were four weeks instead of the usual two, he returned to school in time for his exams.  Right afterwards the schools closed again.  By now the schools had figured out a system and they were able to lend out laptops, internet hubs, and other technology items to students.  The hub meant my son would be able to do his work online.  Hooray!  His grade 11 English teacher, obviously thinking and planning ahead, had already handed out the books that would be needed for her course in the fourth quadmester.  Fortunately for my son he had a spare and math scheduled for the third quadmester.  That spare meant he had every other week off and this enabled him to kind of keep on top of the math homework.  Since most of the province was under a lock-down, I was at home to make sure he got up on time and was planted in front of the computer for his school work, while I was planted in front of my own work laptop doing work (using a hub of my own brought from the office).  

School never did go back to in-class.  As my son finished his final exam for his grade 11 studies this past June, I congratulated him on becoming a high school senior.  His comment to me, which says more about the effects of the pandemic than anything else I've read or thought of, was this, "Mom, I feel like I'm still in grade 10. This covid thing has completely messed up my high school."  

It has.  Normal 17-year-old teenage boys are getting their driver's licenses, hanging out with their buddies, taking girls to the movies, and going to school dances.  It's a small consolation to either of us that he will have stories to tell his grandchildren some day.  It sucks.  There weren't even any school photos for grade 10 or 11.  We had to do our own.  Hopefully his senior year will be more normal.  I don't want to end up with a high school grad on my hands that still feels like they're in grade 10.