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Chapter 4: Ain't No One Gonna Break My Stride

"Ain't no one gonna break my stride, ain't no one gonna slow me down." I carry these words as a mantra, reminding myself that no matter the challenges I face, I will remain steadfast in my pursuit of positive change

In my relentless pursuit of systems transformation, I have mustered every ounce of courage to pave the way forward. While the outcome remains uncertain, I recently received invaluable advice from my therapist. I am fortunate to have found an exceptional therapist who possesses the remarkable ability to truly listen. Listening is the cornerstone of effective therapy—a quality that defines a truly exceptional therapist.

What sets a good therapist for this autistic apart is their capacity to affirm, a skill that proves to be the most challenging aspect of the therapeutic process—refraining from trying to change the other person. A good therapist carefully selects their words, using them sparingly and purposefully, often through thought-provoking questions. It is these questions that hold immense significance, guiding and shaping my narrative as I navigate the complexities of my journey.

Above all, I genuinely believe that my therapist not only appreciates and respects me but also harbors a sincere liking for who I am. This bond of mutual appreciation and trust fosters a therapeutic alliance that propels my growth and empowers me to face life's challenges head-on.

During our session, my therapist posed a pivotal question that lingered in my mind: What was my next step? Would I grant myself the much-needed space and time to heal from the harrowing ordeal I had endured? Without a doubt, she acknowledged the toxic environment I had been subjected to and recognized the profound impact it had on my psyche. She wholeheartedly affirmed that I deserved time to mend and restore my well-being.

As I unveiled my plan for a sabbatical, her agreement resonated deeply within me. It was a reassuring affirmation that prioritizing my healing journey was not only essential but also the right path to embark upon. In addition, I disclosed my pursuit of a discrimination claim, a significant decision fueled by the conviction to stand up for justice. Her response filled me with a sense of pride, as she commended my courage and resolve.

In that transformative moment, a profound connection blossomed, forged through our shared understanding and unwavering support. It fueled the fire within me, amplifying my resolve to heal, reclaim my power, and champion the cause of fairness. This journey, however, is far from over. I must retell my story once again, this time to the civil rights committee, where crucial determinations will be made.

As I embark on this next chapter, I am acutely aware of the challenges that lie ahead. Advocating for myself, though essential, can be inherently traumatizing. It is disheartening to realize that even in the pursuit of psychological safety, the process itself can be psychologically unsafe. Yet, I am undeterred. I remain resolute in my commitment to advocate for true psychological safety and to ensure that my voice is heard.

With unwavering courage and the support of allies, I am ready to face the daunting road ahead. Together, we will challenge the status quo, dismantle barriers, and strive for a world where advocating for our well-being is met with empathy, understanding, and genuine psychological safety.

Grounded in logic and reason, my aspirations for the outcomes of my discrimination claim are clear. I expressed my desire for reinstatement into my position, accompanied by six months of severance pay, allowing me the necessary time and space to heal from the deeply harrowing and traumatic experiences I endured. This request stems from a deep-rooted need for restorative justice and an acknowledgment of the toll it has taken on my well-being.

Furthermore, I firmly advocated for a week-long trauma awareness training for the leadership involved. This dual-purpose initiative aims to serve both my personal pursuit of justice and the broader objective of cultivating a more compassionate and empathetic environment. By equipping the leadership with a comprehensive understanding of the impact their behaviors and actions can have on others, we can strive towards preventing similar harm in the future.

Guided by unwavering determination and an unwavering vision, I embark on this transformative journey. My pursuit of personal justice extends far beyond myself; it is a quest to create a future that is fair and equitable for all. I am driven by the belief that every individual deserves to thrive in an environment that values their well-being and safeguards their rights.

As I navigate the complexities of seeking justice, my ultimate goal is to pave the way for the betterment of society as a whole. I aspire to foster workplaces and communities that prioritize empathy, understanding, and growth. These fundamental principles, unfortunately, remain alarmingly absent within our social systems and agencies that bear the responsibility of protecting and serving our communities.

By advocating for change, I aim to hold these systems accountable and compel them to embrace a new paradigm—one that upholds the values of justice, fairness, and compassion. Together, we can dismantle the barriers that hinder progress and work towards building a society where the well-being and protection of every individual are not just ideals, but tangible realities.

Ensuring the well-being of the public goes hand in hand with treating the dedicated staff of public agencies with the same level of care and consideration. If we aspire to collaborate and dismantle power structures in our communities, it is imperative that we begin by fostering healthy dynamics within our own workspaces. This fundamental principle is rooted in basic behavioral psychology and transcends cultural, religious, political, and communal boundaries.

The golden rule—"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"—serves as a universal guidepost for our interactions. It reminds us of the importance of walking the walk, not just talking the talk. True leadership lies in leading by example, demonstrating the values and principles we wish to see manifested in our society.

By prioritizing the well-being and dignity of our workforce, we create an environment that encourages collaboration, nurtures personal growth, and fosters a culture of respect. When public agencies embody these principles, they become catalysts for positive change, not only for their staff but for the entire community they serve.

Today marks the end of my tenure with the Oregon Health Authority, and as I reflect on this chapter of my life, I am filled with gratitude for the invaluable lessons I have learned. In my comprehensive final report spanning sixty-eight pages, I begin my closing statement with these words:

"In conclusion, my journey toward personal liberation within the Behavioral Health Unit has been a profound and transformative experience. Throughout my navigation of the organization's intricate landscape, I have encountered numerous challenges that have tested my resilience and deepened my understanding of the work that lies ahead."

Respectability politics, stigma, lack of responsiveness, and the absence of reciprocal trust and guidance have been formidable obstacles, but they have also served as catalysts for growth and self-reflection. This is my truth, my reality—a perspective through which I choose to frame this experience. As I embark on the next leg of my journey, I am prepared for the challenges that may lie ahead. I take pride in the unwavering dedication I have given to my work at the Oregon Health Authority, and I recognize the continued value of the work that awaits.

Our society has long been accustomed to sweeping issues under the rug, but we have witnessed the detrimental consequences of such avoidance. The time for change is now, and it starts with me. I am committed to using my voice and unwavering resolve to initiate transformation in Oregon and beyond.

As the lyrics of that familiar song go, "Ain't no one gonna break my stride, ain't no one gonna slow me down." I carry these words as a mantra, reminding myself that no matter the challenges I face, I will remain steadfast in my pursuit of positive change. Onward we go, embracing the journey with determination, resilience, and a vision for a better future.

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