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Being the only woman in a male-dominated company

It means being always on your guard. It means absorbing shit that you really shouldn’t. And now, it means being a little terrified.

You see, I have a workmate who makes me feel uneasy. He invades my personal space. He makes inappropriate comments. And recently he started touching me.

The first time it happened, I made a fuss. I yelled. My workmates all heard; there was uneasy laughter. They didn’t say anything.

The next time it happened, I yelled again. More uneasy laughter. No-one did anything, again.

What does a girl have to do to get people to realise that she’s not ok with being touched and that she isn’t feeling safe?

My next step is a formal complaint. It’s going to happen. But meanwhile, I’m sitting here with headphones on and music turned up, trying to pretend I’m not terrified to be alone in the building with him.

This isn’t ok.

But it’s reality, for many women in tech and other male-dominated industries. We are expected to suck it up, to deal with it.

I refuse. I will make a fuss. This is not ok.

Two stories

I broke. Sitting on the dining room chair, in my forget-me-not blue satin dressing gown, my mind finally shattered.    “Let me go. Please. Let me die.”

    “No.”

    “Please. Please! Please . . .”

    “NO.”

    I was sobbing as I spoke, barely coherent. I just wanted to be let go to die. My hands twisted my forelock compulsively, fumbled with my necklace, anything to keep busy. I knew deep down that he would never let me go, would never release me to death. It’s not the sort of man he was.

    “You have two options. You may take some lorazepam and I will watch over you until you sleep, and we can go to the hospital in the morning; or, you can come with me to A&E right now. What will it be?”

    “Let me sleep tonight. It will be a long night waiting for psych services otherwise. We can do that in daylight tomorrow.”

    Somehow, with all the emotion and mess in my mind, I was still with it enough to make a logical decision. I took my lorazepam and got into bed, and he sat beside me, waiting for sleep to come. As I was drifting, I started remembering some of the good times with this man, my ex-husband. He was here with me now at my darkest hour. Perhaps he still cared.

    “Why are you here for me?”

    “Because I don’t want to have to explain to our little girl that I let her mother die.”

    Not about me at all then. It was about him, her, their world, the world that I was no longer really a part of. Suddenly the wee warm glow that I had been guarding turned icy cold in my grasp, and as I slipped under the benzodiazepine haze I felt so much more detached from life. I thought I had given up before, but now, this, I really had given up on life. It was over. My body just hadn’t caught up with my brain yet.
    A part of me had started dying the day he cut off my credit card as his way of saying “it’s over”. Another part of me died the day I lost my job, and all the friends I had in that world locked me out. And the last little spark that I was holding out for died on Monday last week, when I sat in court and saw guardianship awarded to my ex-husband. He was legally her guardian now. There was no need for me. I could let go.
    Looking back, I can see the downward spiral clearly. At the time, it seemed like the most natural progression in the world – lose everything, wrap up loose ends, die. It seems that this is not the thinking of the normal mind, which will pick itself back up and continue on living. Facing starvation, losing my home, debt, and the bestowing of legal guardianship of my daughter to my ex-husband, my mind chose to unravel in a spectacular way. It was a mountain to deal with, but I could have reached out and asked for help much more effectively. When I finally did reach out, I received help from the most unexpected quarter, and I had such hope for a rekindling of my marriage. To learn that it was just so he wouldn’t have to tell my little girl what I had done, and raise her completely alone, was shattering. It pushed me further over the edge, but that didn’t matter. The next day, I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and put in a locked ward for three weeks, until my mind could recover a bit.

    I still loved him. I still love him. He was integral to my world for so many years, he was the man I adored, and the choices I made that estranged us are some of my greatest regrets. As mania gripped me all those months ago, though, it seemed like I was doing what I needed to do, and although he gave me permission, I took too much, and wound up hurting him. He let go because he needed to, and I needed to realise that he had let go completely. There was no going back. There is no going back. Ever.
    What does this mean for me going forward? Will he still be there in my times of crisis? They will come, over and over, like the irregular menses of youth and menopause, unexpected and unwelcome. Will he come and sop the mental bleeding? I know I cannot rely on this. I must build myself a network of people to help me. I am already doing so, and doing all the things that I should do to stay well. Taking pills, eating well, sleeping well, easing back on alcohol, no illicit drugs, I’m being a good girl. Long may it keep me healthy.
    I hide the misery. For every upbeat thing I say, my inner self digs its hole a little deeper, waiting until it is deep enough to be buried inside. For every good day, there is a bad night. For every good conversation, an internal monologue of self-sabotage. For every drop of hope, a cup of despair.
    We approached that room as two selfish souls. I wanted only to die. He wanted only to not deal with the fallout of my death. The conflict we faced was not one of despair and compassion. It was one of different brands of selfishness.

    “Let me go. Please. Let me die.”

“No.”

    “Please. Please! Please . . .”

    “NO.”

    We agreed on a regime of lorazepam and sleep, until the psychiatrists could see me in the morning. His selfishness, which I had made the mistake of reading as caring, pushed me beyond reason. I was dead. My body just didn’t know it yet.

    He didn’t want to tell my girls I had died. He didn’t want to raise them alone. He didn’t actually care about me – he cared about how my living or dying affected him.

    I say it’s selfishness that I wanted to die, but really I hate that way of thinking. Suicide is not selfishness. It’s the way mental illness kills people. It’s no different to a heart attack or a stroke, really. It’s not about choices or anything like that. It’s about being overcome by illness. I was in the place where all things had come to an end. My own self could go no further, so how could it be selfish to die?
    He had me sectioned. I don’t know whether I am angry or not at him for that, but it saved my life. It was so far gone that nothing save intensive intervention was going to rescue me, and that I got. They drugged me into balance again, and here I am, writing a retrospective. Looking back over those swirling drugged days and nights, I learned a lot about who I am and what I am. 

    I am strong, but my strength is brittle.

    I break spectacularly.

    When I break I cannot put myself back together.

    I need good people around me.

I have good people around me.

    I need to confide in those people.

    I need to recognise my early warning signs a bit better and heed them.

    I am always going to have this brokenness, but I can manage it better.

    I am loved. Not by the man I wanted any longer, but I am loved deeply by many and I am worthy of their love.

    I can survive. Not by my own strength alone, but by drawing on all the resources available to me. People, and skills, and all the things I have learned that are within and around me.
    I live.

Waiting

Waiting to float away on the metallic tasting chemicals, and I wonder at the shape of life. There are no straight paths at my feet. Only gorse and toetoe stands and tiny little gaps to pass through. 

The snoring beside me is regular, but it will be gone tomorrow. Everything is fleeting. What is solid in this chaotic world of mine? There are some good friendships building, but the universe and I conspire to end those all too often.

And what of death, the whispering companion who tried to take me along? He is still present somewhere in the background, ready to come forward again in his own time. I have much fear of that day, but when it comes I will probably welcome it again. My mind is sick enough to leave life at the slightest suggestion, but for now I continue.

I need patterns, routine, love, care. I get tiny tastes, but the hollowness remains.

The chemicals come to take me away. 

Never again

Never again will I reach out. Next time I will just step out into the night. I’m too much fuss, too much bother. I’m too broken. I’m never getting better.

It’s just a matter of time before my beating heart catches up with my dead soul.

I want to die: a self-assessment

Is this a cry for help?

No. I want it to be over now. I’m done.

Why did you reach out?

I don’t know. Guilt? A last gasp of survival instinct? A sliver of hope?

What are you going to do now?

Live through today. Tonight is a different matter.

What do you need in order to keep going?

Things to look forward to. Little things to drag me through the day. A little long term hope.

What can people do to help?

Give me reasons for living. Make plans. Be there. Make me feel less alone. Reach out to me where I’m at, in the place where hopes and dreams have died, and give me real and concrete reasons for living. Not “I care about you”. “Let’s catch up on this date at this time”. Solid things that I can hold on to. The wisps of love and caring are sweet and appreciated but I can’t grasp on to them and pull myself towards them.

What doesn’t help?

Guilt trips. Think of the children, what about all the people you will hurt. That shit won’t fly any more, and I don’t feel the need to listen. Reach out to me on the level I’m on, the level where the world is better off without me, and give me hope there, not guilt that belongs to a higher level of functioning. I will cut you off.

If it all goes to hell, if I don’t make it out alive, there is nothing you could have done. I’m badly broken, and there’s a good chance it’s only a matter of time before I check out. But I’m hanging on right now. I’m trying. I’m giving myself the best chance I can, by reaching out and drawing from inside simultaneously. It could be enough for a while.

A chat with mental health 

So. Everything will be ok. The Taylor Centre say so. They are impressed with how strong and brave I am, and how well I’m putting structure into my life to cope with the various stressors I am dealing with. Everything will be just fine.

Except when I tell them that’s I’m doing worse than the day they saw me last, which was the day after I split with my boy and the day after I turned 30 largely alone, they just ignore it. They tell me how well I’m doing. Like hell I am. I fall apart every night. I stare at my drugs and wonder what a lethal dose is. I look up timetables for the main trunk line. My thinking spirals ever lower, and in the end I don’t know how I keep going. 

I’m doing everything I can to stay alive. I’m trying really hard this time. I haven’t given up. I’m still fighting. 

The Taylor Centre wouldn’t have a clue though. And they want me to go to WINZ to get funding for counselling. Completely missing that I’m already IN counselling, and that the WINZ process is so fucking bad that I would rather die than fight them again. 

I once said I would die before I went back into the psych unit, or back into community mental health care. And yet, here I am, broke as shit and not having any other option. And it’s killing me. They listen but they do not hear. They tick the boxes but there’s nothing in their service that makes you feel like they care. 

Everything will be just fine. I’m strong and brave and doing all I can. Everything will be ok.


Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Signal phrases – TW suicide

Everyone has phrases that they use that say one thing and mean another. “I’m fine”. “Dinner is delicious”. Whatever they are. 

For me there are two really important signal phrases you should know. They’re the ones that signal danger, depression, suicidal thoughts. Responding to them might save me one day.

“Everything will be ok”. The reason everything will be ok in my head is because soon I will find a way to die. Then everything will be ok for me.

“I feel peaceful/I am at peace”. This means that I have made my peace with death, and I’m actively suicidal and looking at options.

Why am I sharing this? Because as messed up as I am, I know intellectually that death is not the answer and I know I need to stick around, and if people I talk to are aware of my signal phrases they can respond.

Why not just use plain language? God knows I’ve tried, but I can’t do it. I can’t frankly tell someone I’m suicidal right now, maybe ever again. I need people to recognise signal phrases because they’re my last scream for help.