I’ve been struggling with writing this blog for the past week. It’s not unusual for me to talk about the fact that I suffer from anxiety, even though I still have people around me who will say to never let people know. Therein lies the problem. We need to talk about mental health, not hide it in fear for being judged from lack of understanding on the topic. I’ve been warned that a potential new workplace can never know that I have anxiety or what I have experienced in a previous workplace, or I will never get hired. For that fear alone, I have kept my mouth shut. But, I don’t want to anymore.
The reason that I am choosing to share my story now is because last week, I experienced what I can only describe as PTSD symptoms. I was doing research on a company when I came across an online review that triggered me. My reaction to this online review of a previous employee describing their terrible experience, shook me to my core. My anxiety came out in full force; I became lightheaded, had body shakes, became ice cold and couldn’t focus on anything other than this feeling for several hours. This episode drained my energy for the remainder of the day. I have had anxiety for many years, but this was the first time that I actually experienced something like this by simply reading about someone else’s experience.
With that being said, here’s my story:
Years ago, after moving into a new role within a company, I reported to someone who seemed to make it their mission to make me feel as small and stupid as humanly possible. According to them, every single thing I said or did was wrong. Also, according to them, I was never prepared. Of course, this was not actually true, but it didn’t matter. I was the chosen target. My colleagues were not having the same experience with this person, but they did witness the things that were happening to me and knew it wasn’t fair.
Eventually, the excitement that I used to have going into work every day turned to absolute dread. I would start my day with anxiety attacks as I wondered what I was going to experience that day. It got to the point where I couldn’t hide what was happening to me anymore. People would find me in the washroom crying, or see my quietly sniffling and wiping my eyes at my desk, all while pretending not to notice. I know, it’s super awkward, and I feel ashamed that people had to see me in that state. NOBODY should EVER feel like this! I am grateful that I did have a couple of trusted colleagues who would take me out of the situation by going for a walk around the block, or just to Starbucks. (Friendly tip: tea and a cookie will almost always help calm me down).
One day, during a 1:1, I decided that it was time to talk to this person about how they were making me feel. Needless to say, I didn’t get an acknowledgement of their treatment towards me, or an apology. I will never forget that their only response was to picture them as a fuzzy bunny. As in they were as harmless as a cute fuzzy bunny.
It wasn’t long after that conversation, that I knew I had to take this one step further and go to HR. That was not an easy decision by any means, nor something I took lightly. I did not like that it had to come to that, but it did. This treatment had to stop. I wanted to be treated as equally as my fellow colleagues and to have the opportunity to continue to learn and grow within my role. Did I have improvements to make? Absolutely. I’m not perfect, and will never claim to be. But, if I was going to be successful in my role, I needed to try and fix this situation. Here’s a common misconception, just because someone may suffer from anxiety, it does not make them a weak person. I am a pretty damn strong person, and that’s something my superior had to learn the hard way.
I had my meeting with HR, backed up pages of notes and dates of specific incidents, which I did keep track of. The HR person was very empathetic to the situation. They asked me how I wanted to move forward. I could either just report this to them and it would go on record, or I could try and work it out. Needless to say, I chose the latter. Once the big boss found out about my bullying complaint, I was called into their office, where I was yelled at and told that I was the only one on my team who felt this way, as if to say that makes my claims invalid. At that point, they turned the tables on me, to make me the bad guy. I was presented with claims against me that were outright lies. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself. Those lies were taken at face value. I was called unprofessional. I had to apologize, which I did, because, I am a professional. In the end, I had a meeting with my superior and we did settle the situation, and I did get my apology.
Not long after, I had a new superior, who was hands down one of the best people to work for. Working in a supportive and encouraging environment, where people want to see you succeed is incredible. I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to continue in my role and prove myself on an equal playing field.
However, it’s clear from my PTSD episode last week, that there are serious long-term effects to experiencing bullying in the workplace. It makes me so sad to imagine anyone else going through what I went through, and I know that there are so many people worse off than me out there. We need to have these conversations, we need to be open about workplace bullying, or nothing will ever change.
You may be thinking that it’s not possible to experience PTSD from workplace bullying, but it’s important to note that no matter how big or small, trauma is still trauma. According to a 2013 study in the journal Occupational Medicine, it states that at some point or another in ones life, we may develop reactions from PTSD. However, in many cases, no medical intervention will be necessary, as the stressors will subside over time. Thankfully, I was back to myself after a good nights sleep.
As with any challenges or obstacles that we face in life, I think it’s important to always try and see the positive or even just the lessons we’ve learned. I would like to think that I came out of this workplace bullying situation much stronger and smarter. I learned a lot about myself and my strength. I know that I am a strong person, but this surely tested that. I think that it certainly did make me an even better employee. I learned what I am willing to accept in a workplace, and the kind of culture that I choose to work in. I know this is eyeroll inducing, but everything really does happen for a reason, but it’s up to us to figure out what that reason is and what we do with that information.
I can tell you that if I did not go through this situation, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog. Writing is a love that got away from me for a while, and anti-bullying and mental health are two topics that I am extremely passionate about. I guess what I’m saying, is that I am right where I'm supposed to be.