“Never Tell the Same Lie Twice”

Elim Garak, a shifty character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine whose true allegiance could never be determined, said that once in an episode. That’s the lesson he took away from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. To him, the parable wasn’t about being honest and telling the truth so people always believed you, but, from his race’s view — the Cardassians — the moral of the children’s tale was that you should never tell the same lie twice so you never get caught.

I’m not going to lie. My mind has been bouncing between Should I? / Shouldn’t I? In publishing my last two blogs, “The Long Road Back” and “The Monster in My Head“. They went to some low places that, to be brutally honest, have been a strong undercurrent in my life since my depersonalization started around October 2014.

What made me decide to publish them is we are at the start of our biennial course evaluation round at the school. Originally when I started at the school, these evaluations were full of great ideas and good, solid feedback we could rely on to make the place better. Lately, it’s seems like the majority of them are chance to have a massive bitchfest and an anonymous forum to gain vengeance on our team for, well, doing their jobs. (Sure, it sucks to be pulled up because you did a sloppy body massage, but then again, you are an adult, you chose to do a sloppy body massage, and you are paying us to be the best you can be, so you gotta get in the game and face the constructive criticism to improve your performance. You’re not going to get loads of praise from us merely for showing up and doing a half-assed job.) The feedback (because it’s anonymous) has been soul-destroying for all of us. Just really catty comments, including my favorite from the last round: “So you can afford new electric sliding doors but we have to use product that was opened 45 minutes ago?” (Okay, it wasn’t 45 minutes ago, but by the tone, the product could have been opened in front of that student’s face and it would have been “too old” for her.)

In reality, I wanted to say, “Are you so bloody dumb that you can’t work out that a) we don’t own the building, b) students kept hitting the old front doors and the glass kept falling out of them causing a health and safety issue, not to mention a fortune to keep getting repaired, and c) the landlord owns the place and can paint the place puce if he bloody well wants to?” But, well… I didn’t.

In that same round of evaluations, we disallowed 9 forms, which was an absolute all-time record. The majority of those disallowed forms were due to blatant dishonesty; trying to turn the forms in late anonymously by putting them on the front desk on the Monday after the Friday they were due, full of changes in which class the students were from in an attempt to mislead us (honestly, you know what class you are in); another student marking a different course and handing it to a colleague nearly a week late, even though the course she marked graduated 6 weeks beforehand; and marking us down to the lowest marks but not elaborating on why (which is a disqualification in our system).

I was so disappointed that I both emailed and told the students how I felt. I figured that the ones who were guilty would know who they were and hopefully would feel some sort of remorse and not try to pull that kindergarten level crap again. Probably not, but here’s hoping.

On a personal note, I really was very disappointed in the pettiness in the evaluations. It’s to the point where that if I see anyone from those intakes which commented, I honestly have a hard time engaging with them. I did a lot of soul searching after that, and I came to the conclusion that I’m not going to break my back working hard for those people if they don’t appreciate anything we do for them. Why bother if, no matter what we do, it’s not right? I don’t really want to deal with those type of two-faced people, and I know I’m at danger of tarring everyone with the same brush, but when the evaluations came back so negative with such nitpicky comments? Well, it honestly makes you question who you actually should trust.

It brings in further questions of, if we discovered that there were 9 dishonest evaluations there, how many more were we not detecting? How could we ensure that one student didn’t actually turn in 3 evaluations, posing 2 as different class members? We couldn’t. That was a major problem with the system.

This round of evaluations, we made the choice that we would put a cover sheet on each evaluation, even though somebody somewhere might not like it. The cover sheet had the student’s name on it with an ID number, and the ID number was also populated on the footer of each page of the evaluation. The teaching team never usually sees the forms themselves, just the collated results, and this would be no exception. Even if they did manage to see a form, the Ops team (which I am in) would have removed the cover sheet, and since the teaching team doesn’t have immediate access to the ID numbers of the forms, they wouldn’t be able to cross-reference the data.

I’m kinda explaining at this point. Now to the heart of the matter.

One of the current evaluations crossed my desk Monday, and I saw in the comments that one student basically said, “It’s so mean that you asked little Suzie to leave the course because mental illness should be treated the same as physical illness.”

Suzie, obviously, is not the real student’s name.

First off, “little Suzie” never claimed any time she had off was due to mental illness. “Little Suzie” never supplied any medical documentation to say she had a mental illness or any time off due to it, and to my knowledge, she did not declare this on her application or enrolment forms, as she is required to do. As a matter of fact, “little Suzie” had a lot of Fridays and Mondays off, which, in my 22 years as a member of the team, leads me to believe “little Suzie” was partying it up a bit on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night…

When “little Suzie” withdrew from the course, she told my colleague (allegedly) that she had been away so much due to a physical medical issue. Again — and this shouldn’t shock you — no medical evidence on file. And the medical issue she claimed does not appear overnight. Plus we’ve had students with this specific medical condition before, and yep, you guessed it; all of them not only supplied medical proof but also managed to pass the course with a ton less time off than “little Suzie” had taken off.

No, you see, “little Suzie” was asked to leave the course because halfway through the year-long course, she’d already taken 35% of the days to that point off. Yep. She was absent a full 35%, or around 140 hours of the 400 hours in class at that point.

To give you an idea of our expectations, we (at maximum) allow 10% off of the total 800 hours, so 80 hours, and once a student is over 40 hours, the other 40 have to have medical certificates or other evidence (bereavement, for example) to excuse the student or she is told she cannot qualify.

If “little Suzie’s” pattern had continued had we let her continue in the course, she would have missed 280 hours of the 800 hours in total, a whopping 200 hours, or 10 weeks’ worth of classes, or 50 days’ worth of classes, or 100 learning sessions’ worth of classes, more than what is allowed, even if she’d coughed up the 40 hours’ worth of medical certificates or documented leave information.

Overall, she would have missed 12 weeks’ worth of classes (out of 40 weeks), or 60 days’ worth of classes, or 120 learning sessions’ worth of classes. Wow.

We’re preparing our students for the workforce. Any person who took 35% of their working year off? Well, I’m pretty sure that person would be looking for a new job because their employer probably wouldn’t put up with that level of absenteeism.

So to hear that we were “being mean” because “little Suzie” has mental health issues that we should be sympathetic towards? It kinda pissed me off a little.

I have been working my butt off to recover from depersonalization and all the crap I have been through mentally over the last nearly 4 years, and, if we throw the earthquakes in, over the last 7+ years.

In those nearly 4 years, I can probably count the number of days I have had off due to depersonalization — and indeed, depression, which I was diagnosed with when I was 14 as a “low functioning depression” — on one of my hands, if that.

People deal with mental health issues differently; I get that. That’s okay. There’s sometimes no “right” answer to deal with things like that but the “best way for you” to deal with it. And it’s not a case of who has the worst case of whatever-itis. That’s not my point.

In this case though, it rubbed me up the wrong way, mainly because I feel it’s codswallop. “Little Suzie” is an adult. She’s responsible for her actions. She needs to step up and take responsibility for her actions (or inactions). And, it appears that “little Suzie” has been throwing every mental and physical condition she can at a wall and hopes one sticks so people feel she’s somehow been wronged. I’m probably being overly cynical here, but I’m waiting for the big C word to be thrown into the ring next.

(It brings me to the musical movie version of Hairspray. In it, a group of African Americans, accompanied by the title character Tracy Turnblad, march on the local television station. There’s a police blockade by the station. Because the protesters are black, the police ignore them, so Tracy pokes the police chief with her placard and says, “Excuse me!” The police try to arrest her, but the protesters lock arms to protect her, and she manages to escape. The news reports and further character interjections build to the point where Tracy’s love interest Link shows up at her parents’ house, stating, “…I overheard it on the news. I can’t believe Tracy savagely bludgeoned an Eagle Scout. That’s just not like her.” That’s the kind of campaign of misinformation we seem to be dealing with from “little Suzie”.)

I personally have been rocking up to work, in whatever mood or mental state I am in — depressed or okay or excellent, depersonalized or moderately detached or connected — and manage to force my way through my day as the “little Suzies” we have enrolled expect me to do. I am not always the strongest person and I struggle (I’m not going to lie) but somehow I summon the willpower to get my ass out of bed, shower, shit and shave, and get myself to work each day, and seriously, if I can do it, anyone can.

And, like the dreaded “bullying” word, “mental health” is bandied around a bit too freely as well. It’s vague and sometimes unmeasurable, so, sadly, sometimes it’s used as a convenient scapegoat.

What some of these kids don’t realise is that most of us at the school? Well, this ain’t our first rodeo.

Claims like this really diminish the power behind crushing the stigma of mental illnesses because they sometimes aren’t real. False claims make people question, and then it muddies the issue a lot more. One fraud casts every claim in a diminished light.

So, like the possible attempt to mislead on the course evaluations, the accusation that we, and therefore by extension I, somehow have no understanding of mental illness and health, and through my actions I allegedly knowingly caused further mental anguish to an already mentally fragile person, makes me feel quite uneasy and a bit angry too. Because, to be honest, it’s full of assumptions and mistruths.

I decided to speak out, to tell my truth, which is verifiable and documented, in order to demonstrate that the struggle can be real and raw and bore to the core of a person. Because if I can save one life, speak to one person who is truly suffering in one shape or another, and make them feel somehow less alone and more “normal”? It’s a job well done.