Minerva is 27 years old and has an incomplete BA, a Veterinarian Technician certificate, and significant student debt.  She is working as a Vet Tech but planning to train as a nurse next fall because she can’t earn enough in her present vocation to be financially independent.  She is close to her multi-generational family, whom she describes as an established family of profile in the community, and has some concern that she reflects badly on them, in adolescence by having a  ‘public’ mental health episode, and perhaps at present with her choice of boyfriend.  Her social relationships have been somewhat fraught.  

FM: So start with a bit about your family – where you were raised, what they did for a living, who was in the family, etc

I’m from a family of 5; I’m the youngest of 3 kids.  I have an older sister and older brother.  My older brother has autism.  I grew up in a small town of Riverville, born in Littletown.  Went to elementary and high school here.  Mom has had a variety of jobs – she’s done everything from retail to hospitality – she worked at [a resort].  She’s an accountant and now works for a government agency.  Dad’s been forever an engineer, as long as I’ve been around or longer.  My sister – she’s a very bright individual – wish I was as bright as she is.  She has gone off to do a variety of things – went to university, several universities, has lots of letters after her name, and – I call her the walking encyclopedia.  My brother works for my dad, has ever since he finished high school.  He does aspire to do more, but I think it will have to wait until my grandfather passes away.  The business that Dad works for is his family’s, it’s a combination of his own and his dad’s, and has [been] the entire time he’s been an engineer.  I know he did some work in [southern Ontario]  and in Quebec but that was while he was at school.  When he graduated, he came back to Riverville.

FM: Do you think that was what he wanted to do, or was that expected of him, d’you think?

I know Grandpa is a very hard individual to his son.  They’ve actually gotten into fistfights from what I can remember of Dad’s youth.  So I think it may have been a combination of obligation and familiarity.  Come back and help dad, and it’s easy because I know it.  And if I want to go anywhere in this county, I ask dad because he knows where to go.  When I was in high school, I passed some little cottages, little cabins, the cutest things ever, they were being torn down.  I said I didn’t know they existed.  He said You’ve lived a very sheltered life and I don’t apologize.  He’s lived a very variable life – another example would be when I was in university, I had a room-mate who wasn’t a nice girl.  She had a warrant out for her arrest and I didn’t know that when I accepted her to live in my apartment.  And this is where I learned that it’s important to not sign the lease in the first month or have background checks.  She had been charged with possession of marijuana because she’d been caught with it but she never went to her court date.  She had marijuana in the apartment and talked me into trying it – we had friends over and one of them was also a pot-head, so they both were like Just do it, and I said no several times but finally said Fine.  An argument ensued afterwards when she refused to help me take this same friend home, because I was to drive him home, and I got angry and called her inconsiderate, at which point we got into a fight.

FM:  A fist fight?

An argument – it was verbal.  So then the fourth individual took my friend home and after that things went sour with this room-mate to the point where I kicked her out of the apartment, I told her to get out.  There were other things, too, in combination with this event that spurred things on, but that was the final straw.  The whole point of that was that my parents came down to help me pay her back half the rent, and dad and I stood and looked out the window at her as she got the courage to get out of her car, and he asked me what I thought of getting high, and I told him it was weird and he nodded in agreement, said Yeah, it is, isn’t it?  At which point I realized that we’re speaking from experience and learned that Oh, my dad has done pot in his time. 

FM: So not what he appears to be on the surface.  More complex.

My dad’s an iceberg.  There’s so much more under the surface than there is on the top.  He never fails to answer any question that I have.  He’s the first person I think of to ask for anything, and even if he knows very little, he still knows something.

FM: So you sound very close with your family. 

I absolutely love my family.  I’m close with my mom.  We’ll sit and chat.  She prefers that I drive so I love driving with her where ever she wants to go.  I make sure to come home at anybody’s birthdays, any holidays.  I’m home about once every month, and if I don’t, I’m kinda sad about it.  Too, I have trouble making decisions without their input. 

FM: Okay so with that background, talk about how you first thought about leaving home.

I’d say probably the first time I left home was when I went to Germany for a year.  And that was – I had seen other kids do the Rotary Youth Exchange program and was interested in it, and when I expressed that interest to my family, they were quite supportive of the idea.  So I had actually tried for that twice, and got it the second time.  There was a year of planning and then I was over there.  There was a lot of family encouragement and participation.  With dad being a workaholic, it was significant for him to come to any of the Rotary meetings we had to go to to prepare for this trip. 

FM: How old were you then?

16. 

FM: So grade 11.

 

I did my grade 11 here in Canada and then I did it again in Germany.  It was a bit different over there.  They do a different curriculum, so nothing counted toward my academic career, but it was fun to be in school there anyways.  That’s where I learned the most and made my friends.  Just lovely. 

 

FM: We’ll come back to this, but talk about ‘regular’ home leaving. 

 

Being over the pond, I had to think about my grade 12 year and what to do after that, because university was on my mind.  That was the natural transition from the end of high school, was to university.  That was what it was in my family.  Dad went, mom went, my older sister went, so it was just my turn to go.  So I was trying to figure out what to do, which still didn’t really happen by the time I got back.  So by the end of grade 12, I had wanted to go to Ottawa, but for economic reasons, I went to [another university], because my older sister was there.

 

FM: And you could live with her?

 

Yeah.  She’d been living with my grandmother for the past 3 years and my grandmother smokes and drinks and I don’t think it was an easy task, so this was a bit of a break for her in her final year, and it gave my parents a bit of a break, supporting two in university. 

 

FM: Did your sister live with your grandmother for economic reasons, or because the family needed her to live with grandma?

 

I think mostly economic.  It had the added benefit of her being able to take grandma to run her errands, but grandma has fantastic neighbours, so it wasn’t really a need. 

 

FM: Okay, so [in that university], studying what? 

 

Everything!  I had gone in with the idea that I would do a history major of some kind, but started off in an arts and business co-op studying Latin, German, Russian, accounting and economics.  I changed it to a German degree because I was fluent so I thought that would be easy and quick.  Then realized What do I do with that, once I’m done.  So changed it to anthropology major with a biology minor.  And then I burned out.  Because about – the year I lived with my sister, the depression that I had started to experience at the age of 12 was getting worse.  And when she left and I lived on my own, and then I dated, and things weren’t the Care Bear world I was thinking it was going to be, everything spiraled downhill.  I couldn’t focus on school work because I couldn’t get past that I didn’t like anything that was going on. 

 

FM: How did the depression first manifest – how was it recognized when you were 12? 

 

I trace it back to starting when I was 12 because that’s when I kinda turned into a basement hermit.  That’s where I spent most of my time on the computer.  I didn’t spent a lot of time with my family.  I spent more time talking to strangers on the internet than I did to my own family.  It wasn’t until actually grade 10 because I had made a friendship in grade 9 that a lot of people didn’t approve of that resulted in the loss of all my friends except for him – my best friend stuck around, but that was it – she had her own set of friends aside from me so we didn’t spend a lot of time together.  So in grade 10, I had contemplated suicide and realized that something was wrong, so that’s when I walked into the guidance office at school and told them I needed help.  I think I was 15

 

FM: And were they helpful?

 

Yeah.  They got on the phone with [the local children’s mental health agency] and brought in a counselor.  Then they called my father and told me to tell him – I had cuts on my wrist – what I did and that I needed to be on suicide watch.  Which he was very effective at.  Because it was winter and we had snow, and he plows and he listens to CBC radio.  And I love Canada but I’m not a fan of CBC radio, so I was bored out of my mind.  So after 2 days of this – and I had to get up at 6 in the morning to go plow, I begged him to go back to school.  This all was because the relationship I developed with the friend from grade 9 wasn’t what I would call healthy.  Because we had an age different of 4 years, so he was more advanced sexually than I was, so he was trying to introduce me to things that I wasn’t even prepared to consider yet.  But you get attached to them, and he was a bit of a drama queen, had a flair for the theatrics, so to speak, and made me feel awful because he was the only person I had, yet was giving me the cold shoulder.  So I was Fine then, I need to go get help.  Because if I have no support structure, I’m going to fall apart.

FM: What did your family think about this guy?

They were going to send me to Toronto.  Dad was insistent upon it; I had one choice, either end the friendship or go live with my aunt in Toronto.  So I then had to keep the friendship a secret.  Because, again, I didn’t have any friends; he was my only friend.

FM: How’d you meet him? 

There used to be a convenience store and he served ice cream there.  And he was very charming when I went in to get ice cream.  And then a friend of mine knew him and actually had nothing bad to say about him.  So I didn’t know about his past, and why everyone was so against him.  He was different, he wore this long black coat, he had this long black hair, he was very expressive, so very different than the people I knew.  And he liked things that I liked, Starwars, geeky thinks, art.

FM: So, exotic?

Very.  Because in elementary school, in grade 4, I had had my first mass exodus of friends, so all the friends I’d made up to grade 4 were not my friends any more.  So I had made a new group of friends that were kinda volatile, not always reliable.  So it was kind of a nice change.

FM: Okay, so I’m getting the picture of an outgoing person for whom friends are important but with a fairly sustained difficulty with maintaining friendship, so alone, isolated and ripe for the picking, so to speak.

Pretty much.  It’s kinda why I spent so much time on the internet, because believe it or not, up until university I talked to the same group of people, so that was the only constant.   (Crying) I’m sorry – it’s something I have to go over and over because it’s not a part of my life that was very happy.

When I was 12, that would have been in grade 7, I was always arguing with one of the friends in my group or being teased all the time by people I had once called friends, so it got to the point where I had to find something else which was talking to people all over the world through this box in our basement. 

FM: Were your parents aware of how isolated you were feeling, at that time?

I’m not sure, to be honest.  They knew I had friend trouble, but they kinda just left me to my own devices, I don’t know if out of a sense of giving your kids space, letting them feel things out, they’ll come to you if they need you.  Because I’d talked to my mother about friendship issues and she had difficulty figuring out how to help.  And dad was always so busy with work, I don’t know if he knew or not.  Talking to dad, you saved your best conversations for him.  Because his routine was he’d come home from work, we’d have dinner and he’d watch TV, and dad would have the remote.  And then he’d go to bed. 

FM: And your sister?  Was she a potential resource or was she gone by then? 

No she wasn’t.  She was there but I think she was too busy in her own world.  She was there up until I finished grade 9 and she was off to university.  But I never talked to her about friends and we fought a lot. 

FM: And do you think that your brother having autism maybe put a different context on your management style, that he had ‘real’ troubles and you should be able to manage on your own? 

Possibly.  Because often I would ask about why he couldn’t do this or that, and the response always was that he has autism.  And they spent a lot of time working with him, which has made him who he is today, which is great.  But a lot of times, whenever I had felt poorly, I pretty much had to take it into my own hands.  Like I had mono in grade 8 but my mom thought it was teen tiredness, so I finally had to tell my dad that I’m going to the doctor. 

FM: And when they found out you were seriously ill, what was the feeling?

They just let me sleep – finally – and they just took care of me and mom made sure I took – because I was also anemic – the vitamins I was supposed to take.  I curled too, and I kept not even wanting to go to curling because I was so tired, but mom would make me go because she thought I was just teen tired

FM: Which is shorthand for disaffected, ‘lazy’?

Maybe.  I’m not sure what she meant by it.  I think she meant I was growing up and with the growing I was tired.  Or teenagers are tired.  I’m really not sure what she meant.  But she would make me go, and after we found out it was the anemia and the mono, she wasn’t so hard about it.

FM: So I’m getting the picture of a very work-oriented family, a suck-it-up and do what you gotta do

I was always told, if you feel ill in the morning, go anyways; you’ll probably feel better by lunch.  And if you didn’t, then you could come home.

FM: And the irony is that the focus on practice performance was probably, as you say, a life-saver for your brother, with autism, but left you feeling under-developed, I think, in – maybe misunderstood, or imperfectly understood…

My mother and father were shocked when I came home that day when they called [the children’s mental health agency], and mom almost looked betrayed because she didn’t understand why I didn’t come to them first.  And part of it was they weren’t sure what was going on with me, and part of it was embarrassment.  Because I ‘ve got a brother and sister before me in high school with teachers who love them.  And plenty of people would know my dad and his family, and then to hear that their youngest child had contemplated suicide and been sent home was a shock to everybody.  No one knew. 

FM: Hmm.  That’s a factor in being raised in a small community, particularly if your family has profile, which yours did.  Does. 

Well, I had thought that part of being on the Internet all the time was a self-medicating kind of thing, reaching out to people who would sit and listen for hours.  And do this kind of virtual pat on the head, there there it’s okay.   So I thought I actually had a good grip on all of it, because not only was I managing my own problems via the internet, but I was this constant sounding board for other people at school who would come to me and ask me for advice.

FM: So even though you didn’t have friends,  you were a resource to others. 

Yes. 

FM: Did you get hooked up with a counsellor?

I did after that whole thing for a few months, and that was when that friend of mine came running back, after pretty much starting everything.

FM: Which friend is this?

The one who I met at the convenience store, the ice cream guy, the only friend. 

FM: Okay, and where is the family on this then?

I don’t know if they necessarily knew that I was still friends with him, but at that stage I myself was going to drop him. 

FM: Was the counselling helpful?

Yeah.  It was just nice to talk to somebody with an outside perspective. 

FM: And did your depression lift? 

For a time.  I was able – a few things happened – I pretty much dropped him, then made friends again and had other people with whom I could hang out and chat with.  So everything was okay.

FM: And then was the year ‘off’

To Germany, which was fantastic. 

FM: Because if you’re visiting, a) you’re not known for good reason, and b) you have automatic friends by virtue of the agreement, that you come to stay and they will surround you.

Oh yeah, and on top of it, you’re from a different country, one they’ve only heard about through radio, TV, even from simply United States making fun of Canada so they had all these questions and it was fun and different for them.

FM: So you were the belle of the ball?

Yeah, centre of attention.  I will never forget the day one of my classmates walked up to me, nudged me gently on the elbow and started singing Blame Canada from the SouthPark film.  You couldn’t help but laugh and join in, it was too funny.  Because it was in good nature.  It was ha ha blame Canada – it was so good natured. 

FM: Was coming back home a let-down? 

That’s a good question.  I missed Germany very much.  It was nice to get back on track, but there was a bit of disappointment. 

FM: And I wonder if your choice of university classes was a reflection of you could be anyone you wanted to be, sort of celebrating all the things that people in Germany saw in you, and people [in your home community] didn’t – but then crashing into the practical barrier – what’s the education going to do for you…

Yeah.  Yeah.  Because I could have studied all those languages and had a good time studying them, because Russian is fun, but in the long term, what was that going to do, career wise. 

FM: What were your thoughts or dreams about a career?  What did you see yourself doing as a grownup?

Well, when I was a little kid, there was definitely the whole veterinarian thing.  But that got lost.

FM: Where did that get lost?

I used to like to draw a lot, so I thought I might be an animator.  Then there was the whole dad and starving artist thing, so although he tried to encourage the art, he also kept inserting the practical.  He would have preferred I was a teacher.  So with that in mind, I thought of being a history major. 

FM: Okay, so we have you in [a particular university] for practical reasons, switching into a practical field of study

And actually, it got even more practical because that was what spurred on the anthropology major with a biology minor, because the biology was your science, and the type of anthropology I was focusing on was the biological anthropology.  So I was trying to incorporate a lot of science to keep those doors open.  So it had everything to do with keeping everything open for the sake of job choice, not necessarily interest sake. 

FM: So we got you to second year in anthro/bio.  Then what?

This is when I really got diagnosed with depression because I had a boyfriend who on our third day of classes broke up with me, out of the blue.  I thought things had been going fine and turns out, no, wasn’t.  It got to the point he said it was over and there was no discussion.   It was so one day fine, next day not.  No transition.  There wasn’t even a hint [on] my side that tomorrow this could be over, that lots of people go through in their relationships.  One day we were fine and the next day we were over and I had zero input on it. 

FM: So the failing-at-friendship theme re-emerges?

Yeah.  And actually that summer prior, I had lost another group of friends. 

FM: And was that losing a group of friends, was that the same experience, one day fine, the next day gone? 

Sort of.  There was one girl in the group - which is the similar experience to the grade 4 loss - who had developed a great dislike for me, and expressed it very loudly in the form of an argument with me at a bar, at which point I just left and never heard from any of them ever again.

FM: This is sounding a bit like ‘shunning’… 

Yeah.  It always confused me, the 4th grade loss, the 9th grade loss, the first year of university loss, how it could have been controlled by one person.  How it just took the words of one person to influence a group of people.  If I could go and interview every member of the group and get a candid response as to why, I would love it.  I would love to know why.

FM: Or maybe it was a particular form of emotional bullying??? 

Maybe. 

FM: Or – your brother has autism, one of the characteristics of that being a blunted sense of social reception skills, understanding social messaging; do you think you share any of that?

I’ve wondered.  I’ve genuinely wondered.  Because the connection you’re making, this constant interpersonal issue, was brought up by my psychiatrist.  She told me that I have a big issue with interpersonal issues, I have a failing.  She was going to work with me on it, but never got to it.

FM: Because? 

I don’t know.  It was either I left university, left et al, before she had the chance.  Or she wasn’t a very good psychiatrist.  Because she did say, during one session, I can’t spend my whole life crying.  Like no kidding, eh, then why am I here [seeing a psychiatrist] then? 

FM: Okay.  So did you drop out of school at the end of third year?  Without the degree?

Without the degree and on academic probation.  They actually sent me a letter and asked me not to return for two semesters, so I had no choice, I had to leave either way.

FM: And what did you do?

I came home.  But I had already put in motion plans to go to college.  I had been volunteering at the Humane society during all of this [at school] and decided that I should have decided to work with animals right from the get-go.  So I was already leaving.  The fact that they told me they didn’t want me back, was Fine, I’m not coming back anyway, [you] shouldn’t have wasted the paper. 

FM: So went the next fall

No.  I was too late to apply for the fall intake, so I applied for the year after, Sept 2008.  So I had to work.  I wound up working – I did a month at the Riverville vet clinic, and I worked at [a resort].  And also was doing up-grading because I didn’t have the math I needed for that course. 

FM: And living at home?

Yes. 

FM: Rent free?

Yes.  Just had to keep my space clean and help out around the house.

FM: And what about transportation?

I still had the car from university – it had been my sister’s and then they gave it to me to use. 

FM: Okay, so a year of working at minimum wage

At a failing resort.  And it’s still closed.  But I was there before it closed and that was fun.  When you get a lot of people coming in and tearing your head off every 15 minutes, you have to take it in stride, because you have to understand why they’re so mad, you have to realize there’s nothing you can do, you don’t take it personally because it’s not your fault.  Because if the resort wasn’t tanking, they wouldn’t be complaining. 

FM: Okay, so not a great year.  What about–

I also lost my dog that year.  We put her down. 

FM: I was going to ask if you’d had a history of work, summer work, before you went off to university?

Yeah.  I worked at Subway.  For two summers.  Which was far more entertaining. 

FM: Yeah.  Interesting.  So you’re how old at this time, when you’re heading off to college at where?

[a city to the south].  I am 22. 

FM: And how was that course? 

It really changed everything.  And I think it really helped with everything because at this point I’m on medication for the depression, I’m seeing counselors off and on when I need it, and kinda feeling a little like this is a bit late to be doing this.  So in my first year, I came off my meds, I made a whole bunch of friends and to my shock, the second semester when we had 46 out of 85 students remaining, already, maybe about 38 stood up and voted for me to be their class rep.  And I quit smoking, which I had started when I started university. 

FM: So a brief smoking career?

Well, I had actually smoked when I was in Germany because it’s a lot easier over there.  I quit when I came back because I was too young, and then I started again when I was 19.  But I only ever smoked a pack a week, so you could hardly ever call me a chronic smoker.  I couldn’t do it more than that, honestly – I could never smoke a pack a day. 

FM: Right.  So a very good first year in [community college].  And where were you living?

I lived in residence my first year.

FM: And how was that?

It was good, because I also did tutoring of my fellow students so it made it easy for them to arrange that with me, since it was right on campus.  And I had my own room.  So I was able to go out and socialize and come back to the quiet private.  And I also had a pair of rats who kept me company. 

FM: So you’re getting on with animals with your usual ease, and with people better than ever before?

Yeah.  It was a real game changer. 

FM: Okay, so how does the story go on?

Aside from what you would say normal conflict between people, I had the same friends throughout, still do.  We just all exchanged Christmas gifts, we chat over Skype.  Then I graduated and was adamant to return to [the university town].

FM: Because ?

I’m familiar with it.  I thought that familiarity would be beneficial in building a life.  I like the area.  There’s the Farmers’ Market.  There’s so much available...  And so you’re not very far from anything, it’s all right there, central.  My grandmother is there, so I thought I might be able to help her out a little bit.  And I always had in the back of my mind that I would still go back to university and get my bachelor’s degree.  So my whole plan – we had to do these internships as our final semester at [the community college], and so I did one at the Ontario Veterinary College, with the hope that they would hire me after that was done.  So then I would work at OVC, live in [the university town], and life would be wonderful. 

Didn’t turn out that way.  The economy hit the veterinary community and so they didn’t have anything to offer.  They said normally they do, but they didn’t.  So I had to find a job and I wound up living with my grandmother far longer than I thought I would.  And she smokes.  And drinks.

FM: To excess? 

I think she goes through half to a full pack a day, and she drinks enough to make herself drunk most evenings.  It’s to a point where she actually plans how she does things in the day time to accommodate that time that she drinks. 

FM: And you were sharing space with her?

Paying rent.  Which I wasn’t allowed to have any pets, so for nine months I went without anything except for a tank of fish.  I constantly heard through my mother all the things I was doing wrong.  I started seeing my boyfriend who I was keeping under the radar due to our age difference, so I would say I was going out with friends which seemed to bother my grandmother, and then was expected to take her whenever she wanted or needed to run her errands.  I eventually convinced her to let me have my cat, but my rabbit still lives with my parents. 

FM: So you graduated from college in spring 2011.  It was a 3-year course in Veterinary Technology.   Let me ask this question:  did the school provide the coop placement?

They organized it.  Both of them, because we had 15 weeks of 5 weeks at a research facility in Toronto – who had asked me if I wanted to work there when I was done, and I said Yes but that never panned out – and then OVC, and then 5 weeks was just independent study. 

FM: And did you get paid for these placement? 

The research facility paid me because I worked so hard, I actually worked more hours than the co-op placement dictated, so I just got paid for the hours over that I worked.  Otherwise it was unpaid. 

FM: And did you have to find new digs, or did you drive? 

My aunt lives in [a suburb] which turned out to be a straight shoot to where the research facility is.  And then I had grandma to live with for OVC.  She didn’t charge me rent for that period.  I also didn’t think I was going to live with her beyond that period, but also she got sick so I kinda couldn’t leave.  She’s fine now. 

FM: That’s good.  So after you graduated, the anticipated job/s didn’t get offered.  What did you do?

Prior to the actual ceremony, I threw my resume out there to every clinic that was advertising for a position in the region.  And only got one response, which is where I’m currently working.  So the week of the ceremony, I had started working.

FM: So a quick transition from school to work.

Yes. 

FM: And how is the job?

It started off nice.  For a good 6 months everything was fine.  They throw you in the water and see if you can swim.  Which apparently I did.  And then I kinda started to notice, I could sense that things were getting a bit off.  And we have these books throughout the clinic, notebooks, that we had implemented to start writing notes to each other, This needs to be done, or So and so called for you

FM: A communication log, kinda

Yeah.  So anyway, the boss had one and I had written her a note about a vaccine certificate that needed to be done, and I hadn’t followed up on it, so I looked back in her book to find the note that I had written, and on the opposite page found notes about me.  I had borrowed a keyboard and a mouse because my computer at home wasn’t booting up correctly, with the intention of bringing it back the next day, because I was starting the first thing in the morning, and hooking everything up, no harm, no foul.  Turns out that had been a problem because the first thing I read on that page was borrowed keyboard and mouse?  So I knew it was about me, and I continued to read it, and I actually have this page in my file folder for this place because my boss tried to shred it.  And it said things like Superiority Complex, Interrupts a lot, Interpersonal issues, a lot of hurtful things. 

FM: And when was this?

Jan 28, 2012. 

FM: And what happened with that?

Nothing ever came to light but it upset me a lot because not only was this written in the book, but it was written in a book that everyone could see it in, because it was a public book – the whole point was for us to be able to walk up to it and write notes to her, that was the whole point.  So not only is this written in there about me, but right on the next page are notes from other staff members saying So and so called can you deal with this.  And when I went back to look at it again, to re-read it another day, to confirm that I’d read what I’d read, because the first time I read it I started to physically shake, I found another note in between notes written by other staff members. 

FM: Did you take your concerns to your boss?

No, I never did.  I still have the pages; I just never took that to her.  I don’t know how.

FM: Do you know who wrote the comments?

My boss.  It’s her handwriting.  Again, this is why I don’t know how to do it.

FM: It is an unusual Human Resources technique…

And we don’t have an office manager, we don’t have a HR department.  If you do have concerns, you go to the boss.  She seems to have proven time and again she’s a great veterinarian, a great friend, but a horrible manager.  She doesn’t know what to do.  And I know she has her own people she consults, she regularly consults the veterinarian’s lawyer about things, I don’t know what things but things, so I know she needs to consult somebody about decisions she makes.

FM: So this is a privately owned clinic, she owns it – actually, I was surprised when you said she was a great friend

Not to me.  She’s nice to me, she’s become nicer since she discovered that I use a number of different communication styles, and thus am difficult to read.  It came about we had a staff outing provided by one of our drug reps and it was a fun little talk with a emphasis on communication in four different styles of communication.  At which point we did a quiz and when we tallied up the answers, I was even across the board, and the rep pointed out, Read what it says about that, and sure enough, I’m difficult to read.  I’m also the only one in the clinic who scored that way.  I’d always kinda thought I was a chameleon; it just kinda came out.  Because since that quiz, my boss has seemed a lot nicer.

FM: So maybe she has a better understanding of behaviour that was mysterious or hard to understand – the multiple question marks after comments?

Maybe.  I just remember her talking about how – it’s actually very difficult to get fired from there, which is a good thing, and one of the reasons why someone was let go was that someone had used property for ‘kinky’ things, was what I was told.  So I’m wondering if she has an aversion to things being borrowed. 

FM: Does it pay fairly well?

$15.25/hr.  The 25c is to make up for our long-term / short-term disability, one of them. 

FM: Can you live on that? 

Maybe if I didn’t have so much debt.

FM: How much debt?

At the time I graduated, I had $63,000 in debt approx., about $33K to OSAP and the remainder to the bank in the form of a line of credit.  That’s suffocating.  That’s why I couldn’t move out of my grandma’s place right away.  And I’m making reduced payment to OSAP right now, I’m not even making full.  And to be honest, with the average apartment costing anywhere between $750 to over $1000, I don’t see how anybody could do it. 

FM: What are your living arrangements now?

Due to a guinea pig, I moved out of my grandmother’s house to a lovely couple who are clients and friends with my boss.  They have an apartment built on the their house and I pay them $515/month in rent but that includes propane heat, hydro, water, and the internet.  And of course parking, which is a factor that gets factored into every apartment.  It’s an increase of $315/month from when I was living with my grandmother but I have a lot more freedom. 

FM:  $63K seems like a lot, but over 6 years,

But here’s the kicker.  $10K of it is from the university, 10 of the OSAP, the other $20K is from [the community college], and that’s only the paid-back portion because they gave me, for every year I was at [college], an average of $10,000.  And then with the line of credit, I started with a $10,000 limit and had to subsequently increase.  It’s now a $30,000 limit.  Of which I’ve paid back just over $10,000.

FM: So you have outstanding about

Still about $32,000 with OSAP because I’m making reduced payments, and $19,000 to the bank. 

FM: What’s the earning capacity in your work?  Will your pay go up?

To put it in perspective, the technician who’s been there for 16 years is still not making the maximum amount listed in my job description.  The benefits do not include dental and are limited.  It’s made up in part by being able to do continuing education credits and be paid to go off to conferences and whatnot, but that’s a yearly thing. 

FM: So it’s a good job in terms of the industry, but you’re having trouble living on it, apart from a debt load? 

The problem with it, which is not something that I realized until I’ve been in it, is that you graduate at the highest level of your profession.  You go and do the test that gives you your ‘R’ so you’re a Registered Vet Technician, which has to do with self-regulation, which is a direction the whole industry is moving towards.  Because currently, veterinarians can hire a grade 12 student to do my job.  So there’s no huge competition in pay because, really, they could go hire someone with no education to do my job.  It will change, but I don’t know when.  On top of it, something else I learned is that we really have a high turnover rate, it’s 35%, whereas others is 12-15%, for the rest of the working world.  The highest income I can make, which would require me to either be working some place like [a veterinary college] or a university or a hospital is $50,000/yr.  But it’s not like you go in and climb any corporate ladder; you have all the skills you need to do the job, other than for excellence and to stay up to date, so really there’s no ladder to climb – you’re at the top of the ladder already. 

FM: So do you think you made the right choice? 

Let’s put it this way; I’m going back to school in September.  I don’t want to say it’s a mistake because what those years did for me and what I’ve learned is incredibly important.  I would just rather put myself into another bucket-load of debt rather than just push forward. 

FM: You don’t think you could cadge one of those university-based jobs?

I’ve applied to [the veterinary college] twice, when they’ve had openings.  I’ve applied to two different hospitals.  My research placement even called me back, out of the blue, and nothing has panned out.  

FM: Are you fairly determined to remain in [that] area?

No, I actually just finished a working interview at a general practice / emergency hospital in Ottawa, where my boyfriend currently resides.  But even with that job, even though there’s such a large hospital, my pay would only go up to $16/hr.  So it’s – I’m working 12 hours a day, 40+ hours a week at a hospital that is so large, with a huge client base, and an emergency base, and I’m still only making $16/hr. 

FM: This is an animal hospital, is it?

Yes. 

FM: So what do you plan to study when you return to school?

Nursing. 

FM: Okay, so medical field still, but people. 

Yes.  I’m hoping I will actually be able to incorporate both worlds because what I really want to do with animals is rescue and rehabilitation and fostering, none of which I can do right now.  I don’t have my own space, so I can’t foster anything.  I don’t have enough money to even adopt a dog, and afford it.  I don’t have enough money to spare any to put in my gas tank so I can transport an animal to where it needs to go.  And ultimately I want to build a Humane Society here in Cottage County, but I don’t have any money.  And based on how much debt I have and how well I’ve been able to pay it back – which isn’t very well at all – I’ll be 45 before that gets paid off.  And I still won’t have my own place, [one] that’s mine!

FM: It’s a bleak picture.

It doesn’t help when the people around you don’t understand you and you’ve considered going back into therapy.  Two co-workers actually assaulted me – they don’t work there anymore, but that’s not why they were let go – they weren’t, they quit. 

FM: So would the therapy be for depression, or would it be for these challenges with relationships that the psychiatrist mentioned but didn’t treat.

The latter.  I want a better understanding of how people work, why people do  what they do, how to navigate that in a smart way, to negotiate the working relationship.  I’m learning, but I think with guidance…but it’s been a bit depressing when there’s things I want to talk about, like rescue, like animal welfare, and they don’t even want to touch those subjects.  One of the vets is a breeder and her set-up is very heart-breaking, and everybody doesn’t like it, but nobody does anything about it.  There’s also a lot of talking behind each other’s backs, and it just seems like – they seem to think they’re the best place on earth to work, but if they knew half the crap they said about each other, I think it would fall apart. 

FM: Do you think the nursing world will be different?

No.  I make no bones about it being any different.  The difference that stands out for me is that there’s a guaranteed income you work as a nurse.  You still get to dabble in the medical things I’m interested in.  I’ll be working in larger environments which will dilute the ‘bull’.  Because I even saw it at this hospital that I had this working interview at recently.  They employ 180 people.  There’s no room for them all to sit and gossip about everybody.  So you’re bound to reach a section of the hospital where they don’t know who you are.  And it just felt different; it felt like there was more focus on medicine versus gossip.  So I think that is something that I will encounter in human hospitals. 

FM: And where are you planning to attend? 

[Ottawa].  It’s because it’s a Baccalaureate, so 2 years are done at a college and 2 at a university.  And that’s the RN program.

FM: Any credit from your past studies to this?

Ottawa for sure is taking the biology I did [at university] as a pre-requisite, and the chemistry I did at [the community college] as well.  I will discuss with them later whether any of them will count as my electives so I can nix those out.  Because then with that bit of time I may go work or just get that extra time to study.  It won’t shorten the study experience but it will create holes that I can fill with work. 

FM: Okay.  I’m reviewing my list – we’ve done education and employment at some length.  Housing.   Health.  Anything re involvement with the legal system? 

No.  the only time I’ve ever had to go to the police station is to get a background check for work or volunteering.  Oh, and I’ve had two speeding tickets.  But that’s it. 

FM: Okay, I have some finish-up questions…   In order that the people who will read this story understand it in the way you intend, to give it shape and focus, what would you say is the Most Important Event in this narrative.  Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen.  Whadya say?

I’d have to say that even if you’re going through periods in your life where there are people around you who seem to be creating discord, that it won’t last forever.  There are people out there who will be good for you; you’re not always going to be the one who’s alone.  You’re going to find people who want to share that space with you.  Sometimes even when they didn’t, to start. 

FM: That’s mysterious – say some more?

There was a girl at college who hated me right from the get-go, and even at the point when everyone voted for me to be class rep, she couldn’t hold back the No that fell from her lips.  By the middle of second year, she absolutely adored me.  Would chat with me all the time, ask me questions, stand up for me if someone else said anything about me that was unkind.  And I’m not sure what happened, I just kept being me so I don’t know what happened to make the change.  And actually even right now, there’s a co-worker that I try to keep at arms length because she’s not very consistent, who at first didn’t like me but now wants nothing more than to talk to me, work with me.  She’s even offered, text me if you need anything, text me if you want to go out for coffee. 

FM: Do you have much of a circle of friends now, aside from the people you work with?

Not really.  Some, but I don’t see them very much.  And my phone is not ringing off the hook or anything.  It doesn’t ring very much at all, really.

FM: But you made reference to a boyfriend.

Yes, we’ve been together for about 2 years.  This is the longest I’ve ever been with someone.  We’re doing the long-distance thing now because he’s in Ottawa, and I’m doing the responsible thing and trying to find a job first, before I move.  I will be there eventually, but I’m trying to make that happen sooner.  He has a lot of baggage in his life that makes it almost impossible for him to support me in any way, so that’s why it’s important for me to find a higher-paying profession.  I’m not prepared to give up a relationship simply because of his past preventing him from being my financial support.  Because I’m more than capable of supporting myself; I just have to have the right education to do it. 

FM: Is this the boyfriend that you were keeping under the radar because of age difference?

Yes. 

FM: So how much older is he?

He’s 45.

FM: And you’re 27.  So 19 years. 

Yup. 

FM: What do your folks think about this?

Mom struggles about this a little bit.  I think she thinks this is a fun time, it’ll be over eventually.  I’m just having a companion in my life, don’t be serious sort of thing.  I’m sure she’d love us to maintain separate residences.  Granted, when we’ve talked about this whole going back to school thing, she’s all for me going to Ottawa so I can share a residence with my boyfriend to save money.  

FM: But do they like him?

Yes.  They send him a Christmas card.  I don’t think mom likes to hear about his troubles with his exes, plural, but is she slowly asking a little bit more about him here and there.  Dad doesn’t really say anything; he was the one that told her to get her nose out of it, that it’s my choice, that she can’t forbid this sort of thing. 

FM: What does he do?

He works with computer security, currently working for a large organization that deals with large government agencies.

FM: So a nerd?

Very much.  That’s why we get along so well.  We actually had this great conversation about bananas, and why there are increasingly green ones at the grocery store.  The whole point was is global warming affecting when bananas are cut and shipped. 

FM: Right.  Okay, next question: People will form an opinion about how this narrative turns out, for good or not so good.  What do you think?

I think the whole point of going from Point A to Point B is doing it the best you can, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it, because you’re not in competition with anybody.  And that’s something it took my mother to say for me to understand.  It doesn’t matter that a lot of people that I grew up with and currently know have gotten married, are having kids, are working their 9 to 5, and so on.  And I’m not.  That I’m with someone who is far older than I am, with a rap sheet a mile long of experience, that prevents us from living the text-book life together.  That yes, I’ve gone to school and in my past I’ve allowed the actions of other people to influence how I feel and what I do.  But when it comes down to it, hindsight is 20-20 and an outsider’s perspective is 20-20.  You have to navigate from the pilot’s seat so if what you see in front of you is what you see and how you react to it and the choices you make as a result are what happens, and someone from the outside wants to cuff you upside the head and say Wow, What were you thinking and try to bring you down, then what’s the point?  You have to be able to feel good and comfortable about what you’re doing because you have to live with it at the end of the day.  So long as at the end of the day you can smile and say that works for me, then that’s all that matters. 

FM: So you’re saying it doesn’t matter what people who read this narrative think.

I think if they can take from it something that can help them in their journey or to help them understand the things they don’t understand and apply it to themselves, then I think that’s important.  But I think that if all they do is judge and roll their eyes, then it doesn’t matter.  There’s so much negativity out there, there are ex’s scratching out each other’s eyes, people who are married are fighting with each other all the time, but we’ve all had difficulties getting to where we are right now, to have someone turn around and chastise that, to not take anything from that at all, it doesn’t matter. 

Just recently I had to de-friend a person because she had gone to a friend to ask how I’m doing, not ask me, ask a friend how I’m doing, and found out that I’m going off to nursing to make more money.  Then had the audacity to tell me that I give up, lack passion, and essentially tell me that everything that I’m doing I’m a fake, a self-righteous fake.  When what she didn’t understand, because she hadn’t asked me, why the change in profession, that the whole point was to be able to do the rescue that I want to do.  And to have her throw an already difficult decision in my face, essentially made me say Fine, I can’t have you in my life. 

FM: Okay.  Leads kinda nicely to the next question:  What advice would you give your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice, that you think would impact on how this narrative is unfolding… 

It’s something my mother said to me:  you’re not in competition with anybody, so what that means is, sure, people can tell you you should go do this, a, b, or c, but in the end it’s yours and yours alone.  So do it if it feels right. 

That being said, there’s always the caveat don’t be going around doing drugs and drinking and doing stupid stuff, but when it comes to the big picture, if you want to do ‘a’ and someone says no no, ‘b’,’c’, ‘d’ is better, you can thank them for their input, but if you feel that ‘a’ is still right, go for ‘a’. 

FM: And the last question is: What advice would you give those of us who would wish to be helpful to young people like yourself.

Sometimes all we need is someone to listen.  We don’t necessarily need a solution.  We just need someone to listen. 

FM: Very nicely put.  And a common theme, by the way.

It’s actually really funny because it’s something I have to explain to my boyfriend and my mother and my sister, I’m just venting, let me talk.  Because they’re all problem-solvers.  So if they can’t listen to what you have to say in a neat little box and apply a solution to it, then they get frustrated and can’t listen any more. 

FM: I’m smiling because many women I know, myself included, think that there’s a very masculine angle to that, that most men either are trained to be problem-solvers, think that’s their job in life, and we spend our lives trying to raise their awareness about the importance of listening. 

It’s been something that I’ve looked for my entire life is just someone to listen, and with that in mind to improve my own ability to listen.  Because if I want people to listen to me, I should very well give that courtesy back.  I don’t think there’s a lot of listening going on. 

FM: You’re likely quite right.  And the trick will be to find someone or something that scratches that itch for you. 

And actually, I have to say that my boyfriend is quite a wonderful person, which is why I will stand up for him, with him, every chance I have.  Because every time when I’ve had to give him a critique, case in point, You’re not listening!! He will completely adjust his behaviour.  Just recently with that situation with the friend I had to defriend, I was talking to him about her and that whole thing and he interrupted me and said I don’t care about her.  And I have been there for him through all the crap he has to shovel with his exes, and I turned to him and said How do you expect me to continue to help you with that if you won’t sit here and listen to me about this, which is completely minor in comparison?  So the next morning he sent me a text message saying that I was booked in for a listening session after work.  I hopped on to Skype after work; he’d put on a button-up shirt and a dorky tie and had a pen and a pad of paper and the venting session started.  And he’s made a point of that being a weekly thing. 

FM: That’s very cute, very unique.

It was a little thing, You’re not listening, and it’s turned into Every week I will listen. 

FM: Okay.  Are we done?

If you’ve got everything you need, for sure…