Sunday, June 19, 2011

SPL Part 4--Finally, the Happy Ending

To continue from Part 3...

On May 2, I got an email from the very kind president of the local chapter of our union (sadly, lack of support from the actual union had been a huge hindrance to us the whole while--thanks for nothing, SEIU) contacted me with the information that the City was offering me the chance to resign and get the incentive of two years of health benefits or cash equivalent they were offering to other people, as well as promising that I could resign for medical reasons and get unemployment as well.  I had a deadline of May 11th  to respond. I did, with the caveat that I had to have the offer in writing.  This offer made me feel optimistic for the first time in years.

Of course, the City, having conceded to the fact that I was continuing to fight and making their life complicated especially on the legal front due to the DFEH investigation, just HAD to procrastinate and put off getting anything to me in writing until May 31st.  They offered the deal I described above with the caveat that I had to drop the DFEH case and give up any future right to sue for the same issue.  And of course, in an act of such petty spitefulness I could only laugh after everything else, I only had one day to decide.  After reviewing it with my DFEH rep and a lawyer who could confirm it had no tricks, I took the deal.

June 1, 2011, I signed the paperwork, submitted my letter of resignation, and was finally free.  It is impossible to describe how amazing it felt to be done with it all, finally and officially done.  I literally felt the weight of mountains fall off of my shoulders.  When I applied for unemployment insurance and it was granted, more weight fell off.  Granted, there are still some financial difficulties, but nothing I can't handle.  I am free from an oppressive work environment.  I am free from self-serving, dicatorial, petty, spiteful, and cruel management.  I am free from the worry of waiting and wondering.  I am FREE.

What am I doing now? Right now I am blissfully happy taking summer school.  After I pass this anatomy and physiology class, I can apply for the program to become a Nuclear Medical Technician.  I am thrilled to be embarking on this new career path.

It is an Erudite Family saying that this is the season of the Reinvention of Erudite Aspie.  I have cast off the shackles of the bitter past, and am looking forward to a glorious and rewarding new future.  It will take a lot of hard work, but I can do that.  It will have obstacles I am sure, but I can get around those.  As my Grammy and Mom taught me...there is nothing you can't do if you really want to.  In the middle of the worst time in the Salinas Public Library I knew that if I continued to work hard, act with dignity and honesty, and not stop fighting, I would eventually come out on top.  It was a much longer and harder road than I had thought, but I am at the end of it now.  And I am free to become whoever I want to be next.

Because after all, the only limitations we have on us are the ones we put on ourselves.

And I will not be limited ever again.

God bless you all.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SPL Part 3: The final crash before the happy ending

To continue from post two---

It was late spring, early summer 2010 when my mom heard about the high end of the Autism Spectrum, PDD-NOS and higher functioning autism and other connected diagnoses, she immediately thought of me, particularly me as a child and a teenager, and sent me a text message.  Previous posts have covered my process of self discovery, so I won't repeat myself here.  I WILL say that what I saw in this diagnosis (though it was hard to get an accurate one, they kept on wanting to say I was Bipolar, which I knew wasn't true) was the chance to not only improve my life in general by having a better understanding of how my brain works, but more importantly as a way to get some accommodations to help me in my work situation  I saw it as a chance to get a break, to get some understanding from management, and a way to get some relief.  My therapist and psychiatrist made it very clear that I did have Asperger's but that I mostly had it under control due to my own self-awareness, determination, and basic maturity.  However, the job environment in general and the attacks on me specifically pushed all of my Aspie buttons, as it were.  I would not need accommodations for my life in general, but for my own sanity I did need them for this job.

So, following the instructions from Human Resources, in August of 2010 my therapist sent off a letter explaining the situation and I waited. And waited.  And they decided they need clarification (though they didn't. they were just stonewalling), and I waited more.  Then in September I was called into the office by Maria Roddy, accused of wearing a skirt that was too short (it wasn't), improperly touched by Maria Roddy on the knee, and basically bullied and harassed.  And docked four hours of pay. In response to this, I filed a complaint against Maria Roddy for harassment.  Of course, the city hired outside investigator did not decide in my favor.  In December I was told I would for the second time not get my merit increase because of insubordination, the incident with the porn kid, and that I was generally a horrible person--nothing I had actually accomplished over the last year was mentioned.  This was of course on a Thursday night, the last hour of my work day, and the last day of my work week.  This sent me into a such a tailspin that I finally had to go to my GP doctor and get asked to put on stress leave.  When she saw that my blood pressure was 150/92 and that I broke down completely in her office, she gave it to me.

It was December 17th, and I was on medical leave for the next week.  The following week was Christmas and New Years, and I along with most staff already had that time off.  My hope was that in two weeks, I could get myself together enough to function and figure out what to do next.

On December 26th, 2010, I got an official letter from the city saying they were bringing charges of insubordination against me seriously enough that I would be punished by two days of no pay--all because of what had happened over three months ago in September and for which I had already been punished with 4 hours of no pay.  The letter was sent by the city manager Artie Fields on the urging of Elizabeth Martinez, and he had the gall to include the line "After listening to Elizabeth Martinez, I agree and find against you".  Really?  Without talking to me?

This sent me into perhaps the worse state I'd been in since this whole thing had started.  It was so egregiously unfair I could not handle it. I am ever grateful my mother, sister, and boyfriend were all there when I opened the letter.  Still, at that point I went back to my doctor and got her to give me two more weeks of stress leave. I still had very high blood pressure, my asthma had been acting up very badly, and I was at the absolute end of my rope. So she did, saying I could come back to work on January 16th, with very simple and doable accommodations that echoed the ones my Therapist had asked for back in August of 2010.  I got a call on January 8th, the city said they could not accommodate me, and I could not go back to work.  They didn't tell me why, but as they actually could have accommodated me and were doing this as part of their continual effort to get me to resign, they chose to not even bother trying to explain.

For the sake of brevity I will say that I tried filing for worker's comp and long term disability and was denied for technical reasons.  I tried to meet with the city and get back to work, I was stonewalled by the city's HR department (and my doctor didn't help much) on all fronts.  I figured very early that the City was stonewalling me to try to get me to give up and resign and get nothing.  Small of them, and it didn't work.  I NEVER give up.   The months between January and the end of May passed with great anxiety and uncertainty, and I didn't work at all.  That was the one blessing.  At least I wasn't back in the pit of misery.

I did, however, go to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing to file for discrimination on the basis of a disability and after a long phone interview (always hard for me!), they found my situation had enough merit to start a formal investigation.  This was the only thing I felt positive about the whole time, though I know DFEH investigations take a long time, because finally someone who could do something about it believed me.  I knew that A) I was pushing the right buttons and B) the city of Salinas was corrupt all the way up and I would get no help at all from anyone when the acting interim HR director of the City of Salinas, Kathryn Sakahara, sent an email to me by accident (it was meant for someone else in HR) that called me 'unbelievable' and a 'piece of work'.  So much for HR being unbiased, right?  Although that email hurt, it was a weapon I could used because it showed clear bias.

My last paycheck (after my vacation time was all used up) came in February and I lived on my savings as all of this was going on through May.  I went back and forth with the city, often having to wait weeks for their reply, and by May I was seriously sweating my financial situation.  My family helped where they could, but they didn't have much either.  I'd been denied worker's comp and long term disability and I right on the verge of going to my apartment complex to try and break my lease (they charge you about 3K to break a lease and it would have been a legal hassle I was not looking forward to) because I was simply and completely out of money.  Thanks to being debt free my expenses each month were minimal except for rent.  How to pay rent?  

So, when May 2011 started I was a basket case.  At this point I had come up with a plan for my future and decided what I wanted to do with my life and where to go back to school.  But how to pay the rent in the meantime?

I shall leave part three here but up next--The Happy Ending!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Salinas Public Library story Part 2: Harassment, bullying, and intimidation

Hello everyone.

This post will be very hard to write.  Please read it, and learn.  If my experience can help even one person, it will be worth the suffering I describe.

Have you ever told yourself that you were just being paranoid?  That they weren't really out to get you, that they really did have good intentions at the core, that you just had some bad luck, that you were being overemotional, and that things would improve?  Have have you ever looked a situation and thought, it can't possibly be as bad as I think it is, that it had to improve?  And did you ever have to finally, eventually, reluctantly realize that you weren't being paranoid at all, that it really WAS that bad, and that you were really, truly screwed?

THAT has been my experience since Elizabeth Martinez became the library director and Maria Roddy took over as my supervisor in the Salinas Public Library.

It started out small.  I heard from a fellow librarian that she had been taken out to lunch by the managers and she had been asked to say negative things about me, and that they had warned her against me and asked her to spy on them.  It became worse that same month, September 2008, when the city called in an outside investigator to investigate the claims that I was the instigator of negativity and insubordination in the work place.  The first time the library had me in shaking tears is when I knew was the target of that investigation.  And my stomach fell out when I got my hands on a document where a manager stated lies about me and reported them to the Director as though they were truth.

It was bad when I had an altercation with a patron who threatened me physically and yet her story was believed, and my truth was disregarded, though Maria Roddy had witnessed it all.  It got worse when they started giving me more and more hours on a desk (very exhausting), clearly showing preference to other librarians. And when I was denied my merit increase because of that single unfair patron complaint and I had no recourse at all, my world caved in.  The harassment continued when I was yelled at for taking a bathroom break, for sitting down for a minute to rest between patrons because according to Maria I should have been walking around.  The bullying continued when others got away with short skirts and I was called to the carpet and written up more than once for wearing skirts that indeed were long enough. Or when other librarians were given time to accomplish their projects and I was given none at all. Or when I caught a 9 year old boy looking at explicit porn in the kid's side of the library and the fact that I touched his neck got me written up and the fact that he was looking at porn bothered them not at all.

It was bad when any question I asked led to retaliation of some sort of another.  It was bad when I was so afraid to ask any question, no matter how benign, so I had to have a fellow librarian do it for me.  I never knew when an official complaint was going to come or I was going to be called into the office for a little meeting, and I spent most of the last three years at work knotted up with anxiety and fear of doing anything at all, really.  I truly had a target on my back.

And believe me, for the sake of brevity I am leaving many, many examples out.

The single most devastating part of this experience is what it did to my self esteem and psyche.  I am a hard worker by nature, who believes that one should be proactive and creative in finding solutions to problems, and I was being constantly punished for all of those things.  After all, how dare I question or have an idea that might contradict the mighty will of E. Martinez and  M. Roddy?  I had to deny the most basic part of myself just to try and survive.  I am also a natural problem solver, but this is a problem I could not solve.  If I worked fast or slow, it was wrong.  If I spent too much time or too little time with a patron, it was wrong.  If I asked a question it was wrong, if I didn't ask I should have.  I could not win.  I had multiple complaints and official warnings filed against me, and they all were lies, but they were believed by everyone up to the City Manager, so I had no recourse.  I tried filing complaints against the managers, and got nowhere at all.  I tried doing nothing and playing along, and it just got worse.

So, by the summer of 2010, I was trapped in this hellish situation with no idea how to get out of it.  I'd applied for many jobs of course, but no luck.  I was locked in misery and had a very hard time keeping it out of my private life as well.  My stomach was continuously cramped, I put on abut 30 pounds between early 2009 and fall of 2010 due to stress, I cried all the time, and I often had to take days off because I was so sick from stress.  For a while I truly feared that my chaotic and upset mental and emotional state would drive away the erudite boyfriend because it was all about me, and I couldn't think of anything or anyone else.  Thank God the EB put an end to that silliness immediately and was my rock and a great source of strength through it all.

I felt helpless, useless, and incompetent because I couldn't change what was happening, and couldn't make it stop.  I felt like a failure in my chosen profession.  And I was filled with dread as I watched their lies and unfair actions shred my professional reputation.  In short I was mess.  I was desperate enough to seek counseling, but it couldn't solve the problem and didn't really help.  I was what they call 'depressed' and 'anxious' in the mental health sense but it wasn't because I was a depressed person or an anxious person, I had no chemical imbalance in the brain as do true sufferers of those syndromes.  But I was drowning under the weight of what has happening to me, and I exhibited the symptoms because of that.

And it took me the longest time, longer than it should have, to realize that I wasn't being paranoid, and Elizabeth Martinez and Maria Roddy really did have evil intentions towards me.  It took me a long time to listen to their actions and not their words.  It was hard for me because I was an Aspie, and we have a hard time understanding motivations and emotions in others that we don't have in ourselves.  I don't treat people like that, so how could I understand them, even when I was the target?

Fortunately, it was in the late spring of 2010 that the Erudite Mom, who teaches Autistic kids, attended a workshop that taught about the various type of autism, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger's.  And THAT changed everything.

Look for Part Three this weekend:  How I was diagnosed as an Aspie and what I did about it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My story with the Salinas Public Library, Part I

Hello everyone--

This post has been a long time in coming because it has taken me a lot of time to figure out just what to say and how to say it.  I started this blog when I first was on medical leave for work, and in the intervening six months everything has changed.  I started this blog to write about my experiences being an adult woman on the high end of the Autism Spectrum, but my self discovery about being an Aspie is tied in with my experience of being a librarian for the City of Salinas and THAT is the story I need to tell.

I have worked in libraries since August of 2001, got my MLIS in 2005, and started working for the Salinas Public Library in 2006.  The first couple of years of my employment in Salinas everything was great.  I had a wonderful supervisor, and worked with wonderful people.  The patrons were nice, the policies were fair and balanced, and life was good.  At this time I had no idea I was an Aspie.  I knew that I often was hyper verbal and had to work darn hard to have good social skills, but this was so much a part of my life I took it for granted, and it had never been a problem before.

In 2008, everything changed.  First, a new Library Director was hired--Elizabeth Martinez.  A google search shows her to be a glowing paragon of the library world, but I had had the chance to talk with librarians who had worked under her in the past and learned that she was horrible to work for.  I learned from the she was autocratic, never listened to anyone else, was rude, and more importantly treated staff with an absolute lack of respect or recognition of professional expertise.  At about the same time, things changed around in upper management and I got a new supervisor--Maria Roddy.  Maria who had never been a librarian, who was absolutely incompetent at the job, and who has absolutely threatened by anyone smarter or better than she was--a fact that being an Aspie, sadly I did not fully understand until it was much, much too late.

Elizabeth and Maria together started immediately implementing policies that were detrimental to both the library and the staff, and truly the patrons most of all.  I will spare you the litany of what they did wrong and why it was wrong, but I can say that many, many people on staff were concerned.  Cue, myself.  At that time I was the union steward for the library.  I had been asked to do this because I am well spoken and had no fear to ask the hard questions and stand up for staff--I was always respectful and fair, but I did ask.  Consequently, as these policies were implemented and as the problems in them became glaringly apparent, I was asked by several staff members to to ask management about them and seek some sort of clarity and communication between staff and management,  all in my role of steward.  I also was forced to ask several questions on my own when a policy change influenced me directly.  At that point, I was truly just trying to be a voice for good, and a help.  I was all about finding solutions and doing the right thing, not accusing management of being incompetent.

Big, BIG mistake.  When you have a direct supervisor who reflexively fears anyone better than she is and a library director who refuses to listen to any challenge to her ideas or thoughts, and more importantly when both hold a grudge and are perfectly willing to retaliate in any way necessary...

Disaster.  Utter and total disaster.  And God help me, I didn't see the danger until it was way too late.

I shall say goodnight for now.  In a few days I shall post Part Two, in which the Erudite Aspie gets bullied and harassed.

And fear not--this story gets worse, but it DOES have a happy ending.

God bless,