Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Maybe it's me

Yesterday during supervision, I was told that my emails appear "abrasive" to a coworker, and I come across as very easy to upset so that people feel they have to walk on eggshells around me.

The "abrasive" email in question:

Oversensitive Coworker, I was very surprised to learn in clinical meeting that my client AR disclosed a relapse into heroin use during a group you covered “sometime this year” (in your own words). Since AR has undergone several medical procedures for which he was administered opiate painkillers, and brought in what appeared to be supporting documentation, he has always had “proof” that the positive toxicology results were due to a legitimate prescription.

I checked his chart, but I cannot find the group note in which you documented this disclosure. I would greatly appreciate it if you could provide me with a copy so that when I see him tomorrow, I can address this relapse with him.

Concerning my client FN, whom we briefly discussed yesterday: if you are uncomfortable having him in the marijuana group because you find his behavior odd or inappropriate – and I agree with you that clients should not be allowed to sleep during group – please remove him from the roster. I will revise his schedule and address this problem with the client and the referral source.

Thank you, Ayelet

Abrasive? No. Passive-aggressive? Maybe a little. I've been struggling with this co-worker for a while. OC is not supposed to place clients in other counselors' groups without notice, and she does. OC had my client FN in her group for many weeks without realizing that his odd presentation is in fact due to a serious psychotic illness (he was being seen by an incompetent student intern before they put him on my caseload, a mess I'm still cleaning up). She saw his behavior as weird, but not psychiatric. Incompetent much? Same goes for not telling me immediately when my client disclosed using heroin. (He denies it, and since she didn't give me a copy of the group note, I can't remind him of what else was discussed that day to jog his memory.)

I've also complained to her several times that her clients are behaving inappropriately in my groups (leaving their cell phones on, sleeping, etc.). When I've done that with other counselors, they've agreed to speak to the clients, which usually leads to improved behavior. For the longest time OC just said, "I don't know why you just don't tell them to leave, Ayelet."

Um, because when I do you then lacerate me in clinical meeting for removing clients from my group? (To her credit, OC just now asked me how her pain in the neck clients behaved yesterday, and said she'd talk to the one who was texting and sleeping during group.)

So I'm being undermined in several ways. And I'm upset about it. I have an unpleasant meeting with another co-worker scheduled for tomorrow, and I'm dreading it. Mr. Princess Crybaby has been nasty and hostile to me since I started here, and I'm sick of it. I've complained and complained, and nothing has been done, so he's never changed his behavior. Even though I've helped several of his clients access services they need and he didn't know enough about to make a referral.

It irks me that my supervisor seems more bothered by my perceived abrasiveness and emotional fragility than MPC's outright hostility and harassment. Which is why I've started looking at how to report him to OASAS, which licenses CASACs and substance abuse treatment programs, and the NYS Department of Education, which licenses mental health counselors. (MPC has his CASAC and master's in mental health counseling and is planning to take his licensing exam this fall.)

I spoke to the assistant clinical director, Eduardo, in whom I safely confide; he reciprocates, and we have a good rapport. Showed him the "abrasive" email. Asked if he felt he needs to walk on eggshells around me.

"The only way that email would be considered abrasive would be if the person already had a problem with you," he said. "Don't let another person's negative opinion of you become your opinion of yourself."

But I'm starting to wonder: why do I have so many problems wherever I go? I had problems with people at The Bad Place, my social work school, and the office where I used to work before I was transferred. Maybe it's me. What am I doing wrong?

The latest on my landlady: she called on Monday to ask me if I want another apartment in the building. This after her attorney sent me a letter demanding I pay the rent "arrears" (money I deducted for the days I couldn't stay in the apartment due to the rats) and blaming me for the rat infestation because I allegedly hoard garbage in the apartment. Which isn't true. I would never claim that the apartment is immaculate, but it's not a breeding and socializing ground for rodents.

So I sent her this email:

Thank you for calling and offering me another apartment at the same rent and under the same lease conditions.

On the advice of my attorney, however, I must reiterate that I refuse to pay the $764.15 you and your attorney have termed "rent arrears.” I withheld a very reasonable amount of money to cover the time when the apartment was uninhabitable. I would have been justified had I chosen to move into a hotel during October and November 2009 or April 2010, instead of trying not to incur excessive costs by staying with friends—which led to great stress and inconvenience for me.

When I initially reported seeing another rat on April 7, 2010, you told me that I needed to let the exterminator into my apartment and all you were required to do was give me his phone number. This is not true. When I spoke with the Department of Health and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, they clearly stated that the landlord is obligated to provide a rodent-free environment. The landlord cannot compel me to take time off work and lose income in order for the rodent infestation to be dealt with.

The Department of Health did not attribute the rat infestation to what your attorney terms the “dirty and unsanitary condition” of my apartment. (I have requested a copy of the May 5, 2010 inspection report and attach a copy of their response; the report itself is forthcoming.) I am not “storing unsealed food items on the counter top of [my] kitchen” and I have not “allowed garbage and junk to accumulate throughout the apartment.” In October 2009, after the rat infestation began, I cleaned out accumulated books, papers, and other dry non-food materials from the apartment, but there was never any “junk, trash and garbage” that would have attracted rodents.

I object to your attorney's characterization of my apartment as being in violation of my lease, and the characterization of my behavior as being “in an objectionable manner.” The kitchen and bathroom are not creating the conditions that attracted the rodents. Since my apartment is directly above the garbage cans and my windows were open the night they entered my apartment, they were able to chew through the screens and gain access.

In summary: I am willing to move into the new apartment at the same base rent and under the same lease conditions, but I refuse to pay what you and your attorney term “rent arrears.”

I met with attorneys from the Department of Housing Preservation, which regulates rent-stabilized apartment buildings, and followed their advice concerning how to phrase things (the quotes are taken from her attorney's letter to me) and what my rights are (not to pay rent for days when I could not inhabit the apartment because the rats were). She responded:

I am willing to waive the rent arrears of $764.15 ...we will sign a lease over the weekend... you will be given one week to move into the new apt..... Leave all garbage and unwanted items and unwanted food in apt 3B. CHECK ANY BOXES OR BAGS BEFORE YOU BRING INTO NEW APT. Pay your rent for your current apartment for June.

Right now I'm a little too upset to respond. A week to move? I work! I haven't packed anything! I forwarded the email to JV to get his take on it, but if anyone else has a suggestion, I'm all ears.

Just got an email from another co-worker -- one at the site where I used to work. I'm the dual diagnosis program coordinator for all of our Brooklyn clients, and one of my responsibilities is scheduling appointments with the psychiatrist.

I used to schedule the appointments before counselors in the other office sent in a referral form with basic background information on the client (demographics, treatment history, past and current substance use, etc.). Without that the psychiatrist is doing a blind evaluation and doesn't know what to look for and what to ask. If someone seems paranoid, is that because he's got schizophrenia or becuase he's currently using cocaine and/or marijuana?

I created what I thought was a very simple form for the other office to use. But they weren't using it, and the psychiatrist couldn't do a good evaluation (she has the chart for clients from our office, but not the others). So I stopped making appointments for them until I actually got the referral form. Which meant some unpleasant phone calls: "No, I'm sorry, I can't schedule the appointment until I get the form from you."

Today I received one in my inbox, with the following message:

Hey Ayelet: I hope that you are doing well, and have a smile on your face. Stay as nice as you are.

I can't tell if she's being serious because last month I complimented her for completing the form so thoroughly and sending it to me so quickly, or if she's walking on eggshells.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"


  1. Ayelet,

    There is nothing wrong with you. Like me, people probably sense that you are thin skinned and they can 'get' to you easily. So they do.

    One practical suggestion I would make though is never put things in writing if you can talk to the person instead--especially if there is the potential for them to be misconstrued. At my last job we had a communications coach in who emphasized this. We all prefer email because it is more efficient and it's easier than dealing face to face with unpleasant people but sometimes it's not the way to go.

    In a similar vein I would not file that formal complaint against your supervisor.

    Didn't you say you were looking for a job? Swallow your pride, check your emotions, make some conciliatory statements--and then get the hell out.

    As far as the landlady: tell her you need two weeks. You can do it in that time, especially if she gives you access to the apt so you can move things up there in the evenings. Then take one day off from work to do a big packing job. Together with weekends, that should suffice. You sorted thru stuff recently w/the rats anyway, and you are moving within the building so there are no boxes to deal with in any case. I know it seems daunting, but the BF and I will help!

    Call me if you need to talk further. Sending lots of hugs your way.

  2. Thanks for the advice and the offer to help me move. I forgot to mention that I'm having the colposcopy on June 10, so I won't be able to do much in the way of moving that day or probably for a few days after that. Two weeks will probably be enough time, but I'm not starting the clock until JV and I review the lease and I'm fully recovered from the procedure.

  3. Also, the complaint would be against the abusive co-worker, not the supervisor. And I'd mention something to the agency director -- who explicitly told me to let him know if co-workers were interfering with my ability to do my job -- before going outside the agency.

  4. Mention it to the agency director, by all means--but again, don't put it in writing if you can help it. Request a meeting with the director instead. Believe me, these things can come back to haunt you. It's not worth taking the risk, even if you are right--especially if you are planning to leave anyway. I know that bites.

  5. Don't do anything to destroy another person's career.