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.

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