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.

No comments:

Post a Comment