I remember my last day of work ever. I remembering driving up the hill to the University I worked at and as I got closer and closer to the parking spot my shaking grew more severe. I worried about how I would hide the blotches on my face when I dropped my two baby girls off at daycare, and if I would survive another day.
(just writing that one paragraph has brought back the anxiety of that day. My stomach clenches and I feel woozy and dizzy)
I didn’t know it was going to be my last day there, it wasn’t my intention. I was going to tough it out and find a solution. I needed this job. We needed the health benefits, the stability. There was no other option.
It had all started 6 months earlier when I returned to work after a maternity leave. I walked into a job I loved, and no one spoke to me. Our office of 30 was uncomfortably quiet. No one made eye contact.
At the end of the day my director came to tell me there had been some issues over the past year while I was off, but he was working on it.
Unfortunately, things only got worse and I experienced a horrendous case of work place mobbing. One small thing our director had said to the staff while I was off on maternity leave turned into a department wide issue, with me (still absent) at the centre.
It took me months to uncover the issue, no one being willing to meet with me or help me explore what happened. I would book meetings that my co workers wouldn’t attend, plan projects that they wouldn’t sign off on, and spent each day, excluded by a staff team.
I spent hours upon hours in the Human Resources office where I was told that work place bullying or mobbing didn’t exist at this business. That there was nothing they could do. That the staff had complained I worked too hard, so perhaps if I took longer lunch breaks they would be more welcoming?
To me it was 6 months of relentless neglect. Exclusion to the point of pain. I was always a confident and strong person but that confidence was destroyed during that time. I experienced uncontrolled anxiety, something entire foreign to me.
And I realized everyone can break. It is 100% possible to destroy anyone if you put your mind to it.
And then destroyed me.
The morning after my last day of work my husband found me getting dressed to head up the hill again. I was crying, shaking. I had washed my face after vomiting in the bathroom. He told me I was done. That there was no way he could let me put myself back into that space. That we would find a solution. We would manage, somehow.
I never went back. Human Resources agreed to a cash settlement and the psychiatrist they sent me to told me that I knew what I needed to do. That there was no solution to fixing this problem. That my career and potential with this company was ruined. There was no going back.
It has been 9 years since my last day at work, and it still haunts me. I was able to feel the power of a mob, to understand that sometimes it isn’t about us, or our actions. That once in motion, there is no stopping it.
I found out later that many others lost their jobs that month, and it was the first step in me coming back to myself. It allowed me to realize that I was a victim, and while that was a shitty thing, it wasn’t something that was permanent. I had regained control by removing myself from the situation, and I had potential to become strong again.
It took me 18 months to build my confidence, to be brave enough to have a conversation. To open my personality to personal discussions with others. 18 months until I thought that perhaps there was more for me out there.
So, I began again.
Still to this day I carrying traumatic stress around mobbing and bullying. A few years ago I spent 4 days in bed because of a “private conversation” in a blogging group akin to bullying. I am still filled with anxiety about incidents like this, and there is a steady undercurrent of fear.
Over time I have build up very strong walls to protect me from situations like this. Big, big walls, impenetrable.
Looking back I am forever in my husbands debt. He pulled me out of that situation and gave me a chance to rebuild myself. To discover who I really was. In return, I gave him the same gift 4 years ago when we moved to salt spring.
I will never be “over” this, but I am able to slowly start stepping away from the incident. Hoping that with each moment, each day, each year and month I experience, the memory will become more distant and less painful.
So, be careful out there. Think before you speak. Listen even when you don’t want to. Do not allow negativity to enter into your space, and defend those who can not defend themselves. It matters. If not now, then one day. Maybe not you, but to someone.
We aren’t always a strong as we look.