Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Learning to fly - accessing the world outside my windows

Every journey, every trail, has a beginning point.  Every journey.  Most, though, are not as clearly defined as the series of trails indicated on the signpost above.

However, every journey does have a beginning - and hopefully - at some point an end.  Hopefully.

The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

This particular side trip on the larger journey of recovery post workplace abuse began with a real physical injury the day I broke my wrist and real journeys.

The physical journey of physiotherapy and the emotional journey came together at physio one day when my therapist made the comment that people in general and I in particular need to be able to perceive pain.  Because if we can't perceive pain, if we can't perceive when we've hit the physical boundaries of our body and stop, we will cause more damage.  Thus, enabling me to work on debunking the twin lies of perception and assumption a little bit more.

Although physio was primarily about the physical - duh! - because we're sitting there in a small cubicle while the therapist worked away on my wrist/arm, we engaged in a lot of small - or even larger - talk.  After her comment about the necessity of being able to perceive, i.e. in this case pain, I opened up to her more and more about my larger situation.  Her insights and sense of humour became an invaluable asset on my larger journey toward recovery.  The part I began to call the "other" while I was in physiotherapy.

Today's part of the journey, though, is directly connected to the actual physical journey of going to physio.  On the bus.

This part of the journey began with a bus stop.  The one across the street from me, which incidentally does not have a nice shelter like this one at a local mall.  It's simply a sign post stuck in the grass.  But it works.

Once, I began going to physio, I once again started to have a purpose in my life.  A place to go i.e. physio.  A purpose to pursue i.e. reclaiming the use of my wrist/arm.

Accessing the public transit system in my area opened a whole new door of freedom to me.

I was now learning how to do things. How to get places. By myself.

It reminded me somewhat of watching a friend with schizophrenia many years ago being mentored in how to get places by bus so that he could become more independent.  He had a worker who would go with him and teach him the routes. During one of my sojourns on the transit system, I actually saw something like this where an individual seemed to be by himself but later it became apparent that there was someone else, a woman with him, who told him how his behaviour appeared to others and how to appropriately act around others on the bus. She also showed him where the stop was, how to recognize when they were approaching it and when to pull the cord to signal the driver he wanted to get off.

In my case, I was alone working on this.  I had no worker - no mentor - with me.  I did have my what I call my patchwork support system cheering me on in the background.  Gladly listening to progress reports.  Praying for me.  Etc.  My daughter has been an invaluable resource as I could ask her any question and know that she would not dismiss it.  She became a source of wisdom for me.

In fact, it was her suggestion a month or more earlier when I needed transport to another city and none of my usual drivers was available that I take a bus to that appointment.

Actually, what she said was that if I were better, she would suggest my taking a bus as I'd done that often in the past.  When the children were young, once or twice a year we would all go to visit my mom and dad some 400 miles distant in the U.S. via Greyhound.  In the mid 70s, I had travelled cross country alone via Greyhound.  In the late 70s, when I lived on the border of the U.S., I had taken the journey back to home base, i.e. Mom and Dad's, some 1600 miles via - you guessed it! - Greyhound.

After marriage when we had only one car, my two methods of transportation became:  foot or buses.  Occasionally a taxi depending on the circumstances.

I got so used to the transit system that even when I finally had access to a car I would prefer to ride the bus.

All that changed however and my independence became dependence after I emerged scathed from the workplace.

My fall and subsequent broken wrist just after we received the results of a bone density test earned me a visit to a specialist whose office was in a city about 45 minutes to an hour from ours.  None of the people I could usually call on for a drive were available that day.  Hubby had decided to pursue the course of action to become a driver for patient transfer and was involved in a two week course out of town.  A town in quite a different direction from the one I had to go to.  He had relatives he stayed with during the week, so for those two weeks, I only saw him on weekends.  My appointment fell on a date during these two weeks.

Going back to my daughter whose advice I learned to cherish.  At one point when we were trying to decide how I was going to get to this appointment, she remarked that if I were better, she would suggest I take a bus.  (Yes, I know I've repeated myself.  Deranged minds do that sometimes, you know.)


I could barely negotiate each day at that time.  Even staying inside in my "safe" room.

I was very uncomfortable going out in public at all.  Going alone?  By bus?  I don't think so.

I did, however, look up on the net how to get to this city via bus and found out that it was relatively easy.  There was a bus line which went there and back quite a few times each day.

Could I do it?  Dare I do it?

This is where the cognitive skills came in.  They were depleted, yes.  But they were still there waiting to remerge from the place where I'd hidden them.  Or from the place where they'd been hiding. Whichever.

I realized that my appointment was on a Monday afternoon.  Hubby's course was in the evenings, so it was theoretically possible for him to drop me off in the city of my appointment and then go on from there to the city where his course was.

After some discussion, we agreed on this course of action.

Hubby has been very protective of me through all of this.  He went above and beyond the call of duty during this scenario.  We got to the city, found the building where my appointment was.  He then went with me to the doctor's office so that I would know where it was.  The receptionist gave us great walking instructions to the bus station.  Things couldn't have been laid out better if I had tried.  It was a straight walk from the office to the bus station.  Virtually impossible to get lost.

And hubby, dear hubby, actually walked with me to the bus station and waited while I purchased my ticket to make sure that I was okay.

I knew that he was as anxious about leaving me alone in a strange city as I was to be alone in that city.  However, he had done everything he could to ensure a successful outcome of the trip.  After praying for my safety and a good outcome, he reluctantly left me alone in a city I'd never visited.

That experience was an eye opener to me.  Normally, I would have loved to have explored the city by foot while I waited for my appointment time.

Normally.  But this was not normally.  I had "supplies" with me:  knitting and a book.  Also my cell phone.  I sat in the bus station and read.  I became anxious if anyone came near me.  Which happened when a pan handler came by.  My anxiety soared.

I read and stayed by myself.  Not interacting with anyone.  Reading.  I felt heavy in my body.  It was an effort to pull out the knitting needles and begin a scarf.  I tried.  It didn't work.

It was an effort to pull out my cell phone and punch numbers to talk.  So I didn't.

I virtually stayed in my own world.

But I made it.  I did it.  I got to the appointment and back.  I even got blood work done in the lab.  I got on the right bus at the right time.

Sitting on the bus, I wasn't able to read, knit or even pull out the phone to talk.  So I just sat there and looked out the window.  Observing the scenery passing outside my window.

I made it.  I did it.  When I got off the bus at my home city, I was bursting with pride at myself.

I could do things.  It was like a window starting to open in my mind about future possibilities, future excursions.

This one successful trip opened up to me the possibility of exploring the local transit system.  It opened up to me a whole new world.

The twice or sometimes even thrice a week physio appointments forced me out of my cocoon into the world outside my house via the transit system.

I'm not saying that it was easy.  I had to force myself each and every time to leave the safety of my house at first.  However, each time I did, the next time became easier until it became a habit.

The physio clinic slowly became a safe(ish) place to me.

I felt safe with my therapists - one for the manual working of my arm/wrist and one to oversee the exercises.

We discussed "safety" plans just in case someone from my previous life in the workplace was waiting in the reception area when I was there.  I formed an "option B" plan where if I felt threatened, anxious, etc. by anyone in the waiting room, I would not advertise it loudly as my former co-worker had done in the medial office a year earlier, but I would simply advise the staff that I would be in the gym working on my exercises until my therapist was ready to see me and quietly go to a safer place.  I never had to use Plan B.

I realized that in theory what my former co-worker had done in the medical office that day was not wrong in and of itself.  It was the way she did it.  Loudly.  Refusing to look at me.  Making it very clear that we could not co-exist together in the waiting room.  What she did, especially the way she did it, constituted verbal abuse.  Verbal abuse which no one (except me) recognized.

As physiotherapy progressed, I began to learn that what I had been through in my former workplace was not normal.  That while all workplaces have their quirks and people and/or policies that are hard to get along with, what I experienced went beyond the experiences of those around me.  The more they heard of the story, the more they shook their heads.

I learned too to separate the physical journey which is what I was there for from the emotional journey which I began to call "the other".

I learned that when they asked how I was doing, they wanted to know specifically how my wrist was.  Better?  Worse?  More pain?  Less pain?  Where was the pain?  Had there been any breakthroughs or set backs since my last visit?

They rejoiced with me each step of the way.  The day I came in and said I'd been able to open a can with a can opener.  The day I came in and said I'd been able to peel potatoes for the first time since I broke my wrist.  Small things.  Inconsequential things to most people.  But to me, these were big accomplishments in the scheme of things.

Through physiotherapy, I was slowly becoming alive.  Slowly being able to go into the outside world.


Recovery post workplace abuse is all about reclaiming our lives.  Reclaiming what was lost.  Learning to fly high like the bird pictured above.

Unlike the bird, we don't come equipped with wings, feathers and aerodynamics, so our flying is of a different sort than theirs.

For me, learning how to access life outside my house - my safe place - my shelter - was a first step in learning to fly.

Until tomorrow, dear reader, may you also learn to fly again in your own way on your own turf.

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