Tell us about a time when you were left on your own, to fend for yourself in an overwhelming situation — on the job, at home, at school. What was the outcome?
1 August 2007 I gazed out of the office window at the concrete block wall across the way for the very last time. I resigned. I’d been attending night college for some months and as studies became more in-depth I realised these studies could be the pathway to more challenging and fulfilling work. It was hard to leave paid employment for unpaid college studies but was my mental health was more important than the bread line wage I was earning.
Since that time I’ve flourished as an older person in the community sector focussing particularly on supporting, through counselling and in-service referrals, parents who are affected by drug use. We visit homes to help parents to achieve their identified goals that relate to reducing the harm associated with their drug use on their children and improve family functioning. It is challenging work and oftentimes the rewards are few but that’s not why anyone works in the community sector. It’s a vocation, a calling. It has to be otherwise you don’t last.
The small team in which I work functions exceptionally well. That was until I agreed to step into the Coordinator role as part of succession planning being embraced throughout the wider organisation. Since then all hell has broken loose and you wouldn’t believe the havoc one small step could cause within a team of three. If only I’d known.
I stepped into the role of my boss, a role she’d filled for nineteen years. It was a role that none of the other team members wanted. What I didn’t realise was that I would become the meat in the sandwich; that my hands would be tied as far as any decision-making went; that extra administration duties had to be accomplished in eight hours a fortnight (a role previously requiring up to 20 a week); I was expected to maintain my current caseload and that I’d have to attend extra supervision with my boss, attend coordinators’ meetings (which focussed on core business of the organisation which is aged care); vamp up my networking engagements with community organisations; increase the service profile by being involved in community drug action teams … The team is frustrated and started to fragment. They tell me I’m never there and I’m always stressed and they’re right.
So why did I sign up for this unachievable role? I didn’t. I signed up for the role I saw my boss doing and the duties outlined in the job description; not the role she had envisioned for me. I didn’t realise my previous administration experience would become such a focus and that I would be called upon to support funding applications, provide feedback and undertake research.
I’m a stressed mess of anxiety and self-doubt things I’d overcome many years ago. I don’t do stress well but having confidence in my counselling role has helped reduce the anxiety. This new role diminishes me as a person as well as a supportive worker to community members who deserve the best given their circumstances.
My boss and I meet fortnightly and I’ve told her how I’m feeling. She’s doesn’t listen. I find I’m confused most of the time. I think I hear one thing and then find out she’s changed her mind without telling me and I’m the one with egg on my face. How do you work with someone like that? (She has got to be on the spectrum). I feel my concerns are invalidated with remarks like: You’ve been busy, things will settle down. It’s not easy being in charge of people. It’s a lonely job. You’re new at it. It takes time to settle in. Take a step back, you’re too intense. I am so over hearing about the mistakes (aka ‘issues’). For once it would so refreshing to hear that I’d actually done something right. Is that just too bloody much to ask? I don’t think so. I encourage my team every time I see them. It’s easy validating someone’s efforts not to mention how it boosts confidence and builds relationships within the team. We talk about things that aren’t going well and we sort them. If we have our differences we get over our bad selves and move on.
Yesterday I attended day surgery for the second colonoscopy within a year because things weren’t going so well. More polyps removed throughout the entire bowel; worse than last year. As I wait for the pathology report I am thinking the only thing that has changed in that time is my job description. So I’m sitting here thinking that how is this so different from 1 August 2007? My mental health is way more important than the $2.47 an hour extra in my pay packet.
At our last meeting we agreed to wait until February and my performance appraisal for me to decide whether or not to continue in this role. Now I think I’ll do it on Tuesday when I see her next. I’m already feeling like jelly – she won’t be happy. But I am sinking and need to save my sanity, confidence and general personal well-being I also hope she remembers it was agreed I could return to my role as drug and alcohol counsellor while just relinquishing the role of coordinator.
As for the outcome, I’ll keep you posted.