Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Continuing the story: Why I lived to tell the tale

Continuing the story ...

I had been signed-off on short-term disability by a specialist with the verbalized intent to separate me from my toxic work environment so I could heal.  His words.  Which translated means, so I would not go over the edge and commit suicide.

Then the phone began ringing with Call Display showing that the call was from my supervisor.  Calling from her home to mine.  At night.  When neither of us was at work.  ?

At that point in time, if I had had to say how close I was to committing the ultimate act, I would depict a clock with the hour hand at 12 and the minute hand at one minute of - or even closer.  Very close.  Too close.  It wasn't going to take much to push that minute hand past the point of no return.  I was actually at the point where I had decided to start looking on the net to find out fool proof ways of doing it.  I was in a black, hopeless pit of despair.

I never did do that net search.


Not only did my chief support and encouragement i.e. hubby refuse to let me pick up the phone and refuse to let me access the voice mail, he whisked me away for the weekend.

His method of helping me through these crisis times may be unorthodox ... but it worked.

He packed me - and my camera - up and took me to Niagara Falls for the weekend.

The destination could have been anywhere.  The point was to get me away from the source of the stress, away from unsafe people to a place where they could not reach me.  He put my camera in my hands and let me shoot away to my heart's content.

Somehow, he knew instinctively what would help me make it through that night, that weekend.

He also gave me the gift of control for that weekend.  Where I wanted to stay, what I wanted to do, the whole gamut.  If I said "turn right", we turned right.

This may not seem lot a whole lot to a normal person, but workplace bullying is perceived by some as a form of workplace violence because it is about power and control.  Gaining power and control by any means possible for the abusers; losing power and control bit by bit for the targets.  At that point in space and time, I felt stripped of all power and control over my life, my destiny.  Hubby gave me back some semblance of power and control over my life with those simple actions.

My one and only view of Niagara Falls at night.  Notice the huge chunks of ice still at the base of Falls even though it was mid-April
He was giving me a huge gift, as our personalities are so different.  He likes to have a purpose when he goes places.  A destination.  You go directly there, you see what you came to see and you go directly back to where you started from.  Me?  I like to wander around and just see what happens, especially what photo opportunities present themselves.  We couldn't be more different in that way.

Normally, we would have checked into a hotel and then stayed there for the night.  But I was restless, I needed to go out.  I needed to feel the air against me.  I needed to see life through the lens of my camera.  I need to explore.

And hubby, wonderful hubby, accommodated me.  He was tired.  He had worked a full day of work in a physically hard job and then came up to find his wife in crisis.  After working all day, he drove several hours to Niagara Falls.  Because he loved me.  And he wanted me to stay with him.

He stopped walking whenever I stopped walking and patiently waited for me to aim the camera and fiddle with the controls for the best shot.

In addition, he listened to me for hours and hours and hours essentially saying the same things over and over and over.  I'm sure in retrospect that he must have gotten tired of hearing the same things over many times and also helpless because there was nothing he could do to change the situation for me, but somehow he knew that I needed to "tell the story".  I needed to verbalize these things.  I needed to somehow put things into some sense of order.  A sense of order which defied logic, so never came.

That night, I got some of the best pictures I had ever taken before.  I saw life from a different perspective in a way.  From the night view of a place I had been to many, many times before, but never seen from this perspective.  I was enthralled with all the lights from the coloured lights illuminating the falls to the lighted sky wheel to the lights outlining the carriages and, finally, to the lighted up casino across the river in New York State.

Shot across the Niagara River of the Casino in Niagara Falls, New York, U.S.A.
Going away that weekend, didn't change the situation in any way, shape or form.  I still was in the throes of a second stress breakdown when I hadn't fully recovered from the first.  I still had a manager who for unknown reasons to me at that time was calling my home after hours.  I still was in a world in hurt.

But ...

... the break, gave me just enough of a respite to continue on.

I've talked to my medical doctor many times about the affects, the difficulties I continuously face walking through this.  She has been monitoring me regularly from during the first abusive workplace situation and, therefore, the second and after.  Once she told me that going away is the best thing to do.  Getting out of the situation for a brief time.  She told me that formerly they would put a person in the hospital for a few days just so they could get away from the stressful situation.  We both felt that my way was the better way.

When I came back from that weekend, I still faced a huge, uncertain journey ahead of me.  I was still employed and had to figure out what I was going to do about that.  And how.  During that weekend away, I realized that going back was not an option for me - unless I wanted to die.  During that weekend, I decided I didn't.

At that point, I didn't know just how bad things had gotten in the workplace.  It was the following week that I finally accessed my employer's emails and found out about the alleged ethics violations.

However, at that point in time, I had pulled back enough from the edge - or ledge - that I was no longer interested in seeking out foolproof ways to do myself in.

I may have been down for the count but I was still in the fight - and investing in winning it.

Until tomorrow....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Consuming Fear of Former Co-workers - A Bit More of the Story

A walkway I found in Salem, Massachusetts during our wanderings there.  Sometimes my journey through workplace abuse resembles a walkway like this rather than an open road or path.  Sometimes it resembles a maze.  Whichever, it's the path through that ultimately leads out that is the important part.

Yesterday's blog explaining why I felt so much fear of my erstwhile co-workers for so long was hard to write as, I'm sure, you can well understand.  Not only did it bring back the situation and the feelings surrounding it as though it had just happened yesterday, it also brought back the fear.

What if, especially now that I've changed this blog to my real name and my real picture identifying myself for who I truly am and not just some fictitious person who likes stuffed animals, one of more of these people somehow finds this blog and recognizes themselves in it?   Since I am now using my real name, it would really be a no-brainer for them to recognize themselves in yesterday's post IF they were intentionally bullying me, just as they did with that seven word status on my Facebook years ago.

It was bad enough to be in the emotionally shattered shape I was in, not sure if I was going to survive, but to have management calling me at my home at night and then sending emails threatening to discipline me made the experience so much more harrowing, so much harder to survive.  Although none of these people on the "other" side - the people I call the adversaries - was aware of it, I was very much in a fight for survival.  I was way too close that night to giving up, giving in, letting the waves of despair wash completely over me and sink me to the bottom of the ocean. i.e. suicide.  I was way too close.  Which was why my specialist had written me off work to begin with.  He was trying to save my life.

Would I even be here to write this blog if I had answered the phone that night?  If It had listened to the voice mail?  If I had called my supervisor back that night?  Fortunately, hubby knew best and whisked me away for a bit, away from the situation, away from the phone calls.  Away.  But that is another story, another blog posting.  Maybe tomorrow?  Since today's post seems to have a mind of its own.

Getting back on track, since these people somehow got the notion that it was not only OK but appropriate to search out my Facebook profile and then to recognize themselves in that seven word posting and run to management who would immediately pass it on to HR claiming an ethics violation, what would they be prepared to do now at this point several years later if they realized that I am now openly writing about what happened to me?  There is no management or HR to run to now.  For several reasons.  The most important of which is that I'm no longer there.  I never returned after the second back-to-back stress breakdown.  I've spent the intervening years recovering from all that happened. But this they wouldn't know as no one was in contact with me then when they got on my Facebook and ran to management with their conclusions about my brief post and not one of them is in contact with me now.

They had no clue then of how badly I was doing then and they have no clue as to how hard I am working to recover now.

But there is another reason there is no one to run to in the workplace now.  The workplace no longer exists.  The building we worked in is still there, but empty now.  The plant that produces the product we shipped out is still operating - but not for much longer.  Several months after I was forced to leave the workplace, the parent company announced that they were closing that facility and building a new one in a different location.  The building I worked in was the first area designated to close.  To the best of my knowledge, the building is now closed.  Just an empty shell of the place it used to be.  Inhabited perhaps by shadows and ghosts but not by real flesh and blood people.  They have all either had to find new jobs and go into the netherlands of retirement.

Hopefully, these people have not taken me - or rather the memory of me - with them to their new places of employment wherever they may be.

Hopefully, they have let go of the past - of their perceptions and assumptions of who I was - and are living in their present.  Hopefully.

Looking back at what happened, had management and HR not been so frustrated with the situation and had been looking at things more objectively, if they had called in an outside service to look into the allegations, the outcome could have been much different for all of us.

Over a year after the experiences I am relating now which ended in my forcible resignation, I ran into a man who I learned was employed in HR in Ottawa by the government.  I admit, I shamelessly picked this poor fellow's brains.  I told him about the incident with the Facebook posting and he, like others, felt that it could be construed as a criticism against my workplace ... but ... he felt there were far deeper issues here:  What were these people doing on my Facebook in the first place?  Then there's the when and where issues.  Where they searching out a co-worker's Facebook on company time and company equipment? (which brings up all sorts of issues in and of itself)

He basically said that while those seven words could be construed as a criticism of the workplace, the workplace had far greater problems then little old me.  His first reaction was that if these unnamed, unidentified people saw themselves in that terse, seven word posting and complained to HR and management about it, then they were admitting that they saw themselves in the posting.  They were, in effect, admitting that they were actively engaged in the act of bullying me.

And. No. One. In. HR. Or. Management. Saw. It.

They were too frustrated, too close to the individual trees to see the forest - the overall picture.

As I end today's post, I come back to the my original question.  The one that haunts me still.  If one or more of these people reads this blog and sees themselves in it - even though neither they nor the workplace are named, even though we've all moved on during the intervening years, the question remains:  If they did those things do with impunity then, what are they prepared to do now?

And so I come to the end of another blog today.  Another small piece of the whole of my experience.  Another step further out of the self-imposed closet of surviving workplace abuse.  Of dwelling in the shadow lands of exile.  Of recovery.

Until tomorrow ....

From a shadow to a real, live flesh and blood person, I've come a long way, baby.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Recovery Post Workplace Abuse: A Key Part of My Story - FEAR.

From this picture, you would never know the emotional turmoil I was living in at that point.  This picture was taken in 2011 when I was still in the acute phase from the second back-to-back stress breakdown when I went to visit a safe person in my life and experienced significant recovery.  Looking back our guess is that my GFA (Global Functioning Assessment) was probably somewhere in the 50s when I entered the plane for that visit and was probably somewhere in the low to mid 70s when I returned.

I've been thinking of making changes in this blog for a while now.  Changes such as reclaiming my name, my real identity.

It's been a long time coming, but I finally did it over the weekend.  Actually by accident as I want to make my blog more accessible.  I pushed one button.  The button linking this blog to my Google+ account which automatically linked my blog to my Google+ account.  Therefore, you wake up today to the same blog with a different name, Suzanne Guest, my real name and profile picture.

But, it's the same blog, the same writer, the same focus.

Only the name has changed.

It's another significant step on my road to recovery post workplace abuse.

I wasn't really going into this aspect now, but since I accidentally changed my name and picture from a pseudonym to reality, it's time to get into what has been holding me back all this time from using my name, my picture.  From being the real me.

It all comes down to one four-letter word:  FEAR.

My life post workplace abuse has been consumed by fear.  Not the fears I've mentioned so far such as heights, etc. which I've been working on for years now and blogging about.  But a very real fear (to me) of my former co-workers and what they might (or might not) be capable of doing.

To explain why I have so much fear of these people so long after the event, I have to tell a piece of my story.  Actually several pieces, so I'm guessing this blog post is going to expand into more than one post.  Kind of like chapters in a book.

I'm really not sure where to begin.  I could begin with that I've realized on the journey that I'm naive. I've always had a "live and let live" sort of policy in my life.  I also assumed that if you were kind to people, they would respond in kind.  In retrospect, I realize that I was so naive that I assumed that most people - or at least the people I was in contact with in my daily life - lived by the same philosophy:  live and let live.

In reality, that is false.  In all honesty, I had no idea of the lengths and depths some people would go to to get what they wanted.  I had no idea what people could be capable of.  Especially if they were in a group pushing each other on, so I was ambushed time and time again.

My second back-to-back stress breakdown occurred after my fifth shift after returning to work from my first stress breakdown.  I was trying to train a person to take over my duties so I could move to another shift and, hopefully, a better situation for me.  I never made it.  This trainee been hired and started working while I was off and had thus been in close contact with my adversaries.

I had found her difficult to train as she seemed to be resisting me at every opportunity at one time going so far as to say that when she was on her own she wasn't going to do things the way I said.  (?)  That question mark was my initial internal reaction.

Ever tried to train someone who doesn't want you to train them? Believe me, it's no fun.

On the fifth shift, she did something we don't do.  Not a big thing, but since I was operating under the perception and assumption that I was there to train her the correct way to do things, I told her so.  Things escalated from there, and she went running into the room where the managers' offices were not realizing that they were all gone home for the day.  I followed her.  I knew she was intent on reporting me to our mutual manager and, from experience, I knew how that was going to turn out.  I would be automatically be perceived as being in the wrong.  It would be perceived as another example of how I couldn't get along with people.  Not that there was something very wrong with a situation in which a trainee can battle consistently with her trainer or feel that she can report her trainer to management for trying to train her.  But following her to that office and confronting her would also not work in my favour.  Anything I did was scrutinized under the microscope of the manager's perceptions and assumptions, and I always came up on the short end of the stick.  Following her and confronting her would be wrong because I would be perceived as loud, confrontative, and possibly threatening as I am a passionate person who talks not only with my hands and arms but with my whole body.  I would be (and had been several times before) perceived as not being in control of myself.  Sigh.

But to do nothing would not work in my favour either as this person's tale would be taken at face value and believed as being the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I was very much in a catch-22 situation.  Staying silent didn't work.  It perpetuated the on-going situation.  Confronting the situation didn't work either as it ended up being a power/control play in which I consistently lost more power over my situation.

In other words:  I was dammed if I did and dammed if I didn't.

I didn't know when I left the office that day that I would never, ever enter those days again.

I had no idea of what that confrontation had done to me until the next day.

I wanted to die.

I wanted to kill myself.

Life was no longer worth living.

I couldn't do anything right.

In short, I was despondent.  Without hope.  Hopeless.

I made an emergency appointment with my specialist i.e. psychiatrist.  When he asked me what he could do to help me, I broke down and cried out "Kill me.  Kill me."

He gave me six more weeks off so that I could be totally separated from the workplace to give me time to heal.  "Totally separated from the workplace" were his words.  Apparently, in retrospect management didn't get the memo that people on sick leave are supposed to be separated from the workplace and left alone.

You might ask at this point why feeling as I did I was allowed to go back home and not hospitalized.  Sometimes I wonder that one myself.  In some ways, it would have made things easier for me.  It would have put the situation in a different perspective:  my life was in danger.  I was ill.  I could not work.

However, I have had some very good coping mechanisms in place.  I had also built up a small but strong support system with hubby and my family.  In addition, I did not have a "plan" to do away with myself.  What I did have was a desperate desire not to give in to the waves of despair which were washing over me, drawing me down and threatening to overwhelm me.  I had struggled so hard and so long against giving in to suicide that I really didn't want to give in now.  Bottom line.

I had a therapist who worked with me.  I had a family who loved and supported me.  I wanted to live.  And. I. Had. No. Plans. To. Hurt. Anyone. Else.  Which is very important.  Under the mental health act, if you are deemed to be a threat to yourself or anyone else, you are automatically hospitalized for 72 hours.  I was deemed not to be a threat to anyone else.  Believe me, they (the mental health officials i.e. the psychiatrist in this case) ask some very pointed questions.  Including if I had plans to hurt these people who were hurting me so badly.  Also, asking if I had access to any weapons.  Which I don't.

Those words, italicized, underlined and bolded, are important to remember in the next part of this story (which will be told in another blog) about why I fear these people so much.

This is why I was allowed to go home to heal.

However, apparently things were going on back in the office which to this day I still don't understand.

My manager started phoning me at home, in the evening, my second day off.  Hubby refused to let me take the call or access the voice mail so it wasn't until the next week when I accessed my work emails that I found out the reason for her calls.  Some unknown person(s) in the office had gone on my facebook page, seen a post and gone to management with the claim that I was violating ethics by that post.

The offending post?  I had written:  "Bullies 100; Suzanne 0.  Off work again.

Originally, I was confused by her demands to delete something on my facebook page.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  Until.  She sent me screenshots of my offending post.

Screenshots?  She's getting on my facebook page and monitoring it?

I felt confused.  And then violated.

Please note, that nowhere on my facebook was ever written where I worked who, more importantly, the names of these people.  There was nothing there to identify them.

That posting was essentially a cry for help.

In essence, going back to what H. Norman Wright has written, I was reacting what I thought was normal in an abnormal situation.

Having a stress breakdown is not normal.  It affects the thought processes.

All I knew at that point was that I was in big trouble emotionally, and I needed help if I was to have a hope for survival.  I needed those on my facebook page who knew me to pray for me.  To reach out to me.  To affirm that I wasn't the horrible person those in the workplace were believing me to be.

I never thought for one minute that the people in the office would ever think to access my facebook - let alone do a search, find my profile and took a look.  None of these people were Facebook friends of mine, so they would have had to do a deliberate search.

And I made it so very easy for them.  Below is my profile picture at that time.

My file was in my real name.

My file was public.

As I've said, I was naive.  I had no idea someone would deliberately seek out my profile for nefarious purposes.  I had no idea that what I had posted as a cry for help would be perceived to be an ethics violation by those in the workplace who saw it.  I had no idea.  I was naive.

Immediately, I made my profile private - which seemed to anger my manager even more as it appeared that she was closely watching my profile.

I changed my profile picture so that it was of something other than myself.

It was then when I realized that workplace bullying could and did go outside the workplace.

I no longer felt safe, even in my home, and especially in the outside world.

More followed, but this is enough for now.

This gives you a glimpse into my world.

A world not only constricted by workplace bullying but by fear.

So I stop for today.  This has been emotionally wrenching to write.  But it's a key part of my story.  A key part of what has been holding me back from complete healing and why the internal, emotional damage was so extensive.

More of the story tomorrow....

Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression: Who Really Cares Outside a Small Circle of Friends?

Decades ago, in the late 60s and early 70s, there was a coffee house (not to be confused with all the coffee shops that litter our streets in our current culture where people buy lattes and work on their laptops) in Dayton, Ohio called the Lemon Tree.  Next to an small theatre which showed arty films.  Both places attracted the arty people, hippies, folk music buffs.

It was there that I heard Phil Ochs perform - a folk singer/songwriter well known for his protest sons - back in the 60s.  I've forgotten everything he sang EXCEPT one sone which rang so true with me called "Outside A Small Circle of Friends" which was based on the murder of a woman in New York City named Kitty Genovese in 1964.  Over more than a half hour period of time, this poor woman was stabbed repeatedly while those in the area who heard who screams did nothing.  Thirty-seven people in all have been identified who heard the screams - and did nothing.  No phone calls to the police or emergency personnel.  No attempts to stop the attack.  Nothing.  Kitty's attacker even left her for a bit and then returned to finish her off in the hallway of her apartment building.  Yet people, the bystanders - did nothing.

Phil Ochs' song starts and ends with these words: 
Oh, look outside the window/There's a wlman being grabbed/They've dragged her to the bushes/And now she's being stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops/And try to stop the pain/But Monopoly is so much fun/I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure/It wouldn't interest anybody/Outside a small circle of friends. (refrain)
With the words:  And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.

I read in the paper in the mid-70s that Phil Ochs had committed suicide by jumping out of a window. 

It was a different world back then.  No 911 - at least when Kitty Genovese was murdered. No PCs - or Apple.  No internet.  No laptops or wifi.   Computers were so big that they took up entire buildings and you had to have a degree to run them.  No social media. I think his tragic death went back largely unnoticed except for small articles in the paper and a small circle of friends.

These 13 words "And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside a small circle of friends" have stayed with me all these years, and I've often felt their impact in my struggles with depression, my experience up close and personal with workplace bullying and my subsequent journey towards recovery.


The news this week has been full of the suicide of well known comedian Robin Williams who suffered from depression.  Instantly, articles started cropping up on social media. Twitter and Facebook started to be full of links not only to Robin Williams, the person and actor, but also about depression.  What it is. What it isn't.  How it affects people.  What to say. What not to say.  Etc.

Robin Williams was a great comedian whose humour affected many, many people.  Yet, he apparently he lived a life of quiet desperation.  A life where he was so tormented and so bereft of hope for a better, more hopeful tomorrow that he committed what I deem the ultimate act of despair:  suicide.  Just like Phil Ochs did all those years ago.

Same phenomenon.  Same conclusion that life was not worth living.  Same outcome - the death of a very talented performer.

There are many of us on this planet who live lives of quiet desperation.  Unnoticed except outside a small circle of friends.

There are many of us who yearn for more, who struggle with depression and hopelessness, who just want to know that someone cares.  Who just want an outstretched hand to reach out to keep us from drowning in the waves of despair which keep washing over us.

The point I want to make here is that many of us - and be us I don't mean just people like me who have been traumatized by workplace abuse but also the population at large - live lives of quiet desperation.  Lives filled with acquaintances perhaps but no real friends.  Busy lives.  Even productive lives.  But at the core of our very being something seems to be missing.

That connection where we feel that we are really valued not for what we do, but for who we are.  Even when we are down for the count.

Often during this lonely sojourn on the way back from workplace abuse, I've felt lost and alone. (My struggles against the temptation of suicide are written in a previous post:  "The Danger of Suicide".)

Those words "outside a small circle of friends" seems to fit my life so much.

But yet, I remind myself time and again that I. Have. That. Small. Circle. Of. Friends. and that they are valuable, very valuable.  They alone are the reason I'm still here.  They alone are the reason that I haven't joined the ranks of those who have given up, thrown in the towel and committed the ultimate act of despair:  suicide.

They may be a small circle but they are a circle, and they are friends.  I value them.

Thank you for being there with me on the journey.  I'd rather have a small circle of committed people covering my back and cheering me on the journey than a larger group of less committed people.

Until tomorrow....

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: A significant discovery

This picture taken in early June at the World Wide Knit in Public Day at my local yarn store is the me, the Cassie, that is emerging from the darkness of the world of workplace abuse.

I say emerging because while this picture, this one moment in time caught on the camera, would pretty well say that I am well!  I have arrived!  I have made it!  The truth, the reality, is somewhat different.

True.  I have more good days than bad.

True.  The sparkle has returned.

False.  All the affects have not completely disappeared.  There are still challenges to be faced.  Lessons to be learned.  Progress to be made.  Take my birthday trip to the CN Tower in Toronto with my immediate family in attendance for example.


Taken from the Skywalk on the way back to Union Station from the CN Tower.  Another angle, another perspective.  Note the dirty windows and how they impact the clarity - or rather lack of - in the picture.

I learned more about myself, my progress from last year to this year and areas I still need to work on, to conquer, during that outing on my birthday.

Interestingly, the most important piece of the puzzle came to me when we were in a small, fast food, take out, Mexican place near the CN Tower.  It was small.  It was crowded.  It was noisy.  Which is not a good combination for me.

I started to stutter.  Stuttering has been part and parcel of the affects since the very beginning of the first stress break down while I was still employed.  At times, it was so bad that I could not communicate at all.  At one point, early on I went to visit my best friend in the U.S..  I had identified her as a safe person.  I was right.  I stayed with her for nine days.  Nine days in which incredible healing occurred.  In that nine days, the stutter left.  I could talk clearly.  My cognitive skills started to return.  However, recovery I've learned is an up and down, backwards and forwards progress.  Never static.  Always moving and changing.  Affects come and go.  Usually, though, when they reappear they reappear at a lesser level of both intensity and duration.  That is part and parcel of what I mean when I talk about milestones.

Yes, the stuttering reoccurs from time to time in moments of great stress yet it doesn't stay around as long.  Plus I'm learning what causes it and how to cope with it when it does rear its ugly head.

I see the return of stuttering - and other affects as well - as a marker:  a marker that I'm feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

So it was that day in that fast food place.  I realized that I was totally overwhelmed.  I was way outside of my comfort zone.  I was encountering a lot of firsts that day:  my first subway ride, my first time in Union Station in Toronto, my first time on foot in Toronto, my first trip to the CN Tower.  A lot of firsts for one day, eh?  Especially for a person recovering from trauma.

I realized for the first time that many times I'm actually processing in my brain what I want to say at the same time I'm trying to say it.  In other words, there is a lot of mental energy going into the simple act of conversing with someone - even someone I consider a safe person.

That piece of the puzzle which fell into place in that Mexican fast food place is a valuable nugget in my process of recovery.

The block of fast food restaurants where ate at in Toronto.  Note all the Blue Jays shirts.  There was a Jays game in the Rogers Centre right next to the CN Tower that day.

It explains why when I go out for a bit, I often come home exhausted and ready for a nap.

It explains why when I talked with my new neighbour for 10-15 minutes one day, I got so exhausted I ended up taking a two hour nap.

It explains why talking on the phone is so hard for me and why it is easier for my to type i.e. text or message, than it is for me to talk to someone face to face - or phone to phone.

It also explains why when the words don't come, that I start to get overwhelmed and tired.

In short, talking, conversing, making sense is hard work.

So hard, that it overwhelms me - and when I feel overwhelmed I get tired and irritable.  A bad combination as the barriers start to break down.

That one bit of insight explains a lot of things.  Puts things into perspective.  More into focus.

Much as I would like to go out and explore new places on my own, I'm not ready yet.  I need safe people around me.  I could never have navigated the subway system on my own.  I needed the support of those close to me.  I needed to realize that they were stronger than I was and to rely on them and rest in their strength.  I learned to give up control, stop trying to lead all the time and simply follow.

In order to do that, I needed to be able to trust these people.  Trust them with my life - or at least my recovery - if need be.

What one thing made that possible?  Understanding.

They understood. 

I don't know if a regular, normal, "healthy" person can understand the wealth of power there is in that one word:  understood.

My family - even the grands young as they are - understand which is a priceless gift.

Same block, different angle, different perspective


I feel I've said enough for today.  It's time to stop.  To rest.  To continue on the road to recovery.

As I've said before, recovery is hard work.  Yet, at the same time it is not all gloom and despair.  Life can still be good.

I've learned to look at any given day as always having the potential to be a good day even if/when there are bad spots in it.

I've learned not to focus on one bad incident and let it ruin a perfectly good day.

Similarly, I need now to learn not to focus on one horrible work situation which is over and done with and allow it to ruin a perfectly good life.

Until tomorrow ....

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse - More About Milestones On The Journey

Yesterday, I talked about milestones.  Markers.  Places to look back from and see how far I've come in the last year .... or so.  Sort of like tombstones in a cemetery which are basically markers of a person's life.

In the last few years, I've chosen to view my birthdays as markers, milestones on my journey towards recovery.

Originally in the earliest part of Phase 1, the journey post workplace abuse situation #1, I also had milestones; however, I chose specific places to revisit each year at a specific time, i.e. the time the trauma happened.

Yesterday, we looked more at the physical journey, the victory of conquering a fear which had controlled me my entire life.  Basically, a journey I could chronicle through pictures because that part of the adventure was visible, external.

But there's more to the journey that that.  There's more to milestones and markers than yet.  There's the internal part.  The part you can't take pictures of.  The part that is not visible to anyone - even those closest to me.

Looking back, I could not have done Saturday's trip a year ago.  Not just physically, although that plays a definite part, but also emotionally.

For one, I had absolutely no energy. Walking to the back of my yard and back was a challenge.

I had balance issues.  Especially if I got tired.  The more fatigued I got, the worse the balance got.  I still remember visiting my mother at the seniors' residence and envying the residents and their wheeled walkers.  I also remember a period even earlier in Phase 2 of recovery post workplace abuse situation #2 when I had to use the shopping cart as a "wheeled walker" when grocery shopping.

Speech problems - which I still have but are less pronounced.  My therapist has told me that trauma scatters the brain cells.  Kind of like a brain injury or concussion but without the physical blow to the head.  I call it "scattered brain syndrome" (my own catch phrase).

My cognitive skills, once extremely good, were a mess.  There have been times in the journey (in 2012) when I couldn't figure out how to read an analog clock or other very simple things which I've done my entire life.

I discovered last year when I purchased my nifty bike with adult training wheels that the old axiom that you never forget how to ride a bike is not true - at least not for those who've had their brain cells scattered by trauma.  I had to relearn how to ride a bike.  Fortunately, because of the training wheels, I did not have to relearn how to balance on a bike.  But I had to relearn how to brake, how to steer, how to turn corners  After I relearned the basics and felt just a little more adventurous, I discovered to my dismay that I could not ride in a straight line.  I was doing great in a nearby parking lot but utterly failing on the sidewalk or if I chanced on the road and had to stay as close to the curb as possible.

Even before my mom died in August of 2012, I found things very overwhelming.  After her death, everything overwhelmed me.  Simple things like putting on meals, ordering a meal, etc.

Last summer, I was firmly in the grips of anxiety.  I was OK in my house and especially in my safe room.  I was OK with those who have proven to be safe people in my life.  But I was not OK in the outside world.  It frightened me.  People frightened me.  I still felt a lot of fear in regards to people because of some of the things that had happened during the work situation - and after.

Fear, mostly of people, was a huge part of my life.  Trust as well.

Anxiety and fear of people combined was so prevalent in my psyche that I found it extremely difficult even to sit through a church service when the sanctuary was full during the summer as the two church services had been combined into one for the summer months.  It was so stressful that eventually, I gave up and came back when the summer had ended and the normal schedule resumed.  Even though, I faced challenges.

You may look in the mirror and not find yourself to appear threatening at all.  But to me, you would be very, very scary.

I couldn't very well be working on my deep-seated fear of heights, etc. when there were more pressing fears, things, to be worked on.  Like simply coping in daily life and learning how to cope.

That was where I was last year.  So where am I now?  What, if anything, has changed?

Besides a lot?

A lot can happen virtually unnoticed in a 12 month span of time.

The biggest thing that happened in the intervening 12 months between last August and this August was that in September my personality came back!  I didn't realize that people don't really understand what I mean by that until someone asked me point blank:  "What do you mean that your personality came back?"

I mean that that piece of me that sparkles, is witty, a bit irreverent, sure of herself, happy, fun-loving, etc. reappeared.  In a way, it was great.  In a way, it was strange.  It was like a stranger had been living in my body since the workplace abuse escalated past the point of bearable in 2010-2011.  A stranger I didn't really like, but had no choice but to accept had taken over.  There was no joy, no sparkle.

When that stranger got "evicted" last September, I had to relearn in a sense how to live life with the real me.  It was like a pendulum which swung from one extreme to the other before it finally settled down in the middle.

It was that single event which made last Saturday's victory at the CN Tower possible.

When my personality came back, a lot of the affects either left or were toned down to much more manageable levels.

Fear.  Specifically fear of people left.

A year ago, I was still barely able to function in many respects. Going out even for shortish periods of time exhausted me.

Factor in also the extreme anxiety I felt around people.

Going to Toronto was definitely not a viable option last year.

Standing in line for an hour would have been unbearable last year - for everyone.

This year, that fear was gone.  Completely erased.

That is the biggee.

But there is more.

This blog is already too long, so we'll leave the other internal factors to explore during another post.

The people across from my viewpoint are the end of the line, the lucky ones having waited their hour in line who are now approaching the elevators.  Just visualize for a moment, that if they're the end of the line and I'm in what could be termed the "holding tank" where the line twists and turns around and around and around, just how many people are crowded together in a small space.  And I did it!  Without fear of people.  I did it!


I think I'll stop the post here. What I thought would be a simple posting - which may be simple in my rather fertile but deranged mind, is not turning out to be simple in the actual putting fingers to keyboard part.

The part where the mind has to think, to analyze, to form words to express itself.

The part that is still the most unhealed of all the damages I've sustained during and post workplace abuse.

The part I'm still very much learning how to live with and discovering coping mechanisms.

So today ... I will stop for now and give my poor brain, the left brain part that is, a well-deserved rest.

Until tomorrow ....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Importance of Milestones on the Journey of Recovery Post Workplace Abuse

From the beginning of my journey towards recovery post workplace abuse, I've used milestones to look back from and see how far I've come in the journey.  Similar to someone hiking up a mountain who looks back to see how high he's come so far.  The milestones have changed with the years as circumstances have changed, as the journey has taken unexpected twists and turns.

Lately, I've been using my birthdays as a milestone.  Where was I on the journey last year?  Where am I now?  What has changed - for the better ... or ... for the worse?

Looking back, we can see more clearly not only where we once were, but how far we have come in the journey.

Take last Saturday, for example.  It was a significant day for me both in my life journey and in my journey post workplace abuse.  My 65th birthday.  I was determined to make it a celebration - not just of life but of recovery.  The six people in this world who are the closest to me i.e. hubby, daughter, son-in-love and the three grands, came with me to celebrate.  They valued me enough to spend an entire day with me travelling to Toronto and from there to the CN Tower.  Up and back down.  With three kids.  And an hour wait in line.  With one person, besides me, not height friendly either.

It was a milestone for me on the journey of recovery in many ways.  I've mentioned that in what I now call Phase 1 of the recovery process (from workplace abuse situation #1 up to where the bullying in situation #2 became aggressive), I was working on many things:  relationship, fears, etc.  Specifically one of the fears that had paralyzed me prior was my dual fears of heights and elevators.

Last Saturday, I chose to celebrate my 65th birthday by continuing to conquer my fears.  I went to the CN Tower in Toronto.

Birds eye view of the CN Tower.  It's a long way up, folks.  On a glassed-in elevator.

It was also a day of firsts.  My first subway ride on the TTC.  The only other time I'd ridden a subway was in 1971 in Paris, France - which being more than 40 years ago, I don't think should count.

Union Station.  I'd only been in there once before to pick someone up on the VIA rail and had never seen this part of it.  Let me tell you, folks, Union Station in Toronto is HUGE.  If I had not had my daughter and her family with me, I would probably still be there....  Lost somewhere in the hugeness and corridors of the building.

I'd never been on foot at street level before in Toronto.  Well, okay once, the same time we picked someone up at Union Station.  We walked from the parking lot to Union Station and back again.  So I figure just like that long ago subway ride in France that that doesn't really count. 

I felt like a little kid in a candy store.  Only that candy store for me was all the incredible architecture, street scenes, statues, etc.  All the photo opportunities just waiting for me and my camera.

Since Union Station is only a few blocks from the CN Tower, the tower dominates the landscape.  It would be very hard to miss.

I was mesmerized by the scenes at foot level.  The tall, glass-fronted buildings.  The reflections in them.  The building going on.  And the green spaces.  For such a huge cosmopolitan city, the capital city of the province of Ontario, it has a lot of green spaces.  I could have stayed there for hours just walking around in that area.

Oddly enough, I didn't feel fear or anxiety looking up at the observation deck of the tower.  I felt commitment.  Purpose.  Exhilaration, as well.  I was a woman on a mission.

We had an hour long wait for the elevator.  And again, I didn't feel fear.  Not until we were next in line to get in the elevator ... and the doors ... opened.

Is it too late to get off?  My initial reaction as we started to up ... and up ... and up....  I confess I wanted the elevator to reverse and go back down.  I wanted OFF.  But by that time I was what they say committed.  Too late to back out now.

I started to feel much calmer as we rode up.  The elevator is so fast, it only takes about a minute.  The doors opened at the Observation Deck and I felt proud.  I had confronted my fears ... and still alive to tell - and photograph - it.

As I looked down, I felt like Super Woman - without the cape.

The next challenge was the infamous glass floor.  I was determined to experience this day, this milestone to the fullest.

I was determined to be able to say:  I came, I saw, I conquered.

I must say though that looking at the glass floor up close and personal was an anxiety producing sight.  UNTIL a kind man who also had height problems told me to look up not down at first when getting on.  So I looked up, holding someone's hand. I think it was one of the people I came with and not a strange.  At least, I hope so.

It worked.  I was on the floor.  Looking down.

The man was right.  Once on the floor, it wasn't nearly as bad.  It was only the thought of going on it that was so frightening.  So true in life sometimes, eh?

A foot picture just to prove I really did do it.

Going down was anticlimactic.  My biggest emotion was that I was sorry to see the experience end and the day wind down.

Approaching the Skywalk which would take us back to Union Station.

Another first, the skywalk which is simply a corridor from one place to another.  Not scary at all.  In fact a lot of fun as there were all these windows I could look through - and take pictures through.  I was not seeing a piece of Toronto from a slightly elevated point of view.  A different perspective.

Even though we'd just been down there a few hours prior, everything looked different from this view, this perspective.

Of course, there are views from this pathway that you really don't see at street level.  You cannot see from street level.  Like the tracks below for the GO trains, etc., leading out of Union Station.

And then there's the glass-domed roof as we leave the Skyway and start heading into Union Station itself.

The trip ended as it had begun with a subway ride back to where we had left our car.

Tired but happy.  Another milestone on the journey reached.  Another piece of recovery achieved.

Would these things have happened if I had not been forced on the journey of workplace abuse and recovery from?  Somehow, I doubt it.  I think my life would have gone on much as it was.

Working on the road to recovery is hard work.  I don't deny it. But it is good.  Very good.

Until tomorrow ....