Monday, September 22, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Unexpected challenges yet life is still worth living


I started this post months ago in the period after I went to Write Canada.  Going to Write Canada was a significant event in my journey towards recovery post workplace abuse.  It is one of several unfinished posts in which I cached pieces of other posts which just didn't seem to fit in at the moment.

Right now, right at this moment in space and time, dear friends, I feel totally wiped.  Worn out.  My mind doesn't want to function.  My body wants to stay in bed.  Things that used to interest me, don't light my fire right now.

In short, I have a lot of the symptoms of depression according to the linked article from Huffpost.

I also feel disjointed - which is why I think reinventing this old conglomeration of bits and pieces from other posts fits today.  It fits the way I feel.

Yet, at the same time, disjointed and lacking in continuity as it may be, it does have a certain amount of fluidity.

In my journey towards recovery from workplace abuse, depression seems to be part and parcel of the journey.  Sometimes worse than other times.  Sometimes better.  It sort of seems to wax and wane like the moon.

The problem is to realize it for what it is.  If I can realize what it is, what I'm going through for example identify trauma, complex PTSD and depression in my life, then I am able to deal with them, to cope, better.

This post starts with Write Canada, goes on to an earlier part of the journey and then goes back to Write Canada.  It sort of meanders all over the place - like that creek I mentioned in my last post.

Yet ... yet, I think there is some validity in sharing these disjointed parts of my journey.  Because although disjointed, they still form a whole.

*******

Sandra Orchard, Published fiction writer from Ontario, who conducted some of the workshops who just happens to be wearing one of the scarves I made and brought to give away to anyone who blessed me.
Conquer?  Not exactly.  Write Canada does not need to be conquered.  It is not Mount Everest.  It is a group of people, mostly Christian people, who write.  We come from all over Canada, East and West, we come to share this time, to meet new people, to reconnect, to learn and to grow as writers.

Me.  I came with my own agenda.

To continue on the course of recovery from Workplace Abuse.  My own personal Mount Everest.

The journey home from a place which left me lost, alone and lonely.

From picture archives 2011 of ambitious camping trip in what is called the "Near North" of Ontario

I had no way of knowing back in 2011 when everything was happening at the workplace and I had those two back-to-back stress breakdowns what was in store for me.

I knew that what I was experiencing in the workplace was trauma.  I knew that I had complex PTSD from previous situations including and especially the first run in with workplace abuse.  But I really didn't understand how profoundly trauma was going to affect every aspect of my life and how long it was going to last.

It was like starting out on an unplanned, unexpected journey on the spur of the moment with absolutely no idea of where I was going or how I has going to get there.  If I got there at all.

The breakdowns and initial damage occurred in late winter/early spring of 2011.  By the fall of 2011, I was starting to move into what I now know was the chronic phase.  I was tired all the time.  A tiredness that never went away.  We had planned a two-week camping adventure starting out at Tobermory Ontario on the Bruce Peninsula, taking the ferry across to Manitoulin Island and then making our way across to Saulte Sainte Marie, up to Manitouwadge, Ontario and on back.  Little did I know at the time how challenging this trip would be.  How severe the damage was.  And that it was going to last for quite for time.

I simply thought if I got a good night's rest I would be fine.

That didn't happen.

I did notice that I felt safer in smaller spaces.  We have two tents and my husband chose to bring the small, canoe camping tent rather than the larger one.  I was glad he did.  I felt comfortable in that small, enclosed space which held so many good memories of previous trips when it was just hubby, me, the canoe and God.

The old lighthouse, now unused, at Big Tug Harbour, Tobermorey, Ontario
I also noticed that I had quite a startle reaction.  On our first night in Tobermory, a young child ran past me emitting loud noises - as children do.  And I startled badly.  I stopped.  I had a panic reaction.  It was then that we realized that going into a restaurant for our evening meal was not going to work.  Hubby suggested we buy sandwiches, etc. at the local food store and then go to the old lighthouse to eat them.  There were lots of other people there and I started to panic again, but hubby knew what I needed and led me to a secluded spot in the rocks where we could sit virtually unnoticed and simply observe as we ate our supper.

What I've described in today's blog was only the beginning of the affects of the trauma which became apparent in the days, weeks and months to come.  Affects I still wrestle with.

The "long and short" of it.  Myself and Heidi, one of the hardest working and funniest women I have ever met at Write Canada 2014
This is part of the background of the story as to why even being able to go to Write Canada 2013 with my niece as constant companion was such a victory and why going alone this year to Write Canada 2014 felt akin to climbing Mount Everest - or perhaps going up the CN Tower.

Also, why I find life such a challenge even now more than three years past the initial injury, the initial trauma.

*******

Life, my friends, is all about living.  Living to the fullest.  Living to the best of our abilities DESPITE our challenges.

During my journey - and largely because of it, I have had the privilege of meeting many people mostly through the net who are as disenfranchised in their own situations as I am in mine.  Most of these people have autoimmune diseases which have caused drastic changes in their lives.  Pain.  Immobility. 

Yet these people soldier on.

Life, I am finding is not about avoiding all obstacles and challenges but in meeting them head on and finding a way to cope with them.

Today, my challenge - should I choose to accept it - is to find a way to rebalance myself and soldier on.

I accept the challenge.

Until tomorrow ....






Friday, September 19, 2014

Workplace Abuse aka Bullying: Cracks in the infrastructure

How did this experience of workplace bullying which impacted me so badly leaving serious injury in its wake start?

There are no clearcut, decisive answers.  

However, looking back on the situation, I wonder if it had to do with the "infrastructure" of the workplace, a term usually used to denote the basic physical and organizational structure needed for the operation of a societyor enterprise ,[1] or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function (Wikipedia) but used here to denote the management style and company culture exiting within that particular workplace.  

Several months after I signed that document and resigned from the workplace while I was still very much in turmoil from the emotional fall out of what had happened to me, still trying to get a grasp on understanding the dynamics involved, I got up the courage to speak to a friend of mine who used to be a manager in a totally different industry.  As we spoke, all the examples he could give me were completely work related.  They had nothing to do with what had happened to me in my workplace.  They had nothing to do with the "I don't like you so I'm not going to work with you" mentality that I had experienced.  In fact, at what point he said that he had never experienced anything from a managerial point of view like I had experienced from a worker's point of view in my workplace.  Finally, he said that from where he was sitting, the "infrastructure" was broken and probably could not be fixed.

Ironically, less than two weeks after that conversation, the head company announced that it would be completely closing our facility and building new - outside of our immediate area.  Meaning that while people could apply for positions in the new plant, the company was under no compulsion to re-hire them.

Also, it was separating the plant/processing function from the warehouse/distribution function by building a new third-party warehouse operated by a separate company.  Which again meant, that current employees could apply, but there was no certainty that they would be hired on.

*******
I wonder if the infrastructure within the company was already cracked by the time I walked in just three weeks after I'd been walked out of the workplace abuse experience #1.  Freshly and wounded, I was very vulnerable very probably resembling a deer caught in the headlights.  A perfect target.

The workplace I walked into was a company on the verge of major changes.  It had begun as a small family-owned local business and had grown over the years - similar to the company I'd worked in prior.  It was an institution in our community - as was my former workplace.  Always there.  Like NCR was in the Dayton, Ohio area where I grew up, it was a major employer.  Unlike NCR in my former home town which long ago pulled its manufacturing process out of the Dayton area and tore down all the buildings, both companies were still there.  Still producing.  Still employing people.

When I walked in, it was said to be hard for a person to get employment in that company unless they had an "in", a relative who worked there.  I had no "in".  I simply saw the ad on Workopolis for a temporary position in the office as a mat leave, filed my resume and cover letter on-line - and the rest was more or less history.

The company was rumoured to be a good employer in the area.  And it was in many ways:  benefits, perks, an employee market for the goods we produced.  There was also a sense of camaraderie as many of the employees had worked together there for years.  There was a sense of family in a way.

It was a large compound as well including a laundry facility for those who worked in the plant and had to wear uniforms, a boot room for those whose jobs necessitated the wearing of certain footwear like steel-toed boots, a sewing room to repair the uniforms, etc. and even a nurse's office and a doctor on the company payroll.  As well, the company had plumbers, millwrights, electricians etc. on staff to take care of any problems that cropped up on the production line.  You could say it was a community in and of itself.

And it had a union.  Actually two unions:  one for the plant employees and one for the office employees.  I was in the latter.

Being fresh, very fresh, from the bruising, brutal experience in my former workplace, I felt like I was Dorothy who had just landed in the Land of Oz.  I felt that what happened to me in the smaller, previous workplace could not happen to me in this larger one.  I felt that the union would protect me from the sort of behaviour I had experienced in the former workplace.  And it might have - had this experience been top down, i.e. starting with management, as the previous one was.  But it wasn't.  

This experience started with my co-workers, my peers.  It was a grassroots sort of movement which started at the bottom levels i.e. the grassroots and travelled upwards to HR, management and even the union.

It was not the union pitted against an unfair employer - which is what I perceive the union's role to be, but it became one faction of union members pitted against another union member who had been singled out and targeted for bullying.  Talk about conflict of interest.  I learned the hard way that even though the union president said that she was there for both sides, her leanings where definitely not with me.  There is no such thing as "neutrality" on something like this.  

On top of that, as good as I had perceived my employer to be, it did not have a separate bullying policy.  It only had a harassment policy which is based on Human Rights issues such as race, religion, ethnicity, etc.  

As I mentioned earlier, the company was about to experience a major transition.  What was once a family-owned business had already been swallowed up by a larger fish from the U.S. a few years before.  Now, it was in the process of transition of being taken over by an even larger fish:  a multi-million dollar Canadian conglomerate.  A leader, a mover and shaker in the Canadian food industry.

One thing I noticed very early on in my tenure at that workplace was that I seemed to have walked into a place which had a lot of divergent, strong, personalities.  It reminded me a bit of what someone once said about walking barefoot in south Texas; you didn't want to do it because everywhere you went there was a thistle, a thorn or a burr.

This workplace reminded me of that statement in the personalities of the people.  This one didn't like that one.  There was friction here; friction there.  A lot of very strong personalities all within the same space along with people who were related in some way, shape or form to one another by blood or by marriage, like two sisters-in-law one in management and one in the office; a mother/daughter duo also one in management and one as part-time; a husband/wife duo - her in the office, him as a driver; mother/daughter's "significant other" in the same office doing the same job.  The list could go on.  

There were also major trust issues.   If people didn't like what you were doing, they didn't go to you and work things out, they ran to management.

Looking back, there were a lot of "fault" lines criss-crossing the entire department similar to the geological fault lines which exist within the earth and are capable of causing catastrophic earth quakes if the conditions are ripe.

Although we had the illusion of "team", were we really capable of working together as a whole?

I think the workplace held together as well as it did for as long as it did, because there were good, strong people in management positions at the time I started my employment there.  Also because all the components, i.e. workers and managers, were all together in the same building.  However, as the new company took over, it slowly changed the internal dynamics of the workplace as it shuffled people around to different positions and even in one major case, shuffled an entire department to another location, thus giving room in another building on the compound for all the higher managers to be moved to that building.

As older, more established employees changed positions within the company and employees from others area of the compound including the plant came into the office, the dynamics changed considerably over time.

Each new person who came into our division, added a whole new dynamic to the mix.

*******

And this is where I will end the blog for today - and for this week.

Until Monday ... have a good weekend.



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Where Am I Now?


I took a walk along the river by my house yesterday in the early morning - mandatory camera in hand.  As I walked, I snapped this picture of two paths converging - or separating (depending on which direction you're going).  I often feel like that on the road to recovery.  Many times, I feel like I'm at a crossroads and am not sure which fork in the road to take.  Which one will be the most productive.  Which on will lead me to where I want to go?  I feel I am at such a crossroads right now in my personal journey towards recovery.

*******

On my road to recovery surviving workplace abuse, where I am now?  Right at this moment in time and space?  Where would I put myself if the road to recovery were a straight line with one end being the beginning and one the end?

I don't know.

Because workplace bullying and recovering from it, doesn't work that way.  It's not a straight line.  In my experience, the bullying had no clear cut beginning.  It just sort of started with one person, one incident and grew over a period of months and years into something formidable.  Somewhat like a bulldozer which levels everything in its path.  Only in this case, the bulldozer called bullying was aimed at only one person.  Or, usually, one person at a time.  In this case, it was me.

Because there is no clear cut diagnosis or treatment, the "line" is not clear cut either.  Or straight.  In my experience, it meanders all over the place like those creeks we used to cross on the way to grandma's years ago before expressways were built.  There was one creek, we would cross about six or seven times on that particular journey.  We kids used to love to shout out the name of the creek each time we crossed it. But we also knew, that each time we crossed it, we were one segment closer to the ultimate goal - arriving at Grandma's house and all the delights that waited for us there.

How many times am I crossing the same creek on my road to recovery?  This time without even knowing it?  Again, I don't know.  But I do believe that with each bend in the road, each milestone I pass, each creek I cross, I am further along the road to recovery and closer to the ultimate goal.

Where am I on the road to recovery, three years plus after I signed that paper in the donut shop with only the union rep present?  With no prior warning that this encounter was to be a meeting rather than a casual cup of coffee and getting more acquainted with me and my situation?  It depends on how you look at it and from what perspective.

According to my therapist, whom I saw this week, I am doing well.  I am processing things well.  She is very pleased with my progress.  In fact, she is so please that we are slowly backing off the counselling process down to every four weeks from every two weeks and soon to be every six weeks.

Yet, it still feels like the tentacles of the octopus called workplace bullying which in my case escalated to mobbing still have their clutches on me.  Still reaching out to suck me in and drag me down to the depths of despair.

Yesterday was cleaning day at my house.  About a year ago, I adopted one of the best coping mechanisms I've come up with yet.  I hired a cleaner to come once a week.  Not only does this dear soul clean the dust, vacuum, etc., but she's helped me on the road to de-cluttering my house.  To getting rid of lots of unused "junk" taking up precious space in my house.  We've accomplished a lot over the past year - as I've been able.  Yet, we still have a ways to go.

The on-going journey towards recovery from workplace abuse is a lot like that.

Yesterday, as part of the cleaning process, I gathered up all the papers on the floor in my safe room and deposited them on my bed to sort through and attempt to organize.  Among those papers are knit and crochet patterns I've printed off the net (duh!), recipes, resumes, financial stuff and reams and reams of articles I've printed off re: different aspects of workplace bullying from Bill 168 to mobbing, to psychological harassment to bullying, to psychiatric injury and so on.

As I picked up these papers to sort out and put into piles, I glimpsed at each one and read just a little bit to determine which pile things should go in.  Looking at those articles regarding workplace bullying and its different aspects brought back just how wronged I was in the workplace.  It brought back all the feelings of helplessness.  Of voicelessness.  It made me feel like crawling into a hole or under the bed or somewhere.  It made me realize the enormity of what I faced then, of what others in the workplace have either faced in the past or are now facing.  It made me feel like giving up.  It's such a huge task confronting workplace bullying and I'm only one person.

I feel like I stand alone now because many people who have gone through it don't want to revisit that horrible place in their lives.  They just want to forget.

United we stand; divided we fall.  The effects and aftereffects of bullying, the shame it brings to us, the lies we've internalized all cause us to stay under the radar and remain isolated.  Divided.  Separate.  Worthless.  Worth less.  We are afraid to stand up and become visible because the tentacles of the octopus are still reaching out, trying to continue to cling to us and pull us down.

How can we be heard?  How can one voice alone be heard?  And ... is it worth it?  Or should I just crawl back under the covers, curl up in ball and lick my wounds?

I feel insignificant:  my name is not David.  Yet workplace bullying is my Goliath.  I don't have a slingshot and a stone.  I'm not skilled in those arts.  Yet ... I have my words.  My strength and skill as a writer.  Will it be enough?

So today, I find myself at a crossroads in a sense.  During the process of recovery, I've come to realize just how wronged I was.  How the bullies used the very legislation that could have protected me to have me terminated because it combines violence and harassment in the same document.  All these people had to do was to raise the spectre of possible violence - whether there was anything substantial to back that allegation or not - and I was gone.

It's been three plus years now - which is well over the year allowed by the Workers Compensation Board for complaints.  I found one of the documents I signed that fateful day agreeing that I would not come back to them in any way, shape or form.  Legally, I have no grounds any more on which to stand.  Financially, I have no money to fight for my rights anyway.  Looking at it that way, it's a done deal - and has been for more than three years.

Yet, those people who tormented me in the workplace and caused so much stress and injury are still out there in the workplace.  Not the one we were together in because that one has closed.  Yet, they are still out there in other workplaces.  Are they doing the same behaviours in these new workplaces that they did in ours?  Are other people, good people, in danger from these same people?

*******

Today, I will leave you with that question which I hope is thought provoking and head back to bed, crawl under the covers, curl up into a ball and figuratively lick my wounds.

I need to rest to regain my strength.  After resting will come nourishment.  After that ... I'm not sure.  But always, always the road to recovery beckons.

I may lay down for a wee bit, but I am determined not to stay down.

Until tomorrow....

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Disrupting the routine and going outside the comfort zone

Another routine disruption accidentally led to an early morning walk along the river.

Today, I would really prefer to be anything by blogging.  My routine has been disrupted for several days, which doesn't allow me the structure I need on this road to recovery.

Now don't get me wrong.  Having my routine disrupted isn't really a bad thing.  Or entirely a bad thing, as it takes me out of my "comfort zone" in small bites thus allowing me to get insight and glimpses into how I am progressing on the road to recovery.  But, it does make getting back into my normal routine a bit harder.

Right now, every fibre of my being is crying out for DVD therapy, rather than blog i.e. processing therapy.

I don't want to think right now.  I don't want to try to form thoughts into words and words into sentences that make sense.

I just want to veg.

Going back into the theme of routine disruptions, take Monday for example.  I had something on hold at the library to pick up - which is very much in my comfort zone - as well as a part to repair our vacuum to pick up at a mall on the other side of town - which is no longer in my comfort zone.

I designed a plan.  I would take the bus to the library, pick up the item being held, then take the Express bus across town to the mall, pick up the part and then retrace my steps, thus combining the familiar with the unfamiliar.  It seemed like a plan.  A good one ...

Until ....

Until hubby was having breaky and we realized that a lot of the items he puts in his lunch were down to zero.  I ended up getting very creative in putting things - and yes, they were edible - into his lunchbox which in itself is a disruption to our normal routine as he usually fixes his own lunch.  At that point, I realized that I needed to try to figure out a way to include a wee bit of grocery shopping - without a vehicle to load them into and without a grocery store being on my direct route.

Solution?

What else does a mother do when she has a quandary like that?

She texts her adult daughter and asks for help.

Adult daughter replies that she has to go grocery shopping herself, so we can do it together.

Hey!  I've just got a new plan in the formation.  One that has real possibilities of working.

When daughter picks me up, she asks where I want to go.  I wanted to go to the store I normally do my shopping at because I am familiar with it.  It's in my comfort zone.  However, she needed to pick up some non-grocery items and had a time limit.

Solution?

We chose to go to a WalMart which if half grocery items and half the other kind of stuff.  It was definitely not in my comfort zone, but it was logical.  So that is what we did.  (I am nothing if not logical.)

I don't know if I've mentioned it or not in this blog, but I have been having trouble focussing clearly with my eyes since around the time I had the stress breakdowns at work.  I've seen the optometrist several times and my vision has not changed.  She has suggested that stress can cause visual problems and also that I had the beginnings of cataracts.  So which is it?  Cataracts or stress?  Either way, it drives me nuts when I'm in an unfamiliar place looking for items such as was the case on Monday.  I felt like I was in a fog mentally and also in a fog visually.

It was fun though, as WalMart has different brands than I usually buy and I had fun picking out different cat food for one very persnickety cat.

After shopping and making a detour by my place to drop off my groceries and her place to do the same, she deposited me at the library and went on her way.  So,  my original plan A went back into effect.  And it worked.  It worked well, I'm happy to say.

Am I stronger for the experience?  I don't know.  It's too soon to tell as frankly I'm tired and feel worn out.

Yet, there's a part of me that wants to do a thumbs up victory sign like I did when I successfully confronted my "favorite" nemesis - the Observation Tower in Parry Sound, Ontario - and won!

So today, even though I'm tired, even though my mind feels like it's filled with cotton batting rather than brains and really doesn't want to function, I still feel that I'm on the winning side.  Recovery, mostly unnoticed, is happening.

Until tomorrow ....




Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The value of coping techniques


As I walk - OK stumble and bumble - through this journey of recovery post workplace abuse, I often feel like this road construction project near our home which has been on-going for months now and is causing a lot of disruption in the traffic flow in our area.  It also doesn't look like it's about to finished any time soon either.  Riding on the bus on this road yesterday was a torturous experience at best.  Bumpy.  Scary even with heavy equipment seemingly everywhere - one of which, I think, came perilously close to hitting our bus with its bucket.  At least, I think the driver thought so as he braked suddenly and waved at the driver of the heavy equipment.  Frightening.  Definitely, not a fun experience and it's one which the driver has to navigate time and time again on this route.

I think the road to recovery after workplace abuse is similar to this piece of on-going road construction.  Difficult to navigate, needing careful consideration - and sometimes help.

Will it ever get done?

I have faith.


*******

I kind of stumbled onto this series about the value of coping techniques when recovering from workplace abuse when I had a really bad series of days after writing the post about being coerced into resigning during a surprise (to me) meeting.

Writing that post was both good and bad, I think.  It was good in that it uncorked the bottle so to speak and let out those emotions that had been stuffed inside since that time.  It was bad in that once let out, the emotions battered and buffeted me for several days until my coping techniques started to re-kick in.

Workplace abuse is a form of violence because it is about power and control.  Violence damages its victim.  Sometimes the damage is severe enough that it doesn't go away for a very long time, even with treatment i.e. therapy.  A case in point.  I still have limitations after breaking my wrist almost two years ago.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm just going to have to live with them - and work around them.  Similarly, a close friend was mauled by a dog several years ago.  She still has scars - and will always have them - from that attack.  Plus coping with the after effects of the trauma of having been mauled by the dog that night.

Yesterday, I wrote about the value of routines in my life as I progress along the road to recovery - and a somewhat normal life.  As I wrote about it, I realized that another huge coping technique throughout the entire journey from the early onset until now can be summed up in the word "comfort".

We all know about comfort foods.  Foods which make us feel good.  Early on, I enlarged that concept in my life to include "comfort clothes":  clothes that I feel especially comfortable in.  A large part of which are wraps, shawls or ponchos that I've made.  As I wrapped them around me, I felt not only comfortable but protected.  Maybe it's only a mind game or an illusion ... but it worked.

Today, though, I want to expand that concept of comfort onto places and people.

I've long since realized who the safe people are in my life.  They are those who are aware of my journey and the challenges I experience on it and work very hard to help me rather than hinder me on my road to recovery.  These "safe" people are also people I'm comfortable being around.  And I can trust them.  They would not deliberately say or do anything to hurt me like the only woman from my church who I thought was "safe" and allowed into my safe room only to have her hurt me and buffet me with words.  She is not on my list of safe people.  Neither is that particular church on my list of safe places - because safe places are inhabited by safe people.

There are places where I feel safer than other places.  As I've mentioned previously, because the co-workers got on my Facebook page and ran to management with their claims of ethics violations as well as writing and circulating a petition for signatures with various unproven - and probably unprovable - allegations, I did not feel safe in the outside world after I signed that document in the donut shop that day.  I was afraid of what these people might possibly conceive of to do to me - even after they had won and I was long gone.

The fear has lessened in the last year, but it is still there to some degree.

In addition to developing a routine, or routines, in my life, as I've started accessing the world outside my house usually in small bits rather than large bites, I've developed a feeling of comfort in some places such as the local yarn shops, the library, the uptown core of our city, the bus getting there and back, the pharmacy, the doctor's office, etc.

I realized the need for that feeling of comfort when hubby gave me the task of making the reservations for our little mini vacation a few weeks ago.  I thought of all the places we could go.  Some didn't feel right because of the distance involved.  Some felt right but there was camping involved - which we both love, but were we realistically capable of the physical rigours of setting up the tent, etc.?  Especially after driving hours to get there?

So, finally I let me mind drift to where I felt most comfortable - which is around water, in a canoe, camera in hand.

Then my mind settled on the town of Parry Sound Ontario on Georgian Bay where we've gone numerous times in the journey.  For years, we've stayed at the same one star motel.  We've gone through three owners now and are treated like long lost friends.  I feel comfortable there.

In our various wanderings, we discovered years ago where there is an Outfitters which rents canoes.  Again, they're on my list of comfort zones, so we rented a canoe from them.

We ventured outside of our comfort zone when we put the canoe in close to the town of Parry Sound itself and ventured into a narrows which was heavily traversed by motorized pleasure craft of all sizes from skidoos to cruisers - and some boats that defied description.  We ended up at one point stuck in a little cove where the wake from passing watercraft threatened to swamp and capsize us.

Putting in at the Swing Bridge in Parry Sound and traversing Two Mile Narrows at high noon on Labour Day
We were actually trapped in that cove for a while as whenever we tried to get out, another fast boat came along.  Yet, this may have been way outside my comfort zone and may not be something I would attempt again in the same way, at the same time, but yet it was not an experience which provoked trauma.

Why?

Because we could see the boats and their wakes coming.  We could anticipate things.  And some of the boats saw us before passing us and slowed down.  Others saw too late what was happening and stopped and looked back to make sure we were safe before going on.  But most of all, because I've learned to trust the person in the back of the canoe.  The one who is trusted with steering and keeping us safe.  I've learned to trust his instincts and his knowledge.  He knows that getting hit broadside by the wake is the surest way to capsize the canoe; therefore, he tries to head the canoe into the wake.  A bumpy ride to be sure, a little harrowing until the wake passes and the water is calm again, but still the safest way to meet this danger head on.

*******

Workplace bullying aka abuse aka psychological harassment aka small "h" harassment is all about broadsiding the victim aka target.  It is all about swamping and capsizing their little canoe which they do in ways over and over that the target cannot anticipate which is what has caused the severity of the trauma I experienced and the difficult of the road I travel toward recovery.

*******

Heading out onto Georgian Bay from Snug Harbour, Ontario towards Kilbear Provincial Park the day after Labour Day

We went again in the canoe again the next day.  A different put-in point.  Almost no pleasure craft around.  Calm waters, sun and fluffy white clouds.  A place we've been before.  A place we're comfortable with.

During both experiences, as I held that paddle in my hand and dipped it into the water feeling the power and strength propel our canoe forward, I felt fully whole and alive for the first time in years.  Fully in my element.

I came home from our mini-vacation feeling totally relaxed and laid back.

Hubby came home with a bad sunburn.  I guess you can't have everything.

Experiences like this give me hope and encourage me to believe that I will heal.  I will eventually fly again.

Until tomorrow dear friends ....



Monday, September 15, 2014

Surviving Working Abuse - A Day In The Life, continuing recovery on the journey

Part of my routine which keeps me stable and able to function is the knitting and crocheting.  Another part is spending large amounts of my day in this little room in my house - formerly a bedroom now my "safe" room where I knit, crochet, watch DVDs, write my blog, etc.

As you've probably noticed, I did not post a blog on Friday.  I do apologize for that to you, my loyal readers.

I have been feeling emotionally paralyzed by so many different and conflicting emotions as I wrote last week's blog posts.  So many directions in which I can take this blog.  But not all at once.  It has to be one blog post at a time.  So do I write a series on one theme such as all the things that went wrong at my workplace?  Do I take a side trail such as mobbing which is part and parcel of the issue?  Or do I go off on other themes which are still interrelated to the theme of recovery from workplace bullying as a whole? Or do I hopscotch around to what seems important on any given day at any given time?

All of these trails have merits.  But I can only follow each one one blog post at a time.

So Friday, I was grappling with the direction I wanted this blog to go in and had no concrete idea on which one to follow.  They're all important.  Such as the last blog post I wrote on Thursday, the one
about some of my coping techniques.  Ones that I use when I am completely down for the count, unable to do much of anything constructive except just be.  Yet there are other coping techniques I use, for the most part unconsciously, according to what my situation is on any given day.

Coping techniques are a huge part of my strategy for recovery and stability.

One coping technique which has been extremely valuable in my journey post trauma and post workplace abuse has become the importance of having a routine.  We all have routines.  My former routine involved getting up, getting ready for work, going to work, working, coming home and unwinding before going to sleep and doing it all again the next day.  That was my former structure.  Leaving the work situation, especially leaving it when I was so ill basically left me feeling adrift on a very large very stormy sea.  Therefore, I have set up a basic daily routine which allows me structure in my daily life.  Because it allows me structure in my daily life, it also allows me a bit of power and control.

Of course, there are sometimes disruptions in my daily routine.  Sometimes it is intentionally upset as when we go away.

Sometimes it is unintentionally disrupted, as was the case on Friday.

My daily routine includes having coffee with hubby before he goes to work, writing my blog, checking my emails, checking out some news reports, writing an email to a good friend, posting a picture, etc.

Having coffee with hubby is as far as I got on Friday.

It all started innocently enough when hubby discovered something leaking from the car the night before.  Just before he was about to leave, he suggested that I go with him to work, drop him off and drive the car to the mechanics.  Which is what happened.

Now his workplace is all the way across town.  I rarely drive anymore.  This was way out of the ordinary, especially doing it on the fly.  The mechanic, however, is way across on the other side of town - and our house is somewhere in the middle.  Somewhere.  The mechanic was aware that I was coming and had a loaner car for me to drive away in exchange.  Bonus!

One deviance in my routine led to another deviance in my routine as the day progressed.  I went to visit my daughter who lives very close to the mechanic and actually give her a ride to a meeting - which I haven't been able to do in years.  It felt ... odd.  Then I had to drop off a DVD to the library.  That wasn't so odd as the library has become part of my list of "places that I feel safe in".  Then, I decided since I was very close to a grocery store and had a vehicle so wouldn't have to pack any purchases home on the bus that I would visit the grocery store and pick up a few things.

Now, most people wouldn't give a second thought to any of these activities.  And neither would I have ... before workplace abuse deprived me of a lot of who I used to be.  I used to by a powerhouse of energy.  A dynamo.  When I moved, I moved quickly and got things done.

No longer.  Each task, I find, needs to be thought out carefully in advance.  I'm rarely spontaneous anymore.  I don't have the energy.  I don't have the skills.  Even taking my meds is a challenge somedays.

So all of this was not just a victory on my journey to recovery, but a glimpse into how far I've come on the journey in the last year or so.

In 2011-2012, I couldn't do the grocery shopping alone, unaided.  Cognitive skills and motor skills were both down.  Hubby went went me.  My balance was so bad that I used the grocery cart as a four-wheeled, very lumbering walker.  I needed hubby to be my shield between people and myself.

Friday, I was ready to go alone.  To use a basket, not a cart.  People didn't look very scary.  I made it through the store and out the check out line without any trauma.  Yes!!!!!

It felt good.

Back home though, I realized I was tired and that I sorely needed my routine to get back on track.

That said, life - in the form of my mechanic - had a few other ideas for me.

Like being called back to the mechanics to pick up our car and drop off the loaner as they'd discovered the problem, ordered the parts and figured it was safe to drive until the parts came on.

I wanted to leave my house, get into their loaner vehicle and drive like I wanted another hole in my head - which I don't.

I also decided to detour and pick up daughter on the way there..

There is where fate - and road construction - intervened.  Our twin cities seem to be a work - or rather works - in progress of unrelated construction activities.  One end of a road blocked off here.  Another end blocked off there.  Making it - at least for me on Friday - a "you can't get there from here" kind of scenario.  One top of that, the car informed me as I was pulling out of the driveway that it needed gas.  Sigh.  A trip to the gas station was not on my agenda.  My head felt like it was filled with cotton batting instead of brains.  Thinking, planning a route to get from here to there and get gas became problematic.

Finally I decided on a route - which would have worked had it not been for the road construction.  I ended up taking a very long, circuitous route to pick up my daughter who by that time thought I was lost.  She wasn't far wrong - but I wasn't going to admit it.

Eventually, I got back to my house, my safe place, my safe room after navigating road closures, returning the car, picking up mine, etc.

Time for a sigh of relief?  Not yet.

Remember, I had dropped hubby off at work in the a.m.  What gets dropped off, has to be picked up.  For me, it meant another drive across town at night, after dark.  Which is another problem in and of itself as I am having vision problems.  Whether they're related to getting older, continuing stress affects of what happened in the workplace - or both, I don't know.  The last time I tried it was not an experience I want to repeat.

So, hubby and I devised a plan.  I would drive to the shopping mall on that edge of town while it was still light and wait for him to call me.

I felt exhilarated to have been able to drive there without any problems.  It was a Friday night and lots of people were careening around.  It felt good to be out.  It felt good to be alive.  It felt like I was finally re-entering life as I used to know it.

Looking back, my routine got thoroughly disrupted on Friday.  Yet ... would I have it any other way?  Would I want to miss out on those opportunities which show me how far I've come.  Or those opportunities which show me what I have yet to do on the journey?  I don't think so.

Either way, I realized after the fact, that while I missed writing and posting my blog, I did a lot of important work on the journey that day.

Where are you on your journey of recovery?  Can you look back and see how far you've come - even if it's only a small space - from where you were to where you are now?

I sincerely hope you can.

Until tomorrow....


Thursday, September 11, 2014

After Workplace Abuse: When emotions buffer, therapies and coping techniques come in

After spending three days writing Monday's blog and reliving that horrific (to me) event in the local doughnut shop with the Union representative, I have had a rough go of things both emotionally and physically.  I didn't really expect the emotional backlash to be as severe as it is.  I thought I had dealt with things emotionally.  And to a huge degree I have.

But ...

I have never told the story of that experience in the doughnut shop in one logical sequence.  I've told bits and pieces of it before ... to my family, to my therapist.  But have I ever really told the whole story complete with how I was feeling sitting there in the doughnut shop?  The answer is no.

Many people would say that I am doing the wrong thing by bringing up old memories and that I need to "let go" - whatever that phrase really means.

I received a comment from someone I did not connect with at the writers conference this year, I connected with her later when she read my blog and empathized with it as a former target of bullying in the workplace herself.  She wrote me this week that it was rough for her to read my post as it brought the memories back.  I apologized to her and wrote that I didn't know if I was doing right or wrong by writing about my experiences.  Part of her reply sticks with me.  She wrote that it brought back things she thought had long been dealt with and that she now feels that some things never completely go away (emphasis mine).

I think I'm learning that the hard way.  Some things never completely go away.  The hurt, the damage, runs too deep.

So what do I do when the depression, the lethargy, the inability to take interest in anything come back?  When the feeling of heavy pressure on my chest comes back so hard that it makes it hard to breathe?  What do I do then?

What have I learned to do in the past?  What has kept me stable and enabled me to get up and go on with my life during these past years?

I doubt I can give you a complete listing here in one blog post.  Nor do I think I am able to write them in any logical order at the moment, so this could get interesting.  But here goes.  Here are some of the coping mechanisms I've learned in the journey.

Photo Therapy:  

By "photo therapy", I'm not talking about going out on an adventure, camera in hand, taking photos because when I'm having the intense difficulties I've been experiencing this past week, going outside the house saps the strength.

I came across this method of therapy quite by accident just the other day as I was on my laptop culling through my photos to delete some and make more room for new ones as the disk is full.  I started at the bottom of the list and came across almost 1000 photos of a trip we'd taken to Scotland in 2009 when our daughter was a grad student there.  The pictures flooded me with peace - and good memories.  I discovered that day that certain pictures bring back exquisite memories.

Since I could dedicate not just one posting but a whole series on what I'm calling "photo therapy", I've selected just one significant photo for this blog post:  the Oktoberfest Thanksgiving parade, 2012, held here in our town.

This particular photo is a good memory of both a victory and a one-time family happening.

Two of the boys in the float below are my grandsons.  It was a one-time only occurrence in which they were invited to participate in this float with their grandmother.  It meant a lot to all of us that I could be there and see it - and wave to them.

It was a victory in that I had not been able to attend the annual Oktoberfest/Thanksgiving (Canadian) parade for years because of the fatigue associated with the bullying.  It took a bit to make this happen.  A family member came early, staked out the corner, brought extra chairs and blankets and watched over me to make sure I was OK. 

I felt cocooned in love.



 Knitting therapy:

Ah, knitting - and/or crocheting.  You knew I was going to bring this up at some point, didn't you.  When I feel so bad that I cannot go outside, I don't feel like talking to anyone, I pick up the needles and yarn.  It helps if I either have a simple project already on the go or some of that twirly yarn for fashion scarves.  These are not the times to start a "masterpiece".  These are the times to do a simple, repetitive task.  I've found that repetitive hand/arm movements stimulate peaceful/restful feelings.  Plus the sensory experiences of feeling the yarn as it goes through the fingers and seeing the item take shape below my needles brings peace.


DVD therapy:  

I haven't been able to watch an entire, long movie for years but I can do the bite-sized nibbles of TV series on DVD (we don't have a TV).   These bring me out of my problems for a short period.  They show me that there's a life out there ... somewhere ... and let me relax and enjoy - for the short-term.


Book therapy:

This is a small selection of books I have read or am reading.  Books like Teh Holy Wild I can only read in short segments - sometimes only a page at a time.  Books like Call the Midwife, I can gobble.  When I find sitting in a chair difficult, I can usually pick up the latest book I'm reading (I usually have a selection on the go) and lie down on my bed, pull the blankets around me and read. 


Than there's always "Cat therapy" (in my case since I don't have a dog):

In this picture, she doesn't look very therapeutic, but she has very soft fur.  During the journey, she has adopted the habit of lying close to me on the bed especially when I'm attempting to read a book, sometimes putting her check and paws on my shoulder which comforts me and makes me feel so much less alone in the journey.  Just the sensory experience of stroking her soft, silky fur brings about feelings of peace and contentment.


Last but definitely not least "bed therapy":

When all else fails, when I can do nothing else, when I can't even sit up in a chair and watch a DVD, I lie down on my bed and rest.  I don't consider this a defeat.  I consider it part of the healing process.  My therapist has told me that in order to fully recover, I need to rest.  So I've learned to listen to my body in the journey and if it won't allow me to do anything else - even read in a lying down position - then I curl under the blankets and allow myself to find comfort in the feel of the sheets, the blankets, the hand made afghan.  I allow the tiredness to take over and I sleep.  I rest.

*******

Yesterday was a particularly bad day in the journey.  I'd been depressed for several days and then, yesterday, I felt like I couldn't even sit up.  I felt tired.  Not sleepy, but tired.  My chest hurt.  So I followed my body and laid down with my book and my cat nearby.  I read when I could.  Prayed when I couldn't.  But most of all, I simply allowed my body to restore itself.

Later, hours later, I was finally able to sit up for brief periods.  Eventually, I was able to take an interest in a simple knitting project, a fashion scarf.  I was able to make myself a goal on that scarf.  As it takes two balls of yarn, I wanted to completely finish the first ball and do five more inches on the second.  I am proud to say that I succeeded in that goal.

At first, very on in the journey, I would feel anger that I was reduced to this.  Now, I look back and feel pride at how much I've accomplished.  I realize that the journey is not a progressively forward trek, but a backward and forward motion.  This week, after writing down and getting out that part of the story, definitely initiated a backward motion in the journey.  Yet ....  Yet, I feel that I finally uncorked the plug which was holding in a lot of bad stuff and that now that the bad stuff is finally out, I can move forward even more.

Healing comes slowly.

One step at a time.

Until tomorrow ....