23 March: I am meeting my union rep today to conclude work on my grievance submission. On my way to work, I call in to see Dr Cumin. I have not been sleeping well for months. My blood pressure was so high the last time I saw her that I have not taken my readings in, because I know the readings will just make me feel worse. She takes a reading at the start of my appointment: sys 192, dia 110, pulse 96.
She is not happy, and discusses a range of issues, from my relationship with my partner Dominic through to the problems I have had at work. Towards the end of my session she takes my blood pressure again, and it is marginally down on her last reading. She says I have severe work-related stress and I need to take some time off. I explain about the grievance and the changes in staff at the university, the undermining of my work and indifference to my past achievements. She wants me to take a month off work and to see a counsellor. She is anxious about my physical and mental health. I explain I have to go in to file my grievance and she accepts I should go ahead with that, but then I should go home and rest. I agree.
I go into work and Colin Horrocks is waiting as I arrive at my office. I explain that I have been signed off sick. He goes through several set questions. I explain to Colin that I had pointed out to Helen Murr that I was having sleepless nights and suffering from stress several weeks ago in a memo, and I retrieve a copy off my computer. He is concerned that I was not referred to occupational health and recommends that this is included in the grievance. Within an hour, the key points are documented and we send a hard copy to Human Resources via internal mail along with my sick note.
I then go home and feel completely disheartened. Dominic is out overnight at a conference in London and the children are being dropped off at about 8pm after a party. At 7pm I pop out to do a quick shop and decide to get some nice wine. I know it goes against the good health regime I should be thinking about, but it will help me crash out. Even though it’s chemically induced, I will feel better after a few glasses. I’m driving back when I spot Marcus, Helen and Gail all coming out of a church laughing and smiling. I am slowing down at the traffic lights and worry they will spot me. I’m in a panic, but the lights change just in time. My heart is racing and I cannot imagine what my blood pressure is up to.
I get in the house. I’m in a state. They were all together, laughing and smiling and coming out of a church together. What the fuck is going on? Do they hate me because of my Darwin fish badge on my wall? Is all this because I am an atheist? Thoughts race through my head. They were all together… I’m not paranoid; they were together. I’m being absurd. Calm down, I tell myself. I’m in a daze until the kids get back. I perform the most perfunctory of parental duties and sort them out for bed, still thinking about what I saw.
I try to rationalise it: it’s just like people from the union getting together and being seen, or Labour Party members, or any other organisation. It’s just my prejudice. I’m being melodramatic about it… there are no conspiracies… it’s all a coincidence. I open the wine and try to watch some trashy TV, but my heart’s not in it. I get a little drunk and check my computer. Another ad about the research launch that should have been mine, and confirmation from HR about my grievance. I open the grievance document and read through it and feel I want to do something more to make an impact. I go into clip art and find some Easter chicks, paste them to the document and then send it to Helen, Marcus and Gail, the lovely Gail. An early Easter present!!! I click “send” and laugh to myself. Well, that will be something nice to open in the morning. I finish the bottle of wine and drift off to bed.
24 March: I awake at 7.30 the following morning, with a terrible hangover, to a call from Dominic. I tell him I have been signed off work with stress and he sounds relieved. As I am talking to him, I recall the email I sent to Marcus, Helen and Gail. I suddenly recall what I have done. I get the children sorted out for school, drop them off and return home. I pace about, not knowing what to do next. But I hear nothing all day. Dominic arrives home and takes over sorting the kids out. Perhaps it’s all gone OK. They would have got the grievance information anyway…
25 March: Dominic takes care of the kids. I have the chance to sleep in but I’m too anxious. At 10.40am I check my work emails. My worst nightmare – there is an email from human resources titled LETTER OF SUSPENSION.
“Please find a copy of a letter of suspension I have sent to you by first-class post today. This letter confirms that senior staff at this university will undertake a pre-investigation meeting in order to ascertain whether your recent correspondence by email to staff in your division requires a full disciplinary hearing. As of this date you are suspended from work until further notice. You cannot use your work email, you cannot enter work premises, you cannot discuss any matters associated with work or socialise with any individuals employed by this university. Failure to comply with these directives may result in further disciplinary action.”
I just stare at the computer screen, I’m in a dream… you stupid, stupid woman, I think to myself, what have you done? Your doctor signs you off sick, you take out a grievance and become suspended all in the space of a few days. I lower my head to the floor. It cannot get any worse… can it?
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