On Monday an important email goes around. You can tell it’s important because it has the little red exclamation mark, and because it’s from the CEO (well, not from him, but his EA has sent it on his behalf from his inbox). INVITE: MORNING TEA. An important morning tea. Hosted by the CEO. You feel a shiver of excitement at how transformative it will be.
By Thursday, the anticipation or maybe the clinical mental illness is almost too much to bear. You’ve been waiting so long for real change, and it has finally arrived. If you’re lucky, Liam, the new manager with no years of experience, will bring in his mum’s sausage rolls. Rumour has it they’re made with real funds that could have been directed to research and medical care.
The mood in the hallways is that joyful tension, like before someone’s surprise funeral. Everyone is so looking forward to going to the conference room in the middle of their busy and stressful day. They can’t wait to celebrate your total lack of systemic support in the workplace. Your feet feel too big for their shoes. Is it fluid retention? You hold your finger under your chin; is that a normal heartrate? Maybe you shouldn’t have too much sugar at morning tea. Steffany will bring a plate of vegetables because she cares about your holistic wellbeing and afterwards she can show you how to download the mindfulness app her yoga instructor showed her.
Tina brings the cupcakes she made in their actual oven in her home; Darren has chips he picked up from the servo on the way in. There are posters on the walls in the lunch room: HAVE YOU CHECKED IN WITH YOUR WORK WIFE TODAY? The cupcakes have thumbs-ups drawn on them in icing, Tina’s kid did it, isn’t it so cute, she’s the smartest kid in kindergarten!!
Everyone gathers in the area by the printer. Gayathri asks if anyone watched the only South Asian woman get booted out in the first round of that reality TV show. Everyone laughs because this is a day for mental health awareness, not racial inequality!!! It’s time, for the next six hours until clocking off, to be aware of mental health. Racism is separate and can come later, you guys!
Darren says his sister said she was depressed once but she’s like that, you know what he means? Your brain is pushing against the inside of your skull. You might have a cerebral embolism. Your left hand feels weak suddenly, like it’s just hanging by your side and everyone is staring at it, oh god, can they tell you’re in the process of stroking out right now, are you turning blue, why did the Board send the executive team to Fiji for a team-building exercise instead of buying a defibrillator.
The CEO can’t make it, so the head of marketing stands on a Reflex box and taps on her plastic cup. ‘So,’ she says, smiling. You try to copy her, pretending she’s a mirror. The muscles around your mouth have atrophied. You think about Tina saying It takes 43 muscles to frown but only 17 to smile!! Your face contorts into something you might once have recognised as an emotion. You think about how much you’re looking forward to eating powdered soup for the third night in a row because your mental health care plan has run out for the year and it costs $230 to see your psychologist once a fortnight.
‘So,’ the head of marketing says again. You recognise her from the time you were both crying in the car park a few weeks ago. ‘Why don’t we ask the person next to us how they’re feeling?’
There isn’t anyone next to you, so you have a short conversation with the physical manifestation of your deepest fears, which are finding cockroaches in your bed and never getting an effective treatment for your debilitating chronic illness. Then everyone eats a bit of cake and talks about the footy and how hard it is to give a woman a compliment these days without HR getting involved.
By the door there’s a donation jar with a big black dog on it. Someone has shoved an envelope inside. Money? You open it with a thrill in your knees. The piece of paper inside reads STAY POSITIVE! You eat the note. It gets stuck in your throat, which is still better than having to ever read it again. You go back to your desk.
Mandy who sits next to you has taken an early lunch to process the emotional labour of going to a morning tea with mental people. Your keyboard has grown arms and is suffocating you. You take the thumbs-up cupcake and try to offer it as a sacrifice. Your heart flaps like a dying fish.
An email arrives. INVITE: WORLD GOAT APPRECIATION DAY.
You try to drown yourself in the toilet but Steffany is in there doing a positive affirmation so you just go home instead. They dock the afternoon from your annual leave.