I Refuse to Be Afraid of Smiling: An Open Letter to WSIB

smiling-animals-263271_w650The other day a good friend was forced by Facebook to send in government issued ID to prove her real name because she had always used a nickname before. I suspect someone reported her, but they claimed to be doing a “sweep” of fake names and fake accounts. This, of course, brings up all sorts of issues, one of which, though some may consider minor in comparison to others, was touched on in a comment someone made in her thread. I can’t find it (she may have deleted the original post), but I will attempt to paraphrase:

I use a fake name so WSIB and my employer won’t know that I still smile occasionally.

WSIB is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the government department in the province of Ontario responsible for administering worker’s compensation benefits, though some might argue their job is only to deny, deny, deny. It’s a nasty bureaucracy staffed with folks who could probably make an easy switch to the private sector in the field of collections, who more often than not exacerbate workplace injuries with their staunch need to fight you tooth and nail at every turn. Even with the recent legislation change here in the province, the one that precludes them from claiming any occupational stress injury for first responders is not work related, they have still put up hoops ringed with fire and moats swimming with piranhas probably culled from the office intern pool.

That particular quote, the one I paraphrased above, is really not so far off the mark.

It’s something I’ve been thinking since I’ve begun both appealing my claims and sharing so openly here. I know that someone in a cubicle up at Simcoe Place in Toronto will be scanning this blog at some point, looking for any evidence that I’m a slacker, a fraud trying to play the system, that they can use once again to either deny what I am due or minimise their responsibilities. To be perfectly honest, even as I wrote that last sentence I could imagine them wondering how they could twist that to their advantage. Or that one. Or maybe that one, too. It’s with this in mind that I offer this open letter to them.

Dear WSIB,

Thank you for taking the time to stop by my little journal. I understand why you might be here, and I accept that, but even still I hope you find something meaningful, personally, worth taking away. I write here in the spirit of openness and honesty, and though that’s primarily for myself it would be remiss of me, as I try to become a better human, not to share what I can.

By now you have my file open on your desk. You may look at it and wonder what’s been happening the 10 years since my last claim was denied and I objected. Quite a bit, actually, most (perhaps all but for the last few months) not particularly healthy self-guided attempts to either ignore the debilitating effects of my workplace injury, or mitigate them as best I could. As most reasonable people could expect (and I am certain you are a reasonable person) I failed miserably. Each effort cost more than it helped, so there was a consistent slide backwards until I found myself with a balance so negative my very life was under threat.

Why didn’t I just kill myself the many times I thought about it, as many like me have done in the past 10 years? I used to think it was because there was something important and profound I wanted to say to the world first, but to be perfectly honest it’s much simpler than that. I don’t want to die. Please don’t think I’m suggesting that there’s blood on your hands from the many police, paramedic, firefighter, and corrections officer suicides in Ontario. I wouldn’t do that.

I have smiled occasionally, and now even look specifically for things that will help me smile because I like smiling. I talk here about successes in my journey, rather than the horrors that put me on this path in the first place because it’s healthier for everyone, especially me. To be perfectly frank (or sue, I don’t judge), there’s very little wiggle room between me and the bottom of the barrel now as I try to live on the ~$13000 a year I receive from the Ontario Disability Support Program, so I accept any little bits of joy I can on a daily basis and there’s very little anyone could possibly do to make things worse.

In that, there is a surprising depth of peace.

If it helps at all, I can tell you that the first time I sat in a cubicle probably very similar to yours but at my local Ontario Works (welfare) office, I was so stricken with fear and shame that I sat stiff upright, hands under my legs, tears welling up and unable to properly speak. The case worker was as kind as she could be (meaning she went to find a box of tissues for me). The exact same thing happened when I went to my local Cable TV office to return the rental equipment and cancel my service, and when I first met with an ODSP worker. So you have that, at least, to mitigate the odd happy puppy post on my Facebook page (which is also public, so if you haven’t yet, feel free to look at it. There’s a link to it under “Engage With Me” up top. Please, share the cute kitten clips and funny memes there with your coworkers).

In recent months I have managed to regain the pride in the uniform I once wore, in the moments where I made a difference in people’s lives, and I’ve proudly reclaimed the title of paramedic, regardless of what the Ambulance Act has to say about it. There are many things I am still afraid of, things that inspire a disproportionate terror inside my head because of the workplace injuries I suffered, but I am not afraid of you anymore.

I refuse to be afraid of smiling.

Yours very sincerely,
Patrick Riley

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4 thoughts on “I Refuse to Be Afraid of Smiling: An Open Letter to WSIB

  1. Every public service worker needs to read this. 1) Because if they are totally compassionate they will share it with those peers or management who are not. 2) Every aspect of serving the public (every interaction between any individuals – regardless of workplace and situation (for are we not all public servants)) should require deep thought and consideration. This letter is a reminder to all of us to hold ourselves accountable for authenticity, compassion, and, yes, smiling.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is wonderful Patrick. A gentle yet firm calling out of wrongs and humiliations perpetrated against individuals by huge state run organisations. You keep smiling – I’m pretty sure it leaves them impotent with rage that they haven’t broken you with their pettiness.
    Ps I love the cat memes but the cute dogs are my favourites 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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