Monday, July 21, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: A side trip into how others' perceptions and assumptions impact the process



As you've probably guessed i.e. perceived and assumed by now, this one phrase took a huge toll on me and became part and parcel of who I believed I was.  No good because I thought.  I perceived.  I assumed.  This phrase was with me day and night - and in some ways still is - until I started realizing it for the lie it was.  And even then, even now, I'm still in the process of realizing it for the lie it was - and still is - and that it's not only my lie, this lie about perceptions and assumptions is part of all of us.  We all perceive.  We all assume.  And sometimes our perceptions and assumptions are not based on what we have seen or heard or felt for ourselves, but rather what someone has told us.

That is the other side - the flip side - of assumptions and perceptions.  What others think of us and, therefore, how they behave towards us, based solely on what they've heard from others.  This is the continuing saga of that three month period of time immediately after my mom died. 

*******

I started to become bitter about my church family.  Especially as when I did make it church and looked at the church bulletin, I would see thank you notes from this family or that family thanking the members of the church for theirs cards, letters, meals, flowers after the death of a loved one.

It made me feel worth less than other members of the congregation.  

Why did they receive and I not?

What was wrong with me?

I continued to work towards recovery as best as I could given the situation, the injury, the grief, the aloneness.

My family was going through their own grief, their own issues.  They were in as much need of support as I was.  They too had lost a very important someone in their lives.

Most of my socialization at that point was through computer as I felt safest in that mode. Also, as some of those who did their best to support me as best they were able were in other parts of Canada and the U.S.

These people did their best but they were simply not in a position to offer the physical, practical help I needed at that time.  It's kind of hard to email a meal.  And cyber hugs while a good thought just seem to lack something in their execution.

I continued my bi-weekly therapy even though it usually meant finding someone to drive me.

I continued what I call my "right brain therapy".  Knitting and crocheting.  Even when I could only manage to knit six stitches one way and six stitches back over and over, I continued to do so.  The result?  




 A room full of fashion scarves which became presents.


A happy cat nestled on a prayer afghan given to a man I'd never met who had cancer.  FYI:  On the  back of the chair is the red prayer shawl I made for my mom with chunky yarn during a sweltering July heat wave for what turned out to be her last birthday.  I was told I was nuts to make such a heavy item during such heat, but nuts or not, I continued on - sweating all the way - and finished it in less than three days - in time to present it to her for her birthday!


The finished "prayerghan" I had started for my mom in the last days of her life.  Purple being her favorite colour.  I hadn't finished the first colour segment when she left us.  However, I continued working on it bit by bit, not having a clue what I was going to do with it when finished.  When a dear friend I'd known for decades called with news that he'd just learned his mom had terminal cancer and was having trouble dealing with it, I knew who needed this afghan more than I did.  He has told me many times since how much it blessed him to receive it.


A second shot taken during this time frame showing the various items I made.  The colourful scarf went to a little boy and his mom in Northern Ontario.  Some I still have.  Some I wear myself. Some were given as gifts.  One or two were sold.

For all practical intents and purposes, this was me during that period of time.

A time of intense pain and loneliness.  Yet, a time where there was productivity.  Where there was giving and outreach.  A time where people got blessed even though I was down for the count.

A time that happened within the quiet confines of my "safe" place, my "safe" room.  A time my church community had no idea about.  

Because. They. Had. No. Communication. With. Me.

They had no clue.  And I felt like they didn't want to have a clue.

*******

This is as far as I can emotionally go today on this segment of my journey.

As I reread it this morning, I realized that there are people who have joined with me in the journey and were walking with me during that time.  One thing I had internalized from the book by H. Norman Wright Helping Those Who Hurt:  Compassionate and Practical Ways to Offer Comfort is that people who walk with people like me need to look at what they can - and cannot - do without burning out.  Walking with people like me is not a short-term thing.  It continues on for a long time.  It's not a straight line.  It fluctuates and goes all over the place.  Burn out for encouragers and supporters of people like me is a real danger.  These people need to protect themselves, to set boundaries so that they do not burn out.  This was probably in hindsight one of the neediest parts of my journey.  I chose to ensure that those who were walking with me at that time stayed in their roles.  The roles they were comfortable with.  The roles they were good at.  The roles that were such a blessing to me.  One such encourager and support through many parts of this journey is especially gifted in what I call the spiritual realm.  The realm of offering comfort and insight through the Bible.  She stayed with me in that realm faithfully throughout this entire time.  She drove me to therapy when I needed it.  She drove me to the hospital for appointments when my arm was in a cast and I couldn't drive myself.  She did many things.  Hubby too.  He took on all the household chores - even cooking - at that time.  I'm sure there are more people whom I am forgetting to mention at this time.  There was one woman who I've never met who chose to encourage me through the internet.  Who was there via cyberspace when I needed her.  There was the pastor way off on the West Coast of the U.S. who called every so often to encourage me and ensure that I was okay.

I was not completely alone.

Even though I felt I was alone at that time, I. Was. Not.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Beginning to look at Perceptions and Assumptions from a different angle



On the road to recovery, there are no signposts pointing out directions, destinations or mileage.  However, there are choices on which direction to take - or not take.  There are always choices.

There are always side trips on the journey or even rabbit trails.

Some are more productive than others.

The problem is, there has been no logical order on my path to recovery.  It seems like I work on this a bit and then get side-tracked to that, and then back again.

Writing this blog, helps me put the places visited into both perspective and a semblance of logical order.

For example, I had an incident in late 2012 which gave me a totally different perspective on the lies of perceptions and assumptions.  Even before I started tackling them in early 2013, I realize now that I was started to look at lies and assumptions and realize that I was not along in having them.  

(If this opening sounds a bit like deja vu, it is.  I started this particular post then decided to follow a side path for a few blogs.  The path where physical recovery and emotional recovery merged for a bit.  I'm glad I did as I feel the last few posts have created a background to go forward into this segment.  A view of perceptions and assumptions from the other side.  What others perceived and thought of me during this time frame, this part of the journey and how that impacted both my journey and their ability to come alongside me and help me - or rather not come alongside me and not help me.)


*******
I've noted before a crucial aspect of recovery after workplace abuse; after trauma:  life does not stop because one has experienced trauma.  It continues to go on. Whether good or bad, it continues to go on.

In my case, life went on with continued damaging psychiatric injury by interactions with unsafe people and also with my mom's death in August 2012.

I've noted in two different blogs, a previous one about life intervening and the six and a half worst weeks of my life how my church was not there for me when I went through what became one of the most difficult periods of my life - the last three months of the year of 2012 - when the grief from my mom's death combined with the psychiatric injuries I'd already received.  Factor in the huge amount of travelling involved from where she died in Upstate New York to where she was buried in North Carolina - and back all in four days - plus the toll of being with her the last two weeks of her life in a place where I had limited access to my usual support network and you've got a tremendously stressful period.  A period likely to have tremendous impacts on my life.  Unless the support was available.  And it wasn't.

I realized then - and I realize now - that I was in a what I call a "bubble of grace" during the two weeks prior to her death, the period immediately after, even during the trip to North Carolina and back.  A bubble that ended with my arrival back home.

The grief process for me didn't begin with my mom's death, in reality it began when I arrived home after all was said and done.  It was then that the enormity of my loss along with the affects of the psychiatric injury began to really make themselves known.  It was then that the "bubble of grace" I'd experienced expired.  It was then ....

I realize now long after the fact that what I call the "bubble of grace" ended and reality began when I returned home because I was back to life as I knew it.  A life that had been interrupted by these events for more than a month.  A life that had already been changed and altered beyond recognition by workplace abuse and was still in the process of being rebuilt.  Not fully formed yet, still very much in a state of flux.

I came home expecting people to reach out to me.  To call.  To send cards.  Maybe even flowers.  I wanted one person - just one person - to send me flowers.

It didn't happen.

While in Upstate New Year, while my mom was dying, I had used precious time away from my mom as she didn't have wifi at the computer to let my church know what was happening and that I needed support while it was happening.  I even gave them the phone numbers they could reach me at.

It didn't happen.

I did get a very mild email in response saying that it was good that I was with my mom.  Nothing more.  It left me feeling dismissed.

I needed a "Jesus with skin on" and all I got was a bland email.

For the amount of grief I was going through, it was insufficient.  Inappropriate.  It didn't come anywhere near the heart of the matter.  It didn't come from her heart to my heart.

And that was it.

Nothing more.  No follow up. Not even when I came back.

My mailbox was empty.  My phone didn't ring.  Even my email was empty.

I felt lost and alone in the land of trauma combined with grief.

The exhaustion came back big time and I became completely unable to function.  I couldn't take care of myself.  I couldn't cook.  I couldn't think.  The cognitive skills were completely down.  My life became limited to one room in my house - the one I now call my "safe room".

I couldn't even knit anything more than straight rows back and forth.  Back and forth.  Anything that required thinking was beyond what I was capable of at that point.

My church attendance since the physical and other affects began in 2011 had been sporadic as most times I was physically and/or emotionally incapable of sitting through an entire service.  People scared me as well, so I found attending church challenging.  When I finally felt well enough to attempt going to church again after returning home from Mom's funeral et al,  the first person I saw greeted me with a huge, peppy smile and cheerful greeting and then flitted away.  I burst into tears.  I felt like no one cared.  No one recognized the grief I was going through.  It was like everyone expected that since by now a couple of months had passed between my mom's death and my arrival back home, back at church, that everything was okay.  That the grief had magically passed.  If anything, I learned at that time that there is no "one size fits all" in grief.  Since I was away, it was as if the grief had been put on hold for that time of funeral services, travelling, sorting out her apartment, etc.

The real job of working through grief began with my arrival back home.

And no one seemed to realize that.

I felt so lost.  So alone.  And that's just a beginning of how I felt.  Feelings I still don't know how to describe it all.

That first day back at church, I saw the pastor of caring and sharing and started crying again.  I asked where was the support I needed?  Where were the meals?  Where were the cards?  Where?

In hindsight, I don't think he expected that.  I don't think he was prepared for that.  And I don't think he was in a position emotionally himself to be able to cope with that.  You see, he was a survivor of some sort of trauma himself.  He himself was on the road to recovery.  I'm guessing that, like me, he was one of the invisible wounded.  Unlike me though, he had a position of responsibility within the church community which necessitated dealing with people.  Hurting people like myself.  Hurting people like him.

After that "outburst" in a corner of the church atrium, I did receive a delivery - one delivery - of meals.  The caring committee also put a card in my church mailbox - which I received weeks later when I was finally able to return to church again.  (I don't know if you see a problem here with putting a bereavement card in the person's church mailbox when they're unable to attend church, but I do.  Big time.)

The person who delivered the mails, herself going through an extremely difficult journey in her life, seemed to think that since I had family in the area that I should be OK.

Do you see where I'm leading with this?  Do you see the beginnings of this thread?

We all have our own journeys.  Our own difficulties.  Our own hurts.

Our own situations impact on how we perceive others.  Also what we're told.

I have no idea what this pastor told others.  I do think that this woman who delivered the meals came in with the idea that I was demanding something that I had no right to have i.e. that I was demanding meals when I was totally capable of taking care of myself.  I just wanted a freebie.  Maybe she was told to "just humour me".  I don't know.  I just know that I felt the delivery didn't go well and that there was no continuation, no follow up, from there.  It wasn't a beginning.  It was more like an end.  A door slamming shut in my fact.

No one from the church had talked to me.  No one in the office had made any effort to contact me after my return.  No one had any idea of the world of hurt I was in.  And I think they preferred to keep it that way.

A healthy person might well say at this point, "Well, why didn't you call them?  Why didn't you make your needs know?"

The answer to that goes back to trauma.  To the specific things that had happened during my sojourn through and immediately after workplace abuse.

My inability to tell people how badly I was doing was also rooted in the fact that just a few weeks before my mom's death I'd been in a place where someone I had thought was safe, someone I loved and admired, chose to take out his/her frustrations and aggravations on me causing more major damage in my life.


Taken at a park like area in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario alongside the St. Marys River.  
*******
As I've said before, workplace abuse is not vague.  It's very complicated.

So is recovery from workplace abuse.  There are so many ins and outs, it would be easy to feel like you're in a continuing soap opera.  One that goes on day after day for years and years with little change, little progress.  Any progress appears to be made in minute increments.

Many people have little patience with that.  If they cannot see immediate progress, they get frustrated and move away.

I feel like this part of the blog is moving slowly.  Maybe too slowly.  Perhaps I've learned too much about laying the foundation, the underground, from my plumber hubby.

Today, I've laid more of the foundation of the story of trauma.  Monday, I will continue on the journey and see where it leads us.  

Life lived.  Lessons learned.  Two small steps forward; five big ones back.

Until then ....



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Trauma. Why most people do not understand.



I can take pictures of many things:  mountains, airplanes flying, flowers, lighthouses, etc.  You name it.  I see it - and I can snap it.

Except for one thing.

I cannot photograph trauma.  Because trauma is invisible.  It occurs on the inside. There is no blood, guts and gore spilling visibly out all over the place.  No 911 to call.  No EMS personnel rushing to the scene.  Unless, of course, the person commits suicide and then it's too late for any help, any intervention.

Trauma is all internal.  Invisible to the naked eye.

Look at the picture above.  What do you see?  If you were to see this picture in any other context than this blog, what would you say about the person?  Glowing?  Happy?  Got it all together?  Adventurous?

I hate to disappoint you, dear reader, but this picture was taken in mid-June 2011, immediately after I'd left the workplace, just a week or so after I was coerced into signing away all my rights for justice at a local donut shop and resign.  When I was still reeling and devastated from reading the petition my co-workers had crafted.  Seeing all the things I was accused of.  Seeing all the signatures.  Some very unexpected.

At the time, this picture was taken I had left the situation and gone to a safe person, a safe place.  To get there I had to take two planes.  I was so unable to function at that point that I had had use wheelchair assistance to go through customs, change planes, change terminals, etc.  I could barely string two words together.  I stuttered badly.  Yet, anyone looking at me from the outside could not possibly know the pain I was going through.  The internal torment. 

For all practical intents and purposes, I looked "normal".  I was able to act "normal" because I was with someone I trusted, who walked with me.


*******

I have discovered through this journey post workplace abuse that a significant hindrance in the recovery process is the lack of knowledge/understanding on the part of most lay people and even some professionals about the role trauma plays in both the injury and the recovery process.

Point blank:  most people just done't get it.

They can more or less get a physical illness or injury such as cancer or a broken limb which they can see and which medical professionals can use tests to discern and diagnose, but not something like trauma which is internal.  There are no tests like a CT scan or blood work, x-rays, etc. to discern it's presence.

The injury itself, the damage it causes, is invisible to the naked eye.

Yet, in another sense, that is not completely true either.  When I broke my wrist, I had a bright blue cast on, so yes that I'd had an injury was visible.  However, I constantly ran up against people who had no clue of how this injury was affecting me.  I had no use of my fingers, hand or wrist.  I could not grasp things.  I could open the refrigerator door with my left hand and even get things out, but I could not grasp a knife to cut cheese; I could not grasp a can opener to open a can and make soup - an activity which takes two hands by the way.  There were many things I could not do unaided.  I had to devise creative ways to make coffee in the morning as I could not grasp a spoon to either measure coffee grounds into the coffee maker or make instant coffee.  Ditto with taking a bath or shampooing my hair. Ditto again when dressing with buttons or other forms of closures including zippers.  Everything I wore had to be pull up and loose fitting.

At one point, I was taking a medical test previously scheduled.  Arriving at that office, I was handed a clipboard and pen and asked to fill out the questionnaire provided.  Already exhausted from getting there and in significant pain, I held up my casted arm and said something to the effect that that was going to be difficult.  The receptionist ignored me.  After struggling out of my winter jacket, which effort exhausted me, I grasped the pen in my left hand and struggled to complete the form.  It was both painful and exhausting.  To the others in the waiting room, it should have appeared obvious that there was a problem.  But I was ignored.  No help was offered even though it was obvious I was struggling.  Eventually, I finished the form and took it back up to the counter where I handed it to a different receptionist.  I complained to this second woman saying I no clue how they expected me to fill it out with a broken wrist.  This one said that if they had known, they would have helped me out.  Really?  Then why didn't they?

I didn't realize until I was almost through the 6 1/2 weeks with a cast on how little people understood how much the cast and break affected me in my daily living, even those close to me until one day when one of my most trusted supporters and encouragers on the journey of recovery came in to help me out a little.  I told her at that time that the best help she could give me was to help me get some things out of the freezer and into the refrigerator.  It was through that experience that she realized that while I had plenty of food to cook up in the freezer, I didn't have hands to get it out.

I needed hands.

I needed hands when I was going through the part of the journey when the wrist was broken.

If people, good people, had trouble understanding the impairments caused by a broken wrist which they can see, how much more so do people, good people, not understand the impairments caused by trauma which they cannot see?

To try to help people begin to understand the affects of trauma, I tend to take the physical journey of an illness and compare it to the psychological journey of someone like me who has experienced significant emotional trauma in the form of workplace abuse, in hopes opening up people's understanding of something they cannot see and do not comprehend.

As I closed yesterday's post, I commented on how even a fairly minor injury like my broken wrist has caused long-term incapabilities i.e. restricted use of that arm.  Also that, ironically, it's not the wrist that is currently the problem, but the shoulder.

I touched briefly on the aspect I learned in physiotherapy that it's normal for other parts of the body to be affected by the one injury because all the muscles, etc. are interrelated.  Essentially, I learned that all the parts of the body are affected as other parts start to compensate for the part that is damaged.  So what started in the wrist with the break, travelled up the arm and involved muscles which I didn't even know existed in my body.  Which I soon learned of their presence through the pain.

So it is with psychological trauma caused by circumstances like workplace abuse.  I urge each reader to click the link which leads to a Wikipedia definition of psychological trauma which gives a brief bird's eye view into the world of trauma.

We're - and when I say we, I mean the target/victim/survivor themselves plus everyone around them including their co-workers, bystanders, management, HR, the union, family, friends, etc. - are unaware not only of what is happening i.e. trauma at the time it's happening, but are also unaware of the far reaching effects trauma can and will have on the individual's life.  How it may well affect every aspect of that person's life for years to come.

In a post last year entitled A Jumping Off Point: my bibliography on the road to recovery from workplace abuse, I listed a number of books I've used at one point or another on this journey.
One of the most significant resources to me has been, Helping Those Who Hurt:  Reaching Out to Your Friends in Need by Dr. H. Norman Wright.

With a close second being:  Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounds?  Helping (Not Hurting) those with Serious Emotional Difficulties by Dr. Dwight L. Carlson, a psychiatrist who has himself suffered serious depression after the loss by suicide of one of his patients.

H. Norman Wright, whose book by the way is now only available on e-book, describes trauma in one of his chapters in terms lay people like you and I can readily understand.  The quote that I internalized the most from his book goes more or less as follows (I am freely paraphrasing from memory):  People who have experienced trauma are reacting what they think is normally to an abnormal situation.

Let me repeat that for emphasis or re-paraphrase it:  I, Cassie Stratford, and others like me are reacting in what we think is a normal way to an abnormal situation.

Workplace bullying is not a normal situation.

The main point I internalized from Dr. Carlson's book is that Christians, and from my experience most people no matter what religion they profess to belong to or not, shoot their wounded because of ignorance.

They simply don't have a clue.

We have trouble understanding things that we have not personally experienced.

Which is why I write this blog.  To try to help people understand.


This picture, taken in the fall of 2011, a few months after all was said and done in the workplace, at about the time the acute phase was melding into the chronic phase, shows two happy, smiling people.  However, if you look closely at my face, you will see behind the smile, the toll the stress was taking on me.

I urge you, dear reader, if you are walking with someone who has experienced workplace abuse, or any form of trauma for that matter, to look beyond the smiles, look beyond the surface, to the pain within.

Until tomorrow ....

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Lessons learned going through the physical side of the journey.

A baby bank swallow situated directly in the middle of our walking path.  Not moving.  Allowing us to get close to it.  Waiting for its mom.  
Yesterday's blog ended with a picture of a large bird flying high, soaring majestically above.  Proud. 

 My goal in this journey - and hopefully yours too - is to find a way within our journeys, our circumstances to fly high above our circumstances, our illnesses, traumas, etc.

Yet, most often I resemble the little guy above waiting in the middle of the path, the middle of danger, for its mom to come and get him.  To rescue him.

Eventually hubby prodded him with a stick - and he flew off.  He could fly.  He only needed incentive to spread his wings and get out of danger.

Like the baby bird above, I want to be rescued.  I'm afraid to use my wings.  I have to be prodded in order to move on and fly off.

*******

As I write about this particular segment of my journey post workplace abuse, that of early 2013 and my path through physiotherapy, I realize I resemble that little bird in some ways.  I too needed to be prodded in order to physically and emotionally move on.  My prodding turned out to be the need for physiotherapy after I broke my wrist, the cast came off, the pain didn't go away and mobility didn't increase.

When my emotional and physical paths originally collided post workplace abuse, when the acute phase ended and the chronic phase began, my therapist and I talked about which took precedence - the physical or the emotional - as the recommended paths for healing for each are diametrically opposed.  For the emotional i.e. depression et al, the recommendation is to pursue as normal a life as possible.  For the physical i.e. fatigue, the recommendation is to allow the body to rest.  To listen to what your body is telling you and respect it.

My therapist, who had also been through her own trauma, was able to bring her own experience into this portion of our counselling relationship to relate to my experience and to broaden my understanding of what I was going through, what was occurring within my body and that it was normal.  She was the one who advised me that about a year or so - maybe more, maybe less - after the initial trauma, physical repercussions and manifestations come into play.  These are different for each person.  She also knew from her own experience that when the physical and the emotional collide, the physical takes precedence.

I have based my journey of recovery on these bits of knowledge:  after the acute, comes the chronic; after the emotional trauma comes physical affects/repercussions; on the journey of healing, the physical takes precedence.

So today, we continue on, probably for the last time with the segment of my journey through a physical aspect of my journey and how it impacted the overall journey towards recovery from workplace abuse.

*******


 Physically, my journey at that time was through physiotherapy to regain the use of my right wrist/arm.

Emotionally, my journey was to find safe ways to re-enter the world outside my door and to find safe ways to have social encounters with people - people who were outside my immediate family and support circle.

Both purposes, ironically, were served through the same source:  the clinic I went to two-three times a week for physio.

I learned new social skills as I interacted with the staff, therapists and other clients at the clinic.

I learned how to take public transit not just to the clinic but also to other places such as my hairdressers.

I learned to gauge my energy levels so that I would not overdo.

I learned to always have a "plan B" - just in case.

I began to get braver as time progressed and began to expand my outings from simply going to and from physio to taking the six block or so walk into the downtown area of our city and picking up my bus from the transit terminal.  Thus having minimal social contact passing people on the street.

I learned that if I smiled first, I often got a smile in return.

I learned that most people like to be noticed and acknowledged.

I learned that there was a yarn store on the other side of the downtown area - and that the owner was a really nice person.

I learned that there was a bead shop also in the downtown area - and that, ditto, the owner was a very nice person.  (Yes, I've dabbled in beading as well on this journey.)

I learned that I could safely access the outside world - in small quantities at that time - and come home unscathed.

I learned that there was indeed a world outside the doors of my house - and that it wasn't as dangerous as I had feared.

I also learned that even recovery from a relatively minor physical injury isn't as straight forward as it may seem.

*******

Several months into the therapy when it seemed that my wrist was coming along great, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my shoulder/back area.  So bad that at time it had to be taped to give me some relief.

Yes, I know.  I was in therapy for my wrist.  So what was with the shoulder/back acting up?

This was the question we all had.  Even my medical team who followed up with tests which gave no real clinical indication of what was happening.

The best we could come up with is that all the muscles in that area are interrelated so when one is affected, they all are.

Therefore, the focus of therapy and recovery shifted at that point from the wrist to the shoulder with different exercises and a different therapist; shifting from a physical therapist to a chiropractor.

Slowly, slowly it began to improve and localize to one area.

I'd like to say that with therapy and time, it was completely healed.

But it wasn't.  After eleven months of therapy, all concerned decided that I'd hit a plateau and was not likely to go beyond that.  That further therapy was not going to accomplish further healing.

I still don't have complete use of that arm - and probably never will.

I've learned to live with it.  Do what I can and ask for help with what I can't i.e. reaching for things.  I've learned that I can live life - and live it well - without the full use of that arm.

And yes, I have other lingering reminders of that injury, that broken wrist.  My hand is still stiff - and again probably always will be - from arthritis which made itself known while my hand was in the cast.  I have a finger which sticks and has to be manually unstuck - which is somewhat painful and very annoying since it happens frequently when I knit.

I can live - and live well - with these affects.

However, I learned something else from this physical experience which at some point I would like to expand to the larger focus of emotional healing from workplace abuse, trauma and PTSD.

If a physical injury as relatively minor as a straightforward broken wrist, a simple fracture, can cause long-lasting affects, how much more can injuries which are not physical?  I.e. those caused by trauma?  Those which we can't see?  Those which fall among the category of invisible illnesses?


This is where I will leave you today, dear friend, as we walk our different paths towards a common goal, that of recovery.  As we continue searching for the right key to unlock the next segment on our respective roads to recovery.






















Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Learning to fly - accessing the world outside my windows


Every journey, every trail, has a beginning point.  Every journey.  Most, though, are not as clearly defined as the series of trails indicated on the signpost above.

However, every journey does have a beginning - and hopefully - at some point an end.  Hopefully.

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

This particular side trip on the larger journey of recovery post workplace abuse began with a real physical injury the day I broke my wrist and real journeys.

The physical journey of physiotherapy and the emotional journey came together at physio one day when my therapist made the comment that people in general and I in particular need to be able to perceive pain.  Because if we can't perceive pain, if we can't perceive when we've hit the physical boundaries of our body and stop, we will cause more damage.  Thus, enabling me to work on debunking the twin lies of perception and assumption a little bit more.

Although physio was primarily about the physical - duh! - because we're sitting there in a small cubicle while the therapist worked away on my wrist/arm, we engaged in a lot of small - or even larger - talk.  After her comment about the necessity of being able to perceive, i.e. in this case pain, I opened up to her more and more about my larger situation.  Her insights and sense of humour became an invaluable asset on my larger journey toward recovery.  The part I began to call the "other" while I was in physiotherapy.


Today's part of the journey, though, is directly connected to the actual physical journey of going to physio.  On the bus.

This part of the journey began with a bus stop.  The one across the street from me, which incidentally does not have a nice shelter like this one at a local mall.  It's simply a sign post stuck in the grass.  But it works.

Once, I began going to physio, I once again started to have a purpose in my life.  A place to go i.e. physio.  A purpose to pursue i.e. reclaiming the use of my wrist/arm.

Accessing the public transit system in my area opened a whole new door of freedom to me.

I was now learning how to do things. How to get places. By myself.

It reminded me somewhat of watching a friend with schizophrenia many years ago being mentored in how to get places by bus so that he could become more independent.  He had a worker who would go with him and teach him the routes. During one of my sojourns on the transit system, I actually saw something like this where an individual seemed to be by himself but later it became apparent that there was someone else, a woman with him, who told him how his behaviour appeared to others and how to appropriately act around others on the bus. She also showed him where the stop was, how to recognize when they were approaching it and when to pull the cord to signal the driver he wanted to get off.

In my case, I was alone working on this.  I had no worker - no mentor - with me.  I did have my what I call my patchwork support system cheering me on in the background.  Gladly listening to progress reports.  Praying for me.  Etc.  My daughter has been an invaluable resource as I could ask her any question and know that she would not dismiss it.  She became a source of wisdom for me.

In fact, it was her suggestion a month or more earlier when I needed transport to another city and none of my usual drivers was available that I take a bus to that appointment.

Actually, what she said was that if I were better, she would suggest my taking a bus as I'd done that often in the past.  When the children were young, once or twice a year we would all go to visit my mom and dad some 400 miles distant in the U.S. via Greyhound.  In the mid 70s, I had travelled cross country alone via Greyhound.  In the late 70s, when I lived on the border of the U.S., I had taken the journey back to home base, i.e. Mom and Dad's, some 1600 miles via - you guessed it! - Greyhound.

After marriage when we had only one car, my two methods of transportation became:  foot or buses.  Occasionally a taxi depending on the circumstances.

I got so used to the transit system that even when I finally had access to a car I would prefer to ride the bus.

All that changed however and my independence became dependence after I emerged scathed from the workplace.

My fall and subsequent broken wrist just after we received the results of a bone density test earned me a visit to a specialist whose office was in a city about 45 minutes to an hour from ours.  None of the people I could usually call on for a drive were available that day.  Hubby had decided to pursue the course of action to become a driver for patient transfer and was involved in a two week course out of town.  A town in quite a different direction from the one I had to go to.  He had relatives he stayed with during the week, so for those two weeks, I only saw him on weekends.  My appointment fell on a date during these two weeks.

Going back to my daughter whose advice I learned to cherish.  At one point when we were trying to decide how I was going to get to this appointment, she remarked that if I were better, she would suggest I take a bus.  (Yes, I know I've repeated myself.  Deranged minds do that sometimes, you know.)

What?

I could barely negotiate each day at that time.  Even staying inside in my "safe" room.

I was very uncomfortable going out in public at all.  Going alone?  By bus?  I don't think so.

I did, however, look up on the net how to get to this city via bus and found out that it was relatively easy.  There was a bus line which went there and back quite a few times each day.

Could I do it?  Dare I do it?

This is where the cognitive skills came in.  They were depleted, yes.  But they were still there waiting to remerge from the place where I'd hidden them.  Or from the place where they'd been hiding. Whichever.

I realized that my appointment was on a Monday afternoon.  Hubby's course was in the evenings, so it was theoretically possible for him to drop me off in the city of my appointment and then go on from there to the city where his course was.

After some discussion, we agreed on this course of action.

Hubby has been very protective of me through all of this.  He went above and beyond the call of duty during this scenario.  We got to the city, found the building where my appointment was.  He then went with me to the doctor's office so that I would know where it was.  The receptionist gave us great walking instructions to the bus station.  Things couldn't have been laid out better if I had tried.  It was a straight walk from the office to the bus station.  Virtually impossible to get lost.

And hubby, dear hubby, actually walked with me to the bus station and waited while I purchased my ticket to make sure that I was okay.

I knew that he was as anxious about leaving me alone in a strange city as I was to be alone in that city.  However, he had done everything he could to ensure a successful outcome of the trip.  After praying for my safety and a good outcome, he reluctantly left me alone in a city I'd never visited.

That experience was an eye opener to me.  Normally, I would have loved to have explored the city by foot while I waited for my appointment time.

Normally.  But this was not normally.  I had "supplies" with me:  knitting and a book.  Also my cell phone.  I sat in the bus station and read.  I became anxious if anyone came near me.  Which happened when a pan handler came by.  My anxiety soared.

I read and stayed by myself.  Not interacting with anyone.  Reading.  I felt heavy in my body.  It was an effort to pull out the knitting needles and begin a scarf.  I tried.  It didn't work.

It was an effort to pull out my cell phone and punch numbers to talk.  So I didn't.

I virtually stayed in my own world.

But I made it.  I did it.  I got to the appointment and back.  I even got blood work done in the lab.  I got on the right bus at the right time.

Sitting on the bus, I wasn't able to read, knit or even pull out the phone to talk.  So I just sat there and looked out the window.  Observing the scenery passing outside my window.

I made it.  I did it.  When I got off the bus at my home city, I was bursting with pride at myself.

I could do things.  It was like a window starting to open in my mind about future possibilities, future excursions.

This one successful trip opened up to me the possibility of exploring the local transit system.  It opened up to me a whole new world.

The twice or sometimes even thrice a week physio appointments forced me out of my cocoon into the world outside my house via the transit system.

I'm not saying that it was easy.  I had to force myself each and every time to leave the safety of my house at first.  However, each time I did, the next time became easier until it became a habit.

The physio clinic slowly became a safe(ish) place to me.

I felt safe with my therapists - one for the manual working of my arm/wrist and one to oversee the exercises.

We discussed "safety" plans just in case someone from my previous life in the workplace was waiting in the reception area when I was there.  I formed an "option B" plan where if I felt threatened, anxious, etc. by anyone in the waiting room, I would not advertise it loudly as my former co-worker had done in the medial office a year earlier, but I would simply advise the staff that I would be in the gym working on my exercises until my therapist was ready to see me and quietly go to a safer place.  I never had to use Plan B.

I realized that in theory what my former co-worker had done in the medical office that day was not wrong in and of itself.  It was the way she did it.  Loudly.  Refusing to look at me.  Making it very clear that we could not co-exist together in the waiting room.  What she did, especially the way she did it, constituted verbal abuse.  Verbal abuse which no one (except me) recognized.

As physiotherapy progressed, I began to learn that what I had been through in my former workplace was not normal.  That while all workplaces have their quirks and people and/or policies that are hard to get along with, what I experienced went beyond the experiences of those around me.  The more they heard of the story, the more they shook their heads.

I learned too to separate the physical journey which is what I was there for from the emotional journey which I began to call "the other".

I learned that when they asked how I was doing, they wanted to know specifically how my wrist was.  Better?  Worse?  More pain?  Less pain?  Where was the pain?  Had there been any breakthroughs or set backs since my last visit?

They rejoiced with me each step of the way.  The day I came in and said I'd been able to open a can with a can opener.  The day I came in and said I'd been able to peel potatoes for the first time since I broke my wrist.  Small things.  Inconsequential things to most people.  But to me, these were big accomplishments in the scheme of things.

Through physiotherapy, I was slowly becoming alive.  Slowly being able to go into the outside world.

Slowly.


Recovery post workplace abuse is all about reclaiming our lives.  Reclaiming what was lost.  Learning to fly high like the bird pictured above.

Unlike the bird, we don't come equipped with wings, feathers and aerodynamics, so our flying is of a different sort than theirs.

For me, learning how to access life outside my house - my safe place - my shelter - was a first step in learning to fly.

Until tomorrow, dear reader, may you also learn to fly again in your own way on your own turf.












Monday, July 14, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Another Side Trip on the Road to Recovery - Regaining a Semblance of Life





On the road to recovery, there are no signposts pointing out directions, destinations or mileage.  No road maps to follow from one defined point to another.  Heck!  There aren't any defined points.  It's sort of a "make it up and figure it out as you go" thing.  However, there are choices on which direction to take - or not take.  There are always choices.

There are always side trips on the journey or even rabbit trails.

Some are more productive than others.

There has been no logical order on my path to recovery.  I work on this a bit and then get side-tracked to that, and then back again.

Writing this blog, helps me put the places visited into both perspective and a semblance of logical order as I stitch together - and continue to experience - the daily process of recovery from workplace abuse.

So today, I am making a choice to veer off from the projected path - that of debunking the key lie - to following a few paths, a few points of healing in my emotional journey, points where deciding to follow the path of physiotherapy inadvertently led.

A side trip - or rather a continuation in a straight line - on the journey of recovery post workplace abuse.


*******

As you read this blog, please realize that I am at my basis a story teller.  I tell things woven into the context in which they were experienced.  To get the feeling of being there with me.  To give you a basis to understand the part in terms of the whole.  I tell stories.

So here is the story of how my experience in physiotherapy to restore use to a broken wrist combined with my journey on the road to emotional healing post the brokenness caused by workplace abuse.

Specifically, the crucial piece of the journey into re-entering the outside world.  

By the time I entered physiotherapy in February 2012, my world had shrunk considerably from the time I was actively engaged in the work force.  My life was bound by fear of what my former co-workers might find out, think and do; physical pain which did not go away after the cast came off; extreme fatigue which kept me inside and confined to my house most of the time; physical imbalance causing me to be unable to walk a straight line, to stumble and fall without warning; depleted cognitive skills; depleted communication skills seen in my inability to form words or convey thoughts; extreme itchiness so bad that there were times I couldn't bear to have anything touch me.  I'm sure that as I relate this grocery list of symptoms, I've forgotten to add a few - just as in the grocery list on my fridge.  There's always at least one crucial item I've forgotten to add to the list.  Which means that in all probability it will not end up in the shopping cart.

But I digress.

This - and more - was what I was dealing with in my every day up close and personal life as I walked into that building for physiotherapy that first time.

Getting there was a chore - or an adventure - you choose which word you like to describe it - in and of itself.

Since hubby is a tradesman, he always had a company vehicle when he worked.  No longer.  We were down to one car.  Mine.  His needs for work took precedence over my needs to get somewhere.

However ....

There is a bus stop right across the street from my house.

Convenient, eh?

Also, this bus right went not only right into the downtown area of my city, but also right past the clinic where I had physiotherapy.

Really convenient, eh?

In other days, in other times, getting on that bus and going places was very simple.  Not eagerly anticipated as it's so much easier to get into your own car and drive places.  But doable.

No longer.

With cognitive skills barely functioning, I had to force myself to figure it all out.  Learning the bus schedules and when approximately to leave my house, were probably the easiest parts of the whole process.  Not exactly easy, as nothing was easy.  Getting up, getting dressed, figuring out what to wear that would be appropriate for the activity i.e. physiotherapy on my arm/wrist, figuring out which bus I needed to take to get to my appointment.  All of these had to be broken down into their component parts one at a time.  Like players lined up in a relay race.  Or legos.  Or toys.  Or ... whatever.

Even getting on the bus wasn't always that easy.  Especially in the dead of a Canadian winter.  As there were "enemies" in the forms of ice and snow.  Also enemies in the form of stiff knees (arthritis) and a very painful wrist.

Bonus though.  The buses in our area now "kneel".  No, they don't pray - unfortunately.  However, if the driver perceives that the person entering or leaving has mobility problems, they can press a button and cause the front part of the bus to lower.

After getting on the bus, though, I had to learn when to pull the string to get off. 

Another bonus.  I soon learned that the new buses come equipped with both visual and sound displays telling the rider what the next stop is which helped quite a bit with the cognitive part of it.  The part about where to pull the string to alert the driver I wanted to get off.

Another bonus was that the stop I needed to get off at was also a transfer point from the bus I was on to the mainline route of our transit system which meant that I was usually not the only one needing to get off there.  A little built in "safety" feature for me.

Once getting off, I had to cross two streets - one of them the main street in town which meant I had to be alert and know when it was safe to cross i.e. in my case watch for the green light, to be alert and not just wander off into a mental fog.

Then I faced the challenge of going into the building.  Into the small reception area.  Of letting them know I was there.  Of facing all the other clients lined up in the chairs.  Facing the door.  Looking at whoever entered.  I had to force myself to go up that small walking, each out my left hand to open the door and enter.

Facing people, especially facing them alone, was very scary.  After my experience in the workplace, I no longer felt safe because I'd learned that I have no concept of what other people are capable of doing.  In a much earlier blog called A Tale of Two Encounters, I wrote of a bad experience I'd had when I encountered a former co-worker in a setting such as I was now entering almost a year after I'd left the workplace which reinforced my fears of my former co-workers and my fears of people in general.

*******

Cognitive skills had to be rebuilt.  Piece by painful piece.

One step at a time.  One bus trip at a time.  One physio session at a time.  One outing at a time.

I was at rock bottom.  The only way to go was up.

I had to learn new skills - or actually re-learn old ones such as riding the bus, crossing the street, learning how to deal with people in a "social" situation.  I had to face my fear of people, of being out in the open and in public.  The bus driver, my fellow passengers, these things and more were all fearful to me.  I could not understand why my former co-workers had done the things they had done including writing a petition guised as a complaint when I was off work due to two back to back stress backgrounds which caused the employer to coerce me to "resign".  A petition based on the assumption that they were entitled to a stress free workplace.  A petition signed by every co-worker but one on all three shifts which accused me of being the cause of all the stress in the workplace.

My home in those last three months of 2012, had become my "safe" place.  One room in particular.

Now, in order to heal, I had to force myself out of my cocoon.  Out of my safe place.  Into a world I no longer trusted. 

One things I soon figured out about buses, is that all sorts of people ride them.  Usually people who for one reason who another cannot drive a car - or have no car.  These people include those in poverty, those who have diagnosed mental or physical problems, those with Down's Syndrome who are going to their sheltered workplaces.

I soon realized that I fit right in with my fellow bus travellers.

In fact, as long as I kept quiet and to myself, I appeared to be pretty normal.

Cool, eh?

Thus, slowly one step at a time, one bus trip at a time, a whole new world began to open up to me.  Or should I say an old world re-open up to me?

The world of being able to go outside my house.

The downtown bus station.

I think this posting has tended to ramble a bit.  But then what can you expect from a blog entitled "The Ramblings of a Deranged Mind"?

As I wrote today's posting, I realized what a wealth of material there was in this one experience as it somehow encompassed so many different aspects on my road to recovery post workplace abuse.

Therefore, I have decided to stay on this more or less straight line of how physiotherapy worked together on my road to recovery.

We've already learned how it formed a part of the whole on my journey to debunking the twin lies of perception and assumption.

Today, we've learned how it opened up the world to me by forcing me to use the transit system which became integral - and still is integral - on my road to recovery.

All of us have different experiences, different challenges on our respective roads to recovery.

Until tomorrow, may you experience joy in your journey....

Friday, July 11, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Another Piece of Debunking the Lies



Coming back from a day out, we found ourselves in a huge traffic jam on the highway.  At first, we had no idea what was causing it.  Then we saw smoke.  Black smoke.  A lot of it.  Hubby perceived that it was a car on fire.  I didn't know.  I was afraid to commit to anything.  Fire trucks roared past us on the side.  By the time, traffic started moving again and we passed what had been causing the blockage, this was all that was left to see.  All that was left of someone's vehicle.

With a car, it's relatively simple.  It gets towed to a mechanic and assessed for repairability - which I'm guessing - or should I say perceiving? - in this case was not going to happen.  It either gets repaired or replaced.  If the owner is lucky and has a clause in their insurance for a rental vehicle, they will be on their way to wherever within a few hours of the incident.  Incident over.  At least the physical part of it. Trauma from the incident is another thing.  As is trauma from workplace abuse.

With trauma, PTSD, workplace abuse, things are never so clear cut.

The time out at Myrtle Beach did me a world of good emotionally and spiritually.  I still was extremely fatigued and had to ration my energy vigilantly.

However, coming back home, I now had a course of action to pursue.

I had received an inheritance a few months earlier and decided to use part of it to pursue therapy on my wrist as it was still extremely painful and limiting.  That became my first priority on the road to recovery at that time.

Arriving home, I looked up the firm my doctor had recommended and booked my first appointment.

My therapist was brusque but very, very good.  Also very, very competent.  She knew what she was doing. She also knew that she had to cause pain in the short-term in order to alleviate it in the long term.

The first step was to work on the muscles - or whatever - in the wrist/arm area manually.  This meant bending it, squeezing it, massaging it, causing intense pain.

I had already learned that I have a very low pain tolerance which I had communicated to her early on in our first meeting.  It didn't take her long to realize how right on I was with my assessment/perception re: pain tolerance levels.

At our second session I think it was, I said that maybe I should take a heavy duty pain killer before coming.  I think I said that after I yelped - again - in pain.

And my therapist said something I have never forgotten.  Something which continued the theme of debunking the lie of perception and assumption.

She said:
You need to be able to perceive pain.

Those were her exact words:  you need to be able to perceive pain.

I had wanted to keep my past out of this present piece of my road to recovery; however, when you're in a cubicle with someone who is causing you some of the most severe pain you've ever experienced in your life in order to recover from an energy - a physical injury - you start to get personal.  And when they said something as dead on to what you're currently dealing with as that, it's hard not to say how it related to my situation.  

What a nugget that one simple sentence was to me on my road to recovery.

Thus, began a new facet on the road to debunking that particular lie about perceptions, especially my perceptions, being bad.  My physical therapist ironically became a key component in this part of the emotional journey.  As she worked on my wrist, I worked on my other issues.

I learned that you need to be able to perceive things.  Going back to the original definitions from my trusty, dusty dictionary:  you need to be able to feel.  You need to be able to see.  Both of those are part and parcel of perceiving.

I was perceiving pain because I was feeling it.

We were perceiving we were in the correct place to find the earth cam, because we were seeing the flags, the boardwalk, the exact view we saw from our computer in Canada.

Perceptions are good.

Perceptions are needed in order to safely navigate through life.  There's nothing wrong with them.  We all have them.  We all use them on our individual journeys through life. 

What if I had ignored the tremendous amount of pain I felt - or perceived - that day in the bathtub?

What if hubby had ignored the sight of my wrist in an "s" curve that day?

I perceived I'd broken my wrist because of the extreme pain as I'd once heard someone say that a broken bone is one of the most painful experiences a person can ever have.  I was experiencing a pain that was not calming down after a few moments.  So intense, I could not move the rest of my body.  I had to have help getting up, getting dressed, even going into the emergency room that day.

Hubby perceived I'd broken my wrist not because I told him I'd broken it - which I had - but because he saw it at an angle it should not have been.

Perceptions and assumptions.

It appears they're good things to have on the journey.

Never leave home without them.


As this picture was taken looking down on a path we'd walked earlier, the perspective of our walk was different.  We were seeing the things we'd experienced from a totally different angle.

So it is with writing this blog especially about this time of debunking the myths, the lies, about perceptions and assumptions.

I'm writing this looking back on the experiences which helped me start to move forward.  To start to realize that this was indeed a lie.  A lie that was holding me back.

However, pieces I've written, such as that perceptions are common to all of us is something I'm still realizing and internalizing.  I'm still as I write working on this.

As I write these posts, internalization, realization and healing continue coming.

Thank you for joining me on my journey.

See you tomorrow when we continue the journey ....