Friday, June 28, 2013

Workplace Abuse is Not All About Suffering - Parasailing in the Laguna Madre

Ever been near the ocean and watched people parasailing up in the air?  A canopy directly above their heads, the water quite a ways below?  Attached only by a rope attached to a boat way, far below?  The air is clear.  It's almost like being in a swing - except for being up in the sky.  You can see for quite a distance in any direction - if you're brave enough to move your head.  The higher up you go, the more the view changes.  

Just for today, I'm not going to write about the narrative of workplace abuse.  Just for today, I'm going to take a rest from the hard word of both recovery and writing about recovery - and what caused the damage.  

Just for today, I'm going to write about a pleasurable experience.  One that happened on the road to recovery (what I now call phase 1 which is before the workplace abuse in situation #2 escalated to the point where active recovery had to stop for the time being with the primary focus being on survival).  One that would not have happened had I not been on the road to recovery.

From the beginning of the recovery phase in October 2006 until sometime in 2010, I was on a road of active recovery.  Working through lifelong challenges and fears.  Working on relationships.  Life became a series of adventures.  I never knew which one would be waiting for me just around the corner.

In 2010, My beloved spouse and partner in these adventures and I went on a "memory lane" trip back to South Texas where we first met in 1980.  Back to our very beginnings.

Part of our beginnings were day trips to South Padre Island, a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, of course, we had to go back to that part of our history.

Roaming around the island we found a bird sanctuary, lots of sand, sand dunes, a road that stops abruptly, high rise hotels and resorts, and parasailing.  Double parasailing to be exact.  As in, my beloved spouse and I could experience this adventure together.  

Ahhhh ... togetherness.

I could not pass up this opportunity to confront my life-long fear of heights.  It became a "must do" on my list.  So, we made the appointment, arrived at the appointed place at the appointed time, and climbed in the boat with three other couples.  It was only then that I began to experience the familiar pangs of fear coursing through my body.  

As luck (or fate - or whatever) would have it, we were the last of the four couples to go up.  Each one came down with exhilaration etched all over their faces, their voices and their bodies.  I asked them to describe their experience up there.  The men were, for the most part, bolder and more enthusiastic in their experience.  The women, usually, a bit more timid. Yet, all had had a good, fear-free experience.

My anxieties, while still there, lightened.

Finally, it was our turn.

Note the look on my face as we're preparing for lift off.  I think the exact thought in my mind was either:  "Is it too late to back out now?" or "Am I outta my cotton pickin' mind?"

Both would have been appropriate.  Notice also, how my faithful companion is grinning, ready to take off.  Totally unafraid.

Notice also how just feet off the boat, I'm starring fixedly ahead while his attention is focused on me.  Still grinning.  Having the time of his life.

Regardless of the expression on my face, I wanted this adventure.  I wanted to push my envelope.  I wanted to conquer my fear.

And I wanted to say to my children and grandchildren:  "I went parasailing."  I gave my camera to one of the crew so that I would always have the pictures to prove it, as well.

Once up, it was exhilarating.  It was like being on a gentle swing way up in the air.  Far above the causeway.

I have to admit, in a sense it was also boring.  Once you're up there, there isn't much to do except look around.  And maybe talk to the spouse.  Since we were in the Laguna Madre which is the strip of water between the mainland and the island, there wasn't much real estate for the boat to maneuver in, so we covered the same territory, the same scenery over and over.

Yet, it was fun too.  Exhilarating to know that I had done something that I would never have thought of before.  That only a few years before I would have thought was impossible.

Would I do it again?  I don't know.

One thing I have learned in this adventure of recovery is to seize the moment.  I may only pass this way once.  I may only have this opportunity (to parasail) once.

Tomorrow might well be another adventure, another challenge.


For those of us on the road to recovery post workplace abuse, and those currently stuck in workplace abuse, tomorrow seems far off.

Like a dream.

We're working hard just on surviving today.

So today, I want to encourage you, dear readers, that there is a tomorrow.  We can do it.

There is life both during and after workplace abuse.  And it can be good.  Very good.

The traditional lowering of the parasailees and dipping their feet in the water shot.  However, at the lat moment, the crew realized that my beloved spouse and partner in crime had shoes on so they didn't dip our feet in the water - much to my dismay.   (Note to self:  if there is a next time, check companion's feet.)

This experience lives on both in my memory and my pictures.  A jewel to be brought out, savoured and treasured.  An experience which shines brightly like a beam of sunshine against the sombre background of workplace abuse making it all the more precious.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Workplace Abuse - Mentally and Emotionally Preparing for the End

Perched on top of a water tower on South Padre Island in South Texas, we had a hard time deciding if these men were crazy or just had a death wish.  Actually, they were up there doing some sort of work on the tower. What were their feelings, their thoughts as they sat atop the water tower?  Their employer would say that they weren't being paid to think or to feel, simply to do their work.  To get the job done. Whatever.  They not only had a spectacular view of the Laguna Madre to the East and the bird sanctuary right below them, but their perch gave them a completely different view point from those directly below them.  Those (like me) who had their feet planted firmly on tierra firma.

I find myself dragging my feet on this narrative as I approach (for the second time) the end of my final contract.

I say for the second time because that is how it feels as I relive this traumatic experience.

Only this time, I know how it ends.

And I'm not really looking forward to it.

As the end neared with my supervisor still refusing to tell me anything, I went through several stages emotionally.  Just as they say there are definite stages to grief or to learning that you have a terminal illness, I went through several stages as the end approached.  Looking back, I don't think I can remember or recall them all but I will try.

First, was a feeling of doom and dread.  Wanting to hang on to what I had.  Not wanting to let go.  Gradually, though as the pressures of the work grind coupled with the increasing stress continued, I began to think that I wouldn't mind leaving the job if it were not for the money issue.

I've mentioned in an earlier posting, how it was my faith that enabled me to stay somewhat vertical during this time.

At one point, I heard or read an example about a pastor who called up all the children in his congregation to sit near him at the front of the church while he told a story.  He gave each of this children a $1 bill.  Then he held up a $10 bill which he was willing to give away.  The catch?  The child had to let go of the $1 bill in his hand to get the $10 bill.

That story gave me a lot to think about.

Was my job the $1 bill in my hand which I had to let go of before I could receive the equivalent of the $10 bill?

For me, though, I would have to let go of the $1 bill in my hand by pure faith that something better, i.e. the $10 bill, was out there waiting.

Did I have enough faith to be able to do that?

Another story I heard during that time was about a woman of faith in a third world country (I don't remember her name or where - just the example because it was powerful).  They had just put a new roof on their church when disaster in the form of a storm struck and the roof was demolished.  This woman starting praising God.  People around her were astonished. Why was she praising God when they'd lost the roof of the church?  When asked, she answered to the effect:  she was praising God for taking away the roof because that meant he had a metal roof, i.e. a much better one than the previous one, for them.

In those last weeks before the contract ended, my mind came back again and again to those two examples.

Could I praise God even if the job ended because I had the faith to believe something better suited to me was down the line?

Concurrently, did I have the faith to mentally and emotionally let go of this job regardless of whether or not I could see something on the other side of it?

Because I was on contract, there would be no exit or severance package to tide me over.  When the job was over, so were the paycheques.  Period.

Towards the very end, though, I was ready to go.  It was time.  Past time.

I was exhausted.  I desperately needed a break from the unrelenting stress - both from the nature of the job itself and from the toxic atmosphere I was working in.

However, I still wanted a rescuer to appear on the scene.

I wanted someone to represent me.

I guess I had watched too many Lone Ranger episodes as a child, where the Lone Ranger always swept in at the last, crucial moment with his sidekick Tonto and saved the day.

Although this view of a bird sanctuary on South Padre Island in Texas is taken from the third story of a viewing centre, the water tower the workers were perched on top of was right beside.  They had a far greater, more comprehensive view from their perch than I did.  I wonder what they saw at that moment.  How did this scene look to them?  Admittedly, I'm looking at the view of my workplace experience from a very low level, i.e. ground level.  Being right on the scene.  How would the same view look from another perspective?  I've often wondered how it looked from God's perspective.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lydia Herrle - Inspiration, Beauty and Courage

On May 23rd, I posted about a local girl, Lydia Herrle, who against all odds had survived a devasating accident a year ago.  Her journey is one of recovery post traumatic brain injury and coma after being hit by a garbage truck while getting off her school bus across the street from her house.

She has spent this past year undergoing intensive therapy first at a children's rehab hospital and then at home.  She has had to relearn everything:  to talk; to eat; to walk.  She still has on-going affects from the accident.

She has come quite a way in this past year.  Yet, she still has far to go in her journey of recovery.  How far will she be able to go?  At this point, that is anyone's guess as she has progressed further faster than anyone could have predicted after such a devastating accident that most people do not survive from.

Yet, this year a little more than a year after the accident, she stood up at her grade 8 graduation from public school (a big thing in our region) and gave a four minute speech.  One she had written herself.  One she had practiced at home many times.

Her speech was slurred, indicative of the brain injury she is recovering from.  Someone was with her to remind her of her place in the speech when she forgot.

But she did it.

I have taken the liberty of copying the text of her speech posted in her parent's blog Pray for Lydia.  Although the format didn't translate well from their blog to mine, it is still worth reading.

Because although Lydia's message is, in a sense, all about her, it has a deeper message to all of us.  Something we all need to hear.

The message, a stirring reminder for those of us who have been traumatically injured whether through a losing confrontation with a garbage truck or the unending impact of dealing with hostile co-workers on a daily basis, is one we all need to not only hear, but internalize.

As promised, here is Lydia's speech that she gave at her grade 8 graduation in text form. 

I can do anything. I have learned this truth this past year. I have been on a hard journey of recovery. I could have died, but God gave me a second chance to live, and life is a precious gift. I am doing my best to live fully, to treasure the life that I have been given.

I want to share the hope that I have. I want to ignite a flicker of hope in others, reminding them that anything is possible.

I spent 2 months in a deep coma, at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where I could not talk, or walk, or even move on my own. From July until October, I was at Holland Bloorview, a children’s rehab hospital. In August, when I was at home visiting my family, on my dad’s birthday, I spoke my first sentences. This past school year, I have spent at home with therapists, teachers and support workers, and I have relearned how to walk, balance, think and communicate. I am recovering.

Our attitudes are very important. They shape us. They have a huge impact on life. It is important to not face each day with a crummy attitude. Instead, put on a smile, be thankful, and face each day with hope and strength.

“Life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% of how we react to it.” We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control our attitudes. Expect the unexpected - something totally out of the ordinary, and when that happens, you’ll be ready to embrace it, whatever “it” is.

Over the last year, I have gone through many mixed emotions. There were times at night, when I felt like giving up, but God gave me hope. In the morning, I awoke with a new perspective, renewed faith, and determination. When hard times come your way, when the unexpected happens, do not lose hope or give up. Have faith, a positive attitude and you’ll find strength for each step of your journey. Thank you for encouraging me in mine.

Click on the first link in this posting to watch the YouTube video of Lydia giving her graduation speech.
As a survivor of workplace abuse who still copes daily with "altered abilities" caused by the abuse, I felt like standing up and shouting "Amen!"

Her message was what I needed to hear. What we all need to hear.

We are victims, yes, of unforeseen circumstances.  But at the same time, we are survivors as well.

How far will any of us go?

That depends.

How much effort are we willing to make in the effort?

How much support do we have?

Today, I leave you with these questions to mull over as you walk your own individual path.  Today, my path leads me to my counsellor to mull over all the issues I've been processing as I write this blog.

May God go with you on your journey.

Workplace Abuse - Characteristics of the Target

The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, a rock pinnacle on the cliffs called the Storr, stands out.  Alone.  Solitary.  Not one of the crowd.  Different.  Noticeable.  Like the Old Man of Storr, the bully target stands out alone in the crowd.  For some reason different from the rest.  But unlike the Old Man of Stor, we are not rocks pinnacles set on a cliff.  We are human beings who feel adrift in a mass of other humans - like us, yet not like us.  We feel different.  We feel alone.  Isolated.  Set apart.

During this time period, I started seeing a counsellor again whom I had a history.  I expressed frustration over and over again as to why "this" (which I could not verbally identify) was happening to me in the workplace.  She would shrug, her face expressionless, and say that it was simply a personality conflict.  A personality conflict?  I totally didn't understand.  Which became another source of frustration to me.

The idea of "this" being nothing more than a "personality conflict" bothered me.  Looking back through years of therapy, research and healing plus the "added benefit" of going through and surviving the second abusive workplace situation, I now realize that it was not simply a "personality conflict." It was much more insidious than that.  It was plain, old-fashioned bullying.  Only with grown-ups, not teenagers.  In a workplace, not a school yard.  With people i.e. my supervisor who were being paid to bully me.

The question kept coming up:  "Why?  Why me?  Why was I such a bad person, a bad employee, to deserve this?"

An on-line article from Psychology Today (click here for the whole article) entitled "Are You An Easy Target for Bullies," succinctly describes the target as being selected because she is (a) different, (b) competent. (c) nice, and (d) not a leader.  Unfortunately, I fit all four categories.

I'm not sure, though, exactly what made me different from the others in the first situation of workplace abuse.  There were many times, however, that my supervisor would treat me differently from the others.  At one point we had a high school co-op student who was "reporting" directly to me, yet gave me tons of attitude on a consistent basis. I finally approached my supervisor when the situation became unmanageable only to be told that I although I too had come into the department as an unpaid, high school co-op (with a adult education program), I was told that I could not compare myself with her as I was "different".

The other three categories fit to a "T".  Anyone who can be described as "amazing" is definitely competent.  I was also known as a "nice guy" ... or rather "nice "girl" ... someone well liked by my co-workers.  I'm not a leader.  I prefer to sit at my desk and get my work done.

Many times during that time period when I would express frustration over what was happening and ask aloud "Why?", others would tell me that I was a threat to her.  That confused me even more.  A threat? How could I be a threat to her - or anyone?  I was in my 50s, on contract and doing an entry level position.  She was a manager who had been employed with the company for several years.  How could I be a threat to a manager just by doing my job to the best of my ability?

I've expressed several times in this on-going narrative frustration that "my best wasn't good enough."  Perhaps the real problem was that "my best was too good."  Perhaps the real issue was that my supervisor was afraid higher ups would notice me and start putting me on the fast track to her job.  Ironically, a job I had no desire for.  Perhaps.

Another on-line article, "Who Is a Workplace Bully's Target?" goes into much greater detail about who is chosen to be bullied and, more importantly, why.  This one describes the target's and to a degree, the bully's, traits in more detail.  I've had to resist the impulse to reproduce it in its entirely; therefore, I highly advise you, my reader, to click on the link and read this article for a better understanding of what workplace bullying is all about.  Why a specific person is chosen while others are left unhindered.

There are some sentences or paragraphs that describe perfectly what was happening to me - and why - in that first situation:

Bullies target people who pose a threat to them in the workplace.  Often the bully target is smart, competent, well-liked and self-assured.  In fact, targets are often the most veteran and skilled person in the workgroup.  "Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies.  They are the 'go to' veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance.  

As I read this article last night, I was struck by this paragraph.  Especially in light of what I had written in my last blog entry that others, including managers who were new, would come to me for help.  I was  fast becoming a 'go-to' person.  Did that comprise a threat to my supervisor?  She came to us from the IT department.  Incredibly gifted and knowledgeable in her field of expertise, she came to us with no hands on knowledge of our jobs.  She could not do my job.  Did the fact that I could do things, work with people, in a way that she couldn't threaten her?

Workplace bullies target those for whom meekness, collaboration, compromise, team building and consensus-seeking are second nature, and while such character traits are an important part of a healthy work team, those traits only exacerbate bullying   "The most easily exploited targets are people with personalities founded on a pro-social orientation -- a desire to help, heal, teach, develop nurture others," the Workplace Bullying Institute states.  Bullies view such traits as a drain on their power; they believe that loyalty, compromise and collaboration give credit and power to others.

Oops!  Ouch.  Although, I only accessed this article for the first time last night in preparation for continuing on the theme of why one person is singled out for workplace abuse, the author of this article could well have been describing me.  I plead guilty to all the above traits.

Bullies often target employees who are fair, honest and ethical or have strong morals and integrity, especially if the bully does not possess those traits or if the targets' values conflict with those of the bully.

Again, this is a succinct statement of my values.  The very basis of who I am.  And, from observation - or rather hearing conversations on the other side of the cubicle - the very basis of who my supervisor was not.

The fact that a certain person is selected to be abused by either their boss or their co-workers does, in a sense, reflect on them.  But ironically, not in the sense that they are a bad person deserving of such harsh treatment.  They are targeted because they are a good person, a competent employee.

My husband has often said regarding both abusive workplace situations:  "You were too good for them."

And that is what I will leave you with today, dear reader.  The thought that if you are the one who has been selected to be abused by bullying either by your co-workers or your boss in your workplace, it is not because you are a bad person.

Quite the opposite, it is because you are too good for them.

(Click on the link to read another good on-line article entitled Who Gets Targeted  Why me?  This article reiterates in different wording and style, the concepts described in this blog entry.)

Scotland is known for its Scottish Thistles.  They tend to be found not in a field with other such thistles, but in solitary where they will stand out.  Where their beauty and uniqueness can be admired.  They stand out best against rocks - where they seem to thrive.   I personally prefer a nice, soft, well-tilled ground to be planted in, yet through the rock of adversity, an inner strength which I never knew I possessed shines through.  The bullying:  my rock.  The flower:  my strength.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Workplace Abuse - Why Was I Targeted?

Much as we would like it to, real life doesn't come complete with road signs in six different languages as this sign post on the Isle of Skye in Scotland advising drivers to drive on the left.  Or even in one language.  Life, real life, doesn't work that way.  Sometimes guidance is more on the line of doing what our gut tells us to do.  Sometimes, we have to go off the road completely before guidance comes.

Am I going into too much detail?  Have I lost my mojo?  Should I just speed things up?  Or should I carry on as is?

These are the thoughts that are going through my head as I sit down once again at my computer, blank page starring at me.  Taunting me.  Daring me to write something.

Yet as I write out the narrative of the first abusive workplace situation in as factual and unemotional a manner as possible, I'm seeing things for the first time.  Combined with my journey through and post workplace abuse situation #2, I'm seeing things I never saw before - in both situations.  I'm coming to a better understanding of what I faced in both.  What the dynamics were.

I'm seeing what was at the time a very confusing situation with much clearer eyes.

Eyes which now recognize the futility of the situation I was caught in.

Eyes, filtered now by the lenses of experience, handsight and research, which bring the events into clearer focus.

How the supervisor and her manager in abusive workplace situation #1 got away with changing the evaluation form, I have no idea.

Perhaps because it was a fairly small company.  Perhaps each little division had their own autonomy.  Perhaps because my 2-UP was herself on the Executive. Also we were in the far back of the building, the Siberia of the company.  The offices were in the front, the production plant in the middle, and us, the distribution department and warehouse in the very back.  In order to go from the front to the back, one had to either exit the building and go around on the sidewalk or don protective gear, white lab coats, hair nets, goggles and safety shoes to walk through the plant where the product was being made.

There was a fair amount of real estate between the front doors and the back.  Also, quite a difference, I think in retrospect, in oversight.  My supervisor was in the cubicle next to me.  Her manager was far away in the ivory tower of the front office.

The evaluation, I thought originally, went fairly well.  The problem was, I was focussing on what my supervisor was saying.  Not on the black and white of what was on the form.  Just as in the surprise meeting in late December where I focussed on the first part, the praise part, of the sentence while she focussed on the BUT and what came after.

My supervisor tempered every section with something good.  Problem was, the positive was not in black and white on the form.  Only the negative.  For example, she had been focussing on cross-training - of which I did have some which had added value to the office as a whole.  However, she discounted what I did have and focussed on what I did not have. She prefixed her remarks by saying "this is my fault because I haven't trained you on these things" and then went on to mark me negatively.  I heard the "this is my fault" without realizing that what was written on the form was the significant part.  In hindsight, years later, I wonder why I was even being evaluated on something that was not part of my job, nor part of my training.

I wonder why I was being evaluated on the same basis of my colleagues who were permanent employees.

I also wonder why I was even being evaluated when my contract was up in approximately four weeks.   I believe now - and faintly discerned even then - that the decision not to rehire me had been set in stone back in December when the final contract was offered.  Maybe even before that, as I believe now that their game plan in December may well have been to wait until the bitter end and then walk me out.  They were thwarted in this plan by my unwitting disclosure to a major account that I was on contract and that my contract was soon to end.

I faintly discerned then and I firmly believe now, that my supervisor and her supervisor were ensuring that their plans did not fail this time.

Perhaps they went through the motions of the evaluation to throw me off-balance, to give me reason to believe once again that there was some hope in the situation.  In reality, the negativity may well have been so that they would have something concrete to back up their decision not to rehire me - just in case ....

If I had known then....

More importantly, if I had been the person then that I am now.

One of the perplexities of workplace abuse is that the person who is selected is usually not a bad worker.  Quite the opposite.  For some reason, people who are well established and recognized for their outstanding work are usually those selected for the dubious honour of being abused according to the research.

Another significant trait of the abused employee is that they are non-confrontative by nature.

Put the two together and you have an employee who is extremely good but who lacks the self-confidence to stand up for herself.

That in a nutshell was me during that time - and for quite a long time afterwards.  On the journey of recovery, I am still learning to stand up for myself.  Not only to stand up for myself but how to do it effectively and when to do so.

In effect, I allowed my supervisor to bully me, not because I am a masochist but because I didn't think I had any right to stand up to her.  I had been trained from early children to believe that I had no rights.  Concurrently, I had been trained to be a peacemaker in my family.  I avoided conflict like the plague.  I had learned to hide in my room or even inside my head in daydreams during times of family unrest.  I had learned to be a co-dependent.  I had been raised to feel that it was up to me to make things right for others.

These are the lifelong traits I carried with me into that workplace.  These are the traits which allowed the abuse to not only start but to thrive.  These are the traits, I have been working on in the process of recovery.

Not only did my supervisor devalue me on a long-term basis; I had left the door wide open by habitually devaluing myself.

A recipe for ... well ... for bullying.

So today, as we continue on this road, we have passed a significant landmark on that part of the journey.  The evaluation.  Yet the road continues up a slight incline.  What is on the other side?  Where does the road go from here?  What will the scenery be like on the other side?  Will it be more of the same?  Will it be beautiful?  Or ....

Until tomorrow.  Thank you for walking with me on this the journey of my experience with and through workplace abuse.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Workplace Abuse - The Continuing Experience

Twilight to me is a magical time.  A time when sunbeams dance on the water.  A time when the raucous sounds of the day are replaced by a quietness, a peace.  These are the times I love to walk by the river, (ever-present) camera in hand drinking in the quietness, the peace, the beauty.  Enjoying the serenity, letting it sink deep into my troubled soul.  Soothing away the emotional aches and pains at least for a while of the journey.

The end was drawing near.  At the beginning I felt hope.  As the process of bullying aka psychological harassment aka small "h" harassment continued to inexorably progress slowly ever so slowly like lumbering heavy duty equipment demolishing whatever is in its path, hope was slowly replaced by despair.

The meeting we were to have at the beginning of the new year, did not happen.  I was never given a chance to ask questions as in was my pay raise included in the new contract.  When it came time to signing, I was called into her office at the end of the day without warning.  The contract was covered except for the signature part.  Still in a state of surprise by the abrupt, unexpected meeting, I signed.  Days later, it dawned on me that maybe there was a reason it was covered.  Maybe there was a reason it was done on the fly.  Maybe.

I think my feeling not only the day I misguidedly signed that contract but also on a consistent basis was akin to that of a deer caught in the headlights.  Frozen.  Staring.  Caught by surprise.

My supervisor was constantly criticizing me for what she perceived as my deficiencies.  She completely devalued the cross-training I did have i.e. with inventory and focused on what I did not have.  Yet, I often wondered if she even had a clue as to the things I was doing?  The value I did have for the department as a whole?

Ironically, during this same time frame when I was constantly being devalued by one person, the supervisor, I was showing great value in other ways to other people - ironically manager type people. One I taught how to do returns when it became part of her job - a part she was never trained on.  She told me later, that I had helped her greatly in her first days on the job with my pleasant attitude and my help.

BUT it was not good enough for my supervisor.

Another manager who was in charge of trucking charges, etc. also sought my advice and help on different issues.  She was a manager, I was in an entry-level position.  She expressed gratitude for my help.

BUT ... it was not good enough for my supervisor.

Somehow, I also became the one who ordered the supplies for the office and kept the supply cabinet full.  Ditto when the fax machine was full of papers, I would empty it and put things in the correct employee's slot.  Thus quietly making everyone's life a little easier.

BUT ... it was not good enough.

I often wondered if my supervisor had any idea of the work I did quietly in that office?  Did she really know?  More importantly, did she care?

What was more important to her?  Her agenda?  Or the well-being of the office?

I often wondered.

Towards the end of my contract, the dreaded annual evaluation came up.  That would have been fearful enough EXCEPT the department changed it that year.  Things that would have reflected positive on me were deleted.  Things that reflected negatively were added.

By that time, I was a mess emotionally.  Insecure.  Confused.

My lifeline was my faith.  My guidebook was my Bible.  Those were the two things that kept me tied to any sense of stability.  That and the constant support of my family.  My neighbours were aware too of what was happening in the workplace - and they were concerned.  There really wasn't much anyone could do.

As the time shortened and the stress became brutal, I felt like walking out.

Many people have asked since then:  "Why didn't you?  It was very clear that they wanted you to, so why didn't you?"

Maybe because I'm contrary and wasn't about to do what they wanted me to.

Maybe because I value integrity as part of my commitment to following God in my life.

Maybe because I'm not a quitter.

The biggest reason though has to do with the integrity issue.  I had signed a contract.  And I intended to honour that contract to the bitter end if need be.  Whether they wanted me to or not was beside the issue.

Also, in the back of my mind, I realized that part of their strategy would be to say that I was not "a fit" for them because I was "unstable" if I were to simply walk out.  I would have validated them - and I had no intention of doing so.

I'm also stubborn.

Maybe too stubborn for my own good.

In those moments, before the sun makes its final descent for the days, the seagulls come out on the river, flying here and there.  Flying low.  Diving into the water.  Are they feasting?  Or are they just enjoying their ability to fly?  The ducks below them are also serenely floating, maybe enjoying some juicy duck gossip or just relaxing after a long day on the river.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Workplace Abuse - The Ends Comes Ever Closer

 The sun comes up slowly emerging from the darkness.  First just a glow on the horizon.  Then slowly rising, slowly emerging from its sleep.  Bringing forth light where once darkness reigned.  However, before the sun rises in the morning, it must set at night slowly plunging the earth into darkness.  But not complete darkness.  There are always the stars, the moon to provide pinpoints of light to guide us through the darkness.

With the signing of that last contract, I descended into a dark time in my life.  As I've written before, that time is imprinted in my mind in shadows in shades of grey.

Exhaustion.  Caused partly by overwork but also but chronically disrupted sleep patterns.  Anxiety.  Stress.  Trembling.  A feeling of doom.  I kept looking up expecting to find the Sword of Damocles hovering over me by a thin string.  The sword being the end of the contract.  The thin string my increasingly tenuous tenure in the workplace.  Seeing the worst happen.  Still naively hoping for a good outcome, despite all odds.

When my supervisor (I now realize) grudgingly offered that last contract, I was naive enough to think that there was still hope.  That I could still gain her approval and acceptance.  That I had a reprieve of three months to show how good I was.

Looking back, hindsight being 20-20, I realize that that contact was only offered because they felt compelled to.  The highly complementary letter from that major account had gone all the way up into the Executive and my guess is that my supervisor and her 2-up realized that not renewing my contract was not in their best interests at that point.  I thought I was buying time.  I realize in hindsight (and I think I partially realized it then) that in reality they were buying themselves time.  Time for the Executive to forget the person on the West Order Desk in the back of the building.  Time to ensure that this time their plans went ... well ... according to plan.

Their first strategy was to ensure that I knew that my action in advising that major account that I was on account was (in their estimation) highly unprofessional and putting in place a new rule - just for me.  I was not to advise anyone - inside or outside the office - that I was on contract.

That meant that all the sales reps I worked with, all the DM's and their administrative assistants, all the major accounts and all my co-workers were not to know that my status in the workplace was tenuous at best.  I had worked there so long (25 months - six contracts plus the original co-op experience) that most people including my co-workers thought I was a permanent employee.

During this time, I felt like I was swimming in the lake of work alone like this Common Merganser.  Friendless.  Alone.  Mergansers seem to like to travel together - diving, swimming, feeding, whatever.  In a loose pack.  Like humans.  Like the Mergansers, we're not meant to travel alone through the waters of life - or the workplace - either.

I felt isolated from my co-workers.  They were permanent, I was not.  They were allowed to operate on a different, less stringent set of rules.  I was the different one.  The odd man out.  But I was not allowed to express that, OR ELSE....

The co-worker who I was partially covering for came back in the middle of January.  The former co-op who was covering half her job left.  My workload came back to manageable levels.  My blood pressure did not.  The environment with my supervisor did not.  If anything, she became more distant, more unapproachable.  In that last three months, I think I can count on both hands ... OK, I might have to include one foot ... the number of times my supervisor talked to me.  The times she did were to criticize or because she absolutely had to.

I was also told at the time the last contract was offered that my status would not be decided until the end - and I was not to ask.  Another rule.

My supervisor went into detail about the terms of the contract - with one major exception.  Pay.  In my last contract, a bonus had been included to signify a pay raise.  That bonus, that pay raise, magically disappeared in the last contract.

We were supposed to have a meeting regarding things in the New Year - just after the holidays.  It never happened.  Well, yes, I suppose you can say it happened - was it late January or February?  Also, it happened suddenly.  One of those surprise meetings the research I've since uncovered talks about.  Leaving me at a disadvantage.  However, I did plough on through all of her concerns raised just before Christmas only to find that they too, like my raise, had magically disappeared - only to replaced by other concerns.  Concerns more or less along the same lines as before, but different issues, different incidents.  Incidents I had no knowledge about - at least from her point of view.  A whole different bag of garbage opened and left smelling at my feet.  I didn't know how to deal with this.  Non-confrontative by nature, I was at a distinct disadvantage.  My personality also worked against me, as I need time to sort things through, to process them.  Give me two or three days - or sometimes even longer - and we can have a real, meaningful discussion.  But throw things at me on the fly  like that and I'm lost.

Did I say meaningful discussion?  The problem was that I appear to have been the only one of the two of us who wanted a meaningful discussion.  Two people conversing with one another towards the end of reaching a mutual understanding based on mutual respect and value.  I realize now that this term, meaningful discussion, did not appear to be in my supervisor's vocabulary, at least not in my experience.  Our conversations, our meetings appeared to be more along the lines of an emotional "hit and run" leaving me confused and devastated in its wake.  Unfortunately, I was not able to recognize that dynamic at the time, I was so invested in having a meaningful dialogue with my supervisor that I did not realize that it was merely a pipe dream on my part.  Something that just was not going to happen.

And so it was.  The dynamic set.  The steamroller in the office flattening me on a daily basis.  The steamroller no was else was aware of.  The steamroller even I was barely able to discern.  Because it didn't appear like a steamroller.  It had the form of a rather nice-looking woman who appeared pleasant to everyone else in the office.  Aside:  steamrollers i.e. bullies in the workplace, are very deceptive.  They rarely look like what they are.

I know this may be a bit on the abrupt side, but its time to stop the narrative for today.  To be resumed on the other side of the weekend.  See you Monday.

This is a familiar sign to those who canoe camp in Ontario's provincial parks.  It is a sign alerting canoeists of a portage.  A trail, sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes easy, sometimes hard, between two lakes.  An exit - or entrance, if you will - from one lake to another.  A portal to a new adventure waiting on the other side.

In this blog series, I am approaching such a portage in my life.  Not there quite yet, but approaching it.  An exit from one work experience to another.  Unfortunately, like the portage where the canoeist(s) have to carry all their worldly goods, including canoe, over to the other side, I had a lot of baggage to carry with me. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Non-physical Symptoms of Workplace Abuse - part two

Oh how I would love to stay at the Writer's Conference and savour the victory of just being there.  Of finding a way to make it happen.  A place where I was able to emerge from the shadows of emotional trauma like a caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly - at least for a little while.

But the "real" world intervenes and beckons.  The on-going world of recovery.

A week ago, I touched on how to identify you are being bullied by what it is doing to your body - and to your emotions.  Today, I am going to continue on in the same vein.

What does bullying do to my health:

Bullying causes injury to health and makes you ill.  How many of these symptoms do you have?
  • constant high levels of stress and anxiety
  • frequent illness such as viral infections especially flu andglandular fever, colds, coughs, chest, ear, nose and throat infections (stress plays havoc with your immune system)
  • aches and pains in the joints and muscles with no obvious cause; also back pain with no obvious cause and which won't go away or respond to treatment.
  • headaches and migraines
  • tiredness, exhaustion, constant fatigue
  • sleeplessness, nightmares, waking early, waking up more tired than when you went to bed
  • flashbacks and replays, obsessiveness, can't get the bullying out of your mind
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, athlete's foot, ulcers, shingles, uriticaria
  • poor concentration, can't concentrate on anything for long
  • bad or intermittently-functioning memory, forgetfulness, espeically with trivial day-to-day things
  • sweating, trembling, shaking, palpitations, panic attacks.
  • tearfulness, bursting into tears regularly and over trivial things
  • uncharacteristic irritability and angry outbursts
  • hypervigilance (feels like but is not paranoia), being constantly on edge
  • hypersensitivity, fragility, isolation, withdrawal
  • reactive depression, a feeling of woebegonenss, lethargy, hopelessness, anger, futility and more
  • shattered self-confidence, low self-worth, low self-esteem, loss of self-love, etc. (
At one time or another during this sojourn covering both workplace abuse situations and the aftermath, I have encountered almost all of these symptoms - or signs - at one time or another.

In fact, the above describes not just the symptoms that may arise during the abusive situation but ones which not only follow survivors out of the workplace but may rear their ugly heads months after the abusive situation has ended - as I have discovered for myself on this journey.

Today, though, I want to focus on those symptoms which I experienced during the first situation.  The first signs that something was wrong in the workplace.  The signs which I ignored thinking, somehow, that they were "normal".  And, concurrently, that I was not.  Not normal that is.  That there was something wrong with me.  Desperately wrong.

Exhaustion was the first and most persistent sign.  Beginning the day I took over half of my co-worker's responsibilities until long after I'd left.   I thought it was normal because I was working longer days.  Perhaps, it was initially.  I attributed the fatigue, which later moved into exhaustion, as being a normal by-product of working 1 1/2 jobs never realizing how much of a number the constant criticism and stress in the workplace were working on me.

I was under a constant state of high levels of stress and anxiety.  My job, before tacking on my co-worker's responsibilities, was a high stress, demanding job in and of itself.  Never-ending.  Only one phone call, one email away from another disaster in the making.  A problem to look into and resolve.  An unhappy customer.  Stock which didn't arrive in time to fill an order.  A constant learning process.  Throw in the growing anxiety about my position as a contract employee and how much longer my job would last plus the constant criticism no matter how hard I tried from my supervisor - and you've got a recipe for disaster.  Or rather a recipe in the making for workplace abuse and it's resulting symptoms.

I mentioned earlier how I developed sleep problems often waking up after only a few hours of sleep in the middle of the night and then turning and tossing for hours.  My mind racing with yesterday's problems.  Not the ones that were solved and put away into their file folders, but the ones still waiting for resolution.  Conversations with the supervisor in which I futilely tried to defend myself.  More times than I want to admit, I ended up at the kitchen table drinking cup after cup of warm milk, playing Sudoko and reading my Bible until my mind started to calm down and come back under my control.  Until I felt I could trudge back to my bed and attempt to go back to sleep.  Many days, I felt that as I was heading down the stairs to the kitchen that my butt was dragging so low that it was actually going bump, bump, bump down the stairs behind me.  And that was at the beginning of the day.  With an entire work day ahead of me to survive.

Trembling.  Shaking.  Especially in the hands.  Again, I ignored it as I've had shaking and trembling in the past.  In fact, I usually didn't notice it myself unless I was actually looking at my hands.  But others noticed it.  I put it down to nerves.  I would try to hide my hands so that no one, especially my boss, would notice as I recognized that like the one tear that slid down my cheek that one day, she would place some label, some judgement on it.  Something that would say that I was not fit for the workplace because my hands shook due to the brutal levels of stress I was enduring.

I started having extreme outbursts of anger - outside of the workplace fortunately - which escalated as the end date of the last contract in March drew near.  I would come out of these outbursts puzzled.  Why?  This wasn't like me at all.  I couldn't understand what was causing these uncharacteristic episodes.  Even now, the memory of them is so real and so brutal that I am ashamed to admit what I would think.  I started attending a group of people who were on the road to recovery from different life experiences.  One day just a few weeks before the end of the contract, I mentioned my puzzlement about this extreme emotionality.  Depression I know.  This didn't appear to be depression.  At least as I knew it.  But what was it?  It wasn't until almost 18 months later that I realized I was going through a traumatic episode at the time.  The extreme anger and its outbursts were manifestations of the trauma as it was happening continuing on post workplace abuse to become PTSD.

All of the above were enough to wreck havoc on both my physical and emotional life but what threatened me most was my shattered self-esteem which occurred during this time.  Truth be told, I'd never had much of a self-esteem.  In fact, most of what positive self-concept I had was derived from the occasional "pat on the head", the word of appreciation.  I needed that compliment, that praise which my supervisor withheld.  I feel in retrospect that I was needy emotionally.  I often felt like a puppy dog waiting at its master's feet for that pat, that kind word, that recognition which never came.  Nothing I did was ever good enough for her.  I could be amazing at my job but that wasn't good enough for her.  I was told that I was probably the best person they'd ever had at that job - but even being the best wasn't good enough.

What little self-esteem I had was totally shattered by the end of the last contract.

I walked out of there badly bruised and battered.  Dumped at the foot of the steps outside the back door like yesterday's garbage.

Suffering emotions and symptoms I had no idea what to do with.

So how do we go from yesterday's garbage to today's butterfly?  From a shadow figure to a person in her own right?  Standing on her own two feet?  With a smile on her face yet?  How do we get from here to there?  Or is it there to here?  Regardless, we survivors of workplace abuse are butterflies in the process of becoming.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Post Workplace Abuse - From My Heart to Yours

Before I say a final good-bye to the Writer's Conference and go back to the series I had started previously, I want to do one final post from the Conference Ground.

This is a departure from my normal style.  It is an open letter to you, dear reader, from my heart to your heart as we both work towards the  ultimate goal of healing on our individual journeys.

What are your passions and interests?  You've heard about a few of mine:  writing, photography, knitting, crocheting, etc. and how I've used them at various times on the road to recovery.

But what are yours?  What things give you pleasure?  Help you to forget, even for a little while, what happened to you in the workplace?

What makes you get up in the morning?

A doctor asked me that question last Fall. I answered:  I get up to make my husband coffee.

That was not the answer he was wanting to hear.  But it was the truth.  At that point when I could barely function and nothing made me smile, when I felt like giving up, that simple act of getting up to make my husband his morning coffee and see him off to work was enough.

And sometimes enough has to be ... good enough - at least for the moment.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?  Is it to make coffee for your husband - or yourself?  If it is, then applaud yourself for every morning that you get out of bed and make the coffee.  It may not be a big deal to anyone else, but it sure is to you - and probably your husband as well.

Or is it something else?


I know there are lacklustre days when all you can see are various shades of dull grey - usually for me it's battleship grey.  But look beyond the immediate, the numbing, the depression.

Before you were targeted by your supervisor, your co-workers or both for "special" treatment, what did you like to do?  What floated your boat?

And then, I ask:  "If you could do anything in the world at all, work towards any goal, what would you do?"

I ask that because you may not be a creative person like myself.

The idea of transitioning to a writing career may not excite you in the least, but what would?

If you could transition to anything from where you were, from where you are now, what would it be?

And then the next thought is:  "How would you go about doing it?"

For me, I've discovered that I can take courses on-line which works well as I'm still not ready either emotionally or physically to drive to a classroom setting and sit there for x amount of time, take notes, drive home (safely) and then be expected to not only remember the lecture but apply it and do homework!  At this point, that is not going to happen.  But I can sit in my safe place at my computer and access the world from there.

Concurrently with my passions, interests and possible long-term goals, I've just purchased a good camera.  One I can grow with.  I need though to learn how to use it.  As in I need photography lessons.  With  my challenges and altered abilities I need to find a way to accomplish this task.  I can take courses at the community college which are three hours one evening per week - on a campus across town.  Since my ability to sit still and remember things mirrors that of a two year old and since it is across town, driving is not an option - yet.  Maybe in the future if my energy levels start to restore themselves, but not yet.  So what are my other options?  Private lessons is an option.  So are some on the net.  Or even buying a DVD course.  There are options. There are ways of pursuing our dreams - even in the midst of trauma.  There are always ways.  We simply have to look for them and find them.

We are not alone.  There are many of us across the globe standing disunited in our trauma, in our belief that we were the one who was the wrong-doer.  In our belief that we have no right to tell our story.  So we stand - or rather lie in heaps on the floor in some cases - alone.  Afraid.  And that impacts our recovery.  Our ability to reclaim our lives.  We don't reclaim our lives because we don't believe we have any right to.

As I've talked with people.  People who look normal.  People you would not believe have been through workplace abuse, I've discovered that there are others out there rebuilding their lives.

One such lady followed her dream and her passion and opened a bead store.  Another lady took a low-stress, part-time job at a local family-owned restaurant where she says she is much happier.  A friend of mine, who has not to my knowledge been bullied, loves to sew and has a home-based business sewing for others.  Someone else, a male, again who was not bullied but opted for retirement when the company he'd worked with all his adult life had severe financial problems, a man who is definitely not on the creative side, is starting a new career in his 60s as a home inspector.

 There are options out there for us.

So again, I ask:  What are your passions?  What are your interests?

How can you use them to help you as you walk through this journey of recovery day by day?

How can you use them to work towards a new career?

What is in your hand?  And how can you use it?

 Recovery takes many forms.  There will always be challenges on our road to recovery.  Recovery is never a straight forward linear movement.  Sometimes it seems like I step one small step forward and two giant ones backward.  But I take them.  I lean into the moment.  Into the pain.

 And now at times like last weekend at the writers conference into the joy, into the victory.  Savouring both the moment and the memory.  Stocking up this major victory for replay when things seem stalled or bleak or whatever in the future. Every blog I post is both a challenge and a victory.

 And so, dear reader, I ask you to allow yourself a moment of victory today and stand up with me and proclaim:

My name is (insert your own name) and I AM A SURVIVOR OF WORKPLACE ABUSE.

Be proud of yourself for the very act of surviving.  For being alive to salute a new day - and read this blog.

I congratulate you.

More tomorrow

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Post Workplace Abuse - Which Direction to Follow on the Road to Recovery?

After the conference, I resemble this signpost in front of the Wellend Canal (Ontario) where the big lake boats come through heading from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario (or vice versa) - destinations and miles pointing this direction and that.  Now to decide.  Where do I want to go from here?  Which dream do I follow?  Can I follow more than one dream at the same time?  For the first time in a long time, I feel like the world is my oyster, my very own oyster, for me to go out and pluck.  I feel whole - at least for the time being....

I find myself at a crossroads todays.  With signs pointing towards different, distinct destinations.  Which sign, which thread should I follow in this blog?  Which will be the most valuable for me and my reader at this point?

Will it be the continuing story of abusive work situation #1?

Will it be the thread I had inserted into that narrative about symptoms which should make you aware that abuse either is happening to you (or your loved one) or has happened?

Or ... contestant #3 ... will it be a short series about the writer's conference I attended last weekend?  Which is in and of itself a huge milestone on my journey towards reclaiming my life post abuse.  But at the same time, it propels me back into the present, into where I am now post-abuse and into recovery.  It skips the major trauma, impact and subsequent learning about workplace abuse.  It skips the past which makes the present relevant.

Or will it start one place and veer off into a slightly different direction between returning to the main theme?

We shall see.

Since abusive situation #2 ended and recovery - or what passes for recovery - began, I've resembled  the canoes - or rather the canoeists (since canoes are inanimate objects and have no volition of their own) - in this picture taken on the Eramosa River ironically also in Guelph, Ontario.  Spinning my wheels in terms of what direction to go.  Paralyzed by my inability to grab my paddle, steer my canoe and move forward in a productive way; therefore, going in circles, running into other canoes, clumsy and possibly not entirely safe for the other canoeists.  Needing to find the right tool.  The right way.  To move forward.  But hindered by the past.  By the memories.  By the accusations that run through my brain again and again and again.  Especially when I'm out in the wide world.  There's always that voice that says:  "You were fired."  Or:  "You can't fire someone because you don't like them BUT they did."  When out in public, I feel like there is a sign above my head pointing out that I was ultimately fired in abusive situation #2 because I dared to say I was being bullied.

Attempting to break the fetters of my mind and my memories was my purpose in pushing my envelope and going to this conference, and I succeeded.

I went out among people.  Real people.  Scary people.  People who would laugh at the mere idea that they could be scary.  And I succeeded.

These people didn't know my past.  They didn't know the things I was accused of.  No one cared about what other people thought or felt or perceived or assumed about me.  All they cared about was that I was (a) there and (be) a writer.  Nothing else mattered.  I had a fresh start in a sea of people who were just like me:  writers, Christians, perfect in our admitted imperfection.  Not coming together as know-it-alls, even those who have been published or were part of the faculty, but coming together to learn more from each other.  As equals.

It was refreshing.

It was healing.

"Safety" is huge in the life of a survivor of workplace abuse.  Our world came crushing down on us in ways we could not understand then and still cannot understand now.  Our world was no longer safe.  And that feeling of unsafeness continues as we stagger on.  Nothing appears safe to us any more.  And that is why it is very possible for survivors/victims of workplace abuse to have agoraphobia.  A condition which limits us greatly and will continue to affect us throughout our lifetime unless we get therapy.  Unless we voluntarily find a safe way to push the envelope.

Therefore, I brought with me my safe person:   my niece, my Angel, my ballast, my protection.  However, we both perceived very shortly after arriving and signing in, that we were in a "safe" place with "safe" people.  (If someone there wasn't safe, they never showed themselves to me!  Or to her for that matter.)

Because my niece aka my buffer was with me, the affects didn't matter so much.  She was there to shield me from the worst - and to remove me if things got so bad within me that I couldn't stay.  She took notes when I was too fatigued to go to another session.  She made friends of her own - and shared some of them with me.  She had a smile on her face the whole time.  She enjoyed herself to the fullest - which made my soul beam and smile and enhanced my enjoyment.  I realize now that her presence allowed me to appear more normal than I actually am in this situation.  And, therefore, to be perceived as a normal person.

Normalcy:  that illusive something that most of us strive for - which is after all, just a setting on your clothes dryer (Patsy Clairemont).  As a victim of workplace abuse, I was singled out, or targeted, for certain behaviours such as exclusion and isolation, verbal abuse, gossip, slander, character assassination - and if that wasn't enough, at the very end cyberstalking.  Because I was accused of many things in workplace abuse situation #2, I perceived myself as not normal, damaged beyond redemption.  Worth less than the others in the workplace.  And that perception continued on until just recently when I realized that I had been operating under the assumption that not only was I worthless, a throwaway, but, more importantly, that I was worth less than others.

In this conference, I was neither worthless nor worth less than others.  I was an equal.  I was valued not because of what I had to offer or what I had written, because except for this blog, I haven't yet.  But for who I am.  A human being - just like them.  A writer in the process of becoming - just like them.  A Christian attempting to work out my own salvation - just like them.

I came away with a feeling of acceptance.  A feeling of worth.  I am just as worthy as anyone else - and that includes those who abused me in the workplace.

I came away with many impressions regarding my writing, where I want to go to from here, possible ways of getting there - which I haven't explored in this blog and which I may not explore per se but may become evident in my writing, my focus down the road.

I came away with this:  My name is Cassie Stratford and I AM A WRITER.

I am a writer because I write.

And my favorite one of all, the benediction at the very end of the conference:  Go forth and write.

I have found my direction.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Recovery: A Huge Piece on my Journey

Today's post is coming to you from the Guelph (Ontario) Conference Bible grounds where I attended Write! Canada, the first writer's conference I've gone to in 18 years.  For me, this is a huge piece forward on the journey of recovery - not only from the abusive situation and its memories but, more importantly, confronting head on the physical affects and debilitations associated with the abuse. 

Workplace abuse is complex.  Complicated.  Therefore, so is recovery.  What form it takes, what it looks like, for one person may not be what it looks like for another.  There are so many variables and complicating factors such as age (pertinent in my case since I'm over the big 6-0), supportive network, passions, interests, resources, etc.

Ahhhh, did I hear the words passions and interests?

Shortly after I recognized workplace abuse situation #2 for what it was - not just a personality conflict, not just something that could be resolved with the individuals involved - but something that was deliberate, on-going, self-sustaining and, above all - to me, illogical, my daughter gave me some of the best advice I've come across on the journey.

What are your passions and interests, she asked?

And then, when they are identified, follow them.  Lean into them.

What are my passions?  What are my interests?

One:  writing

Two:  photography

Three:  creative ventures via knitting and crocheting.

These are the things that give me pleasure.  The things that help sooth this troubled mind.  The three things in combination that have been keeping me vertical - and somewhat sane during this journey.

Introducing my "safe" person, my caregiver (when necessary), my companion, my ballast for the weekend:  my niece Angela.

So this past weekend, I took a huge step in the process of recovery.  I left the safety of my house and went outside the door into the big, bad world.  Not for just an hour or so - which causes anxiety enough.  I went to a nation-wide Canadian Christian Writers conference.  One I went to many years ago.  But stopped when life intervened.  One I wanted to go to last year, but was not well enough to.

A year has gone by.  A year in which I hoped complete recovery from all the physical affects would occur.  But it didn't.  I'm still not well enough either physically or emotionally to attend this year.  However, I decided that if I waited until I was "well enough," that time would never come.

Therefore, I determined to find a way to make it happen.  To start reclaiming my life - even if my life doesn't look the same as it once did.  Even if it never looks the same as it once did.  To move forward with what I have in my hand - not what I wish I had.  To challenge myself yet being mindful of my "altered abilities".

Even so, I spent the last few days before the conference experiencing increasing anxiety.  Also, increased symptoms such as the eczema/itching which became almost unbearable.

Although I've not gone into much detail with experience #2, it left me with a slew of both physical and emotional symptoms - which started rearing their ugly heads months after the situation ended.  Some of these affects mimic brain injury, and I find it hard to communicate.  There are times words simply won't come.  Or I have to sound out words.  Or I feel so overwhelmed that I can't function.  Or the brain gets "clogged up" and refuses to get into any gear.  Sometimes because of these, I appear mentally deficient.  Then there's the ever present, persistent affects such as extreme fatigue, balance problems, speech impediments, breathing problems and the severe itchiness.  These symptoms come and go.  Seemingly at will.  They seem to have a will - and an agenda - of their own.  One I have no control over.

This is the idyllic setting I found myself in this weekend as I woke up to a new day.  As I looked not just at yesterday's challenges i.e. actually signing up for the conference, packing and physically getting here in spite of the fears, the challenges presented by the realty of my (at least for the time being) "altered abilities."  I woke up this past weekend to a place where tranquillity is as pervasive as God's presence. Acceptance the norm.  A safe place to be.

Being around people, especially a mass of people in one place, has been a guaranteed trigger for these symptoms in the past.  After my experience with abusive situation #2, I am terrified of people.  I can never be certain if there are friend or foe.  I learned the hard way that I cannot foresee how some people are going to react.  What they're capable of doing.  People scare me.

But for this experience, I decided the discomfort was worth it.

So I came to this place with my niece.  I came both hopeful and fearful at the same time.

I found people just let me.  Writers.  Christians.  People on their own personal journeys.  All of us with the commonality of both our faith and our passion for writing.

Sure there were differences.  Some people are well established in the writing field.  Some have published books.  Some have won awards.  Some have published numerous articles and are even here on assignment.  Some are faculty.  Some are staff or volunteer staff.  Yet, there are plenty just like me.  People who have the passion inbred in them to write.  Others who have the passion to share what they have written.  All with a desire to share.

I came home exhausted - which is normal for me.  I came home with a lot of information/impressions yet to process - which may take days or even weeks.  More importantly, I cam home feeling triumphant.  Yes, I had had difficulties.  Yes, I had had to retreat to our room and sleep.  Yes, I had to lean on my niece's,  my angel's shoulder for stability.  But I did it.

I took a huge step forward on the step to recovery.  On the road to shaping what my life post work abuse will look like.  Of reclaiming who I am.

I am Cassie Stratford and I'm a writer.

These words seem so inadequate to convey the hugeness of this milestone in my journey of recovery, yet I know that this past weekend has the ability to break loose a huge chunk of junk that's been fettering me and holding me back in the journey post-abuse.

So now I'm at a crossroads.  Do I continue on with this past weekend and the writer's conference or do I go back to the internal physical and emotional symptoms of workplace abuse.  So I ask you, dear reader, which thread, which rabbit hole, would you like me to follow at this time?  

I treasure and value you dear reader.  Whoever you are, wherever you are, I wish you well on your journey.  And above all recovery.

a H