Employment, Mental Health and Sexism

So as I sit here and write this there is a sore on my arm that has bled and now scabbed over. This particular sore is from work where I was so depressed during my job that I took to scratching off layers of my skin, causing an open and bleeding wound and a friction burn down a large part of my forearm.

If there’s one thing I have learned throughout my life it really is that companies do not care about the individual. When I first joined my company I had to leave after three months because of suicidal thoughts/problems. Rather than transfer me to a different department – to a department I actually wanted to work on – I was told that the only option was to leave. This caused all sorts of problems and was not helped by the unwillingness of certain members of the company to do what was best for my own health, forcing me to leave.

So I left and then jumped through a hundred different hoops (three months later) just to get a job in the department I wanted to work on. I was helped by a wonderful woman who went over and above her duties to help me get the job, knowing how much it meant to me. Basically she was my anchor and my support while working there because I knew, if I had any problems, then I could go and talk to her and she would try and help me as best as she could. She recently left the company because a better job came along (and she has to do what is best for her and her family) and so it’s left me afloat in a company that doesn’t seem to respect mental illness.

I was recently called into the office of the Store Manager who told us that he was looking to move more people on my department into the evening shifts and that it shouldn’t really affect me because all my shifts are evenings anyway. He asked if I would be happy moving my shifts and I explained not really, my routine has taken a long time to get used to and I like that I do four days working and then get three days off. He said he would take this on board when working out the new rotas. He didn’t. He moved one of my shifts to a Tuesday which completely messes up my routine and means I don’t have the smoothness of working I am used to. It’s start and stop and very juddery which doesn’t ease my mind.

The only problem is, what do you say? This is the Store Manager, you can’t say no to him. One person tried to explain that the shift she was moved into wasn’t ideal for her and he basically said “I can change your shift with 28 days notice. This is your 28 days notice.” Which is basically his way of saying “I do what I want.” Now he openly said in my interview that he “doesn’t mind making people do something they are uncomfortable doing.” Which, of course, speaks volumes for a manager.

I’ve had these conversations before, where I try to explain that for my own mental health it would be best if I didn’t change shifts, and the reply is always “this is a business, we have to look at this like a business. I’m running a business, we have to do what is best for the business.” Because the bottom line, ultimately, is that your health is less important than the business.

Despite having worked three months on the shop floor and having to leave due to suicidal thoughts, they still see no problem in making me go back onto the shop floor to stack shelves. Now this isn’t a millennial “I don’t wanna do it” kind of thing, this is a “when I’m doing it, I actually want to drink bleach or slit my wrists” kind of thing, because I feel so insignificant. But that doesn’t stop them from making me do it. And why do they make me do it? Because it’s a business and it’s what’s best for business.

Also, other people can’t work on the shop floor for medical reasons – bad backs, heart conditions etc – which I respect but at the same time the company needs to respect that mine is a medical condition and not a preference. But in a list of things that a company respects, mental health is right down the bottom.

A company will slap up pictures and slogans saying they like to help with mental illness and your mental health means a lot to them but in reality, when it comes down to it, if your mental health interferes with their job and gets in the way of running a business then it’s the business that takes priority, not your mental health.

I have explained that I find it hard working on the shop floor and the response is “You’re a young lad, there are things we expect you to do.” Which sounds an awful lot like judging a book by it’s cover.

And this is because my company is also rather sexist.

Be a woman and they’ll accept any medical condition you have. Seriously, one woman has a rash on her leg and they don’t put her on the shop floor because of it. I suffered from vertigo and the second my doctor’s note ran out they had me on the shop floor without even so much time to get a second.

Just some examples in my company;

“We hired you because we couldn’t have a girl working on the shop floor lifting the heavy bottles of pop.” – Said when I was first given the job of working on the shop floor.

“Didn’t they have any men’s costumes?” – When I turned up to a Halloween fancy dress day as an Evil Queen (for which I won best costume, thank you very much).

“Nice to see you dressed as a man today.” Said by the same person when he next saw me at work.

(If you need any explanation as to why these things are sexist then I would be very happy to explain it).

Now two of these things were said by my Store Manager who is very condescending and so they come across as offensive rather than jovial. Let’s not mention I don’t often joke with the Store Manager, he makes me uncomfortable, and so these comments do just come across as sly digs more than anything else.

Also, while we’re talking about the company I work for (who for legal reasons, because I am still an employee, I cannot mention the name of it) we’ll end this with a comment from my boss that I’m not sure whether to be offended by or not.

I had explained to him that I wear a design on my badge in support of the LGBT community and it represents being Out At Work. Well, he proceeds to talk to me about Australia and the recent marriage equality vote, but what really got to me was that he then said “don’t worry, I’m not just going to talk to you about gay shit.” This was hardly the professional manner I had expected from somebody who was in charge of running an entire store.

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I Wasn’t Raised Like That

I put a lot of blame onto my parents for the way I’ve turned out. I’ll admit the two main shaping factors in my life have been my parents and school (mainly bullying). My parents always tell me that “other people go through this stuff and don’t end up mentally scarred”, as if I’m the problem. But no, I know what they mean, but they do forget that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a common mental health disorder and so it’s a lot more common than they believe.

If everybody went to counselling then I think everybody would find they harbour some sort of emotional attachment to something their parents did or didn’t do when they were growing up. For me I can just think of a lot more examples because I think my mind is tuned into finding reasons for being the crazy way it is. It wants to understand why I struggle to do daily tasks.

Let’s take vlogging for example.

I’ve wanted to do a vlog for probably about ten years now. I’ll be honest and say ever since I watched Shane Dawson videos I wanted to do a vlog (but I can’t mention him in another post or I might give him a complex). The only problem is that I wasn’t raised to be particularly emotional. Not emotional in the “breakdown and cry” sort of way (because that’s my mind’s default setting when things get too confusing), but just in the “getting excited” and showing any sort of emotion sort of way. I don’t know how to handle emotion when I feel it. Parts of my brain shut down, parts of them go into overdrive and I just get all messed up in the head. Even when somebody gives me something I really want, I just reply with a solid “thanks” with a smile. There’s not often a lot of positive emotion there and a lot of people sometimes think I come off as a bit cold. I’m not, I promise, I just don’t know how to show joy.

I wasn’t raised as a particularly dramatic child. Maybe it’s my fault for finding out early that if you cry you usually get your way (life lesson there people) and then continuing it for longer than I should have and not needing any other reason to stand out. Maybe it’s my parents fault for raising me religious and as such we had significantly less Birthday Parties, Christmases, Easters and general festivities than other households. (FYI I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness till I was fifteen.)

But, and this also links back to a previous post (Binary Genders and Too Gay) where I explain a little bit about my upbringing. In that I explain that my parents wanted me to play sports and once I’d explained how I didn’t want to play sports they didn’t know of any other options for me to participate in. Now it’s not entirely their fault. They had four children, three of which loved sports and sport clubs and societies. Then there was me who would rather do acting and be with that sort of a crowd. But that sort of a crowd wasn’t where my parents wanted me to be, or at least they never thought about letting me be a part of it. So I would either have to play football or spend my days playing computer in isolation. As such my ability to socialise has become fucked and part of that is my body language and ability to show emotion. I do honestly feel that had my parents enrolled me into a drama club or something of that ilk then I might have benefited a little better. But they aren’t particularly expressive people either so it’s no surprise that it never crossed their minds.

Perhaps it’s the religious aspect that did it. My parents have always had a large emphasis on being proper and presentable which isn’t a bad thing until it crosses over the emotionally constipated barrier of things and when somebody does something nice you don’t know how to respond.

I’m in no way saying they are bad parents but they are closed-minded and conservative which, for an open-minded liberal like myself, really fucks things up. They’re accepting but they’re not open and willing to change, they also won’t admit that they did anything wrong when raising me, despite what I believe. They’re not bad parents, they just could have done better, or tried harder (which sounds rude but I promise it’s not). As I was growing up I didn’t have a place to fit and even to this day I still don’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I’m still, at twenty-eight, struggling to find somewhere I belong in the world.

 

13 Reasons Why

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

The last day and a half have been a roller-coaster of emotions for me because I felt it necessary to binge-watch the entire first season of 13 Reasons Why. This show has hit me more emotionally than a lot of other shows because of the subject matter regarding suicide, bullying, friendship and helplessness.

I had avoided watching this show for fear that reports of it glamorising suicide may have been true. But that’s not what I got from this show. Unfortunately the show does seem to perceive suicide as a justice-bringer and enforce the idea that everybody will miss you and rethink what they did when you die (as long as you leave them tapes explaining what they did and threaten them with police action) and it also seems to treat suicide in a similar way to playing a game (especially with the thirteen tapes and the map around town). But it doesn’t glamorise the actual mindset or frame of mind that a person has to be in to commit suicide.

There’s a heavy bullying tone going on throughout 13 Reasons Why, what with the bullying being the main speculation of why Hannah Baker has killed herself. Her parents have started a lawsuit claiming neglect on the part of the school and it’s actually quite interesting to see what the school does and doesn’t do in regards to emotional traumas.

One of the first things I really want to talk about is rumours. Hannah Baker’s life goes downhill very quickly because of one picture and a rumour. Now with rumours we tend to only place blame on those that started it, believing that if they hadn’t started it then it wouldn’t have happened. It’s true, it wouldn’t, but the blame is on everybody who shares the rumour, believes it to be true or lets it influence their opinion of a person without once consulting the person who is the subject of the rumour. I may be slightly biased with this but the first few episodes were very tough viewing for me because it took me back to a similar place where my own mental health was completely messed around by a group of people and some malicious rumours/gossip. Some viewers may just say that it’s not enough to want to kill yourself but as somebody who has been in that position, it’s a lot worse than you can possibly imagine. It’s not something that can just be forgotten about easily and you can’t just “move on” when a rumour has completely changed people’s perceptions of you.

We also have to talk about objectification. There’s a huge, huge amount of objectification in this series and it’s very well tackled actually. Hannah Baker feels objectified when she finds herself on a list of “best and worst” physical assets of girls in the school. Despite the fact that she’s on the “best” section of the list, it’s not something we can just dismiss as acceptable. Many people in the show pretend that it’s a compliment but it’s objectification and it’s horrific to think that people are treated like that. We’re all guilty of objectification, I’m not going to pretend we don’t all look at somebody and think “they’re hot”, but it’s when they stop being a person and just become an object that things get into a risky area. To treat somebody like they should be grateful to have men leering at them is a ridiculous idea and a horrible reflection of a sexist bygone era. People are people, regardless of what you think of them, and their feelings should always be taken into consideration. My advice is that if you are going to objectify people (because I believe it’s fantasy to pretend it won’t ever happen) is to do it in your head. Don’t single people down to being anything less than human, don’t ever pretend a person is just made up of one single asset or should be grateful for your attention. That’s not how people work.

One of the more complex issues is the way the school handles everything. Children, in particular teenagers, often pass off like they are fine and dandy with everything going on in the world. When somebody is killed via a drink driving incident then the school puts up posters to encourage people not to drink and drive. Suicide is seen to be prevented via more posters going up and urging people they are important. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, as such, there is definitely more that needs to be done. One good thing I saw in this series and I know they don’t have it at many schools in the UK is the idea of a communications class. Getting people to deal with how they communicate and interact is an integral part of life as a teenager and schools don’t seem to put a focus on that. They’ll hand out punishments but they won’t actually try and educate the children in the ways of acceptable behaviour. Knowing people commit suicide, teaching people about bullying and suicide statistics would be a hundred percent more beneficial than just throwing down a detention whenever you see a fight.

I did notice, from my own experience of counselling, that the show promotes a very disjointed view of counselling. School counselling currently is awful in most schools. We had one and she did nothing. Like, honestly, absolutely nothing. 13 Reasons Why seems to suggest a need for counselling but then doesn’t acknowledge that the one attending needs to want help. I personally didn’t know whether I blamed the counsellor for Hannah Baker’s death or not. Towards the end of the series she seems beyond help, like she has already made up her mind, and she wants other people to sort her problems rather than work with her to sort them. I know the feelings and I don’t blame her, but to blame the counsellor for not following her after a counselling session is a grey area in my books. Granted some of the things he said in the session were questionably unhelpful but it’s his job to offer help and whether she takes it or not isn’t his fault. It made me realise the necessity for mandatory counselling or counselling-like classes at school. People sometimes need help and are too afraid to seek it out, thinking they are beyond help, but mandatory counselling sessions would help to ensure people don’t get to this point and that they receive the help they do need. It would make sure that kids like Hannah Baker don’t get pushed and pushed right to the edge before they finally make that decision.

The show gave me something that I wished would work in the real world. An anonymous compliment bag. Each student had one and you could write a compliment to a person, pop it into their bag and you wouldn’t have to face the awkwardness of saying it to their face. It was a refreshing idea to help those who might be too afraid to show their emotions. Granted this system gets abused and it has it’s flaws but it’s just an improvement on the way people currently interact. I, like Hannah Baker, need compliments to make me feel better – no matter how anonymous. Even if you think the compliments are stupid or just rubbish little things, they are important to some people and they make some people feel better. It’s a good idea that I wish could be in place in a lot more schools around the world. It promotes a healthy positivity that is lacking in the world.

It is worth emphasising that suicide does not bring justice. If you are feeling suicidal and want people to listen then you need to find somebody to talk to. Somebody will listen, I promise. Maybe not the ones you want to listen, but somebody will. Professionals will. Suicide is not a way to get revenge on those that hurt you. Unfortunately that’s the message that some people have taken away from 13 Reasons Why, which is definitely not the message it was trying to convey.

The show 13 Reasons Why can be very triggering to somebody with a preexisting mental health issue and so I recommend it only if you feel strong and comfortable enough in your mental state. If you do suffer from suicidal thoughts then it’s very important that you talk to somebody open and honestly about your thoughts.

“It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.” – 13 Reasons Why.

 

Binary Genders and Too Gay

This is a follow-on post from Sissy That Walk! If you haven’t already then I recommend reading that, it was my first blog post on here and it was the first time I discussed anything even slightly personal.

I didn’t realise, until recently, how much my parents had shaped who I have become. I knew they have influence and I knew I take traits from them and their parents – the basis of genetics – but I didn’t realise just how much social interaction with a person can change how you behave.

My parents didn’t let me have long hair until I had finished compulsory education. Their reason for this was that they didn’t believe long hair looked neat and presentable and they were trying to raise a child that would go to school looking smart and neat. I took exception to this at the time but there was nothing I could really do about it.

Flash forward a few years.

Nineteen years old, attending University and have shoulder length hair. There was something therapeutic about straightening my hair. It was a nice time that I could listen to music, straighten my hair and actually feel like I was having an influence the way I looked. I was at home one time and going out to meet some friends. I was running late and the hair straightening wasn’t as easy or as relaxing as it had been before because of the time constraints. I asked my dad if he could give me a hand because I couldn’t see the back and it would go a lot quicker than trying to do it myself. He flat out told me “No”. Not rude or obnoxious, just a simple “Nope.” When I asked him why he simply told me “I’m not going to help my son straighten his hair.” And so when I asked that if I were a girl would he help me then? His reply was “Yeah, of course.” Which was basically like him saying “You’re not the son I wanted.” He didn’t have to say those words, that’s what it felt like. And no, he never did straighten my hair.

The reason I bring this up is because I came out to my parents in April of 2015. In April 2016 my workplace was having a non-uniform day as part of their efforts to raise money for a local charity. I was ready to go to work although I was unable to drive myself because my car was being worked on at the garage. So my dad agreed to take me, my mum works just around the corner from where I work so it wasn’t an inconvenience for him. Well, I came down the stairs in my jeans, trainers and Dolly Parton T-shirt – A T-shirt I loved and had bought when I went to see her in concert. It was my first time wearing it and I always liked to convey a little bit of my personality through my clothing when possible. My mum’s reaction was “You’re wearing that?” To which I told her that I was. She replied with “It’s a little bit…” With a hesitation. I didn’t fill in the blanks for her, I wanted her to say it. “Gay.”

And this isn’t the first time in history she has made similar glib and off-the-cuff comments. I bought a T-shirt whilst at University – Nothing fancy, just a black t-shirt with stars on it. Well when I went home to visit I questioned why my new T-shirt hadn’t come back with the rest of my clothes. “Oh” My mum replied. “I thought it was a girl’s t-shirt.” And I never wore the t-shirt again.

I did drag one time at University. It was phenomenal and I loved it. My parents knew I was doing it but they didn’t know at the time that I was gay. (All three of my older brothers had done some sort of drag fancy dress party before so it wasn’t strange that I would do it too). However, when I got home my dress and heels that I had worn suddenly weren’t my clothes anymore. They were my mum’s clothes because I had just worn them for a themed night out, it wasn’t like I was going to keep them. I never saw them again and I still don’t know whether she has them or threw them away. I still miss them, particularly the heels because I have to admit that I love a good pair of heels.

I know why my parents do this too, and that’s possibly the most painful part of it. It’s not bigotry or prejudice, it’s just them wanting to protect me. My mum has said it a whole load of times, “we’re your parents, we don’t want anything bad happening to you” which is a sweet sentiment but it does, when you look at it, sort of make sense that for a long time in my head being gay was a bad thing. Even when I learned to accept that I was gay, I was very careful that I wasn’t going to be “too gay” because that came with negative connotations. I’m still, to this day, very conflicted about what’s in myself and what my family has ingrained into me to be acceptable.

I only write this because I have two nephews – one will be four soon and the other is coming up to eight months – and already I can see the gender norms being enforced on them. It’s not dramatic things, just passing comments like “dresses are for girls” or “those are for little girls, you want the little boy ones”. I dread to think if either of my nephews have any of the same thoughts I do when growing up because they are already being subtly repressed by their parents and grandparents and the binary gender foundations are already being put in place before they even start school.