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The ADHD Diaries

Reflections from a girl who strives and struggles every day with ADHD.

Tough Talk: Out There

I’m currently enrolled in a leadership class to sharpen my skills of self-awareness and building my ability to acknowledge places where I need improvement. Having ADHD brings a lot of shame and self loathing, so it hasn’t been as much of a positive experience as originally intended. I know what my faults are and am constantly trying to keep up with myself. But sometimes I take a nosedive and face plant into my ADHD hard. And boy, does it hurt.

Within the last 5 years or so, I have been very open and honest about my ADHD to friends, coworkers, supervisors and family. Not only does it hold me accountable, but it also provides another avenue for discussion on my work performance and the benefits of having something “ADD”ed. For the most part, it has been positive, but when it has been negative- hurts like the nosedive. Most recently, I’ve been grappling with the negative effects of my ADHD at work because of a switch up in staff. The chief of my division, Stella, who I have written about before, left the park, which meant one of my coworkers were elevated to acting chief to fill that need. The last time the hierarchy switched like this, the vision seemed to split in two, drawing lines in the sand between “us” and “them.” Of course, I always landed in the “them” category, and it has only been exacerbated this time.

I received my new performance evaluations and goals while then receiving at the same time unsolicited advice from my “acting” chief on how to “lead by example.” She slammed my time management skills and my impulsiveness without really giving solutions or allowing some discussion as to why these two things were an issue. I’ve NEVER had any supervisor in the 7 years I’ve worked for the NPS and in both undergrad and graduate school bring up my impulsiveness being an issue since that is usually something I keep to a minimum or channel it through other means. She has commended me on my attempts to stay organized, however, she lacks any sort of empathy or ability to compassionately compromise with a coworker with a disability. This also seemed to be written into my evaluation, that the physical manifestations of my ADHD, my disability, can now be used to hurt my rating and my ability to move up the hiring scale. I’m not okay with this at all. When expressing my frustration, it was just taken to be given to the “chief who will actually be hired in this position.” Great, I thought that’s where it would stay.

Around this same time, I had brought lunch from home in a reusable lunch box I specifically bought to reuse and help with keeping on task, on budget and on time. I brought left overs from my dinner, which was a Parmesan cheese chicken and broccoli pasta dish that I just loved. Of course, running scattered into my lunch time, I scarfed down half of it and then brought the rest to the visitor center to store in the fridge to bring home. Well, things got crazy and I forgot to bring it home. There were many moments where I would think to myself “I need to go back to grab my lunchbox” throughout the work week. Running around made the fleeting thought just that, a quick thought that was gone by the time I left the park. I’d remember on my way home and tell myself I would bring it home next time. Lots of people leave their dishes or their lunches in the fridge to take it out later, so when my weekend rolled around, I realized while packing for the next week, I didn’t have my lunch box. But that wouldn’t be a problem, because I could go the next day, use the bowl and fork that was in the box while taking the actual box home to wash.

The morning seemed to rush by to finally bring me to lunch. I came into the visitor center to grab my frozen lunch to not only cook it, but to then use the fork and bowl in my box.

My lunchbox was gone.

The entire thing, with the box, the separators, the bowl and fork from the park headquarters was gone. I searched through the break room with no luck. I then went to cook my lunch at the headquarters because I now needed a fork and bowl. By the time I got there, I had enough time to cook my lunch, grab a fork, throw it back into the bag and take it back to switch out my coworker at the desk. While scrambling, I looked in the other fridges, the trash cans and in the freezers to find my belongings gone. So there I sat, panicked, angry, frustrated, hurt, hungry and swirling in my own self hatred at the front desk of the visitor center where I had left my lunchbox only a few days before. It was an overwhelming feeling of disregard and isolation.

Another coworker of mine noticed that I was trying to secretly eat my lunch quickly behind the front desk before a visitor came in and made some crack. I told him to leave it alone. “I’m barely holding it together. I mean it, don’t.” He suddenly seemed concerned and continued to ask what was wrong until I broke down for the first time since starting this job. I sobbed, hard. I just kept saying how I will never be able to escape myself, this problem that I can’t seem to run away from. No amount of diet changes, sleep, coffee, medication, organization hacks and tricks, techniques or paperwork documenting my disability will ever fix this constant fight I have with myself on a daily basis. And no amount of discussion will bring compassion either. Obviously, this coworker immediately backtracked and started rambling about what helps him stay on time and “Maybe these techniques can work for you, have you ever tried it?”

I finally told him to stop, that it was obvious that he was uncomfortable because he had no idea how to deal with a crying girl at work. What he was saying was actually making it worse, so I quickly wiped my tears away and held myself together for the rest of the day, feeling completely exhausted.

Following in the steps of my leadership class, I sent an email out asking what had happened to my lunchbox and guess who threw it away- the “acting” chief. She didn’t apologize, didn’t say she’d replace it. She just said it stunk and was smelling up the break room and she took care of it since she knew I was gone. “Maybe making a checklist before you leave each day might help. Just a suggestion…”

I have never hated myself more than after this. It has taken every ounce of my energy to get up and push myself through this. When this was brought up to the superintendent, it then brought down harsher, strict rules of a “packing in, packing out” mentality. Anything you bring in to eat must be brought out. So once again, I’m carrying everything on my back to be prepared and not to leave anything out. That’s not really the best thing to do for someone who struggles to keep up with so much structure and rigidness.

Ironically, before the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, I was sucked into The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack to cope with this whole mess. Quasimodo was (and still is) one of my favorite Disney characters and his want to be normal, to be “out there” resonates with me so much at this moment. All I want to do, all I have ever wanted to be apart of normal people, normal friends group and a normal life.

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Tough Talk: Angrily Anxious

We have finally hit springtime! No more dreary days of cold rainy silence. Visitation has ramped up again, really feeling like someone turned on the faucet and flooded our visitor center full of people. It brings so much relief to my heart and soul to finally have some visitors. I’ve also applied for a new job at another park, which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I worked at this park in 2012 and 2014, so I am familiar with not only the staff, but the day-to-day operations. It would be a huge career move for me and it would solidify me in a career permanent position, something I have only dreamed of achieving. Unfortunately, for park service positions, it takes forever to process any sort of job, so its going to be a waiting game that I have to stay strong through.

While I wait, I have been in a constant battle with my anxiety in the last two weeks because of a sudden change at work. My supervisor, Stella, announced her resignation from the NPS and gave us her last day: Friday, March 29th. Although Stella and I have clashed frequently on our methods of interpretation and the level in which we address Civil War memory, she was still my direct boss with control over anything and everything I did. I wrote before of how I truly believe she has undiagnosed ADHD with some anxiety tucked in the mix, but this past week ramped upon my own anxiety because of her failure to plan and organize, throwing me into the constant up-downs of her changing mind.

Not only was I completely disregarded, but my hours of work on a program we had planned that was cancelled during the shut down was thrown completely out the window. It was as though I didn’t do any work, which then forced me to watch the dumpster fire of a program she threw together chaotically at the last second. It was not only painfully embarrassing to watch, it flared a raging fire of fury inside me that burned for two solid days. I was absolutely livid, unable to disengage from my emotions and to step back. It left me fuming to the point of needing to step outside to cool off. My frustration with Stella, my anger at her blatant disregard and inconsideration intertwined with my frustration at my inability to calm down, creating a downward spiral. I felt every flare up, every fire that seemed to light up at every single thing that went wrong. At times, it felt like I was losing my mind. Why was I not able to calm down?

ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can be a cruel combination for emotional wellbeing. Obviously, planning and attempting to keep your life together and organized with ADHD takes an immense amount of effort, making the meticulous details very important in holding everything together. When that is thrown out, GAD rears its ugly head and pumps up an anxiety panic. Sometimes its because there is no way to control the chaos, other times it’s because there were ways to avoid this chaos that you came up with, again, in your ADHD plan. Once again, at the base of this conflict for me is the possibility of getting a new job that would facilitate and satisfy my craving to create, achieve and succeed. Thus, the perfect storm of a vicious circle created a swirling vortex of anger. It’s nearly impossible to break out of this constant loop, making me angry, anxious and upset for 2 days. From the moment I woke up in the morning to when I finally laid down at night, I was stuck in the vortex of my own anger and anxiety.

This morning, I finally broke free. I woke up from a beautiful night’s sleep in my brand new bed with a dog that was really happy to see me. I felt emotionally exhausted more than anything, but since it’s Sunday, we have a little bit of a lull that I welcome. I want to keep my mind quiet and calm so I can rest, recharge and restart without the tight restrictions of my ADHD and GAD around my neck. I can breathe and take this upcoming week one day at a time. And hopefully, through this two day fire-fest, I’ll be able to learn how to disengage to stay calm even when things are hard. But that’s the joy of having a mental illness, right? It’s a constant learning experience and once you feel you’ve got one symptom or issue managed, another 3 pop up. But I’ll get there. I’ll get to that peaceful state of mind someday.

Aftermath of Furlough

It is very brisk today as I sit to write in my grandfather’s chair. He used to sit here with us in his lap or snooze while the football game was on in the front room of my grandparent’s house. He’ll be gone for 15 years this year and I always find it interesting to watch as every single visitor who comes into my home sits in this big chair. It is dated with the arm covers still intact but holds a lot of comfort for myself and many others who visit me. Maybe that’s why I decided to sit in this chair as I reflect on the hardest 35 days of my career in the longest shutdown in American history.

I’ve written a lot about my time as an NPS ranger and how much I love my job. For the theme of this blog being an ADHD awareness blog, being apart of the NPS helps feed my constant need for stimulation and my antsy excitement from feeling everything on such a high level. I am constantly creating, constantly writing and discovering new things and new ways to engage the public- until December 22nd, when me and two of my coworkers had to close the park for an unknown period of time. It was awful. I cried posting the signs up around the park buildings. My holiday plans were now obviously under the weight of no pay, which took away every Christmas gift I received and was going to give. Instead of buying a new bed I had been saving up for for months (since I’ve been sleeping on a travel mattress since starting my new job LAST February) I put that money into my rent and student loan payments for January. Instead of enjoying my time with family and fiancé, I felt trapped and unable to find a way out of a situation I REALLY didn’t want to be in.

I was unbelievably bored. Boredom for people with ADHD can be one of the most destructive emotions to experience. When I was in grade school, boredom would keep me from doing my homework. I HATED homework and since I was bored, I just didn’t do it. I would rather get a zero than force myself to suffer through the unbearable agony of math homework. I kicked myself after that bit me in the ass in high school and going into college, but it really helped me find my weakness and learn to curve it to keep me on track. But what happens when there’s no track to stay on?

At one point of the shutdown, I started pacing around my in-laws house. I felt like I was suffocating with the tight collar of boredom restricting me to just sit and be quiet. That is something that takes SO much energy for me. I am a very bubbly, outgoing and talkative person. I enjoy engaging with others– that’s why I became a park ranger. When I didn’t get that satisfaction and relief from work, I found myself striking up conversation with random people at the store, people I ran into at the mailbox that I didn’t even know and my dog Harriet. I looked like I was crazy. Even with my sad attempts to keep busy, with reading and coloring, painting and writing, I still felt trapped, spiking my anxiety by week 3.

I finally gave in and walked into the middle of the room during my brief 48 hour trip back home to help my parents pack for their upcoming move and screamed at the top of my lungs. I just started screaming and it felt amazing. No one questioned why I did it; my whole family was aware of my terrible situation. But it was the release I needed to finally feel like I could take a breath and start the building anxiety all over again. Luckily, the government finally reopened last Friday and I’m almost back to a semi-normal schedule. The stress has caused my eyes to break out with eczema around them, which burns like a bitch and makes it hard to keep my eyes open. I am focusing really REALLY hard on funneling this pent up energy into a slow reintroduction process to work, since I can’t really come barreling like a meteorite when all of us were under the same stress and pressure.

This is where I have to acknowledge to myself and others that my ADHD will make it difficult to return to a new normal. This new normal, which I am praying to God doesn’t suddenly lapse again in February, has to defuse the pent up energy, anxiety and boredom to slowly let it out in a consistent and calm manner. Meditation and hyperfocusing on this calm, cool being is still hard for me, but I need to try. Otherwise I’m going to start screaming in the Visitor Center and no one wants that.

Me and B: Long Distance

Yesterday at work, we had a Christmas open house. It was a beautiful night with a light mist, making the Christmas lights blurred and fuzzy. The air held a warm romantic tinge that lingered throughout the evening, making my heart ache for my fiance. I kept looking over the top porch out to the parking lot and down to the walk way up to the house, secretly hoping that he would suddenly show up to enjoy the house glittering with Christmas joy. But where we are in our lives right now, I knew, deep down, that he couldn’t come out to see the house. He’s coming up to finals week, not only for his own classes but for the classes he teaches. Two final research papers and grading his own student’s exams kept him home this weekend, and I knew that. In reality, I just really missed him.

B and I are once again in a long distance relationship. It wasn’t the outcome we both wanted when we ended our MA’s, considering we’ve been separated since we graduated from college in 2015. I wanted to reflect and write to share some insight into how we make our long distance relationship work. It’s tough sometimes, not because I don’t love him enough, but because I love him so much that I ache to be with him.

B and I are both very dedicated historians in the academic and public history worlds. Although they are similar and revolve around the same globe, my job with the NPS has scattered my life across multiple different parks and states while B’s PhD program has kept him in the same spot. His consistency has really helped me feel centered, especially when the possibility of not getting a job seemed more and more of a reality. Once I finally got my current job, we felt relieved that we were now only 6 hours away from each other instead of 12, but with my weekends being in the middle of the week and his teaching schedule having him booked every day until the weekend, we’ve had to maneuver around schooling and work to see each other. Honestly, it gets exhausting, especially when he is writing and needs me to “be” there for support, even if it means I’m on the phone listening to him pace and talk out his thoughts before writing it out and I’ve had a long day with 68 5th graders at the park. It is a type of sacrifice, but one of the insights to making our relationship work comes from this very idea. There are three essentials things I focus on to make our long distance relationship work:

  1. B is a priority, whether it be over the phone or even through text.
    1. He comes first. I might be more tired the next day because I was up late while he gets to sleep in since his class doesn’t start until the afternoon, but he is worth every second of every minute I can be there for him. He also takes on the grunt work of driving down to visit me, since it’s easier for him to get to me since I have the dog to deal with when we’re driving all over the place.
  2. We have the same goals and future plans.
    1. Because B and I both went to the same college and have similar career goals, we understand that this separation is temporary. The short term pain will bring long term gain, as cheesy as that sounds. Getting our careers off the ground doesn’t have to mean that we give up on or the other’s careers, we just have to rearrange how and when we see each other.
  3. We trust each other.
    1. This may seem like a given, but to me, it’s the most important part of the successful relationship B and I have. Obviously, with anxiety and ADHD, I can spiral off into irrational thinking and/or lose track of my phone when I told B I was going to call him back. He could take the silence as me seeing someone else, ignoring him because he’s not important enough to call back, etc. Because B trusts me (on top of understanding my ADHD mind) he trusts me and puts his faith in me that I am most likely doing something else with our dog, Harriet, probably taking her outside or for a walk or possibly have fallen asleep on the couch at 6:30 without calling him on my way home from work. It wasn’t a malicious reason or spiteful, just forgetful and unintentional. It is a huge sign of how healthy our relationship is, since even when my little whispers of anxiety makes me feel as though I am not important, or that B is ignoring me for this-that-and-another-thing, he lets me verbalize my fears without getting angry and talks them out with me. He understands, again, that this is most likely my anxiety talking since it flares up when we have been far away from each other for a while. I also trust him with my thoughts while knowing deep down that they are irrational and I appreciate and acknowledge his patience with me.

There is no playbook on how to make a long distance relationship work. These are just three of the hundreds of reasons why and how we make the distance work for us, but asking yourself “am I/is he/she/they a priority? Is there trust there? Are our future plans the same/similar?” really gets to the bottom of whether or not the long distance relationship will work. Because I know, without a doubt, that my three essential questions can be answered quickly without any hesitation: Absolutely. 

 

Tough Talk: One Year

It is a blustery day here at home, with an almost 30 degree drop from the previous fall day. It suddenly feels as though we are charging head first into winter. Our visitation at the park has dropped to 20 people and below a day, making an 8 hour day be very slow and long.

Like many who struggle with ADHD, I battle with myself to stay focused on mundane tasks when I have a plethora of projects staring me in the face. I rarely get to see my desk, which requires me to carry my belonging that I might need at any moment in my backpack, which requires even more organization. The winter uniforms for the NPS also have multiple pieces and different rules that calls for constant layers and switching out, making it difficult to even keep up with where each piece is at in my car and home. While juggling the different tangents and tasks that come with a working-girl life, the silence brings reflection. Reflection, though it can be a peaceful process, sometimes brings harsh memories back to the forefront.

My anxiety rears its ugly head when I’m alone trying to find something to focus on. The wondering, the wandering and the itch to do something better still hangs in the air around me. It isn’t as heavy as the fog of hardship in the past, but it’s occasionally still there. My lack of writing really shows how much I’ve moved on and healed. I’m amazed at the fact that it will be one year since the harassment case went through. It will be one year next week when I was interviewed by the assistant attorney general. It’ll be a year next week that my life felt like it was spiraling out.

To see how far I’ve come makes me both very proud and sad all at once. Many of my friends I held dear at my last park are replaced with unanswered text messages. My occasional check-in phone calls go unanswered and I am left with silence, which kick starts the process again of me sitting and thinking back to what I had done, what I said and how I could have done things differently. If I had, maybe things would have ended up for the better. But aren’t things better now? Well, yes. My hair isn’t falling out anymore. My blood pressure isn’t skyrocketing to where I’m dizzy and feeling faint throughout my day. The nightmares and self-harm tendencies have completely vanished. I am very happy at my job, even with a frustrating supervisor, and my coworkers have become my friends. They know me as me. I don’t hide my struggles and the demons that haunted me throughout the last year. I flat out addressed them and brought them to the table, making for a closer relationship with my coworkers with an understanding of how human we all are.

Things aren’t perfect, obviously, but I really have come a long way in one year. I’m creating myself for myself and not to please others. I do what makes me comfortable while also challenging my comfort zones. I try new things and I go on new adventures. I laugh more and I love more.

I finally get down to the last question: If things didn’t happen the way that they did, would I be as happy as I am now? No. I’d still be waiting for change at the last park and I’d be trapped in the unhealthy vicious circle tumbling like a shoe in the dryer beating myself up trying to fit a mold I was meant to break. Now that doesn’t sound like a better life than mine right now, does it?

Failure to Launch

It has been a while since I have written about my struggles with ADHD. It is definitely not because I’m not succeeding and struggling at the same time, but I’ve been busy reading new books and exploring my new home. Harriet and I have been hiking through the countryside quite often. It truly is beautiful and has such a warm feeling of home. I’ve met my neighbors who are very nice and welcoming, while my co-workers continue to amaze me with their support and friendliness even on frustrating days. My supervisor, who I will refer to as Stella, has a very compatible and similar personality to me–almost too similar.

From my first day on in my new job, I’ve noticed things that I used to do before I became more aware of my ADHD symptoms. As I paid closer attention to my deficits, I began researching coping methods and helpful “life hacks” to maximize my success while working with my faults. Stella, however, does not take these characteristics into account. She off-handedly joked that she has ADD but I am convinced it was a honest moment to show me that we are not so different. As much as I appreciate and admire her for her honesty at the time, my needs in the work place clashes with her un-diagnosed mind. The lack of structure and solid communication makes my work day feel very scattered and chaotic. Chaos ensures a sudden change in my schedule that I didn’t know about until the last minute or I’m given a task so suddenly that it throws off my to-do list I make to keep me on task.  I’m trying to keep up while also proving that I was a worthy hire for this position, but it’s a struggle when I’m not properly trained. I’ve made minor mistakes that eat away at me since I know I can do better, but my anxiety always rears its ugly head to pester me with the pervasive thoughts of my failures, which spin off into sudden memories from my previous park. As soon as that place enters my mind, I fight for the rest of the day to feel as though I am capable of more than I feel I can do. I question myself and obsessively think about my interactions with others, terrified that they’ll come to despise me as well.

With my mind clouded with paranoia, fear and anxiety, it is now my ADHD’s turn to rear its ugly head. For example, today I left my work card at home on the kitchen table. It had been soaked from a downpour a few days before and I needed to make sure it dried out completely before I put it into one of the computers. I typically leave my work back and belongings at the “launch pad” by the door so when I leave every morning I do not forget any of the essentials. To my demise, my card was still on the table when I left this morning and I only realized I needed it when I arrived to work scheduled to drive to another park to update said card. Because of my absent minded mistake, the whole staff had to reschedule and rearrange the week to allow me travel time in the next few days. Stella was obviously frustrated with me and grumbled at my inability to stay on track but a missing piece of the puzzle was the assured communication between us. She said over my weekend she would let me know if this trip was planned. But she didn’t, leading to the chain reaction of outta-sight-outta-mind for me and bringing on this mistake. In no way am I blaming Stella for my classic ADHD problems, but it does show that sometimes being honest about your ADHD and your needs doesn’t always translate to your boss or supervisor.

In my interview for this job, I was unafraid to talk openly about my issues with situations like my work card getting left on the kitchen table. G used to be great with little reminders, despite lacking in almost every other category by the end of my time as his supervisee, so it’s another aspect of this job I am still adjusting to. I frantically tried to research any sort of techniques to help in an ADHD supervisor-ADHD supervisee scenarios and the only ones I was able to find flat out said it is one of the hardest things to have at a work place. I’m desperately trying to work with Stella on her terms but it is making me frantic and disorganized. I need to find common ground between the two of us, which terrifies me. I am really struggling to break out of the learned behaviors lingering from my previous park and this is one of those things that would get me yelled at or avoided. It’s not like that here, and I remind myself of that every day when I pull in the parking lot. This is a new day. New park. New job. New co-workers. New supervisor.

But in the end, my ADHD still makes me able to jump around the park if needed and swiftly change direction on a program to address a visitors needs or level of understanding. There are still positives to this mind of mine, just wish it could launch on its own without missing essential equipment for take off.

I Am a Silence Breaker

Today TIME announced their person of the year. Usually that doesn’t come on my radar, as I usually live under a rock of historical study and school. But this year has been a bit different. I have finished my classes for my graduate degree a bit early and have been in limbo between my NPS season and graduation.

Since my last post, which I admit was a bit ago and had a lot to digest, a lot has happened. Not only did I come very close to my first nervous breakdown forced by a hostile work environment, but I left my job with the National Park Service on a high note with my supervisor as he gave me extremely high ratings in my employee assessment plan, something I had been panicked about for the majority of my fall season. I prepared myself to end my contract with the park and move on. See it in my rearview mirror as I drove away to my loving fiance, family and puppy hours away. It was extremely bittersweet, but how this ties to the TIMES person of the year was what happened a few minutes after I turned in my badges and prepared to leave. I received a phone call from a previous housemate (from early summer 2016) who worked in law enforcement asking me to stop in the visitor center parking lot to talk. I thought it would be to get my keys before he headed home. I didn’t expect what came next.

“Nothing was reported.”

Remember back to when I wrote Tough Talk: My Mess and I only alluded to something that happened with a housemate in the last few paragraphs? Well, I’m finally here to write about it. I and my two female housemates were sexually harassed. How this connects to my previous blogpost was how this coworker covered his ass was using my disability to remove himself from the house without telling everyone he was touching his coworkers inappropriately. I didn’t want to say it because I was confident the park would take care of it, since the National Park Service has a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment. I had been the housemate to initially report it, since I do not in any way accept this type of behavior, especially when it spills over into other friends/coworkers lives. I was the oldest and most experienced ranger out of the three of us, so I approached G about it and asked what was to be done. I was prepared to go head first into what would come next in June. That was when this initially went down, and it took until my last day in mid-October for law enforcement to get a whiff of something being off. When this officer did some digging, he found that G had done nothing. He removed him from the house but did not file a report, nor did they place a letter of reprimand in this seasonals file–nothing. In that moment, I had felt betrayed, hurt, validated and abandoned all at once. The officer handed me a statement form with the news of this seasonal being possibly converted into a permanent ranger at another park and if we did not move forward as soon as possible, he was going to be in a place of power again. He was going to be allowed to do this again.

This coworkers behavior also didn’t stop because he was removed from the house. He continued to touch all three of us at work. The only reason he stopped physically touching me was because I told him I would punch him. When he touched me again after I said this, I swung back as though I was going to hit him. He backed away in a joking manner, throwing his hands up innocently. “Whaaa?” He said as he smirked. “I told you,” I said through a gritted smile, “I’m going to punch you if you touch me again.”

Instead, he began isolating me from the staff and ‘gaslighting’ me, as it is called, to make me believe I was crazy. And it worked. The missing links finally came to light and I realized I had been played to stay silent. Not only did he turn the entire staff against me, but he also made me feel like he was the only ranger in my corner, still wanting to be around me and be friendly. He just wanted to make sure I stayed silent. And it worked.

As I stared at the statement form, a huge amount of pressure had suddenly been placed on my shoulders. Here I was, only a few hours before, getting raving reviews on my work ethic to help me get hired into the National Park Service by a man who allowed his supervisee to continue to get harassed. I cried in his office when things became unbearable and he told me to leave it at home. This hurt, this office break down and borderline suicidal thoughts all could have been avoided had G done something as soon as I reported it. But he didn’t. The questions of why he didn’t do something still lingers and the deep hurt of the immense amount of trust and respect I had for him being ripped out from under me made me realize this was going to happen again, at another park, to another strong ranger who will be belittled and believe she’s crazy if I didn’t stand up. But standing up, at that moment, felt like I was risking the career I had spent the last 6 years building for myself. It could be shattered in a moment. This moment.

I felt like I had been repeatedly punched in the stomach, knocked to my knees as my hands gripped the dirt I had been living in, ingesting and believing it as truth to keep going to the next day. I felt like dirt. I had been convinced I was dirt. But in that moment, I refused to stay down. My shaking shoulders rose as I pushed myself up off the ground. I spit the last bit of dirt out and wiped my mouth, taking a deep breath.

“I’ll do it,” I said to the officer as he nodded, “just give me some time to recover.”

“I’m proud of you, Em.” He said as he handed me the clipboard. I took it home, discussed what to do next with my fellow housemates and we went in together. Together we were strong. Together we were powerful. It didn’t feel like we were challenging the whole system on our own.

In a matter of weeks, with the investigation diving in, they found this ranger had done this at two other parks. He was well-versed in sexual harassment and isolating the incident to get away with it. He was immediately terminated from the park and the NPS as a whole. He will never do this again.

Yet why am I writing about this now? With the TIME article coming out this morning, all the hurt and pain of this entire saga of my two most recent seasons re-emerged as I am only a matter of days away from coming up to my conversion period into a permanent ranger. I’m terrified of what this has done to my reputation. I also can’t help to worry about what this has done to G’s career. He’s in deep shit for not doing anything about it and I wish I could say that I don’t care what happens, but I’d be lying if I said that. It does show, however, one blaring reason why I didn’t badger the hell out of him to do something. He’s the main contact on my contract and I didn’t want to do anything to risk a bad rap. I sacrificed my personal space, my body and my sanity to achieve this goal.

But even if this goal isn’t achieved, I can say honestly that I was one of the silence breakers. It kept me up at night, it brought me the closest I’ve ever been to ending my life and it made me question my entire being, of who I was and what I was doing. But because of my voice, because I stood up and refused to be silenced, I saved another ranger, another girl, another woman from going through such hardship. I always find myself trying to do a positive spin on this and I wish I could say I’m proud for being one of the speakers in this case, but what was the cost? It came with a heavy burden that still weighs on my shoulders. But with the ending of this contract and the time at this park, I can close this chapter of my book of life and start fresh somewhere else. There is not enough money in the world to get me to work there again and I’ve finally come to terms with that. I’m ready to move on.

Here’s to all the silence breakers, who were terrified but still made a stand. I stand with you in solidarity and understanding.

#SilenceBreakers #MeToo

Walking Into No Man’s Land

I want to preface this blog post with an explanation of the title. First, and foremost, I am not a World War I historian in any way and have very limited knowledge of the Great War, however, I do understand trench warfare and the deadly space between the two sides known as “No Man’s Land.” But that is not why I decided the title to this post to be this–it is because of the song on the Wonder Woman soundtrack entitled “No Man’s Land.” Historically inaccuracies aside, I absolutely loved Wonder Woman. Diana was such a strong and powerful character while also having a deep heart full of love and compassion at the same time when people were slaughtering each other. Through it all, she perseveres and holds fast.

I am not Wonder Woman and on my way into work about a week ago, I had a massive panic attack. I literally hiccup-sobbed all the way to the visitor center while listening to this song. I pictured myself in the shoes of Diana, literally putting my ranger hat on like a superhero to climb the ladder and walk head on into No Man’s Land. I had been slammed with the pain I had been pushing off and avoiding for months by convincing myself that everything I had been hearing, seeing and experiencing was only in my head. My anxiety and irrational thinking, I thought, was morphing all these things into actions and signs that weren’t really there. I basically convinced myself of the classic “It’s all in your head” argument until now.

The night before, I finally had someone from the staff validate everything I had convinced myself was all my imagination. It was all true and it all hit me at the same time as I crossed into No Man’s Land. To backtrack just a bit, this isn’t just this summer season. As I mentioned previously in Tough Talk: My Mess, I have suddenly become the leper of the staff even before I accepted it myself. Upon my return this season, I vowed I wouldn’t let it get to me, but I had absolutely no idea how adamant my coworkers were about ostracizing me.  I had convinced myself that none of these things were going on until they were finally confirmed:

  1. People were discussing how much they couldn’t stand me/hate me and I did accidentally walk into the room as they cut the conversation, but not before I heard bits, hurtful bits of the conversation.
  2. There were plans made to not only maneuver around me, but also conversations were avoided with me in the room. If I was there, they were whispering to keep me out of it.
  3. There was a gang-like effort to report me and my actions, despite previous authorization from my supervisor, to then have my supervisor come after me because of this report. And finally…
  4. The dislike of me from the park seasonal staff did affect my relationship with my direct supervisor.

Not only did this all come out at once in an evening, but it was finally all confirmed. Everything I felt, thought, saw that I had convinced myself was my imagination was real.

My God, did that hurt. On such a deep, gut-wrenching level. It has taken me over a week to even write this all out, since I had to emotionally recover from basically being told that I was hated. To have this confirmed, that you are hated by so many people you once felt close to, just brings you to your knees. On top of trying to recover from this information, G called me into his office one morning last week and ripped into me. “Someone” on the park staff reported me going to visit B over my weekend, stating “I think Em. is going to visit B and will call in sick on Friday.” To my unfortunate demise, both B and I got horrible food poisoning from a Chinese place we went to for dinner and spent the night on the bathroom floor, which required me to call in. G hammered at me about the “perceptions” I was giving off while still slamming me for information reported to him by my coworkers without context from me. Again, this hurt deeply because of how I addressed my perceptions of what was going on with the seasonal staff and myself with G in July, to which he replied for me to “leave it at home.” He screamed at me for 7 minutes straight and then dismissed me from his office. I went into the stacks in the corner to have the second massive panic attack in one week to then have to recuperate myself and return to the front desk. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

I haven’t felt like I can take a breath in days and, once again, I have not made it a single day without crying.

When this begins to happen, I know I’m just spiraling. My ADHD becomes more aggressive, where my belongings begin to super-scatter, plates don’t make it to the sink and food spoils in the fridge. Eating has become very difficult, since my stomach is twisted into knots.I’m lucky I haven’t picked the shit out of fingernails or heels, which was a previous nervous habit I’ve beaten into submission with a fidget cube I bought to channel that feeling, the constant prickly anxiety into something positive. I’m strong in that regard, but the monster crawling and clawing out of my throat creates this hot, crazy anger that makes me uncomfortable in my own skin. I want to dig my nails in and scratch it all out.

But I don’t. Despite having these very dark thoughts coming to mind, I continue on. I pick up the dishes. I paint my nails a different color and I give my programs. I cry in the National Cemetery while reciting the Gettysburg Address. The emotional power of Lincoln’s words slams into my bitterness, obliterating it while at the same time flaring my love and passion for what I do. It is not for my coworkers that I do this job for. Hell, it’s not even for a “Good job Em.,” from G. It’s for the human stories, the human sacrifice here on this hallowed ground. It’s to connect the visitor to these stories. This all hits me at the same time while standing in front of 20+ people reciting The Gettysburg Address. When I look up, returning back to center, everyone is crying alongside me. It was a powerful and moving moment.

I use these moments to propel me forward, up one more step on my ladder as I return back to No Man’s Land. It hurts and the bullets fly past but I keep walking, even if I’m crying through the whole thing. I keep walking.

Tough Talk: My Mess

It has been a while since I have written, which is a testament to how crazy my life has been over the past few months. I went to trying to make it through my last semester of course work for my Masters degree to suddenly having a job with the National Park Service for the next few months as I finish my thesis and project. I also got engaged (yay!) to B, which couldn’t have been more exciting now that we’ll be starting our lives together once I end my position here.

I can say that B is probably one of the brightest points of my summer so far. I started this summer as a flaming shooting star, burning across my once pitch-black night sky that suffocated my small light that continued to hold on through the downfall of my NPS career. I arrived alive and full of vigor, feeling as though I was going to pound into my tours, programs and talks with such power that I’d be able to get back into the same groove as I did in 2015, before the belittling paranoia born from my graduate school experience. I succeeded through so many of my programs, bringing people to the emotional connection I strived for. But with that emotional connection came many people wanting to tip me for my service and knowledge which I refused to take, out of principle and federal protocol. Instead, I suggested to either donate to our donation box at the front door of our visitor center or write a comment card about their experience so my supervisor and superintendent knew of the success of their staff.

In one tour, I received 4 comments card. Four. That is now the record for the amount of comment cards a ranger has received after one program. Although I received praise from my supervisor, G, I noticed a sudden shift in the seasonals behavior to me. I slowly became the outcast, harshly interrupted or completely ignored while I sat among them. Invitations to go to lunch purposely maneuvered around me and whispering became the main mode of communication in the workroom, which would immediately silence as soon as I swiveled around in my chair. People scoffed at the continuing comment cards that flowed in after every single one of my programs. I led the staff by 6 cards, making the wall of comments mostly about me. It ground the gears of many in the workroom, some not even able to stand to be in the same room as me. The more I noticed, the worse my desk became. The more my things at home began to scatter. The more the fears of annoying my coworkers became apparent, the more I lost track of my things. Annoyed huffs about the state of my desk became more frequent, with my things at the house being piled and/or packed back into my cabinet. This might seem like it’s helping the situation, however, when I’m rushing around in the morning super focused on not arriving late (which, for everyone else, is on time) and I reach for my coffee grounds or breakfast bagels and cannot find them, it just adds to the frantic manner of my rampage to find my things. This makes an even bigger mess, fueling this annoyance and frustration for everyone else. One of my coworkers and friends, who I will refer to as Rosie, has kept up with me, which is something I sincerely appreciate. She has been dedicated to helping me keep track of my items without the ‘I’m secretly judging you’ smirk like the rest of them. I would have been lost without her this summer.

But even with Rosie, a recent run-in with an abuse of my ADHD and openness of it has brought this blog post into the ‘Tough Talk’ category since, no matter how much I wish and obsess over being better, people will always use it as an excuse to treat me differently.

Instead of asking or wondering how they could give some help or useful input, they laugh and make jokes. Instead of having some understanding, they jump to conclusions and hold onto the stigma ADHD carries as automatically making me lazy, crazy, hyper and stupid. Or even, in some cases where open discussion about the battle is, in fact, not open to me since I am less than other rangers due to my disability makes it very difficult to work here sometimes. I have seen it spill over into my tours, with a drop in confidence and my ability to ignore snide passive aggressive statements that come my way every day. Instead of putting myself through this every day, I’ve decided to not only to remove myself from the situation but also to address it to G. I understand that sometimes, there’s nothing he can do about it, however, I wanted him to be aware if he noticed a sudden shift in me, that there was an actual reason. I needed, like I did last summer, some reassurance that I was doing okay. That I wasn’t actually failing because I wasn’t trained or I was rushed through something once and then expected to do it perfectly the next time but don’t. He apologized profusely for letting me down as my supervisor, though I don’t think he has. He has the hardest job at the park and I couldn’t imagine what he has to do just to get up in the morning and return to this place every day. I cried in his office, only the second time in my life where I have become so emotional that I break down in a supervisors office and he seemed to be bothered by it. I am the type of person that can be thrown into any situation and make it work. I’m reliable and easy going, which made this sudden break down probably very surprising. He told me to hang in there, to try and keep my head down and to come to him if I needed anything. I also, finally asked him why the comment cards suddenly disappeared.

In my irrational mind, one of my jealous coworkers ripped them down in a rage because more had been added that were about me. They didn’t understand why I kept getting comments when I wasn’t deserving of it. I kept thinking over and over of how to address it if it was brought up to me, but instead of letting my anxiety-fueled panic attack spiral out of control, I went to G and asked him. “I took them down.” He finally said, giving me a moment of relief that A. He’s not stupid and B. I’m not imagining things. He said he noticed some tension in the workroom surrounding the comment cards and in an attempt to not have a moment like the one we were having in his office, he took them down. It was to protect me and others from each other, which shows the fracturing of our support for one another due to the pressures and stress of this job. I thanked him for being honest with me and I was glad to get a final answer. But that was not the end of this fight.

To save all you readers time and sanity, I had a housemate that was removed from my house due to some inappropriate behavior. Although it was quickly handled and taken care of, recently I have been approached by some of the staff with questions about my ‘mess.’ I didn’t understand why they were asking me about it, it’s not that bad at the moment and honestly, I have felt pretty proud of myself despite the school year starting and the stress level rising. This ex-housemate of mine has been telling everyone that the reason he was removed from the previous living quarters was because of ‘Em and her mess.’

Me and my mess. It was something that played over and over in my head, listening to the questions of just how bad my mess must be if I am now having people be forced to leave because of it. This is not the truth, however, it hurts deeply to watch many of my coworkers believe the story because it totally makes sense. I’m stunned that my ex-housemate, someone I trusted at the beginning of the summer with opening up about the harsh reality I face every day because of my ADHD and the lack of understanding that comes from everyone around me. He claimed to understand and to be there for me if/when it became a problem.

Now he’s using it as an excuse to cover his own ass.

It hurts so deeply to know that people would rather believe a lie than come and talk to me about the truth. I can’t seem to break through this preconceived notion that I am a slob, or that I am lazy. But this abuse of power and abuse of knowledge finally pushed me over the edge to cut a lot of ties with my coworkers and leave them just as that– coworkers. I don’t want to ask them to join me for dinner or to hang out . I’d rather sit alone and color my adult coloring books than worry about ‘friends.’

 

I’ll take my weekends with B and my crazy dog Harriet over fake, rude and inconsiderate people.

#rantover

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