Monday, October 20, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The Place of Friends

I once bought a friend a cup with the slogan:  "Friends are the chocolate chips in the cookies of life."

Friends are the chocolate chips in the cookies of life.

*******

I've been thinking of writing a blog posting about friends for months now.  It all began when I ended up in a "friendship" which became harmful for my health.  I kept on trying though because this person was deeply wounded, just like I am.  She needed friends, just like I do.  She was hurting, just like I am.  I was hoping to have a friendship based on mutuality such as doing things together, talking, etc.  Instead our relationship became very one-sided with me giving and her taking.  She become more and more demanding of my time and what limited energy and resources I had.

While I had a fair understanding through my own journey of some of her issues and problems, she had no understanding of mine.  To her I was all "put together".  I had "everything" as in a husband and family.  I "didn't have to work" and could "enjoy my hobbies".  In short, I had things she wanted but was not achieving.  I believe she became jealous because she didn't have those things.  These were all things this hurting soul threw at me - and more.  Sometimes in a very forceful way.

Yet, nothing could have been further from the truth.

I struggle.  Sometimes daily.

My cognitive skills go up and down.  And when they go down ... they go way DOWN.

Many days I cope by staying inside my safe house especially in my safe room doing those things which stimulate peace and healing - like my right brain therapies, crocheting and knitting.  Yet, the very things I use - and need - to keep stable and heal became things she ridiculed.

The difference between us was that I had learned many coping mechanisms such as my right brain therapy of knitting and crocheting.  I had spent years building up a small, working support system.  I had spent years ... and thousands of dollars ... on therapy - and continue to do so.

In short, I had worked ... and worked hard ... to get where I am.

Yet, when I suggested any of these things, she would forcefully rebuff me.  What good would it do to get counselling?  They couldn't fix her.  They couldn't make the hurt go away, the pain.

And that's true.  There are no magic wands.  BUT ... they can guide us into ways of helping ourselves, of helping us see ourselves more clearly and find ways that will help us get out of our situations step by painful step at a time.

A huge problem with this relationship was that neither of us realized that I am still wounded.  Very wounded.  Appearances can be very deceiving.  To her, I looked strong and put together.  Yet, I still have weak spots.  I may have been strong enough to walk with this dear soul, but I was not strong enough to carry her.

Finally, I had to back out of the relationship for my own sake.  I simply wasn't strong enough.

And I'm still not.

This relationship caused me to think a lot about what friendships, healthy friendships, look like.  And how they happen.

To be honest, I don't think friendships happen by design.  At least not in  my life.

I look back to a friendship that had a huge impact on my life that started in the least likely of ways - and lasted for years.

The cat that brought N and I together
I met N when she came over to adopt my cat.  She then invited me to come over and visit her and the cat.  We clicked during that first meeting.  We were the same age.  We both liked cats.  We were both creative people.

I now realize that N needed people in her life just as I needed people in my life.  But not just any people.  She needed people in her life who would accept her and value her just as she was.  So did I.

Poor.  Needy.  On disability.  With health issues.  Yet, N lived life to the fullest within her circumstances.  She had a zest for living that I've rarely seen in other people.  Hubby called her an "odd duck" yet, to me, odd ducks are the unique ones, the uncommon ones.  When I go to the nearby river for walks, I see mallards, geese and seagulls by the dozen.  They're commonplace.  What I'm looking for are the uncommon ones.  The rare ones.  Like the odd blue heron and common merganser or even the commerant.  Like the chocolate chips in cookies, the odd ducks, the characters, the people who broke the mold when they were born, are the ones who add flavour to our lives.

N was such a person in my life.  She was a friend when I needed one.  When I came over to visit, she would make me flavoured coffee and proudly tell me she'd gotten it at the dollar shop.  She would treat me like royalty, give me the best seat in the house, and we would talk.  She would share with me her life.  She would proudly show me the treasures she'd gotten from the food bank, which apparently has more to offer than food.  We shared a bond I've rarely had with another human being in my adult life:  unconditional acceptance on both sides.

N taught me so many things about friendship which I still treasure to this day.  When I would visit, she would write me a note afterwards.  She couldn't afford much, but she would find treasures in the thrift shops where she volunteered to gift me with.

But the most important thing she taught me was how to be a friend.  When she felt the friendship was too one-sided as in she was doing all the phoning and outreach, she would gently rebuke me and say "friends don't treat friends this way".

She taught me how to be a friend probably without even realizing it.


The last time I saw her a stomach thing was going around in our area and I was on the verge of taking a trip to Myrtle Beach.  But when N asked me to come, I came.  That's what friends do.  N wasn't well.  We thought it was the stomach thing that was going around.  She asked me to take the cat to the shelter as she wasn't able to care for him.  So I did.  That's what friends do.  She told me that if she didn't get better by a certain time, she would call the ambulance to take her to the hospital as she didn't have a way to get there herself.  Maybe I should have pushed her and taken her there myself right then and there.  That's what a real friend would have done.  But I didn't.  I was caught up in my own life - and frankly she didn't ask me to.

I did, though, tell her that during that last visit how much she meant to me as a friend.  I'm glad now that I did.

I worried about her while I was gone even thinking of calling her long distance a few times.  That's what friends do.  I called repeatedly her as soon as I got back home from my trip but received no answer.  Then her phone was disconnected.

It took several weeks before I discovered that my friend had died while I was away.

I still mourn her loss.  I still miss her and I still remember her and the things she taught me.  About living life to the fullest even with disabilities.  About friendship.  About how to be a friend.  The things she taught me are still with me - and in a way, she is too in the memories.

*******

As I look at N and at others who have come into my life, I see more and more that friendships are not something one can plan.  They just sort of happen.  A person, a stranger, comes into your life - and stays.  The longer they stay, the less strange they become.

I don't now if this will become the beginning or a series or rather a theme which I will revisit from time to time.

Yet, one thing I want those people in my life who know me - and love and value me anyway - you are important to me.  I value and appreciate you.

And that's as it should be.

Until tomorrow (I hope)....





Friday, October 17, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Where I'm At Today

For those of you who are wondering where I've been and why I've not written anything lately, I assure you that I have not been on vacation.  I haven't been anywhere nice, exciting or fun.  I've been holed up in my little safe room.  Down - again - for the count.

It seems to be a pattern.  I seem to be making real progress and then life hits me where I'm most vulnerable with something new.  Something unexpected.  Something I have absolutely no control over.

I've been in the midst of one of the most severe relapses I've had for a very long time.  In some ways, I feel like I'm right back in the middle of the abusive situation at work.

I've started I don't know how many blog posts in the last week, but none seemed to go anywhere.  Getting words out - both verbally and written - has been very difficult.

I've not been sleeping or eating.  It's been hard once again to follow directions either verbally or written which makes it difficult to engage in my favorite right brain therapy - knitting.  Or writing.  Or even reading.  The mind has shut down.  Gone on strike.

So I've decided to write this blog just as though I'm talking to an old friend, explaining the situation.  What's going on my life that has triggered me so badly.

To others this may seem like small potatoes but to someone like me who stays home a lot, routine and consistency is important.

So is safety.

As is the feeling of power and control.

All of which got ripped out of my hand by someone(s) who don't even know me.  They've never met me.

We've been in the mist of a major road construction project.  Actually, my area is riddled with them.  In Canada, we seem to have two seasons:  winter and road work.  Guess which season we're currently in which thankfully is winding down now that we're close to the end of October - we hope.

I live three blocks inside the city limits in an older community.  Actually, its kind of mixed as there are older homes and residents who've lived most of their lives here along with newer development in patches where there once was a field or park or even a drive- in theatre.
If traffic is not going one way ....

My street is also, and has been for many years, a pass through to go out of town. We have had an increase in traffic since late spring when our street became the detour and thus the major route into and out of town due to construction.

The traffic as well as the lack of sidewalks has never really been an issue.

UNTIL ...

We got a new postie who I've been informed wanted this route.  Whether she wanted this route or not, she apparently was not prepared for what she found.  Which with my logical mind doesn't make much sense.  If she wanted this route and specifically asked for it, didn't she know what she was getting into?  Apparently not.

...it's going the other, kind of like a picket fence
She stopped our mail delivery.  We had no inkling this was in the works.  After all, we'd been in the construction and detour situation for four months already by this time with approximately one month to go.  We were all just about ready to give a collective sigh of relief when the traffic pattern went back to normal.  Or so we thought.

This women decided our neighbourhood was not "safe" for her because of the increased traffic due to the detour.  She also threw in the rate of speed of drivers coming into town and the lack of sidewalks for good measure.  (In case you're interested, our street is part 2 of the construction project scheduled to start next year.)  We'll be getting the sidewalks.  The plans have been in the works for years.  In fact, in most areas of our street, including our home, there is a wide area fronting the street which actually belongs to the city for the purpose of putting in the sidewalk.  Which again, and I know I'm repeating myself, is scheduled for installation next year.

Apparently, though it's going to be one year too late.

As a neighbourhood, we were blindsided.  This closure came out of left field, catching all of us off guard.

Especially me.  As we've tried to liaise with the supervisor who did his own "investigation", we find ourselves more and more powerless, voiceless, faceless.

He - and the postie - have all the power.  She has a powerful union on her side.  He, as the supervisor, has the same union on his back.  If he does one thing wrong, he can get into trouble with the union.  As we've talked, the huge imbalance of power has become more and more evident.  Like a teeter totter with a  huge man at one end and a tiny child on the other.  Who's gonna be stuck permanently up in the air?  You got it.  Not the person with all the weight.  He (or she) has complete control over the youngster stuck at the top.  That person isn't going anywhere until he says so.  And he (going back to the supervisor) is not prepared to let the youngster get down and off.

This situation, this lack of power and control, has triggered me badly.  So badly that I've had a recurrence of anxiety related problems.  At times. I've been unable to eat or sleep.  Unable to talk coherently or track a simple conversation.  Yesterday, I worked the same row on a cabled headband I'm knitting several times.  Since this is headband #3 in the same pattern in about a week, I've got the pattern down pat in my mind.  But my mind isn't working.  It isn't contacting the fingers.  There's a distinct break.

Personally, I'd like to lie down on the bed, curl up in the fetal position, drag the covers over my head and stay there.

I'm so tired of fighting.  I'm so tired of working so hard to recover.  I'm so tired of having no control over my own life, my own path.

I'm so tired of supervisors who do subjective investigations.  Of supervisors who only pretend to listen.  Who talk over you.  Who threaten to end the conversation because "we're not getting anywhere".  I'm tired of people I perceive as bullies or as incompetent impacting my life.  I'm just so tired....

I think the situation would be different, more bearable, if we had had some participation in the process.  But that's not how it works.

The last time I talked with the supervisor, he dissed me over and over.  I can say whatever I want to, but it has no impact on our situation.  His decision is apparently made.  Canada Post, apparently, has a three year plan to eliminate all home delivery putting up community boxes in place of home delivery.  Which might be OK, IF everything was done in a professional, planned manner so that there was a smooth transition from home delivery to community mailbox delivery.  The community mail boxes are installed approximately one city block apart.

The problem is, because of the postie's complaint, there is no plan to resort to, to implement sooner.  They can't install the boxes until we get the sidewalks - which as I've said before are scheduled for installation next year.  The postie can't walk on the grass - union regs.  Because the safety card has been played, under union regs they cannot ask another postie to take the route.

He refuses to entertain the notion that this woman might be toxic i.e. a bully.  I mentioned this several times in our last conversation.  The last time, he simply said "I don't agree."

Power and control.  Big time.

I've said many times that I don't think he did a thorough investigation.  He has made no effort to slow down the traffic by having the police involved.  He has made no effort to look at statistics to see if there has been an increase in accidents on our street in the last four months.  However, he counters that he did "due diligence".  What, pray tell, is due diligence in this case?  At the moment, I'm waiting to hear from Ontario Heath and Safety what due diligence means in our situation.

I am angry.  Very angry.  At a woman I've never even seen.  At a woman who came into my neighbourhood to do a job and within days, shut us down.

I am so tired of being powerless.  Of being faceless.  And most of all - of being voiceless.

Sometimes, recovery just doesn't seem worth it.

*******

I usually try to leave on a positive note.  Something upbeat.  Something encouraging.

Today, unfortunately, is the exception to the rule.

Until next time - whenever it may be....

This picture was taken a month or so ago on the street undergoing extensive road work.  It's almost ready to re-open.




Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: A sense of humour works wonders

It's difficult to find a picture in my archives that's funny.  Partially because what is funny to one person, may not be to another.  Also because when we are stuck in our situation whether it be trauma, PTSD, active workplace bullying, or even a chronic illness, it is very hard to see the humour in anything.  It also seems like a travesty to be able to smile, let alone laugh, when we're going through he**.

I've been there, I should know.

Yet, I have found laughter to be a huge source of healing in the midst of the journey.  My therapist has always said that one of my hugest strengths in the battle is that I never lost my admittedly weird and wacky sense of humour.  I came close a few times, but I never truly lost it.

In the Bible, Proverbs 22:17 says:  A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones. (NASB).  The word "joyful" is translated in other versions to be merry or cheerful.

I memorized that verse decades ago, yet during this time of bleakness, pain and confusion, I've brought it out, polished it up on my t-shirt bottom and looked at it again and again.

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.  OK.  I confess.  I memorized it in the King James.  But the message is the same.  I can either choose to laugh or I can allow my bones to dry up.  I can allow the situation to suck out all the strength, all the life from me.

*******
In an article my Mary Fairchild entitled "The Healing Power of Laughter", I found this list of benefits from laughing:

  • Decrease in stress hormone levels
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Pain reduction
  • Lowering of blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular conditioning
  • Natural anti-depressant
Now, I've never done a clinical study on psychology ... which stands to reason since I'm not a psychologist or anything close to it.  But I do know the effect a good laugh has on my mood when I'm not doing so well.  I do know that laughter seems to make everything seem a little less bad, a little brighter, even a little more hopeful.

Just a few nights ago, an American "friend" on Facebook who lives somewhere in Europe started a thread about what comprised a "typical" - if there is any such thing - Canadian Thanksgiving as she's having friends over to celebrate it.  She tagged several individuals on this thread who she knew were either Canadian or had an outrageous sense of humour.  She invited us to get as creative and outrageous as we could.  And we did.  It turns out I'm not the only seriously deranged person out there.  It was so much fun.  It took me outside my small room, my safe place, my routine, my problems and brought - even if for just a few hours - a huge bright spot of fun, creativity and relief.  Plus a few belly laughs as we thought up the craziest ways we could to celebrate a Canadian Thanksgiving from maple syrup, to moose to beer and German dancers in lederhosen and dirndls  (the Canadian Thanksgiving coincides with Oktoberfest celebrations in some localities) which got translated as the thread moved along to drunken German dancers dancing on the moose.  After we'd all had a good laugh, the thread then turned more serious.  And that was good too.  To really get into what Thanksgiving is all about - after we'd all had our fill of hilarity that is.

For me, that thread on Facebook was like a very refreshing mini vacation from life.  It only lasted a short while, yet the memory still brightens my face and my attitude as I remember it and the camaraderie we shared for such a brief time.

Likewise, my outing yesterday which was supposed to be a bus trip to the library to return two DVDs - one of which was due that day.  I hurried out of the house to catch the bus and was already on the bus which was in the process of pulling away from my stop when I realized I had brought my knitting but had forgotten the DVDs.   I had a couple of options - getting off at the next stop and walking back to the house for the DVDs and taking the next bus in 30 minutes OR going on.  Asking the driver to stop so I could run back for my DVDs was definitely not an options.  I chose to go on anyway as I had some checks to deposit plus one to cash.  At the bank I discovered just how fouled up my cognitive processes were that day..   I only had the two checks to deposit.

Now what do you do in that situation?  I told the teller I apparently was not having the best of days because of ... da da da ... and she started to laugh.  In fact, we both laughed.  Because in reality it was pretty funny - depending on what angle you're looking at it from.  It turns out this woman has had her own "I can't believe I did this" moments such as boarding the wrong bus to go home and finding herself at the end of the line in a totally different community from where she had intended to go.  Laughing at the memory she told me, it's fun to not always been on top of things.  I found out that I could go from here to (the name of the community) in an hour and I could still get back home on my transfer.


Hubby and I find humour sometimes in the most unlikely of places.  Travelling by car around Scotland in 2009, we found this sign.  And died laughing.  What type of "plant" i.e. tree was trying to cross the road here?  We still take this memory out on occasion and speculate as to whether it was a maple ... or maybe an oak.  How about a sequoia?  Whatever it was, it must've been BIG.

A sense of humour.  It makes the unpalatable more palatable.

It comes at unexpected moments.  Yet, every time it comes, it lessens the load a little and brightens the day.

A sense of humour not only makes my journey of recovery post workplace abuse more palatable, it also makes my survival and eventual complete recovery more likely.  It gives me the proverbial knot at the end of the rope to hang on to.

Whatever you do, don't lose your sense of humour.

However, if you have I urge you to go find it.

It'll come in handy on the journey.

Until tomorrow....

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Glimpses of Recovery in the Journey


Life post workplace bullying tends to resemble a large-scale construction project like the one currently nearing completion in our neighbour.   Unlike this construction project, our "reconstruction" project has no beginning, middle or end.  At least, not one we can see with our eyes.  Yet, the signs of recovery are there.  We just have to look harder for them.


********

As I was pondering what to write about today, one theme kept recurring to me.  Life post workplace bullying.

What does life post workplace bullying look like?  Really look like?  Is it all dark and gloomy?  It's definitely not all fun.  There seem to be periods of both intertwined in the journey.  Sometimes in the same day.

There are flare ups, to be sure, such as what I've been experiencing with our mail situation, yet even in the middle of those flare ups, there were still positive signs of recovery.  Such as two days ago when we needed some groceries and hubby was too worn out from working.  Since he now has three jobs to try to pay the bills, it's hard to schedule a day off and he gets tired working seven days a week.  We needed groceries - and I felt alert and alive enough to go out alone and get them.

For most people, this is not noteworthy.  In my past life this was never a problem.  In my present life, I rarely go places alone.   But two days ago, I went out alone without a backward glance - or a qualm.  For once, I felt strong.  Even after a week fraught with strong feelings of anger, rage, etc.  Fraught with flashbacks of the past and a resurgence of physical affects, I felt emotionally stronger than normal.  I'm not sure why.

I chose to go to a different store than normal, one smaller.  One unfamiliar to me.  One where you have to bag your own items.  No one does it for you.  Other than the fact that the stress from the episode of workplace bullying has caused eye problems and while I can see the "big" pictures i.e. large things like people, carts, etc., the small details are a problem.  Especially in a different store.  I needed honey.  Where was the honey?  It was hard for me to see individual items and read the signs.  So I slowed down and took it easy.  I decided it would be an adventure.  And it was.  Eventually I found everything on my list - and a few things that were not - and headed to the cashier.  As luck would have it, one cashier was just finishing up with a customer.  And she had a smile to die for!  In addition, she was kind and had a radiant personality.

One of my daughters called while I was out and was shocked to hear that I was grocery shopping alone.  Unaided.  Unprotected.

I was proud of myself too.  I went out, alone, unprotected and survived!  Hubby?  He'd been worried and was just glad I made it home in one piece - rather than in pieces.

It's incidents like that that give me hope for full recovery.  That show me in concrete ways that though I felt I was relapsing with all the "yucky" emotions and symptoms reappearing, that in the midst of all the bad, yucky stuff, there are concrete, irrefutable signs of recovery.  Those are what I need to look for.  And focus on.  Not the other, transitory stuff like emotions.

Emotions come and go.  There is really nothing bad about them per se, I've learned.  It's what the person chooses to do with them.

*******

I think I'll stop here today and simply bask in that one moment of concrete recovery.  Something that I've not been able to do before.  Something, that even though I'd had an emotionally - and physically - bad week shows that recovery is still slowly happening.

There are more stories about seemingly small things.  Things like going into what I felt was the whale's belly (referring to Jonah in the Bible) when my daughter accompanied me to Canada Post's distribution centre yesterday to pick up our accrued mail.  

Life ... is what happens when we have other plans.

Life has thrown me several curve balls - and continues to throw them regularly just to see what I'll do with them.

Until tomorrow....





Monday, October 6, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: How one person shut down a service to an entire area

Last week was a hard week for me, both physically and emotionally.

I know it shouldn't have hit me so hard.  I shouldn't feel such anger bordering on rage at one individual who I don't know and have never met - nor at this point would I want to meet.

But this one person has managed to single-handedly shut down the mail delivery to our neighbourhood.  A neighbourhood which has been struggling to deal with a massive construction project - not on our street - but on another, major street bordering us which has necessitated a detour of all traffic going in and out of town onto our street, past our house - for five months.

Our turn for a massive construction project i.e. installing sidewalks on both sides of the road to the city limit, is next spring.

For five months, all of our services - bus, postal, recycling, garbage, etrc. - have been maintained.

Until...

Until one person took over the route - at her own request I've discovered.

Maybe the route wasn't what she thought it was.  Maybe she felt inconvenienced by the extra time it took to safely cross the street with the extra traffic.  Maybe a lot of things.

Maybe, though, she's a toxic employee.

Remember the post I wrote on toxic employees?  We received the notice about the mail stoppage the same day I posted it.  Ironic, isn't it?

The main symptoms according to my research are:

  • A decrease in or lack of productivity
  • A decrease in or poor morale
  • An increased frequency in arguments between the employee and others
  • A sense that the employee is increasingly frustrated because "things just aren't going right"
  • A negative, antagonistic attitude
  • An increase in negative comments and personal attacks
  • An unwillingness to "go the extra mile" while encouraging others to refuse as well.
Other symptoms increase infighting, backbiting, passive/aggressive behaviour (aggressive actions done in a passive or weak manner), arguments or criticisms for the sake of being different or antagonistic, and an unwillingness to help out others in a culture that values providing input and assistance to colleagues. 
Most of these symptoms were present in my own previous situation in the workplace.  BUT ... the supervisors were unwilling and/or unable to discern that there was in all probability one or more toxic employees in the workplace.  They were too close to the situation and were unwilling or unable to have an outside, more objective investigation.  Because of their relationship with the toxic employees, they were simple unable to see things in a different, more objective light.

I have no idea what this individual is like, but I can say that from where I sit since the previous carrier managed to continue our mail delivery for five months, she does not appear to be willing to go the extra mile.  She is unwilling to help out others - in this case our neighbourhood.  The fact that the construction is scheduled to be finished by the end of this week didn't seem to figure in.  After five months with less than a month to go, she called it quits and pulled the plug on ius/

She threw out everything she could:  no sidewalks, high speeds of traffic, increased traffic.

The "investigation" was done in-house by her immediate supervisor who is backing her completely.  He is unwilling to even entertain the possibility that she is toxic.  His view is that she's a good employee but she does work exactly according to the rules - which should be a red flag right there.

I also sense a bit of craftiness with her.  She knows that if she says that she wants off the route because it's not working out, it's not what she thought it would be, it would work against her.

If she claims it's a safety issues especially with a large powerful union backing her, it's a no-brainer.  Immediate shut down.  Also, according to union rules once the safely flag has been raised, no other carrier can take over the route.

If it's not safe because of the above factors i.e. sidewalks lacking, increased traffic and their speeds, how come I have never felt unsafe walking up or down the street?  I felt inconvenienced trying to cross the street to catch the bus to be sure because of the traffic volume, but I never felt unsafe.

Perhaps safety in this sense is a matter of perception and assumption.  Then the question, arises whose perceptions and assumptions are correct?  Hers ... or ours.

This is a very diverse neighbourhood.  An older one.  One that was previously it's own town until our city took it over.  Some of the residents here are in their 90s and have absolutely no way to get to the distribution centre to pick up their mail.  Others have one car and work long hours so they are not able to pick up their mail in the allotted hours.  Then there is me who stays home a lot.  I've improved a lot in the years I've been on this journey of recovery - but full recovery still eludes me.  For some ofd us, it's an inconvenience.  For the elderly and for myself, it's a hardship.

Going out to a strange place to pick up my mail stirs up scary feelings in me.

It also triggers all the yucky stuff from the past where one person in our workplace seemed to be able to influence and excite the others to the point where they bonded together as one unit unified in their goal to get rid of an employee they just didn't like - me.

In-house investigations done by the immediate supervisor which relies only on walking the route, not on any objective fact-finding such as checking to see if there has been an increased accident rate on our road in the last five months especially involving pedestrians also raising up bad memories or other in-house investigations - those done in my workplace - by an immediate supervisor.  Just an my immediate supervisors were unwilling to look outside the box, this carrier's immediate supervisor has been unwilling to go outside the box and liaise with the police to ensure that cars are adhering to the speed limit.  He feels that that is useless.  He also has not checked accident records in our area to see if there has been an increase in accidents in our area especially those involving pedestrians.

?

All of this has thrown me seriously off balance.  The severe itching returned badly last week.  The lethargy.  The lack of interest in doing things.  All the yucky stuff came back.  I've been barely able to function.

Why?

Because this situation where one person has had such an impact not only on my life but on every life in this neighbourhood brings back big time all the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, voicelessness, facelessness.

There is absolutely nothing we can do in this situation except acquiesce.

Our mail service is gone.  Possibly for good.  All because of one person.

One person.

*******

I know that this appears to be something minor - especially for those in other situations; however, for a person whose life has been turned upside down and whose life revolves around her home, the familiar, the routine, this has upended me.

I've learned through my experience with trauma that things we have some control about are less likely to traumatize and, therefore, adversely affect us.  Things that we don't see coming and cannot prevent are proven to be more destructive in our lives.

That was my situation in the workplace.  I never saw a lot of things coming. 

That is why I feel so much upheaval in this situation.  I never saw it coming.  There was nothing I nor anyone in my neighbourhood could do to prevent it.

I feel caught up in something bigger than myself much like a mouse must feel caught in a cat's paws.

Totally at it's mercy.

Until tomorrow....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Joy in the aftermath

Workplace bullying is just that:  bullying.  It differs from schoolyard bullying in that the perpetrators have grown up - at least physically - and have developed new skills.  They're not as likely to be overt and in-your-face like they were in the schoolyard.  They're more likely, especially if they're female, to cloak their bullying as "personal".  I just don't like you.  If they're even that overt.  They're more likely to destroy their target's reputation through backbiting, gossip, slander, etc. - covert measures - than they are to attack the target physically with fists.

They attack the target's soul rather than his/her body.

So, in the aftermath where even years later, recovery still seems like some sort of a pipe dream,  a fantasy of my imagination, what brings me joy?  What transcends me from the bitter and brutal past memories to a more stable place in my mind?  To a place of joy?  To a peace where peace rather than turmoil reigns?

I believe that for each person it is something different depending on their passions and interests.  Therefore, in this post I speak only for myself.

Flowers, bright colours, my garden - especially the one I planted in memory of my mom after her death two years ago - and photography.  All of these bring me joy.  And sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can find them all wrapped up in one nice little packet.  Literally in the case of the zinnias below which were started in my very own living room window by seed.


This one plant far exceeded any expectations I had of it.  My hope was that it would survive and maybe I'd get one or two blooms out of it.  But no, this one had other ideas.  Once it started blooming, it just won't quit and has grown increasingly sturdier and bigger.  It is now October 2 as I write this and this picture was taken just three days ago.  He is a survivor.  He does not want to quit - and won't until frost comes.  Just like I refused to quit until the stress breakdowns began.  And still refuse to give up and quit on my journey towards recovery.  Some day, I hope to resemble this sturdy plant.


The hibiscus pictured above and below has a totally different story and place in Mom's garden.  On the first anniversary of her death when I was still in a very difficult place emotionally and missing her terribly, hubby and I went to a garden centre and picked out a few additions to her memorial garden.  Mom had never had any hibiscus in her garden so I wasn't really receptive to the idea of introducing this plant in her garden, yet hubby really liked the large bloom.  At first I thought this plant had not made it through our hard winter, yet eventually spikes came out of what had been a barren space in the garden.  This plant has been a very late bloomer waiting until the very end of September to finally open.  Yet, it has been well worth the wait.  I can see this huge white circle in the very back of my over 200ft lawn from the kitchen window - and it gladdens my heart.  Just the sight of it brings me joy.


I could go on and on about all the individual plants in my garden, yet I want to move on as other things bring me joy:  nature, canoeing, water, taking pictures (duh!). As you can see photography is a constant joy-giver in the process.  Since I'm a visual person, the pictures allow me to graphically share my adventures with others as well as allowing me to go back and revisit those places where I felt whole, alive and at peace with my world.  The series of pictures below portray one such experience which brought joy, peace and a feeling of well-being with my world.


This fall hubby had an unexpected three days off in a row, so we took advantage of that opportunity.  The objective of the exercise was to promote healing for both of us.


Thinking hard about what brings me joy, I immediately thought of three things: water, canoeing and camping.  We ended up having to ditch #3 as I realized that neither of us what up to the physical challenges of erecting and taking down a tent plus all the work involved in such an adventure.


So, I changed item #3 on the list above from camping to familiar places.  We chose a town we had been to many times and a motel which was both affordable and familiar as we had stayed there many times before.


The canoe was relatively easy.  We booked one at an outfitters which again we were familiar with and had had previous good experiences with.  The result?  We had what can only be described as an idyllic time away.

It wasn't without it's challenges to be sure.  Life never is, but at the same time, this time away doing what brings me joy allowed me to centre my sometimes turbulent emotions - and brought peace.


Even looking at the pictures as I write this post, brings back the feelings of peace I experienced out on the water.  Just hubby, myself and God.  Oh yes, don't forget the canoe!



Lastly on the list of things that bring me joy in the aftermath of workplace bullying is:  creative endeavours most usually carried out with knitting needles although sometimes with other things like crochet hooks, beads, words, even cooking.


Seeing things come to life beneath my fingers such as this afghan above brings me joy.  Hearing the delight of the person who received it also brings me joy.  Knowing that I have unique talents and abilities brings me joy and a feeling of worth-worth.

What, dear reader, brings you joy?  A simple question, yet not really an easy one to answer.  So let's rephrase it, if you could do anything at all in the world right now, what would you choose?


Ahhhhh.  Now, that's fodder for another post down the line.

See you tomorrow....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: The Spoon Therory by Christine Miserandino


I became acquainted with the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino quite by accident through a Facebook status by a very good friend and encourager whose life parallels mine in some ways.  She too has been affected by trauma, PTSD, chronic fatigue, etc.

Her status was simple.  It read something like "after a day like yesterday, I'm all out of spoons."

All out of spoons?  What did she mean by that?  Most of her friends took her post very literally.  As in literal spoons.  I fell among that category as well.

But why was she out of (literal) spoons?  It had snowed the day before.  Perhaps her young children had used her spoons to build snowmen or to play in the snow?

Among those of us who took the status literally was one friend who offered to bring her some spoons.

At that point, realizing that most, if not all, of us who read her status were way off base, she posted the URL for the spoon theory by Christian Miserandino who has the autoimmune disease Lupus.

I don't know much about Lupus.  I have learned through the years, though, that it not only makes the victim's life incredibly challenging, but that it is also a killer as it attacks various organs in the body.  It is one badass autoimmune - but then aren't they all?

I read it with interest.  I would challenge those who are reading this post to click onto the link, Spoon Theory, in the first sentence of this blog and read it for yourself.

In this post, she is asked by a close friend what it's like, really like, living with Lupus.  She found it hard to describe until she glanced around the restaurant where they were sitting and saw the spoons on the tables laid out for the next patrons.  She describes running around the restaurant grabbing up all the spoons she could find, eleven in all I think, and showing them to her friend describing them as the total amounts of energy she has for that day.  Once they're gone, they're gone.  She can borrow from the next day's spoons, i.e. energy, but that becomes a vicious circle.  Once used, spoons i.e. units of energy are not replaceable.  They're gone forever.

Holding up these spoons, this finite amount of energy available for that day, she describes the scenario of waking up in the morning and asks her friend to think of the immediate tasks before her.  The friends answers broadly, as most of us would, that she would have to get dressed, have breakfast, and go to work.

Ahhhhh.  We all think in terms like that, don't we.  The broad sweep of the brush across the painting.  But Christine had to slow her friend down to look at all the details, the minutiae, involved in just those three tasks.  Getting up and getting dressed is not as simple as it seems.  There are multiple steps involved in just getting that far.  Taking a shower involves multiple steps, multiple spoons, as does eating breakfast and just the act of opening the door and leaving the house to go to work.

As I read the Spoon Theory that day, I realized how much the effects of her autoimmune disease are like mine as I walk, stumble, and bumble through trauma and the aftereffects of workplace bullying.

I began to realize that I am a spoonie too.  Not in the same way that Christine is.  Not with the same cause.  But her theroy fits me as well.

Walking through the aftermath of workplace bullying has totally sapped my stores of energy leaving them seriously depleted.  I felt like I was running on fumes.  After three years, my storehouse of energy is still depleted.  Better, but still not completely there.

In 2012 when I was going through one of the hardest, most debilitating parts of my journey post workplace abuse, a close friend was diagnosed with cancer.  She was probably the one person who would have been likely to walk with me closely in my circumstances, but she couldn't.  She was going through treatment for cancer including chemo therapy and radiation.

My spoons at that point were basically nil, but I wanted to walk with my friend as much as I was able - which didn't seem to me as very much indeed.  However, I went back to what I had learned reading H. Norman Wright's book:  Helping the Hurting and how people have to look at what they can do to help others without burning out.

Without burning out.

I was already totally burnt out.  So what could I do to walk with my friend without causing further burn out?  Two things came to mind.  I could knit and crochet her chemo hats, and I could come over when and sit with her on those bad days when she needed someone.

She accepted both offers.  So, I became her every third Wednesday person (her chemo being on a three week cycle).  I would come over to her house for a few hours in the morning and just sit with her.  If she wanted to talk, we talked.  If she needed a rest, I had a book with me and I'd read while she rested.  If she wanted a cup of tea, I'd make it - which was hysterical as I wasn't able to do a lot for myself at that time, but I Was. Not. Going. To. Let. On. To. My. Friend. How. Debilitated. I. Was.  This was all about her.  It was not about me.

As I sat with her those mornings, she began to talk about how she felt not about the cancer so much, but the affects the treatments were having on her body.  Not being able to do much of anything.  Needing to sit most of the down, lie down, take naps.  As she opened up about her feelings, it was as though I was tailor made to walk with her down this path of what I call enforced being. A lot of the feelings, the changes to her energy status, were things I had already encountered in my walk through trauma.  I had passed from what I call "doing" to "being" the year before.  I had made my peace, as much as possible, with my altered energy and life circumstances.

Later, much later, when my was a year past the treatments and in a different place yet still a challenging place, she talked again about how hard it was for her to be careful and not overdo now that her energy was slowly returning.   She wanted to jump up and DO and be "supermom" once again.  She would do that ... and then she would hit the proverbial brick wall and be "spoonless".  By that time, I'd read the spoon theory, so I shared it with her which she took to like a duck to water.

This simple analogy enables people like me, like my friend, etc. to realistically look at our altered circumstances and find ways to live full lives even in the midst of challenging circumstances.

There are a lot of people out there in the real world who suffer from chronic diseases, trauma, cancer, etc. which cause spoon shortages, i.e. energy loss, in their lives.

We call ourselves "spoonies".

*******

Thank you Christine Miserandio for not only creating this incredible, insightful theory but also sharing it with us.  Your theory is helping so many people as they journey through various debilitating autoimmune diseases as well as cancer, trauma, etc.

You are my hero!