Thursday, July 17, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Trauma. Why most people do not understand.

I can take pictures of many things:  mountains, airplanes flying, flowers, lighthouses, etc.  You name it.  I see it - and I can snap it.

Except for one thing.

I cannot photograph trauma.  Because trauma is invisible.  It occurs on the inside. There is no blood, guts and gore spilling visibly out all over the place.  No 911 to call.  No EMS personnel rushing to the scene.  Unless, of course, the person commits suicide and then it's too late for any help, any intervention.

Trauma is all internal.  Invisible to the naked eye.

Look at the picture above.  What do you see?  If you were to see this picture in any other context than this blog, what would you say about the person?  Glowing?  Happy?  Got it all together?  Adventurous?

I hate to disappoint you, dear reader, but this picture was taken in mid-June 2011, immediately after I'd left the workplace, just a week or so after I was coerced into signing away all my rights for justice at a local donut shop and resign.  When I was still reeling and devastated from reading the petition my co-workers had crafted.  Seeing all the things I was accused of.  Seeing all the signatures.  Some very unexpected.

At the time, this picture was taken I had left the situation and gone to a safe person, a safe place.  To get there I had to take two planes.  I was so unable to function at that point that I had had use wheelchair assistance to go through customs, change planes, change terminals, etc.  I could barely string two words together.  I stuttered badly.  Yet, anyone looking at me from the outside could not possibly know the pain I was going through.  The internal torment. 

For all practical intents and purposes, I looked "normal".  I was able to act "normal" because I was with someone I trusted, who walked with me.


I have discovered through this journey post workplace abuse that a significant hindrance in the recovery process is the lack of knowledge/understanding on the part of most lay people and even some professionals about the role trauma plays in both the injury and the recovery process.

Point blank:  most people just done't get it.

They can more or less get a physical illness or injury such as cancer or a broken limb which they can see and which medical professionals can use tests to discern and diagnose, but not something like trauma which is internal.  There are no tests like a CT scan or blood work, x-rays, etc. to discern it's presence.

The injury itself, the damage it causes, is invisible to the naked eye.

Yet, in another sense, that is not completely true either.  When I broke my wrist, I had a bright blue cast on, so yes that I'd had an injury was visible.  However, I constantly ran up against people who had no clue of how this injury was affecting me.  I had no use of my fingers, hand or wrist.  I could not grasp things.  I could open the refrigerator door with my left hand and even get things out, but I could not grasp a knife to cut cheese; I could not grasp a can opener to open a can and make soup - an activity which takes two hands by the way.  There were many things I could not do unaided.  I had to devise creative ways to make coffee in the morning as I could not grasp a spoon to either measure coffee grounds into the coffee maker or make instant coffee.  Ditto with taking a bath or shampooing my hair. Ditto again when dressing with buttons or other forms of closures including zippers.  Everything I wore had to be pull up and loose fitting.

At one point, I was taking a medical test previously scheduled.  Arriving at that office, I was handed a clipboard and pen and asked to fill out the questionnaire provided.  Already exhausted from getting there and in significant pain, I held up my casted arm and said something to the effect that that was going to be difficult.  The receptionist ignored me.  After struggling out of my winter jacket, which effort exhausted me, I grasped the pen in my left hand and struggled to complete the form.  It was both painful and exhausting.  To the others in the waiting room, it should have appeared obvious that there was a problem.  But I was ignored.  No help was offered even though it was obvious I was struggling.  Eventually, I finished the form and took it back up to the counter where I handed it to a different receptionist.  I complained to this second woman saying I no clue how they expected me to fill it out with a broken wrist.  This one said that if they had known, they would have helped me out.  Really?  Then why didn't they?

I didn't realize until I was almost through the 6 1/2 weeks with a cast on how little people understood how much the cast and break affected me in my daily living, even those close to me until one day when one of my most trusted supporters and encouragers on the journey of recovery came in to help me out a little.  I told her at that time that the best help she could give me was to help me get some things out of the freezer and into the refrigerator.  It was through that experience that she realized that while I had plenty of food to cook up in the freezer, I didn't have hands to get it out.

I needed hands.

I needed hands when I was going through the part of the journey when the wrist was broken.

If people, good people, had trouble understanding the impairments caused by a broken wrist which they can see, how much more so do people, good people, not understand the impairments caused by trauma which they cannot see?

To try to help people begin to understand the affects of trauma, I tend to take the physical journey of an illness and compare it to the psychological journey of someone like me who has experienced significant emotional trauma in the form of workplace abuse, in hopes opening up people's understanding of something they cannot see and do not comprehend.

As I closed yesterday's post, I commented on how even a fairly minor injury like my broken wrist has caused long-term incapabilities i.e. restricted use of that arm.  Also that, ironically, it's not the wrist that is currently the problem, but the shoulder.

I touched briefly on the aspect I learned in physiotherapy that it's normal for other parts of the body to be affected by the one injury because all the muscles, etc. are interrelated.  Essentially, I learned that all the parts of the body are affected as other parts start to compensate for the part that is damaged.  So what started in the wrist with the break, travelled up the arm and involved muscles which I didn't even know existed in my body.  Which I soon learned of their presence through the pain.

So it is with psychological trauma caused by circumstances like workplace abuse.  I urge each reader to click the link which leads to a Wikipedia definition of psychological trauma which gives a brief bird's eye view into the world of trauma.

We're - and when I say we, I mean the target/victim/survivor themselves plus everyone around them including their co-workers, bystanders, management, HR, the union, family, friends, etc. - are unaware not only of what is happening i.e. trauma at the time it's happening, but are also unaware of the far reaching effects trauma can and will have on the individual's life.  How it may well affect every aspect of that person's life for years to come.

In a post last year entitled A Jumping Off Point: my bibliography on the road to recovery from workplace abuse, I listed a number of books I've used at one point or another on this journey.
One of the most significant resources to me has been, Helping Those Who Hurt:  Reaching Out to Your Friends in Need by Dr. H. Norman Wright.

With a close second being:  Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounds?  Helping (Not Hurting) those with Serious Emotional Difficulties by Dr. Dwight L. Carlson, a psychiatrist who has himself suffered serious depression after the loss by suicide of one of his patients.

H. Norman Wright, whose book by the way is now only available on e-book, describes trauma in one of his chapters in terms lay people like you and I can readily understand.  The quote that I internalized the most from his book goes more or less as follows (I am freely paraphrasing from memory):  People who have experienced trauma are reacting what they think is normally to an abnormal situation.

Let me repeat that for emphasis or re-paraphrase it:  I, Cassie Stratford, and others like me are reacting in what we think is a normal way to an abnormal situation.

Workplace bullying is not a normal situation.

The main point I internalized from Dr. Carlson's book is that Christians, and from my experience most people no matter what religion they profess to belong to or not, shoot their wounded because of ignorance.

They simply don't have a clue.

We have trouble understanding things that we have not personally experienced.

Which is why I write this blog.  To try to help people understand.

This picture, taken in the fall of 2011, a few months after all was said and done in the workplace, at about the time the acute phase was melding into the chronic phase, shows two happy, smiling people.  However, if you look closely at my face, you will see behind the smile, the toll the stress was taking on me.

I urge you, dear reader, if you are walking with someone who has experienced workplace abuse, or any form of trauma for that matter, to look beyond the smiles, look beyond the surface, to the pain within.

Until tomorrow ....

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