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Let’s CHAT Part 4: Let’s not.

December 31, 2013

Lounging on his purple sofa, as if to counsel himself, Daniel reflects on his year, particularly a painful episode that began a few months ago. Should he tell people? Would it be doing the right thing? He’s never liked the idea of gossip, and talking about people feels close to gossiping. That said, he ponders, if people don’t know what happened, it can happen to others. Forewarned is forearmed, after all. With a wearied sigh of resignation to what feels like his duty, given his not-even-remotely-unique position of a person with an online blog with an audience of a dozen readers, he swings his legs sideways and sits up. Taking a breath he limps over to his PC, opens his blog, and begins.

“CHAT has changed my life twice,” he writes uncertainly. “The first time was great – it gave me purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. I grew in confidence and did things I never thought I’d do. I went rock climbing. I completed the Preparation for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector course. I spoke to a room of people and felt the adrenalin drain away from me with every opportunity I took to address a room. I went to events to extol the virtues of the organisation. When I was asked to be part of a board of trustees to help develop and improve the way it was run, I accepted gladly, feeling that I had found my place in the world; feeling that I was home.” Another deep breath, knowing the story is about to take the dark turn he tries not to think about. He wishes he hadn’t quit smoking. He checks the clock, eager to finish his tale before the new year ticks over so it can be left firmly in the past, a year away, a lifetime ago. A firework sounds and he curses the time of year for the umpteenth time since October when Christmas first started its marketing in shops, culminating in this celebration of time passing by, of another year of life gone forever. After a break to comfort his terrified dog and regain his concentration, Daniel stares at the page of words written so far and wonders if he’s overused commas. He should crack on before he runs out of nighttime.

“Before too long, a couple of the trustees pointed out some financial and professional issues that the founders refused to explain or discuss, and Jocelyn and her partner Dennis became less friendly. Suddenly a whole new situation became obvious. It seemed that we weren’t people to them, we were only workhorses they used to further their agenda; some had legal experience, I was the tech guy, someone else had a good reputation in the voluntary sector. We weren’t friends, we weren’t valued as we were led to believe, and to feel. We weren’t service users, we weren’t even human, we were just units, tools used for what we could do for them to raise money for themselves.

My life changed for the second time. This time I relapsed to a point worse than I was at before I began going to their workshops. The workshops had initially helped me cut back on the drinking I’d taken up to get to sleep after an abusive relationship I’d got away from shortly before I’d discovered them, but now things had taken a cruel turn I began drinking heavily again, plagued by nightmares of Dennis torturing me to raise money for CHAT, a cruel interpretation taken to the extreme of their only concern being to line their own pockets. I was openly mocked for my anxiety when I asked if we could change the venue of the trustees meetings, since I felt claustraphobic in the cramped space afforded us in Jocelyn’s living room with six people sitting around a table, told in an email, in a small font at the bottom, to grow up. They respected neither boundaries or personal limitations, driving me close to suicide between the stress and doubting myself, and driving another service user to attempt suicide because he couldn’t handle being pushed so hard. They had no respect for confidentiality, recording workshops without consent of those present. I helped with this because I was anxious about presenting them myself and wanted every word recorded for me to remember and learn. I didn’t realise the legal implications of it and was acting out of selfish fear for myself. This in itself has also caused me anxiety and fear of legal action from service users present. They’ve even linked to what should have been the confidential Facebook group I had set up, right on their website, on which anyone not a member can see the list of members if they look. I was manipulated, used, lied to, mocked. It was no different to what I told myself would be the last abusive relationship I would be in. They played on my insecurities, alternating flattery with mockery to keep me around but keep me in my place. Others got worse than me, one marriage was almost destroyed for their efforts to send someone away from their husband.”

Daniel realises he’s breathing hard, sweating slightly, close to tears. To remember it all is still an emotional ordeal. It must be revealed to his readers, he grandly thinks to himself, feeling like Mel Gibson’s character in Conspiracy Theory, so I can say I’ve done my bit to fight them and move forward with my life with a clear conscience. A sip of his flat cream soda to remedy his dry throat, acutely aware of the sweat on his back. He feels simultaneously too hot and icy cold. He recognises the acute symptoms of anxiety for reliving these experiences, but he’s almost done. He feels like he’s being dramatic for all the deep breaths but also knows it’s to control the anxiety and forge ahead. He’s running out of time, eleven minutes to midnight and a new future of his deliberate making. On it goes.

“I was eventually forced to walk away from it, convinced there was no way to convince them to do things more appropriately after a five hour meeting where Dennis brought a series of grievances against one of the trustees, who had acted absolutely professionally at all times. It was simple bullying, he pushed until he thought the other person would back down, but he didn’t, so he started crying and played the victim card. Despite myself I shook his hand as he left, believing he would make more effort now that grievances were raised against him. The next day he was heard to say he’d shut everything down and seek legal action against us . We were blamed for everything in a statement Dennis released shortly afterwards. being trustees, which are illegal in a CIC company, as CHAT was – even though it was them who set it up and asked us to be trustees. I didn’t know any better, but it was their company, they should have known better. This only adds to my feeling of being manipulated, and the trustee who had such a solid reputation in the voluntary sector may have had his reputation tarnished as a result of his association with CHAT. We had to walk away before things escalated more and the downward spiral led us somewhere even darker. I went from spending every day emailing people, calling, getting endorsements, leaving business cards on the bus, to staying home drinking, afraid to leave the house for months.

Thankfully Mind have been there to help me pick up the pieces, as well as friends I’d made at the workshops and my fellow “trustees.” I don’t want to say Jocelyn and Dennis are bad people – I will say they are unwell and shouldn’t be running anything to do with mental health – but they are very capable of very bad things, and great malice, and have done me far more harm than good. I’ve removed the posters I’ve put up everywhere I could find space, and have had to get in touch with people I asked to endorse CHAT to apologise for getting them involved. I’m very hurt and depressed about it, and sad for Jocelyn and Dennis that they feel the need to treat people in this way. They’ve lost what would have been the best friends you could hope for, who would have worked tirelessly for CHAT if it was run more honestly and transparently.

If you need the help with anxiety or depression, you can and should go to the workshops, you’ll probably learn a few things that could help you cope, but don’t get more involved than that or I feel you risk opening yourself to manipulation and abuse as I did, and the other trustees and volunteers did. The information they teach on the workshops can be found online and in most books on the subject, though. Some of the material supposedly copyrighted to them was even lifted directly from a European blog. Just look around, and you’ll learn what you need without even having to expose yourself to such dangerously toxic people.

These opinions are based on my experience and research, and their behaviour toward me.”

Relieved to be finished, breathing a massive cathartic sigh, Daniel smiles to himself. He did what he’d been putting off for three months. Now he could move on. It was over. And so was the year.

“Happy new year, everyone.” he adds to the bottom line. He categorises the entry as Personal, and clicks Publish. Good old WordPress for making things so simple.

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