Friday, May 31, 2013

A Piece of My Story - When Recovery Began

On top of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, I looked over the edge of the parking lot to see what I could see which happened to be the road we'd drive to get there.  Notice the obscene curves like a series of U-turns but connected with each other (switchbacks) where the front end of your car almost literally meets the back end as you go up.

Since this blog is about recovery specifically recovery from complex PTSD and workplace abuse and since I keep alluding to my amazing recovery, I need to go back to that place in space and time.  The place where recovery began.  The place where the rubber met the road.

A place of intense pain, confusion and questioning.  Questioning about everything especially about my worth and my value.  Pain which didn't quit.  Which was with me every day, every waking moment.  Confusion.  Why did this happen to me?  What did I do wrong?

I find that trying to even start writing about this period of time from late 2004 to late September 2006 is like trying to pull a very obstinate cork, tightly wedged cork out of a bottle.  It just doesn't want to go.

Once I do get it out, then what?  Are the contents going to come out placidly?  Or are they going to spew all over the place?

You see, I had two back-to-back workplace bullying experiences.  Both very different.  Both very devastating.  Because of the therapy and recovery that had taken place and also, perhaps, because this one last much longer than the previous experience, I was able to identify the second abusive situation while I was going through it and try unsuccessfully to get it stopped.

The first workplace bullying situation, though, took me years to recognize for what it was.  I just thought it was a "bad work situation".  My counsellor at that time (not the same one I have now - but that's its own separate part of the story) called it a "personality conflict".

I almost never speak about that first experience any more.  When it was happening, I tried.  Oh, how I tried.  But I was consistently cut off.  People just didn't want to hear about my pain.  They wanted to fix it.  Not walk with me through it.

As a traumatized person, I have discovered that I relive the traumatic experience when I recount it.  It's like I'm right there.  Physically there.  In that place.  In that circumstance.  In that trauma.

As I've recounted various things in the last week, I've found that it's very draining.  You wouldn't think of sitting at a computer, typing up a blog as physically demanding, but it is.  In the sense that it's been emotionally draining.  And when the emotions are drained, so is the body.

I've experienced the re-emergence of physical repercussions in the last week such as headaches, exhaustion, increased itchiness.  Repercussions which have sucked my strength and tied me again and again to my bed.  Too tired, too weak to move.

The challenge, for me, is to tell this part as a story.  Without the commentary - as much as possible.  The commentary will come later as I explore the different paths recovery has taken.  As I relate what I learned after the experience had ended which has enabled me to survive a second, far worse abusive situation in the workplace.

For now it's the story that's important.

As I relate this almost two year period of time, it will be divided into three separate strands:  the first abusive workplace situation; the 18 months following it in which no healing happened; and the final straw which broke the camel's back and left me in a world of hurt - or should I say a world of more hurt piled upon hurt?

In the following posts, I will be baring myself to you, the reader. sharing with you one the darkest periods of my life.

I ask you to walk gently with me.

In the meantime, have a good weekend wherever you are in this beautiful wide world of ours.  I will return on Monday with a new series entitled "My Story".

See you then.

P.S. - I've had no response about a possible picture for this blog from yesterday's posting.  Anyone out there willing to speak up?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Block #3: A Picture For the New Persona - a touch of whimsy

Continuing on from yesterday's blog about why I feel the necessity for a certain amount of anonymity because of the on-going, ever perversive fear of those who not only abused me in the workplace but were not content at the end when I was for all practical intents and purposes out of the workplace to stop.

Up until now, I've used my own picture.  One of my favorites.  Taken during one of our canoe camping adventures - which happened in what I now call Phase 1 of recovery.  The bullying had started and was problematic but only that - problematic.  There was enough other stuff, good stuff, going on in my life that I could compartmentalize that piece of my life:  the piece in the workplace.

That was before.  This is now.

Since I have gone into some pretty deep things in this blog already with more to come eventually, I no longer feel safe having an identifying picture on my blog.

As I said in yesterday's blog, because the adversaries accessed my Facebook status and put their own twist on it, I remain afraid of what they are capable of doing.  When I took the Social Media 101 course and started accessing social media, the fear intensified.

In fact, one of the "adversaries" has accessed my LinkedIn account at least twice in the last two months.  Do I feel comfortable?  No.

However, I knew when I started getting more visible that that was a risk I would have to take.

Because of the above, a face is problematic.  The issue of workplace abuse needs to have a face, a voice, but am I willing at this point in time and space to risk using my own?  The answer is a resounding NO.

So today (and yesterday as well with the introduction of Cassie my new nom de plume) are departures from the hard stuff and side trips into a bit of whimsy.  Something lighter - for the moment.  For a wee break.

Below, I present some options for you, the reader, to consider for the new face of this blog.

First we have "Tavish McDermott", a stuffy we bought on the Isle of Skye during a vacation to Scotland in 2009.  He's kind of cute - and he's innocuous.  He's also very laid back and doesn't seem to mind much of anything.  What do you think?  Do you think Tavish here should become the new face of workplace abuse?  At least for the time being.

The story behind Tavish is that this particular establishment put a small stuffed sheep on the bed in every room.  My daughter loved the stuffy.  When I asked about buying one, they brought one out and placed him on a chair at our breakfast table to see if he would like us.  The other patrons in the breakfast room were dying with laughter.  We apparently passed the test as Tavish came home from Scotland with us and has here ever since.  I haven't heard him complain once.

Another contender for the face of Cassie is this gentleman who worked reception at one of the bed and breakfasts we stayed at in Scotland on the Isle of Skye.  Definitely a bit of male eye candy - if you like guys with white button-down shirts and ties.  Problem is, I don't think he resembles Cassie - as she is definitely ... well ... a she.  I wonder how much of a sense of humour my readers have....

Oh well, back to the drawing board

The third unsuspecting candidate is this woman, dressed in period costume at Edinburgh Castle whose job was to tell us a story. I kind of like her image.  The problem is that she does look a bit scary and Cassie ... well ... Cassie is supposed to be as wholesome as whole wheat bread.  Apple pie.  A Minnesota wheat field.

Then there's the painted guy below which I found on the pedestrian side of a bridge crossing the Ottawa River from Ottawa into Hull, Quebec.  He took my fancy then ... and he continues to take it now.  I kind of like the idea of using him for the face of Cassie.  No one would be able to recognize me from him ... at least I hope.

Here's another option for anonymity ...  a face drawn in the sand.

And then there are countless images in my on-line photo gallery.  Do any of these particular strike your fancy?  Or sense of humour?

The duck?  Looks a bit on the aloof side, but hey!  He's quite sophisticated looking, eh?

The baby?  Isn't he cute?
The high-wire trapeze artist perhaps?
Come any closer and I'll ....  A face only a mother could love.
And then there's the thinker....
And there are hundreds of other options to choose from lurking in my photo gallery ... castles, sunsets, loons, flowers ....

At the moment until I hear from you I'm going with the stuffed sheep.  After all, he is cute,  he doesn't seem to mind and he's not immediately recognizable to those who abused me in the workplace.  A win-win situation all around.

Another option is to change the picture weekly.  From one to the other ... and perhaps back again.

I hope you have enjoyed this whimsical, yet semi-serious, interlude after the heavy-duty stuff of the last few days exploring a new face to go with the name Cassie.

In all seriousness though, I am soliciting your views as to which image you would pick to be the new face of Ramblings of a Deranged Mind (at least for the moment) to match the nom de plume Cassie Stratford?  To cast a vote, write your choice in the comments.  I await your decision with anticipation.  And will abide by majority vote.

However ... if there are no comments?????

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Second Block: A New Nom de Plum

When I first conceived the idea of a blog, the moniker MamaBear seemed to fit.  Throughout my children's teenage years - especially when they toddled off into the workplace, I would call myself MamaBear.  It got to the point where their supervisors and other employees used that moniker when referring to me as well.

But those days are gone.

MamaBear no longer fits.  Especially in the big, bad, adult world of workplace abuse.

Therefore, I felt the need to change my on-line name (and image) from Mama Bear complete with fur, growly behaviour, etc. to being a human being.  Complete with a name.  

My new name is ... TaDa!  Drum roll please ... Cassie Stratford.  A name fabricated totally from the recesses of my admittedly fertile and deranged imagination.

So ... who is Cassie?

I think I'll let her tell you in her own words who she is and how she became part of my world.

My name is Cassie.  And I am your worst nightmare come true.  The girl your mother never told you about.  The one sitting beside you at work who is going to make your life a living hell.

I am a psychopath.  And proud of it.  I love the way I can manipulate people.  Get them to do what I want.  Destroy people.  All the while sitting back, looking for all practical intents and purposes innocent.  Smiling inwardly.  I love it.

Psychopathy is not recognized in the DSMV – the Bible for mental illness (actually I think I'm wrong there but for now I'm leaving this sentence as is).  So, therefore, I don’t exist.  Works perfectly for me.  Even if the designation did exist, since I am cunning, manipulative and deceptive by definition, I am able to con any psychiatrist during an evaluation into believing that I am the genuine article.  And if I can do that to a trained specialist, how much easier is it for me to manipulate my environment?  Unsuspecting co-workers, HR, management, union.  You name it.  I can sway and manipulate them all.  Thus, becoming the winner.

I am a figment of  Suzanne’s imagination.  Born out of a combination of her reading Steven King’s On Writing, her research into workplace bullying, and her boredom during her daily oatmeal soaks.  Also, her recent addiction to and fascination with TV series such as NCIS and Criminal Minds.  The concept of profiling as done on Criminal Minds by the BAU (Behavioural Analysis Unit) fascinates her prompting her to do such Google searches as:  profile of target; profile of a workplace bully; profile of a psychopath, etc.  Ditto, in one of her groups a member who had researched workplace bullying and psychopathy inserted direct quotes from psychopathic blogs.  This too has influenced Suzanne.  I am purely based on perceptions and assumptions; therefore, I am not real.  Although parts of me are real because I am based on the profile Suzanne has researched.  Just as parts of my victim, whoever she may end up being, will be real as they will be based on the profile of the target.  

I must say that Suzanne made an ideal target as she fit very closely with the profile.  The fictional victim, therefore, may bear a lot of resemblance to Suzanne in personality/behavioural factors for that reason alone.  Suzanne was a perfect victim.  At first.  Problem with the real Suzanne was that she was into recovery mode, changing, evolving, ever growing.  Real victims don’t.   They squirm.  Like a worm on a fishhook.  Making them all the more fun to victimize.  Most real victims are easier to get rid of.   Especially the ones on contract.  All you have to do is convince enough people that the contractee doesn’t fit in for whatever real or perceived reason and Voilà!  Good riddance.   The target is gone.  

Suzanne wasn’t on contract and she made it clear that she wasn’t going anywhere.  Therefore, drastic measures were in order for the real Suzanne.  For the fictional character, though, while the “bully magnet” features must remain, other pieces can go.  However, just enough of whatever kept her from walking out or resigning needs to stay in to stir up conflict.

These are the beginning paragraphs of a fictional book I started writing over a year ago.  I've since had to stop writing as real life in the form of additional injury and my mother's death plus a broken wrist intervened.  But, for some unknown reason, the character and concept of Cassie has stayed with me.  

As I was toying with the idea of choosing a nom de plume for this blog, the name Cassie kept coming back to me.  So, I grabbed a surname out of thin air.

Since she doesn't exist (outside of my imagination and writing), Cassie can be anyone.

So, for now, because she doesn't exist in my reality, my real world, her name is what I've picked for my new nom de plume.

I, of course, reserve the right to change the nom de plume at any time, without any notice.

Tomorrow:  What should Cassie look like?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Foundations: The First Block

I like to hide in the shadows.  This picture was taken a little over a week ago is at the Crossroads Communications Centre in Hamilton, Ontario.  A courtyard immediately inside their building.  The people you see (and one of them is me) are reflections in the mirrored wall.  If you look hard enough you'll see me - hidden in plain sight (at least in this picture).

The first block to lay on this foundation is changing the moniker of Mama Bear to something else entirely.  A nom de plume.  A real name.  But not my own.  I'm not ready for that, not yet.  I may be ready and willing to come out of the closet of workplace abuse, but there are still very real fears existing in my mind.  And perhaps in reality as well.

But before I go there, I need to add a pertinent piece of the background, the story.  Of the why.  Why I feel the need to hide myself, my name, my true identity.  Of the fear that drives me back into the shadows and hinders my going forward - especially in the public forum of a blog which anyone can access.  Which anyone can read.  The same goes for social media forums such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  Some readers might not be sympathetic to my on-going journey.  Some readers might not be accessing the blog for "pure" reasons.

I learned that lesson the hard way immediately (and I do mean immediately) after my second stress breakdown while I was in what is termed the "acute" phase.  If it had been a physical illness such as a stroke, heart attack or major accident, my condition would have been termed "critical" and I would have been in the ICU.

I've always been an open person.  Few secrets.  Pretty well, what you see is what you get.  I really didn't think I had anything to hide ...

... UNTIL ...

I got a call at home from my supervisor two days after what turned out to be my last shift.  The day after I had the second breakdown.  At that point no one (including myself) knew if I was going to survive or not.  If I was going to make it through or if I was going to attempt (and maybe even commit) suicide.

I was very close to suicide.  Closer than I had been in decades.  If I were using the analogy of the hands of a clock, I would put the hands very close to the 12 o'clock position - with that position being the transition from passive thoughts of suicide to becoming active.

A scary place to be.

And not just for me.  But also for my family.  My loved ones.

For some unknown reason, they didn't then ... and don't now ... want to lose me.

If my condition had been physical such as a heart attack, stroke, major injury, etc., I would probably have been in intensive care in the hospital.  But emotional, stress-related stuff isn't like that.

People like me may be severely bruised and battered but unless we are a danger to ourselves or anyone else, there really isn't anything that the medical community can do for us that our friends and relatives can't.

In the amazing process of recovery I'd already come through, I had built up a small supportive network of family and friends with hubby being the key support.

That supportive network is why (a) I am still alive today and (b) why I was not hospitalized at that time.

But I digress.  On my Facebook page - which was completely open to anyone who wanted to access it at the time - I had written:  "Bullies:  100; Suzanne:  0.  Off work again."  I thought nothing of it.  I simply wanted those who supported me via the net to realize that I was not doing very well and needed (a) their support and (b) especially their prayer support.  I felt alone.  Ostracized.  Unwelcome.  Down for the count.  I needed support.  Badly.  I needed a caring, supportive community to surround me with their love.

I realize now that I made it way too easy for those I will call my "adversaries".  I used not only my real name, but my full name.  My picture was up there so when they accessed my name, they knew they had the right person.  And, being a "full disclosure" type of person, my Facebook page was (note the word "was") completely open.  No hiding for me.

I can honestly say that there was no malicious intent in that posting, nor were any names mentioned.  In fact, my Facebook page didn't mention where I worked.  Add to that that most of my friends are way off in exotic places like the (drug) war-torn Texas/Mexican border; in a logging community in Northern California; Ohio, Manitoba, Saskatchewan  Nova Scotia, Manitouwadge, etc. I think you get the picture.  There is no way that people in my support community - even those who live in this community - would be able to recognize those who abused me in the workplace. Nor would their names mean anything - except as vehicles to pray for these people.  These people who have friended and supported me have no interest in the adversaries, their interest is in me.

So what was the phone call from my supervisor about?  Why would she call me at home when I'm off on short-term disability?  When the specialist put me on short-term disability so I could be separated from these people?  Have a complete break from the unrelenting barrage and stress?  A chance to heal?

Why?  Because someone or someones unknown in the workplace had done a Facebook search for my name, found it, accessed the open content, and didn't like what they saw.  Somehow, they decided that that one comment constituted a breach of workplace ethics.  Accordingly, they marched off to the supervisor accusations in hand.

My supervisor was calling, not to see how I was doing but to tell me in no uncertain terms that if I did not remove my comments on Facebook that day I would be disciplined.

Just what I didn't need at that moment.

My husband refused to let me answer the phone or return messages.  I didn't know what was happening in the workplace until I accessed my work-related email the following week.

I was baffled.  What comments was she referring to?  I had nothing on my conscience.

My supervisor actually sent me screen shots of the offending comments which meant that she was accessing my Facebook account.  Scary thought.

I sent her an explanation - and I did delete those comments.  I brought up the spectre of cyberstalking but received no reply.  In addition, I made the page private immediately.

My supervisor's next email indicated that she had not only accessed my Facebook account but was following it as she commented that she saw that my page was now private and hoped I'd deleted the comments first.  Even scarier thought.

I felt very uneasy at the situation.  I knew (or rather perceived) that there were patterns whirling around the office.  It seemed that whenever I took time off for whatever reason, a vacation, a special day, etc. that when I came back someone else would be acting coolly towards me.  Someone else would have joined the "A" (for Adversary) team.

I felt violated.

Writing this, even several years later, I still feel violated.

FEAR in capital letters entered my life that day.

Fear of what these people might do to me.  Fear of how they might perceive even the most innocuous things.  Fear of how things might be twisted and gain a life of their own.  Fear that lingers on even now years later.  Why does it linger on so long?

Because I have no way of understanding these people.  I cannot anticipate how they see things, what they might do, the lengths they might go.  Because I cannot anticipate their actions and/or reactions, I cannot protect myself.

My world became a very unsafe place that day.

If they took those few words, perceived them to be an "ethics" issue and ultimately used them to get me fired while I was still off sick, how much more threatening would they perceive my coming out of the closet in the forum of this blog?  What if I ultimately write a book about my experiences?  My story?  How much more threatening will they perceive that?

What are these people capable of doing?

My mind thinks in pictures.  The imaginary image of the brick facade of a building with arms reaching out of it is what I see when I think of that incident.

If I were to write a blog posting or an article about that one incident, I would title it:  "When Workplace Bullying Leaves the Workplace."

With that incident, the workplace abuse left the workplace and entered my home.  My safe place.

It didn't come politely knocking on my door.  It barged in with all the finesse of a SWAT team.

Now, I will return back into the furthest recesses of my little den for a bit and lick my wounds.

See you tomorrow.

Post workplace abuse.  Life in the shadows is safest.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The danger of suicide

Note:  This is a hard post for me to write and a hard post for people, especially those close to me, to read.  Yet, I feel it is necessary at some point to address in any blog dealing with workplace abuse the ugly spectre of suicide.  It happens.  It is a real consequence of the heavy duty abuse I, and many others, have suffered in the workplace or in other places such as school.

We saw this sign at Lake Casa Blanca International Park in Laredo Texas in 2010.  My husband asked the clerk in the hotel if there were snakes in the park.  The worker said "no" it was too early in the season for them.  While we were in the park, we met people who told us to be careful and watch out for snakes as they had seen some just the other day.  Upon leaving the park, we saw this sign.  Yes, there were snakes.  The clerk just hadn't wanted to let us know for whatever reason.
I've often heard it said that prostitution is not a victimless crime.  The same goes with workplace abuse.  Because we leave, one way or another, on our own steam or not, workplace abuse is considered to be victimless.  Partially because once we're gone, we're gone in the eyes of HR, management, the union, the co-workers.  In fact, the word "victim" is actively disapproved.  By HR.  By management.  Even by those of us who are experiencing it.  For whatever reason, either external or internal, we feel compelled to use the softer word "target" instead.

However, workplace abuse is not victimless.  At least, not to the target.

Someone asked me the other day upon reading my blog, did those who did this to me know what they did?  Do they know the severe impact they've had on my life?

The answer is no.  Probably not.

Yet the real question to me is:  Do they, i.e. the bullies, care?

Again, the answer is going to be:  No, probably not.

Because workplace abuse is NOT about the target.  My perception on this having experienced it and seen their faces when confronted - or even when they thought they were confronted - is that it's not about the target.  It's about the bullies.  Their feelings.  Their perceptions.  Their lives.  Their hurts.

I just happened to be in the way.

I was too naive to realize that there were snakes in my workplace.  Not the slithering, rattling kind.  The human kind.

Personally, I would rather deal with a snake, a real one, because I know instinctively what they are and what they are capable of.  Not so with humans.

As I said earlier, I was incredibly naive.  I lived in a world where good triumphed over bad.  Where knights on white horses showed up just in time to rescue the damsel in distress.

Doesn't happen in the real world of the workplace.  At least not for me.  After all was said and done, I lived in a world of hurt for a very long time.  Even with consistent counselling, there were times when it was all I could do to get up in the morning.  Sometimes even that didn't happen.

Coming close to suicide during a very difficult period in the journey, I decided to access the net and google sure ways to commit suicide.  I didn't want to do a half-assed job and I felt it was pointless to continue going on.

At that point, I was giving up the struggle, the battle, the on-going walk through all the junk left behind in the aftermath of workplace abuse.

Many people say that suicide is a "choice" with the implication that the person who commits it rationally chooses to kill themselves.

But that has not been my experience.  My experience has been that I feel like a tsunami or tidal wave has washed over me, pulled me into its grips and is pulling me down, down, down.  To a place where there is no means of escape.

To a place where there are no more options.

To a place of total devastation.

The times that I've come within a hair's breath of committing the ultimate act, have not been choices.  They've been reactions to a seemingly endless tidal wave of abuse, recriminations, secondary wounding, people not understanding what I'm going through.

One of those times, which I feel ready to reveal at this time, was the last time I left my former counsellor's office.  The counsellor I later realized was abusive.  I was devastated.  Crying.  Unable to drive.  Unable to do anything but cry.  The session had been brutal.  My daughter was driving that day - which was a good thing.  When we got home, I crawled onto the bed and just laid there crying, crying, crying.

I was ready to give up then.  After all, if this counsellor who I'd been seeing for years turned on me like this, I must be hopeless.

Helpless.  As in beyond help.

As I waited for my daughter, just a block off a main artery in our town, I felt a pull to go to that road and walk in front of a car - or truck.  It was almost irresistible.  It took everything I had in me not to move.  To wait for my daughter.  To this day, I don't know what would have happened if she had not had to have the car that day.

That was not the only time I came that close.  It happened several times after that especially in the first one to two years after I left - or rather was pushed out of - the workplace.

At one time, I was so close that I decided to seek out ways via the net to do it.  Ways that did not involve guns, which I don't have access to, hanging since even though I was a girl scout I never learned how to tie a good knot.  Pills?  Which ones and how many?

I accessed a forum.

One post in particular spoke to me.

I can't remember who posted it or all that was in the post but the gist was that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem.  The writer then went on to use scripture verses from the Bible.  I don't remember which ones he (or was it a she?) used.  I only remember that this post spoke to me where I was at that moment.  And caused me to back down.  To stop.  To think.

Because after all, suicide i.e. death is permanent.

Whatever contributions I could have made would never happen.  The prayers for others.  The knitted gifts.  The writings.  The blog that is happening now.  None of that would ever again be possible IF....

That post made such an impact in my life that the tsunami washing over me, pulling me down, receded.  In its wake there was a glimmer of hope.  Much like the emerging dawn

Not quite so dramatic but there.

As you can see, I lived to see another dawn.

And so I am continuing to survive.  To live another day.  To walk another pathway.  To experience another victory.  To write another post.  To experience more on the road to recovery.

Join me again tomorrow. 

You never know where this blog is going to take you as we travel the path together.

On the Journey: Building the foundation

Of all the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pictures I've taken, there are none of a building in the process of construction - especially the beginnings of construction.  Laying the foundation.

The best I can do is this picture of a temporary bridge being built across the Grand River in my neighbourhood before "rehabilitation" of the existing bridge could start.

Personally, I find it amusing that a bridge can be "rehabilitated."  I thought that word applied to humans as in drug addicts, criminals ... maybe even abusers?

Today we shift the focus a bit from the journey of recovery to laying the foundation of what this blog may look like in the future. Of parts of the process.  Of who I am.  Of my story.  Of the path I intend to take this blog on in the immediate future.

In a recent bus journey with a group from my church, we were all given a paper with hints and were to write down the hymn which fit the prompt.  We had such prompts as:  the tailors hymn; the shoppers hymn, etc.

The only one I got right was the contractor's hymn:  How Firm a Foundation.  Why?  Because my husband is a plumber who has done mechanical plumbing i.e. construction.  He likes to tell me stories of his day at work ... and I listen.  I may not understand as I'm (a) not a plumber and (b) not at all mechanically inclined.  But this is his journey and so I join him on his path.

If I had a picture of the beginnings of construction of a project, it would not be very exciting.  Which is probably why I don't have one.  It would show a piece of land surrounded by some sort of fencing - usually - especially if it's a big project.  Inside the perimeter would be earth digging equipment like a back hoe to dig the hole.  The bigger the building, the deeper the hole.  Inside the hole comes what is called the underground i.e. pipes for plumbing and probably the basis of the electrical work as well.  (Remember I'm a plumber's wife, not a contractor's wife, so I know things only from the plumber's point of view.)  Not only do the pipes have to be laid before the cement part of the foundation can be completed, but they have to be tested for leaks as well.  All the while, other contractors are breathing down the necks of the plumbers to get done so that they can get on with the work of pouring the concrete, etc.

And the most important part:  the foundation has to be strong.  It has to be strong enough to hold the entire weight of the building and not just hold it upright in bright, sunshiny, mild circumstances but especially when there are tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.  When the building is buffeted and battered.

Which brings us back to the foundations of this blog (and easily be sidetracked to the whole concept of the foundation of emotional healing and recovery).

First we start just a bit with me.  After all, there's always a bio in the back cover of a book jacket right? But this is not about being born in such and such a place or how many children I have or even where I graduated from university and what in.  It is about who I am.  What I do.  How I approach not only life in general, but this blog in particular.

Whether you've just started reading this blog or have been with me from the start, there are several things you have probably realized about me: I am basically a story teller using real life examples to tell the story rather than creating fiction.  I also love to use photographs to illustrate the concept, if possible.

I like to make analogies.

What you may not know is that I was not only a teacher at one time but that those who knew me called me a "born teacher," someone who could get things out of her students that the other teachers could not.

My analogy of choice is to liken my journey of recovery to an actual journey of which I've taken more than a few.  I not only love to travel on long trips but I love my smaller "adventures" such as walking by the nearby river, taking day trips with my husband especially if there is a camera in my hand.

My counsellor has said more than once that my cognitive skills i.e analytic are superb.

I'm an observer.  Not just of people - but of life in general.

I'm like the cat whom curiosity killed.  I am very curious about many things.  So many things fascinate me.

Until the first part of the recovery process, I lived a lot of my life dominated by fear:  fear of the dark, fear of closed-in spaces especially elevators, fear of heights especially bridges.  Fear.

As a child I was very much an introvert.  If called on in class, I would shake violently.  Now, I think it would be safe to say that I'm very much an extrovert.

I'm a people person.  I love people.  I love talking to them.  Hearing their stories.  People fascinate me.

In the process, I've learned - or started to learn - what my triggers are so that I can deal with things that would normally push them big time better.

I met a writer named Phil Callaway once in a writer's conference approximately two decades ago.  This man is well known for his sense of humour.  He commented that even as a child in public school, laughter seemed to follow him around the classroom.  Smiles seem to follow me wherever I go:  church, the library, the grocery store, you name it.  Maybe it's because I give them out so liberally.

I have evolved from being a very angry person to becoming a happy person.  Even in the midst of the thick of the workplace abuse when my world was being shaken at the core of it's foundation, someone emailed me stating:  "You're the happiest person I know."  Since that person only knew me from FaceBook, that comment blessed me - a lot - because that person had no way of knowing that the very core of my world was being severely buffeted at it's foundation.

This is only a little synopsis of the person who is writing this blog.  A small glimpse.

Just as the whole phenomenon of workplace abuse is complex, so am I.  My weaknesses, my strengths, my character, my values, my ethics.  The whole nine yards.

If you've been following this blog, you're aware that I'm in the midst of realigning it to tell my story of recovery.  From complex PTSD.  From Trauma.  From workplace abuse.  From ... well ... from all my past experiences.

And that, dear reader, is where I will leave you for today.

Tomorrow, I will continue back on the journey after a good night's rest.

Join me tomorrow for more of the journey.  In the meantime, I wish you well on your individual journeys through life.

And yes, the temporary bridge, although it did sway a bit and make sounds when the cars went over it, was sound enough for its purpose.  The old bridge has been "rehabilitated" and is now structurally sound enough to withstand hundreds of cars per day.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Post Bullying - Recovery Starts With Questions

Questions.  Ahhhh ... most of us who have been through the trauma of workplace abuse come out of it with many questions.  Among them are:  "Why me?";  "Why did they target me?"; "What did I do to them to cause all of this abuse?"  At some point when the continued, unrelenting attack on the very core of our being devalues us completely that we ask ourselves (or at least I asked myself) this question:  "Who am I?" My answers to this were part of the original posts of this blog.

The main questions for me at this point are:  "What does reclaiming myself look like in this situation?";  "How do I go about it?"

That is a challenging question and a daunting endeavour to even contemplate, let alone initiate.

There are no simple solutions.  No simple answers.  No magic wands.  Garnering support on the journey back is challenging because so many good people simply don't understand what workplace abuse is all about.  What it does to the target or victim.  Even the term "victim" is discredited because the victim is not supposed to have a "victim" mentality.  After all, that would be bad for morale in the workplace ... and we must protect the workplace at all costs.

After all I've been through that I feel that I have the right to use whatever terminology I choose.

 In reality, I am both a target and a victim ... as well as a survivor.  I am a target because I was targeted for certain behaviours such as isolation, exclusion, gossip, character assassination, etc.

I am a victim because of the damage that the constant barrage of criticism, investigation, inspection, etc. did to me both physically and emotionally.  Damage which continues two years and counting post workplace abuse.

At the same time, although I am not fully recovered especially physically, I am a survivor.


Because at the end of the day, I am still alive.  I have not succumbed to either suicide or mental illness.  I have not allowed myself to "self-medicate" in any form.  I have struggled and I still struggle.  Each forward movement takes effort.  So much effort that I feel as that I'm walking in particularly sticky mud up to my ankles.  Muck which will not let go.  Muck which hangs on, clinging to me.  Trying to pull me back.

Back to a place of darkness.  Back to a place where I was not happy.  A place where my strengths were devalued and my weaknesses exaggerated.  A place that in reality I cannot go back to.

I was, for all practical intents and purposes, fired.  Or rather dismissed. Semantics.

Compelled to sign an agreement to resign in a donut shop with only a Union official present.  No HR people.  No forewarning of what was about to happen.

 I liken this experience which became a trauma in and of itself to a prisoner being awakened by heavy pounding on the cell door, manacled, frog-marched outside to a waiting firing squad, chained to a post and summarily shot.  No warning.  No kindness.  Brute force and control.  Oh yes, the prisoner knows he's in a cell.  S/he might even know that they've been sentenced to death  But they did not know the when.  Shock value at its worst.

In my situation, I knew that my value in the workplace had been severely devalued.  I knew, at least in the periphery of my being, that I was perceived by significant others such as HR and management as being the cause of the problem.

I didn't know, however, how far things had gone.  I had been absent from the workplace for over a month.  I was on short-term disability attempting to recover from two back-to-back stress breakdowns.  Close to suicide, my specialist felt that I needed to be separated from the workplace in order to heal.

He could have given me a one-way ticket for a 72 hour evaluation under the Mental Health Act but sent me home instead after asking and assessing the answers to two questions:  "Was I a danger to myself i.e. suicidal?" and, even more importantly in this situation, "Was I a danger to anyone else i.e. the people who were causing the symptoms?"

The answer to both questions was no.  While I was close to becoming suicidal, at that point I was not.  While I was angry, and rightfully so, at what was happening in the workplace, I was not likely to hurt them.  Most of them were bigger then me, including the women.  And while they may constitute a significant Goliath to me, my name is not David.  Nor do I have any skill with the slingshot.

Among the questions asked were:  "Did I have access to weapons - as in guns?"

The answer was no.  The main deciding factor was that I had built up a support system among a few trusted relatives and friends - the main one of which was my husband.

That support system has made all the difference.

Although, I have been battered and bruised (badly), that support system is what has allowed me to survive.  To get up time and time again.  To work on recovery.

So why do I keep going back to the past?  Why do I keep mentioning and reliving that terrible day in the doughnut shop?  Why don't I just "let go" or move on?

These are the frustrations many people have voiced with me.  The reality is that workplace abuse and the bully in the workplace are traumas just as surely as the shooting at Columbine more than a decade ago was for those who survived it.  I remember reading in a newspaper article on the tenth anniversary of that tragic day about a survivor who said that people keep telling him to forget about it, to stop thinking about it but that he can't.  It is still with him every day of his life.

That is trauma in a nutshell.  It's not that you, the victim or target or whatever, can magically let go.  From the moment the first shot at Columbine was fired, trauma entered these people's lives and forged a tight grip on them which does not easily let go.  Not without therapy.  Not without a lot of work and effort.  Not without a support group.  Not without help.

Part of the purpose of the realignment of this blog is not only to invite you on my journey to share the good times, to learn from the bad, but also to give you tools help you understand the traumatized person in your life and what that person is dealing with on a daily basis.  Or if you're the traumatized person, to let you know that (a) you're normal and (b) recovery is possible.  Like with Lydia in the previous blog, it takes a lot of hard work and determination.  But it is possible.

First, we need to lay down a strong foundation which will start with my nest blog.  Like a contractor laying down the foundation for any building project, it needs to be strong.  It needs to be able to withstand anything which might come against it.  It has to be done right.

And to do that, takes time and effort.

So please, dear reader, I ask you to bear with me as I start to lay down a strong foundation from which to build on.

Join with me in the journey.  Hope on the bus.  I welcome and solicit your comments and feedback.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Psychological Recovery Mirrors Physical

On my journey, I've often tried to get people to understand what is happening within me and the challenges I face by drawing parallels between physical injuries/illnesses and then comparing them with the emotional/psychological situation/injuries that I face.  Sometimes it seems to work.  Then there are the other times....

Today's blog is going to feature such a journey; a traumatic journey in the physical realm.  A journey widely followed by people in our area.  One which anyone can understand.  A traumatic event which has changed not only a young girl's life but her family's as well.

Their journey began one bright sunshiny May day.  A normal day. Filled with normal things.

Until ....

A garbage disposal truck driver got distracted for just a minute - and found a stopped school bus, lights flashing in front of him.  He tried to avoid a sure collision by attempting to pass on the right.  A young girl was getting off the bus.  His truck hit her slender body, throwing her 30 feet down the road.

Lydia Herrle is a survivor.  Her story is well-known in our area.  The community came together.  People prayed.  They tied green ribbons around trees, poles, fence posts, you name it to show their prayer support for this family.  Her family set up a blog to keep the community informed of her condition during the tense first days after the accident and continued making progress reports daily for months.

A year after the accident, Lydia is a miracle in progress.  Still recovering.  Still with no certainty that she will recover fully, her family is grateful for the Lydia they now have.  The Lydia that lay motionless in a coma for months.  The Lydia they thought they would never see again.

A huge part of Lydia's remarkable recovery is her own drive and stamina.  Her desire to get well.  To work hard.  To set goals and work to achieve them.

Lydia had to start at the beginning.  She had to relearn how to eat.  How to walk.  How to brush her teeth and her hair.

Those who us who suffer from psychological trauma are also on a journey of recovery.  Our journey is less understood.  Certainly there are no headlines.  In  many cases, people are not even rallying around us to support us through prayer.  No green ribbons lining the roadways.  We are invisible to those outside the situation just as our plight was invisible to those who worked with us.  The bystanders.  The onlookers.  HR.  Management.  The Union.

Our injuries are not as cut and dried as broken bones and brain injury.  Nor are there therapies to help us advance, to regain what we've lost in many cases.  We're on our own to figure things out as best we can usually with no to limited support.

We are actively discouraged from telling our stories.  From becoming visible.  Sometimes this discouragement comes from well-meaning people who just don't understand.  People who think we're whiny.  Or that we just won't let go.  Other times this discouragement comes from those who caused the damage in the first place.  It also comes internally from fear of what these people might do if we come out of the closet of workplace abuse.

We are perceived in a negative way as though we were somehow the cause of the trauma that happened in the workplace and has affected us and our families.

Yet, I see so many parallels in Lydia's journey back from physical trauma and my own from complex PTSD.  Recovery is a long process.  For her, it involves different forms of therapy.  Her recovery is a 24/7 situation as she is continually working on going forward.  Challenging herself.  Resting.  It involves her entire family.

My recovery is also a 24/7 situation since I began the first phase in 2006 with an amazing therapist.  A journey of continually attempting to move forward.  Challenging myself.  Resting.  Learning to involve my family and lean on them for support.

This blog is taking a turn at the moment as I re-align it to move forward and invite others into not only my journey, but the journeys of those around them who are recovering from an abusive workplace.  Those who have been made to feel that it was something they did wrong.  To bring workplace abuse and recovery from workplace abuse out of the closet and into the open.

I hope you will continue with me on this amazing journey.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coming Back to Life after Workplace Abuse

Most of the last several years I've preferred to remain like this - a shadow figure.  Seen but not really seen.

I feel a bit like Snow White, waking up from a very long sleep.  Actually, it's been more like coming slowly out of a coma - by minute increments.  A piece here.  Another piece there.  Connecting the dots.  Learning to live again.  To come awake - fully awake - to both the injustice and the beauty of life post-bullying.

Unlike Snow White there is no Prince Charming.  No kiss.  No dwarfs.  There is no happily ever after.  With workplace abuse, there rarely is.

There is, however, the vain, jealous queen aka co-worker peering into her looking glass inquiring who in the workplace is ... the brightest, the most competent, the most well-liked or well-established ... or whatever.  There is also a group of disenchanted townspeople or villagers aka bystanders willing to look up to, admire and follow the queen wherever she goes and believe without question whatever she says.  After all, she's the queen.  Who would think for themselves when someone else can think for them?  Isn't it easier all around that way?

For me, the awakening is about reclaiming myself from midst of the debris of my self-esteem which cloaks me like the wrappings around a mummy.  Or like an early morning fog.

Forced into silence by fear, my greatest awakening is realizing that I not only have a story to tell but a right to tell my story.  It's my story.  Uniquely mine.  Yes, it involves others who behaved in negative ways - ways that caused a lot of internal psychological and emotional damage and trauma - but that is simply a prop to propel the story of recovery on.  To make sense of the journey of recovery.

If the injury had been caused by a physical accident such as a car crash, there wouldn't be any issue in that regard.  It would be a no-brainer.  I would certainly be recognized as having a right to tell the story, to show the cast - or the bandages - or the bruises - or the stitches.  If the accident was traumatic or newsworthy enough, it would have been featured on the local news in which case there wouldn't be any questions of slander, libel or defamation of character.  But workplace abuse is different.  Because it's non-visible.  Because it operates best in a culture of silence.  Because too many people are willing to let it.

For me, the most consistent piece of the recovery process has been an attempt to move forward by focussing on my dreams to become a writer.  Lifelong dreams sidetracked years ago by the realities of life.

To start, I've taken two on-line courses:  Social Media 101 and Blogging 101.

Social Media was a fearful adventure for me.  I had to write a bio.  I had to get onto and learn how to use various forms of social media:  LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, etc.

I'd been on LinkedIn for several years, but was consumed by fear.  After all, if I could see others' profiles on LinkedIn, so could those who had caused all this damage.  What would they do if they saw my profile on LinkedIn and accessed this blog?  How would they perceive it?

I lived in fear.  I still do to a degree.

I was starting to slowly come out of the paralysis of fear when I signed up for Blogging 101 which has made me realize that the focus of my blog is on my years-long, on-going journey of recovery from complex PTSD.  Not primarily on what happened but what has been happening since then and because of it.  However, the two - the bullying and the recovery - are irrevocably intertwined since I couldn't be recovering from one without the other.

I value - and invite - your comments.  What would you like to see covered in this blog?  Would you be willing to tell me your story and have it featured on this blog?

I invite you, the reader, to join me on this journey.

Part of reclaiming my life - I can't ride a normal bike because of the affects of the psychological trauma so I had a bike shop adapt this one for my needs.  Thank you King Street Cycle, Waterloo, Ontario

Monday, May 6, 2013

Blogging 101

Dear reader:

 After publishing this blog for over a year, I finally decided to take a Blogging 101 course to see what I'm doing right - and what I'm doing wrong.  Actually, from what I'm learning, it is a surprise that I have any readers which means that I am very grateful for each one of you who takes the time to click on this poor old bear's blog - and read it.

What possessed you to click on this URL, to look at this blog?  What intrigued you?  Was it the title?  Was it one of the key words?  What are you looking for in your reading pleasure in a blog? 

Was it the word “deranged” which made you think of a psychotic blogger; one who rambles on without rhyme or reason? Or was it a totally different reason - like you already know me and have been involved in a part of my journey - even vicariously.

Whatever your reason for being here, I am glad you have come into my den.  Or is it lair?  Spider web, perhaps?

What is a deranged mind anyway?  Perhaps it is different things to different people.  My mind has always been independent.  Marching to its own drummer.  Going its own direction.  Sometimes switching focus on a dime.  People sometimes hard to follow my conversations, as I don't always say what they expect.  Or think in a conventional way.  I am different.   Proudly so. Therefore, I don't always fit in.  During this journey, I've learned to live with that.

This blog has changed direction - or perhaps more accurately gained focus - within the year and a bit that its been in existence.

When I started in January 2012, I simply wanted a forum for my writing style and technique.  As time went on, I became more and more away of the damage workplace abuse had wrecked in my life.  It was six months after the fact when the symptoms of severe stress started wrecking havoc in my life.  Altering the landscape of my existence beyond recognition.  Like Cologne during WWII completely destroyed during an Allied blitz attack.  Rebuilt.  But never to be the same as before.

Before the abuse started and continuing while it escalated, I was already involved in therapy with an amazing therapist.  Thus began the most amazing adventure of my life.  An adventure that didn't follow any logical progress, but leaped all over the map from one place to another ... and then back again.  Learning to value myself.  Learning to value others.  Discovering who was important in my life - and who was not.  Admitting that to those who should have been important ... and had not been.  Forgiveness. Trauma.  Confronting long term fears.

Even during the abusive situation, life was fun.  I was having a great time.  Reinventing relationships with Papa Bear, the cubs, sibling bear.  Seizing the moment for all it was worth.

Even when I was completely isolated by my co-workers, I continued to seize the moment and learn more about myself and how to handle these situations.  I learned that I did not need others to know my self-worth. I learned that I enjoyed myself and didn't need others to affirm me.   When my co-workers refused to talk to me and excluded me from office chat, I would simply talk to others in other departments.  I found ways to cope.  Time after time.  I worked things out in therapy, read books, analyzed the situation, attended conferences.  
And I grew - emotionally.

For the first time in my life, I was truly a happy camper.  Even in the midst of on-going, escalating trauma, I was happy.

Shortly before the end came, a worker from a different department said "What are you on?  You're always smiling.  No one can be that happy."  I grinned.  I tried to frown - but it just wouldn't happen.  Everyone (everyone not in my department that is) who was in the vicinity was laughing with me.  A splash of happiness in the cesspool of life (title of a book by Barbara Johnson).

And then the opposing faction raised the heat and began going to management and HR accusing me of things.  Even the union became involved - on their side.  Every small mistake was reported.  Small incidents which should have been kept between two people became fodder for office gossip after being reported to management.

Called into the office repeatedly.  Having to explain myself.  Phone calls at home.

Finally, I had two back-to-back stress breakdowns.  While I was "recovering" from the second one, out of the office, on short-term disability, the opposing faction wrong up a petition and submitted it to management and HR.  I never did walk back into the building again.  I was not allowed to.  Too ill to even think, devastated, crying uncontrollably, I signed away all my rights in a local donut shop with only the union representative present.

Since then, my journey has changed.  My landscape is filled with craters, darkness, fear of people, fatigue.  Even affects that resemble brain injury.

And yet, it's not all gloom and doom.  Never has been; never will be.

I continue the journey.  The journey of recovery.

I invite you, old reader and new reader alike, to join with me in my journey.

To rejoice when I rejoice; to weep when I weep.

I also invite you if you're new to this blog to peruse my old posts and visit the places I've already been.

Thank you for joining me in the journey.

Looking forward to see what's around the next bend in the journey.