Thursday, September 4, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: A Piece of My Story - Leaving the Situation - Part 1

Our lives are basically a masterpiece in the making. A gorgeous and valuable work of art.  In the tapestry of our lives are many colours depicting many different incidents - some good, some bad; some joyful like a birth or a wedding; some painful like a death or an accident ... or workplace bullying - but they are all woven together in such a way that no one individual colour or incident predominates.  Each life experience combines to make the whole.

In this picture, taken back in 2008 in Huntsville, Ontario where Tom Thompson, a well-known Canadian artist, made his home, we see a man copying one of Tom Thompson's paintings onto a huge canvas which will later be hung on a building somewhere in the city centre.  If you look closely, you will see that he's working off a photograph of the painting so that he can duplicate it as close to possible to the original piece of artwork.

Our lives are like the original painting.  Not the copy.  Our lives and experiences are unique to us.  We are a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.


Today I begin telling the story of my experiencing leaving the toxic workplace.  It is not an easy story to write.  There are still a lot of unresolved hurts, questions - especially the Why? question - even after more than three years or persistent recovery for which there are no answers.  Therefore, these questions taunt and torment my mind.  Writing about the experience brings up not only the memories but also the feelings associated with the memories:  anger; voicelessness; helplessness; hopelessness - and so on.  It is not a simple story, either.  Workplace bullying is complicated.  Each day a new scenario, a new challenge.  Some worse then others.  Always different.

It is also not a simple story because you have to realize that there are two sides or rather two opposing viewpoints here:  theirs and mine.

I'm not telling their story here.  Partially because it's their story; it's not mine to tell.  Partially because in reality I don't know what their story is.  I don't know why they singled me out in the first place.  I don't know why they kept it up for four years.  I don't know why they did what they did.  I only know what they did.   I don't know anything about the currents i.e. gossip going around in the office when I was not there, both before my two breakdowns and after.

I simply don't know.

Yet ...

Yet ... I have reasonable grounds based on my senses, observation and things which can be documented such as their complaint against me to my manager two days after my second stress breakdown on alleged "ethical" grounds, to form an opinion as to what might have been going on in the office when I was absent.

As I've recounted before in this blog, I had a second stress breakdown just five working days after returning to work from the first.  My family doctor didn't feel I was ready to return to work after the first one, but her hands were tied.  She could only give me two weeks off.  After that, I had to be booked off by a specialist - in this case a psychiatrist.

In our area - and in our socialized medicine set up here in Canada - it's very hard to see certain specialists in a timely manner.  I'd been on a waiting list for a consult for months - and still had months to go when I experienced the first stress breakdown.  Because I had the breakdown and went to the crisis clinic at the hospital and saw a mental health nurse, I was fast-tracked to see a psychiatrist just days later.  He spent maybe 15 minutes with me, decided I was bi-polar with mixed personality disorder and prescribed some medicine.  Personally, I didn't feel that he was able to make an accurate assessment in such a short amount of time.  I was not satisfied either with his diagnosis - and neither were most of the people who know me well.  I know people with bi-polar disorder i.e. manic depressive, and I don't have those symptoms.  But that was all I had.

 I was booked to see a specialist who had started a private practice the day after I returned to work and we were hoping that he would see that I was not ready to return yet.  That didn't happen.  Unfortunately, it was the same specialist I'd seen when I was fast-tracked a few weeks before.

Just five working days later, I was off again - much worse off then I had been the first time.  I was booked off for six weeks this time.  Six weeks in which the specialist was hoping that medication and time would do their healing thing.

It might have worked ... IF ....

As I've already recounted, my workplace was calling me at home due to the other side's getting on my Facebook, not liking what they saw and then going to management with their allegations that I had violated ethical issues with that post.

In those five working days between stress breakdowns, I had contacted management and asked what they were doing to protect me from frivolous complaints in the workplace - which was causing undue stress and illness.  Management refused to talk to me.  The Union representative said she would file a grievance for me.

When we met, we met in the open cafeteria just outside the office I worked in - plainly visible to everyone who might have a vested interest in what was happening.  According to this union representative, I could only file a grievance based on what was in the binding union contract i.e. safety from psychological harassment i.e. bullying was not in the contract so, therefore, I could not file a grievance on those grounds.  The grievance ended up being based on harassment.  I was not allowed to give any details, names, etc.  It was just a very general grievance citing harassment.  No details at all.

I vaguely remember one of the co-workers who was involved in the incidents standing behind me unmoving while this was going on.  The union representative didn't say anything, so I didn't either.

I was too afraid of this particular co-worker to say anything.  I continually felt as though I was walking on eggshells around this person.

In light of things that happened afterwards while I was absent from the workplace not intending to return, I wonder ....  What was she doing there?  Was she deliberately listening in?

A meeting was scheduled to discuss this grievance; however, before it could happen I had the second stress breakdown.  I did receive an email from my manager asking me if I wanted to pursue this meeting.  I replied that I was way too ill i.e. too fragile and vulnerable, to pursue it at that time.  I also reminded the supervisor - again - in writing that I was off sick in order to recover and asked her to respect that.

The next thing I knew, another union official (when I talk about the union I'm talking about our shop union, not the bigger union we were affiliated with), contacted me out of the blue.  I was a bit wary as I knew that this union official and the one in our work area were related.  You never know how much cross communication there is - or isn't - between relatives.

At this point, as far as I was concerned I was making the decision that returning to that work environment was definitely not in my best interests.  At that time, I was trying to figure out how to leave.  It never occurred to me to just write a letter to HR saying in effect "I quit".  I was too ill to think clearly.

My GFA (Global Functioning Assessment) was somewhere in the 60s - which appears to be the dividing line between capable and incapable.

Also, as far as I was concerned, the grievance was moot.  I was not mentally or emotionally capable of pursuing it without incurring further injury.  Besides, since I was not prepared to return to that situation, why pursue it?  As far as I was concerned, these people had won.

The problem was that these people don't appear to have been aware that they had won.


This appears to be a good stopping place for today.

Two sides.  Two viewpoints.  Neither one in communication with the other.

A situation ripe for gossip, innuendo, etc.

I don't know what was happening in the office, but every one of my senses was on high alert after the phone call about the "ethics" violation.

I hoped that things were calming down in the office and that they would savour their victory and allow me to fade away in peace.

BUT ....

A statue of Tom Thompson.  In the background, a reproduction of one of is paintings hung on a building in Huntsville, Ontario.
Until tomorrow ....

1 comment:

  1. Your story is such a heavy one and I think you're so brave to be sharing it.

    On a completely different note: My father-in-law is buried in the same graveyard as Tom Thomson and every time I go I like to stop by Tom's grave because people always leave the coolest stuff in his memory. This last time there were paint brushes, sea shells, coins and a little bottle of whiskey. What a legacy that man has - almost 100 years later and people are still placing tokens to thank him for his contribution to the art world!