Sunday 26th June 2022

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.

21/51.#LifeThisWeek. Telling My Story. Chapter Fifteen. 2003. 42/2020.


Background…from Telling My Story: Chapter Fourteen published in February 2020.

The story behind Telling My Story is this: I began in May 2017 and then was diagnosed with cancer. I had a lengthy break and returned to the plan to keep on documenting my life, one blog post at a time. Here is the link to the page where they all are now. I also shared this as My Woman of Courage story here.

Where was I?

OK. I know. I was a K-6  school principal.

It was in September 2002 when I could not return to my school.

I was sad, ashamed and very tired as there were different outcomes for me personally and us financially.

But I also had some good things happening in my personal life. I will get to them too.

Life is LIKE that!

Cancer. Leaving My Role as a Principal.

Doctors, Psychologists, WorkCover, Staff Welfare, Dept of Education, Psychiatrists…..

When the school principal is told by her G.P. “you are not to return to that school, nor to be in that role again”, it felt both comforting and helpful.

I had been a patient of my G.P. for decades and she had been doctor to our growing family including my husband and me so knew what else had probably impacted my life as well as school and its responsibilities.

But even before that…the night before, I was left to try to tell my acting boss – who was known then as a District Superintendent, that I would not be going into school the next day…and for sometime after that but he did not understand.

Eventually I must have made inroads into his understanding, after seeing my G.P. who immediately saw this as a work overload matter making me both depressed and anxious. The employer had not taken steps to see me better supported in my school. I told that story in the last chapter.


Days into Weeks into Months.

What started as ‘sick leave’ did become workers compensation leave over the next month as I took myself to appointments and interviews.

I had to share my story (see the recent two chapters here & here) and my employer’s representative agreed that yes, there was a case for me to be compensated under Work Cover. In other words, I was paid via that scheme and did not lose sick leave.


I could not and would not attend a school.

It was suggested at meetings that I could transition back to schools but did nothing to improve my mental wellbeing. In fact they made me even more anxious. Then I was offered, later in the year, the chance to ‘work in district office.’ Noooo. I felt such shame and was so anxious about seeing any of my colleagues that I could not envisage any kind of “return to work.”

And…it did not let up.

My mental illness, as it was defined later by a treating psychiatrist, was a reactionary one based on my personality and my role in the school.

It would, over time, resolve but there was medical agreement with my G.P., the employer’s rep and that of work cover, that I could return to “a school” for some days a week but never in the role of a school executive.

In 2003 all that felt like for me was:

F A I L U R E.


How I Was Affected By Schools.

Before I continue.

I lived about (then) 40 minutes from the school. I love schools! It had been my life…as a kid and then becoming a teacher and of course, having our children and grandchildren attend schools.

But, I was so scared, worried, ashamed and threatened by “schools” I could not even drive on the road (Windsor Road) that would have been my way to my school without feeling ill.

I was a proud (still am) Grandma but my first foray into the grounds of the school where our daughter was a teacher and our granddaughter in an Infants’ class made me highly alert.

I still felt I was the principal within that school, watching children running everywhere and wanting to tell them to stop. It was not fun. At all.

But, I was also not a victim….and I refuse to play that role any time.

I did know though that I was ill from the stress of my role in a school and so I took the chance to get the help of professionals and did a lot of work for myself. This involved seeing a friend each week for a coffee and over time, driving on the road that went to my school…and one holiday time, I went back and drove around the perimeter. I was sad and it felt wrong that I had to leave it as I did but I also know my health was paramount.

3 amazing grandkids who love me unconditionally and their presence in my lives helped me in this awful time.


Giving Up The Role For the Greater Good. 

Despite the urging of my bosses, the meetings with the work cover people and my professionals who agreed I would choose to do what I had to, I could not return to school. Or any school.

What then?

To ensure the school was able to progress into 2003 from my day of departure in September 2002 I relinquished my role.

It could then be advertised for a replacement principal. I was visited at home sometime after that by my then school office assistant who had brought me any personal items from my office and some cards and I recall getting flowers.

I was a sad but relieved person that not everyone ‘hated me’ there.

Photos remind me of my literal ups and downs re weight. Far right, 2003,I was ‘looking good’ but feeling awful inside.


But, How Will We Survive Financially?

At this stage of our lives as a couple, we had a mortgage on the house, my husband was in part-time work and I brought in a good salary as a school principal. Work cover continued to pay that but over time, as I stood my ground about not returning to the Department of Education  because of my health things got tricky for us financially.


Don’t Give Up Your Superannuation People!

I married my husband (teacher in NSW Dept of Education) in 1971 and in 1972, as I returned to work after maternity leave we made a short-term financial decision that would (still does!) affect us negatively. Back then as both of us was paying into the then BEST ever Super Fund “I” could opt out and save us some much needed dollars. We spoke to my accountant father about this who, it seems, saw this as a win….and over time, agrees “NOT right”.

The reason is this. None of us knew then that  by 1980 my husband’s health would deteriorate to the point that he was medically retired and was placed on a pension from the Super Fund. I was working then and continued to do so, but still had no super. At all.

It was in around 1985 again, my father who advised I try to get back into superannuation. Made sense but nope, I could not.

Once opted out, I was not allowed in….but wait “we have a new fund and you can join that”.

I did. The new fund was different but I did pay into it. I had a sizeable lump sum there in 2003 when I was making up my mind how to access it. Aged 52.


Getting Paid Out. Not Easy. At All.

By the beginning of 2003 and into the first few months, I was being harrassed strongly encouraged by my employer and work cover to ‘get back to work’.

Let me tell you now, it was worse in some ways than how I had to leave my job.

Phone calls, meetings…doctors’ appointments, psychological testing…so, with the agreement of my G.P. I decided to “medically retire”.

Um. No. There is no such thing now.

The new and subsequent super funds that took the money from  NSW Dept of Education teaching staff only ever paid out a lump sum IF you were declared NOT FIT TO WORK and you have to RESIGN first.

No pension…and YOU need to prove you are not fit for work.

  1. For someone like me, a dedicated and loyal employee from 27.1.1970 to HAVE to resign was C for crazy but we were P for poor when my salary was being slowly stopped
  2. I filled out the form. It was awful. I also added, though, that I wanted “approval to teach”. I did not want any issues in case I wanted to ever have a day as a casual teacher. I would be pleased I did.
  3. It was accepted. Leave paid out.
  4. I was now free of the dreaded work cover requirements
  5. Got all the forms from the State Super People and completed them…along with the documentation from my G.P. and others.
  6. Attended one of the most stressful appointments ever with a psychologist from State Super and was obliged to complete a 500 question survey to assess my mental health and ability to work.
  7. Found out my application to access my funds  was “Rejected” after that horrid experience.
  8. You are still fit to work according to our rules.
  9. “Dejected” and now time, finally, for me to get some legal help.
  10. My union, N.S.W. Teachers Federation, were wonderful once I got to outline to a welfare officer what had happened.
  11. She arranged a meeting (free) with their lawyers and they heard the rejection story and saw the documentation from the State Super Board.
  12. The lawyer took my information, along with the State Super letters and my reports and so on and sent off the missives that….eventually allowed me to:
  13. Access all of the funds as a lump sum
  14. And retain my right to return to part-time teaching work if I chose.

We paid off this house….


Relieved. Getting Better. Breaking My Ankle. Retirement Means This. 

From paying out the mortgage there was a big sigh of relief.

There was also a relatively good amount of money from leave entitlements and by June we decided to “splurge” on a Far North Queensland holiday for 2. We even got a car to drive us to the airport. That was cool. But I must say, for my poor husband whose spine is very damaged from surgeries and more, the flight in economy for over 3 hours was not a good one at all. I was OK but he was not. We picked up the hire car and I drove via the Captain Cook Highway on that most beautiful trip: from Cairns to Port Douglass. Disappointingly though the apartment was accessed by a series of flights of stairs and by the time we got inside, my husband admitted “I cannot fly back like that”. My pain is too much. I agreed. So, the luxury of a return trip by business class meant comfort but took a huge amount of money to obtain so the holiday’s effect was negated! His health was worsening from the load of high school teaching which he took on after the business was liquidated in 1996 so, retirement was his plan too.

We were OK financially without a mortgage but by the time I had a few months at home I sought an art class (it was great) and became a volunteer with the Smith Family. It was around November after I had been answering the phones for them for people requesting Christmas Hampers that I had an accident. At home.

It was a rainy afternoon, I parked on the sloping driveway and as I got out of the car, one foot slipped, and the rest of me came with it, twisting my right ankle badly. I tried to call to my husband – from the letterbox…on the driveway and he did not hear, so I crawled up and made it inside.

Not wanting to over-dramatise it..but I should have actually…I waited for my husband to have a cuppa and we drove to the local medical centre.

Rooky error. I literally had to hop from the car with my good foot as the very sore foot could not weight bear. Oh. The G.P. agreed that X-rays were needed and they had that facility there. After the X-ray showed broken bones, it was “off to local private hospital” because this needs specialist attention.

Long story short: back slab applied, in-hospital stay, saw preferred orthopaedic specialist, “we will operate tomorrow and pin the fibula and tibia”. He did. I came home needing a wheelchair around the house as I couldn’t use crutches (hands needed surgeries for carpal tunnel etc) and I was stuck. The best part was shortly before Christmas at a check up I got a fibreglass cast and then could shower and even get in our pool but getting out was too hard.

Oh, and about that fibula of mine…I did get the screws out sometime in 2004 and in 2017…guess where that fibula went….HERE: The upside down U shape. My fibula cut into 3 with abutments added.

New Jaw is seen here

This sure was a year, 2003.

We did have a lot on our plate between us. But we also had a great family supporting us with care and love and three grandchildren to bring joy. The next year 2004 would prove to be significant too but with some great stories that helped re-build me in many ways.

Grandkids helping me, newly without plaster, to stand up!

Just after my cast came off, a celebration for my Dad’s 80th birthday.

Let’s see what Chapter Sixteen will bring!

Thank you for reading my story started over 3 years ago.

I do print the blog pages out and have them in a folder for future readers.

What were you doing in 2003?

It seems not that long ago, but of course it is 17 years ago!



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  1. What a year that was for you, Denyse. I’m glad you had the support and options you needed to overcome a difficult time.

    • It was indeed. Thank you for your kind words, Natalie.

      2004 saw things improve!! Next Chapter will share more.

      Take care,


  2. This sounds like a very difficult year Denyse. So many memories here. I hope thinking about them wasn’t too stressful for you.

    • Yes it was indeed and over time, the memories became less worrisome but that comes with the responsibility I took on to make that happen.

      It was very rough looking back for quite a few years but it has become far less prominent in my whole of life perspective these days, Jennifer! Writing it out has helped me a great deal..blogging is good therapy!

      Take care,

  3. Oh my Denyse, it all sounds so harrowing! I hope you’re OK reliving these times although I understand, all too well, how writing things down can help at times! I’m so glad TFed got involved and helped you out, they really are a great Union to belong to. I smiled at the cup of tea before going to seek medical help – reminds me of someone I know!! It really is a full on life story and I applaud you for documenting it as you are! Take care x

    • Yes Debbie it was indeed.

      So much so, as I outlined, even the mention of school and likelihood of seeing anyone from that school or my past colleagues was very triggering. However, with time, good strategies of my own and others learned from therapists, I moved on. It was not easy but as I said I don’t play the victim and knew it was up to me.

      Thank goodness for our Union. It was amazing how that help from them could unlock all that was needed. I was never trying to ‘get my money’ unlawfully but there was no way I could return to the role as “the super people” saw it.

      Anyway, Chapter 16 will bring what happened to change things for the better.

      Take care,


  4. The biggest flaw I see in recovery “strategies” is that “BACK TO WHAT IT WAS ASAP” feels incredibly outdated and unhelpful and takes NOTHING into account. It assumes every work place is healthy and positive and supportive. I understand the concept of “back to it” but frankly, it feels outright immature.

    2003 was the year after I finished high school and I think I was in the UK then? Time is blurry 🙂

    • This may indeed be familiar to you as I watched what was expected of you by your employers last year and all that went on….

      I found the stress of the work cover expectations worsened by symptoms and prolonged what I felt.

      In the end, as I did for my health’s sake, I left the Dept to access the Super (which was not easy) as it was a better than worse alternative than staying with them and taking those phonecalls to “be back on duty”.

      I actually understand it is far worse now for anyone trying to leave an education role because of stress/workoverload….and that is really sad!

      Time is blurry, I agree. I tend to remember via my kids & grandkids years of birth and schools where I worked.

      Hope you are feeling a bit better today.

      Take care

  5. Wow, this sounds like it was such a hard year for you. I’m so glad you made it through with the support you had.

  6. At last Denyse, I can access your website! A very stressful time for you Denyse – what experiences you have had. It is good to be able to revisit hurtful or difficult times in our lives and perhaps have a different perspective than when we were going through the experience. Have a lovely week and thanks for #lifethisweek.

    • Good news Sue. Glad you are back.

      Yes it was a very hard time, but blogging is a great therapeutic tool and it helps me leave that past where it is.

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Take care,

  7. What a year that was Denyse and much of it is similar to my own experience which you know. So as I read it I could feel the emotions, the shame, the anxiety etc. Such bad luck to have that fall on top of it all though! Have a wonderful week! xo

    • Oh MIn, yes I know we shared similar stories…and we have a bond that we understand each other very well indeed as a result.

      The shame factor has dwindled now for me in the past 3 years..I guess having to take on the cancer I was diagnosed with helped me there.

      Thank you so much for your sharing too over the years and understanding.

      Take care,

  8. I think I missed the last chapter. I will pop back. But I just wanted to say, good for you for taking the dr seriously and pushing ahead. I think so often people don’t. I’m sorry the Super turned into such a fiasco. How awful.

    • Better look…lol. The 2 chapters before this outline my first 2 years at RPS, then the final two years where a lot of the reasons for my health breakdown emerged…for example…an AP who had been moved to another school at the director’s and my request “came back one afternoon at the end of the day and went to my computer to try to access files”. Told the cleaner I had said he could. Ummm NO.

      Yes the doctor did understand me and to be honest, I had been through much more as my husband’s health was compromised so when I ‘broke’ she took over. In hindsight I would have loved to have returned to the school…but that is my view about 15 years later!!

      The superannuation. Oh. Yes. So regrettable.

      Take care,

  9. That was certainly a traumatic year for you Denyse – and I can see why you understand so well what I was going through as I was so beaten down by my boss’s wife and all that went with that horrible job. I’m glad I didn’t fight for the sick leave and stress leave that I should have received – I don’t think I had it in me to do that at the time – it’s so distressing to have to go into battle for what you are entitled to. Good on you for winning your war and coming out with some financial security (my boss didn’t even pay out my last bit of annual leave – and I couldn’t be bothered fighting for it!)

    • Thanks so much Leanne. Yes, we did put our mental and emotional health first leaving those workplaces. I understand it well.

      We were once told by a barrister that all fighting for rights does is put you in the public eye and then the lawyers get the money.

      I don’t know how bosses can act like yours did.

      I think there is dignity in leaving and not looking back.

      Take care,


  10. What a difficult year for you. I feel sad for you that the way you left school was overshadowed with your feeling of failure and that all the good that you achieved as principal was not acknowledged. Would you have wanted a send off of some kind? So much for you to come to terms with that year and so much stress too! I think that’s a testament to how strong and resilient you are!

    Fun fact: in 2003 I was in Australia for 6 months and went back to the UK while I waited for my visa application to go through! In those days, you couldn’t be in Australia when the visa was granted.

    • Thanks so much Sam, it was awful. In fact, I was given a pretty pathetic farewell by some women who worked at district office and i had to FIGHT to get my due: a retirement medal. And then they got the dates wrong.

      I missed seeing some of the women who were at my school, working in the office and supporting students and I got nice cards from them. However, my Dr had also insisted that school not contact me so in some ways hearing from anyone was out of the question.

      Fast forward to December 2018 when, through a chance twitter remark about service to student medallions, I was given the farewell from the Dept of Education that meant a great deal. I wrote about it on the blog.

      Wow you were back and forthing in 2003. Glad you came back…Aussie!

      Take care,

  11. Oh my – that was one thing after another. It must have felt so traumatic. It took real courage & resilience to fight for what you were entitled to. I look back to how Grant’s employer treated him & what we walked away from because the alternative was to be dragged through industrial court.

    • Thanks so much Jo. It took all my energies to do what I did and family and a few good friends were very supportive but leaving my school (and colleagues around the area) was very tough on me socially too.

      Over time as I continue the story you can read what happened to me then. Much better times were ahead.

      As for your husband. I so feel for you both but wise words from a barrister we knew was when B was forced to medically retire was ‘don’t go to court as it will mean you will be under surveillance and not much money will come to you as it will go on lawyers’ fees.” So B took the pension option….and I have to say, also slid into an awful depression for a couple of years but came good too.

      Take care…and for all of us..Onward!


  12. Denyse, it must have been painful to revisit that difficult time of your life. Thank you for reflecting on that time and the decisions both made for and by you and the impact that they all have had on your life.

    You are a woman of strength and resilience.

    SSG xxx

    • Thank you kindly SSG.

      I could not have published this for quite some years because of the shame and failure factors.

      I did a post about it all quite a few years back and education people read it (I did not use names) and every single one understood what had happened.

      The shame of it was very hard to bear but I left that a while back.

      Managing my health journey with cancer has enabled me to call on wisdom and strength again and I think coming out of the breakdown in 2003 and doing more later helped too.

      Take care,

  13. 2003 must have been an awful year for you and your husband! I love how you began your post with the “Sometimes the Things That Hurt You Most…” graphic. It sums up your determination, courage and resolve.

    Sharing your story with your blog family will certainly help people who are in desperate situations and we all get there at some point in our life, although not always as dramatic as your situation. Bless you for soldiering on and making a positive result from a very negative situation. You are indeed a “Woman of Courage”.

    • Yes it was and thank you for your kind understanding.

      You are does help me to share more here because of the blog family (love that!) and their care of me as well as each others. It’s why I blog; to connect! We find it hard these days for any kind of get togethers in person so on-line is a treasured space for me.

      I am very much supported now by so many and life is, for how things are in COVID and post-Cancer days….GOOD!

      Sending my best wishes to you and yours…

      Take care,