Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Four Months in hell for a little slice of heaven.

I write so infrequently I forget what I wrote about, so after a little review I realize the last thing I talked about was the upcoming changes in my life. My GRE went well, I was able to use earplugs and as exhausted  as I was by the end it was finished. Honestly, I probably could have done better if I'd requested different circumstances, but this wasn't a matter of life-or-death for me. My application for grad school went out with very few problems, but the rest of my life continued in shambles.

I continued to battle with my employer through the insurance company, and as a result my mental stability went out the window. I read MadamBipolar on a fairly regular basis, and I've also been following this series on bipolar in the workplace, in addition to this series on the same subject. This combined with my recent acquisition of Ken Steele's The Day The Voices Stopped I have had a resurgence of the weight my fight holds. In the grand scheme of the world my fight against my company isn't going to change the way America views bipolar, on the contrary I hear my coworkers are quite enjoying calling me an alcoholic, among other choice slander, but it does prove to me that I am worth this fight. Also, each fight like this that is waged and won for the mentally ill brings us closer to actual acceptance.

My employer finally offered me a return to work schedule when I was in Detroit (having run away during a particularly nasty bout of self-doubt), that did not meet my accommodations. I told them I could not accept their terms, and explained which terms needed to be met. The response? Talk to the insurance, they told us this was acceptable. So I did, and the insurance, in turn, told them exactly what I told them. I need a quiet work environment to be successful at detailed data entry work. Through all of this the insurance has been a lifesaver. Without the resources I've linked to above, a supportive unit of family and friends, and doctors & insurance that fought for me I would not have been able to wage this particular war. I went nearly a month without being paid at all.

My medical situation and requested restrictions were judged by medical professionals that have never met me. My company chose to be discriminatory and misinformed, in spite of the masters in psychology held by my immediate boss, and her boss disclosing to me that a close family member suffers from bipolar. When the experts approved my medically necessary restriction of a quiet work environment I was beyond elated. This meant that the cycle of discrimination would HAVE to end! They have to admit that I was right to have the freedoms I experienced with my former boss, and my former boss was progressive and a wonderful boss that understood his employees needs without being strong-armed  into non-discrimination. Wrong. They chose, instead, to claim they are unable to accommodate me through my previous work schedule. This is a schedule that I maintained for two years in their department under different management. This management is unable to let me complete my data entry job when I can be successful, they would rather I be less successful and work within their hours. Fortunately, again, the insurance came to my rescue. I still get paid, and will get paid for up to 4 years of disability because my request for a quiet work environment is 100% medically supported.

So the battle is done and the employer forfeits. I'm satisfied with this result, if only because I get to complete my last school semester in peace. There was an issue with payment for my last few semesters, but that was resolved quickly through a letter to the school. It appears my school doesn't want to lose a student with a 3.59 GPA in her last semester because an employer can't bother to follow ADA laws. I received enough grants to cover all of the remaining balance for tuition.

When I explain my situation every single person I've talked to sees the blatant discrimination. Every single person thinks that its awful. And yet, my coworkers still make derogatory comments about me because they don't understand my situation. They ask why I haven't returned. They make offhand comments like "if she's well enough to be an alcoholic, why isn't she well enough to return to work?" The fact of the matter is I am not an alcoholic. Two beers and I'm drunk. Four and it takes me days to recover from my hangover. They are being bigoted and rude. My employer does not correct these types of comments. If I was at work I would be told to alter my behavior to prevent these comments. I don't really care about these comments, but I will never again put up with working for an employer that behaves this way. Management and HR should not allow bigotry to happen. That self-regulation I thought was possible so few years ago is a myth.

In spite of all the mess, I don't have to return to that work environment. I get to stay home, work through my last semester at school, and attend an interview for graduate admission. The best part of the whole thing? By choosing to not be supportive and instead engage in behavior that borders on illegal, my company is paying me to stay home and accomplish my dreams. I get 60% of my former paycheck, plus I keep my insurance. In addition, their behavior and the reduced pay is the reason my education is paid. I know they feel like they've won because the strange girl with all the difficult requests is no longer there, and they didn't have to deal with a lawsuit from firing me, but I think I came out on top this time. Four months of hell is really a small price to pay when I count all the blessings their decision has brought upon me.

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