Go Home 2016, You’re Drunk

How to sum up this past year?

It began with a 7-page email from my co-worker (the other costume designer with whom I worked all day, everyday for 6.5 years) telling me why she didn’t think I “deserved” to hold the title of Costume Designer, why she was more skilled than me, how she was the one who hired me, how she had to compensate for my lack of skill, how she was more educated than me, and more. She referred to it as a “Tune-Up”.

None of that was true, mind you, but she chose to put it in writing and do something that couldn’t be taken back.

I considered quitting. Instead I filed an internal complaint and agreed to voluntary mediation and in a three hour meeting HR explained to her and our boss (who egged her on in her belief that she was superior to me) that she and I? Equals. Equally qualified. Equally skilled. Our boss was so unhappy he used the last five minutes of the mediation to chastise me for something unrelated to the issue at hand. Then he proceeded to spend the rest of the year ignoring the parameters set by that meeting.

I had developed heart problems the past semester (exacerbated by bullying on the part of my co-worker and clashes with said boss) and had to have heart surgery in June. Said heart surgery kicked off a series of 14 migraines that lasted into the Fall. In a follow-up visit, the Electrophysiologist declared the heart surgery a failure, and sent me to Austin for a second operation that, instead of happening, turned into a gigantic, epic cluster fuck and we went home without surgery and with no faith in medical science.

On my 47th birthday, I got up and took my beloved dog, Trixie, to the vet to have her put down. My husband and I agreed to no more dogs for awhile, and I didn’t anticipate there even being a chance to get a new one until summer of 2017, since I would be working. Trixie left a HUGE hole in my heart–she, like all dogs, was one-of-a-kind. As any of you who are spoonies know, pets are a significant tool in the chronic pain and mental health toolboxes.

I went back to work on time, but emotionally exhausted. Then the new FLSA regs hit, and our University chose to use that for a cover to commit some dastardly acts. At the same time, my boss, in flagrant defiance of the mediation agreement, removed me as designer for a show and cancelled my makeup class for Spring of 2017. I filed a retaliation claim. HR divided my complaints, delaying my retaliation claim and instead pursuing a reclassification that, instead of upholding my position, resulted in a demotion. The title of Costume Designer was taken away; it seemed I was no longer qualified. Then the title of Costume Shop Manager was taken away; still unqualified. Then I was made a Costume Shop Specialist, and told that the job “is yours” but on paper the qualifications were such that I wasn’t even qualified for my demotion. I wept in public for the first time in my life (outside of weddings, funerals and the movies, anyway).

On any given day, I have issues with my heart, my blood pressure, chronic pain, joint injury, back pain, anxiety, IBS-D and more. But I kept plugging away and giving it my all. But. My blood pressure got too high. My heart rate got to too high.My anxiety got too high.  I took extended medical leave and sought a new therapist to deal with my anxiety and trauma due to work. On December 12, I “returned” from FMLA  (I would have normally been off), and was told by HR that I had to meet with my boss, but that HR could not tell me when they might be able to get to my retaliation claim.

So I resigned.

Subsequent meetings with an attorney suggest that I have a 50/50 sort of very complicated case, and in this post-factual era, complex issues don’t sell. Also, I don’t want to spend another two years going through litigation for a small settlement that still won’t ever amount to an expression of sorrow and regret on the part of NMSU, my boss and my co-worker. They will just all have to live with themselves and their karma. They SHOULD be really sorry for what they’ve done, but we all know how that goes.It’s not necessarily illegal to be a complete, gaping asshole on the personal and/or institutional level.

There were of course good things this year, too. My daughter got married. Art Quilting Studio invited me to submit my work and published it in their Winter 2017 edition. I got a puppy since, it turns out, I’m going to be home full time for the foreseeable future. For me, 2017 will be about healing the trauma from a dysfunctional, shitty work situation and the bullying I suffered at the hands of someone who let their insecurities get the best of them. I have already lined up a show at a local gallery in August, and so things will move forward. Right now, it all feels uncomfortable, sad and weird, but I’m doing it anyway.

Always forward. Never back. (hat tip Luke Cage)

 

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Measurements

The first weeks of each year, my intro lab class learns how to measure an actor for costumes. This is what we do; we cast a show, we measure actors, we make costumes for them and pull shoes and such for them, and it’s all based on those measurements. There’s a lot involved–how do you best approach a person you may never have met before in order to measure their bust and hips and inseam? What is proper etiquette? How do you efficiently wrangle a 60″ vinyl measuring tape so that you can see the numbers and not pull anyone’s hair or get tangled in your own web?

Measuring physical attributes is much easier than measuring less concrete things. I am trying to measure less tangible stuff right now, like, “How hard do I push to have a wrong corrected that is actively impacting my job?” or “How disabled am I?” or “How sick is chronically ill? What level of chronically ill am I?” My FMLA paperwork came back today granting me up to eight days a month of leave. Last year it was four, and I never took them. I took an hour or two here, or there, a couple of half days. An entire day a week? Unthinkable. Thus, TWO DAYS a week? Ha!

A FB and real life friend posted something the other day asking at what point does one measure their job as too much? When they cry once a week? Have to start taking anxiety medication? Have panic attacks at work? Another friend posted that she once found herself driving to work in a snow storm, and thinking that if she just let the car slide a little ways into the guardrail, she’d be able to call in sick due to having had an accident. I have an extremely talented friend who said to me, about her job, “Part of the time I think I’m just really important to this job and then, suddenly, I think I need to resign immediately because it’s so awful to be here.”

Stress and a chronic disorder play off one another, and it becomes hard to manage. My facade gets better and better the more stressed I am, a trap I designed for myself long ago and have spent a lot of time trying to undo–sometimes with more success than others. Coming out of this particular summer with less than zero emotional resilience in the tank, it’s hard to measure which things are temporary and which are indicators that I am taking on too much and remaining in a toxic environment long past when it’s worthwhile. I can’t, yet, measure the distance between this and the next thing—which is why I’m stuck, at least for the moment.