Tuesday 24th November 2020

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.

But….

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!

Denyse.

 

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