Friday, August 29, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: Leaving an abusive situation is no guarantee it would stop

The photo above - and at the end of today's blog as well - were taken immediately after a fierce wind storm hit our area in 2013 downing trees, power lines, blocking roads, etc.  It was fierce, but brief, in its intensity leaving damage that took weeks to clear away.  I don't know the exact cost to the municipality, but I do know the clean up was costly and time consuming.

Workplace abuse leaves intensive destruction in its wake as well, but the damage is invisible - unless a physical act of violence happens.  The damage is psychological in nature.  I've covered some of the affects I've experienced since I left the workplace.  

In the event of a natural catastrophe such as the windstorm in our area, the city pays the costs.  It's in the news.  It's visible.  It's an event.

However, in the event of bullying, none of the above seems to apply.


In a previous blog, "Surviving Workplace Abuse: The target's only option left - to leave",  I mentioned the facilitator's comments to one of the participants in a conflict resolution workshop I attended.  Basically, no matter what kind of conflict resolution this woman learned in that workshop would be of no use to her as she was actively being bullied by a co-worker and HR, management and the union had all "signed off" on the matter.  They had all abdicated their responsibilities for this woman and her welfare in the workplace.  According to our facilitator, this woman had no option but to make an exit plan and follow through with it.

I believe now that although the facilitator appeared callous, she was right.

However, the problem is:  leaving may be easier said than done - depending on how far the bullying has gone, has far through the workplace i.e. the other co-workers it has gone and how determined the bullies are to not let go of the target.

Some years ago, I read an article in a Toronto paper which shocked me.  It was about a teenaged girl who was being bullied badly in her high school.  So badly that the parents made the decision to move to a different area of the city so that the girl would attend a different school.  A drastic move to make.  Unfortunately, it didn't work.  According to this article, the bullies followed this girl to her new neighbourhood, her new house and continued the bullying there.  I don't remember all the particulars because I think I read this article approximately 20 years ago - and it really didn't concern me at all.  I wasn't being bullied.  I was fine.  I remember it because I was so dismayed at the lengths these bullies were going to to continue bullying someone.  Their determination not to let go of their victim - no matter what.

I thought it was an isolated incident.  Now I wonder....


Continuing to something more recent.  Hubby found a story of school bullying on the net in which the bullies refused to let go of their target even after she was dead.  Sladjana Vidovic, a 16 year old in a high school near Cleveland, Ohio was originally from Bosnia.  She was targeted for bullying by her female peers.  She was also one of four students (both male and female) who killed themselves in a two year period in her high school because of bullying.  Even though she "removed" herself from the situation by committing suicide, according to her family the bullying didn't stop with her death.

Sladjana's sister, Susana, found her sister's body hanging on the front lawn.  She recounts about her sister's wake:
The family watched ... as the girls who had tormented Sladjana for months walked up to the casket — and laughed.
"They were laughing at the way she looked," Suzana says, crying. "Even though she died."
There have been other examples as well which have been brought up in the news media such as a gay high school student who also committed suicide.  Even though those who bullied him had, in effect, won (assuming there are winners and losers in this sort of things), the bullying continued - on his social medial page.  Comments such as saying they were glad he was dead, etc.

The average person would say "how awful".  However, the average - or perhaps not so average - bully doesn't see it that way.


These examples are all from high school bullying.  Why aren't there examples from workplace bullying?  We would like to think that these cases are exceptions to the rule. A rarity.  Yet, after my "final" experience(s) in the workplace I wonder....

We're getting into some deep territory here, at least for me.  I've already written about my former co-workers accessing my Facebook account, recognizing themselves in a fairly general status statement, and taking that to management alleging an ethics violation.

If that was the end of my story, it would be bad enough. Damaging enough.

However, I found out weeks later, that their actions didn't stop there.  I discovered what lengths they were willing to go to even though I was for all practical intents and purposes removed from the workplace at that time.  I also  discovered how many of my co-workers were now involved.

Recovery ...

Inside I've resembled the severely broken tree pictured above.  Outside ... I appear like every other person.

The damage is real, just invisible.

Until Monday.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: My description of the typical bully

Warning signs.  We see them in many places.  Take, for example, this sign set up on the beach on South Padre Island, Texas.  The surf was definitely up and there were signs similar to this one 
up and down the beach with a red flag attached to a sign telling what colour flag meant what. 

A closer look reveals that red meant heavy surf and dangerous conditions.  The highest level of warning there was.  Definitely a dangerous condition.  Definitely a stay out warning.  One most people will take heed of.

I was in the middle of abusive workplace situation #2 at that time, and I've often wondered what would happen if we put cautionary signs up for our workplace.  What would they look like?  Perhaps:  "Caution: toxic atmosphere present"?  Or how about:  "Enter at own risk:  Bullies work here"?

We all know that signs like this would never happen.  


Besides the fact that it's not politically correct?  

Because the bullies are, in my opinion and from my experience, a protected species.  They are also, unlike the surf conditions I witnessed that day in the Gulf of Mexico, which were visible to the naked eye and, therefore, very easy to identify with - or without - the signage.

Workplace bullies are not that easy to identify.  They're sort of like the printer in the office - a part of the scenery.  Here is my basic description of what the basic female workplace bully looks like:

  • A woman in her 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's with long, short, medium length blonde, brown, auburn or black hair – and anything in between.  Including grey, tinted, highlighted, etc.  
  • She would be short, average height or tall, slim, average build or stocky and of average to high intelligence.  
  • She has a high school, trade school (college in Canada) or university education.  
In short, there is nothing to make her distinguishable from anyone else. 

She does not have two heads, conspicuous warts, buck teeth or any other anomaly.  What makes her different from the average co-worker is not her physical appearance or description, but rather the baggage she's carrying inside her.  The insecurity.  The deep down emotional wounds and scars she carries with her from way back, maybe even childhood.  These are the same insecurities and inner wounds that compelled her to bully as a pre-teen (my assumption).  Unhealed and tended to, these insecurities and wounds are still there.  Motivating her to continue the cycle of passive violence.  Not only will the people around her not recognize these inner wounds, but most likely the bully herself is not even aware of what is causing her to behave in this way.  It's like the furniture in her bedroom.  It's part of the scenery.  It's part of her life. She may even say, “This is just the way, I am.”  She might even go further and say to the target, “I've learned one thing that you haven't.  You can't change people.  And this is just the way I am.”

Sad but true.  

The bully is in denial.  Denial about her bullying.  Denial about the pain inside of her that causes her to lash out at people she deems as weaker than herself.  Denial about the seriousness of her actions.  Even denial about her own part in the on-going workplace drama.  

In her eyes, there is nothing wrong or abnormal about what she is doing.  Since she feels that she is doing nothing wrong, she feels further wounded and victimized if the target brings the behaviour up to management.

She - and possibly her friends - become involved in the vicious cycle of retaliation against the target and her claims.  She presents herself to those in authority has being articulate, well-spoken, etc.  She is perceived of in the workplace as a nice person.  She is in a way like the proverbial Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  She presents herself to management and indeed everyone else in the workplace with the exception of the targeted co-worker as one person - a very likeable one at that, while she reveals all the junk inside her to the selected target.  Others in the workplace are simply not able to comprehend what is happening to the one person in the workplace who becomes the target, because they simply don't see it for themselves.

This is one reason why there will never be signs placed in the workplace warning employees of the presence of bullies.  They simply are not easy to identify.  Even when the situation gets out of hand, like mine did with most of the workforce in one office involved, people in high places tend to believe that it is the bully who needs protecting from the target.  When that happens, the tables become turned and it is the target who becomes perceived by just about everyone as the bully. 

This is not the post I meant to write today.  I meant to go into the on-going saga of what happened after I had the second stress breakdown and was way too fragile to work.

Yet, the words seemed to flow from my fingertips - and the pictures selected themselves.

It also outlines the dynamics that were present in the workplace at the time I had the two breakdowns and puts the context of everyone's subsequent actions in perspective.  It is, in effect, background for the next part of the story.  How I left the workplace.

I think it's important to realize that no matter what these people did, they are still human beings.  From my observation in the workplace, they are wounded human beings.  One of the huge differences between myself and them is that I have recognized my woundedness - even before the situation in the workplace started - and took steps to begin the process of recovery.  Those I worked with, did not.  Why?  Because they could not see their own woundedness and their own part in the on-going office drama.

In the end, they got to keep their jobs.  For a while.  Until the workplace close.  And I got to continue on the path of recovery.  Ultimately, who was the winner?

Until tomorrow....

Man of War jelly fish on the same beach as the signs above.  Definitely not something one wants to tangle with.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: The target's only option left - to leave

Goderich, Ontario harbour July 2014.  Strengthening the retaining wall and building a new lighthouse

What happens when the target realizes that they are indeed being targeted for bullying behaviour?  And what should the target do when they do realize what is happening in the workplace is indeed intended?

I think from retrospect, hindsight being 20-20 so they say, that the best recourse for the target is to make an exit plan from the workplace and follow through.  Which, obviously, I didn't.

During the time frame before I recognized what was happening in the workplace, I attended a workshop on conflict resolution.  It was an eye opener.  Our facilitator was not only extremely informative but conducted her workshop in a very interactive manner.

One woman asked about a situation in her workplace in which one co-worker did. not. like. her.  From her account of the situation, management, HR and the Union were championing this woman's co-worker and doing nothing to stop the situation.  As this woman told her story, her voice shook.  She became emotional.  Why was this happening to her?  And why was no one in the workplace standing up for her? She could not understand it. She was a good worker and always had been.  Why didn't anyone in authority recognize what was going on and stop it?

Our facilitator said very forcefully that her answer for this woman was one word:  In other words, getting out was the only viable resolution for this woman because management and HR had deserted her.

It was a hard thing for this woman to hear.  Indeed, it was a hard thing for all of us in the presentation to hear.  It sounded unfeeling.  Hard.  Even harsh.  Our facilitator did not mention that she was being bullied, but now in the retrospect of my own situation, I know she was being bullied.  I understand how she felt.  The confusion.  The distress.

At that time, I was not in that woman's situation, but I've often thought of her since then as my own situation unfolded and wondered how she's doing now.  If she did take the facilitator's advice and get the h*** out of Dodge.  I hope she did.

I learned through hard experience that our facilitator made an excellent point - with reason.  Once HR and management position themselves on the side of the bullies, they leave the target defenceless.  There is no going back to what was.  It becomes a hopeless situation for the target.  One in which the target becomes helpless as well.  All control, all power, have been wrenched forcefully from her and placed in the hands of those who are targeting her:  the bullies.

The only way out is simply to leave.  Hopefully to find another job first before leaving.

But there are reasons why the target does not take the "hint" and leave.  Finding another job in our economy is not that easy.  Finding another job when you're in your 50s or 60s is definitely not easy.

Then there's the matter of finances, paying the bills, buying food to eat, etc.  The necessities of life.  What's going to happen if the target does quit and does not find another job?  If you quit a job - or get fired - you're not eligible for Unemployment.  All your plans go up in smoke.  If you are lucky enough to get another job, you start at the beginning - again - which is pretty hard to do when you've been at a company for a number of years and have built your way up through the ranks.  Also, there is no guarantee that you are not going to be targeted at the new workplace.  I ought to know.  I got hit twice in a row.  Two completely different sets of bullies.  Two completely different scenarios.

For me, though, there was another reason.  By the time things got so bad, even getting out without further injury was going to be a problem.

By that time, I was a complete "non person" in the office.  For all practical intents and purposes, I did not exist.  I was totally ignored.  I was not talked to - yes, I believe that I was talked about when I was not there - but no one even those who were not part of the clique of co-workers who actively disliked me talked to me or recognize me in any way, shape or form by that time.

Try walking in such a situation where you need a team environment to get the work done.  Let's just say that it was interesting.  I was only allowed to talk to people when it was a business matter.  I was only to approach them with something business related.  ?

I realized that if I gave the standard notice, leaving in such a situation would likely incur further injury.  Not only was I being actively ignored by an ever growing group of co-workers in the office, but I realized that if I did give notice my final day would be spent in total silence, totally ignored and in all probability I would leave work for the final time in a cloud of silence.  Being a people person, leaving in a cloud of complete silence would be akin to torture for me.

It was not something I felt I could handle.  I still had bad memories of being walked out of abusive workplace situation #1 when the contract ended and dumped like yesterday's refuge on the curb.  The shame, the finality, the abruptness of it.

Once you're gone, you're gone and there's no going back.  No second chances.  No one will ever call and say "I was wrong".  That's just not the way it's done.

At the end, choices were taken away from me.  I had the two back to back stress breakdowns and didn't return from the second one.

There's more to that particular part of the story.  Am I strong enough now to start telling it?  I don't know.  We'll see.

Until tomorrow....

Even things under construction can be beautiful ... depending

Monday, August 25, 2014

Workplace Bullying/Abuse: Why confronting the bully and asking him/her to stop fails

Right: "The Old Man of Storr" on the Isle of Skye in Scotland

I started this post yesterday and was tending to focus solely on the aspect of isolation and exclusion in the workplace as one indicator of workplace bullying/abuse as this was the behaviour directed at me.  But, me being me, I decided to look up indications of workplace bullying on the net.  There is a wealth of information out there.  More than there was six years ago in 2009 when I first perceived that I might, maybe, perhaps being bullied in the workplace and found, to my chagrin, that I was right on.  I WAS being bullied.

Even then, though, there were still plenty of articles and resources to go to on the net ... for both the bullied worker and those in management and HR.  There have also been programs about workplace bullying on radio.  I am thinking specifically of CBC and their morning program "The Current".  I listened to some of their programs about bullying and suggested to my current manager that she listen to them too to get a broader understanding about workplace bullying, what it is, how it happened, etc.  I even had the URL links to give her to access the specific program I was thinking of. Her response:  "I wouldn't get the same things out of it that you do."  Sigh.

I think her response is true in one sense, but that it is also short-sighted in another.  As a manager, she's not going to see it the same way as I, the target sitting in the all-too-confining trenches, do.  BUT ....  But there is also the possibility that listening to these programs would give her a different viewpoint, a different perspective on workplace bullying.  For instance, that it is real.  That it is a real concern.  Some of the dynamics involved.  And that it might, perhaps, maybe be happening in her own office with employees under her.

One thing that really struck home in one of these programs was that often HR facilitates the bullying process by asking the target to ask the bully to stop the behaviour.  This might sound reasonable ... for a reasonable person that is.  But workplace bullying is not about being reasonable.  It's not about resolving the issue and backing off or changing.  It's about maintaining the status quo.  It's about power and control

For instance, my workplace asked me to respond to my aggressors with "When you ... I feel" each time something happened so that they would know that these behaviours were offensive to me.  Finally, I was given the direction to confront the individual(s) involved and ask them to stop the behaviour.

I learned the hard way from experience that this is the worst thing the target can do IF the bully is truly intending to target one employee.  If this behaviour is not intentional, then the individual involved will likely back off immediately.  However, if the behaviour is intentional, the worker will turn on the target ... and gain more power.

This is what happened to me in the workplace.  This was also verbalized in a "The Current" broadcast while I was still employed.  At least the part about it being the worst thing a target can do as bullying is about power and control, and the target will always lose another slice of control over the situation.

In my situation, when I confronted one of the people, alone in the office because I felt it would be very disrespectful to broach this issue in the open office, she turned on me.  She told me I was being very confrontational in that I kept telling her the "when you ... I feel" scenario.  She took that as confrontational because it was saying something negative about her behaviour.  Then she demanded that I stop being "confrontational" i.e. I stop saying anything not complimentary about her behaviour.  Being a non-confrontational person by nature, I was at a loss as how to respond, how to proceed.  I badly needed someone there to help me out - and there was no one.  I told her that I'd been told to do this.  She demanded to know by whom.  I refused to divulge that information as it had been HR, and I figured that was going to bring the confrontation to a whole new level.  Her eyes were expressionless.  Her tone, I felt, was threatening.  She said in what I consider a dark, threatening tone of voice, "That person better mind their own business."

I was shaking.  I was scared.  I perceived that if this individual felt that her job was threatened, she could get violent.    I admit it was a perception but it was based on the sensory data I was receiving at the time ... and also past experience.  As a university student, I'd had a former roommate come at me intent on  what?  strangling me?  I'll never know for sure; however, this I do know, she had found out that I'd revealed she was smoking pot in our dorm room.  I had inadvertently threatened her by revealing this.  I was in someone else's room and that person got the door shut and locked in time.  It was one of the most frightening incidents of my life.  You don't forget something like that - even more than 40 years later.

The intimation was clear - at least to me:  "Back off.  Now.  Or. I. Will. Get. Even. With. You. And. Those. Who. Support. You."

Yes, I admit this was my perception and my assumption.  However, it was based on the sensory data I was receiving at that time ... what I call a "dark" tone of voice, low, threatening; the words themselves that the person who was advising me had better mind their own business which I perceived by the tone of voice as being threatening.  The dead gaze.

I was shaking so badly from the encounter that I was unable to resume my work.  Have you ever tried to input numerical data onto a spreadsheet via keyboard that has to be 100% accurate, no margin for error when your fingers are shaking so badly they feel like they have a mind of their own?  Let me tell you from experience, it doesn't work.  After three tries, I finally gave up and had to ask the person coming in to take over my shift to do it for me.

From that moment on, not only did the behaviours continue on even stronger than before but I. Felt. Fear.  Constantly.  I could no longer perceive of my workplace as a safe place nor my co-workers as safe people.

Workers on top a water tower on South Padre Island, Texas - a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico

And this, my dear reader, is just the pinnacle of the iceberg of workplace bullying/abuse.

Until tomorrow ....

Surviving Workplace Abuve: Trauma: Opening Pandora's Box

Going into the dynamics of trauma and telling my story is a bit like opening the proverbial Pandora's box.  Once it's opened, so many things pop out that it is impossible to put them back in.  For me, each post I write leads to more and more issues, and I cannot follow them all at the same time.  Each one has to be picked up, dealt with and examined one at  a time.

One at a time.

Workplace bullying is not vague; it's complicated.  There are so many dynamics involved.  In general and in specific.  I believe that each incidence is unique to the individual(s) involved - both bullies and bullied, but that there are common denominators that make my story everyone's story.

According to the Urban Dictionary, part of it's modern-day definition of Pandora's Box is as follows:
Today, much like christianity's idea of biting forbidden fruit, opening pandora's box refers to getting into a situation over which one has very little control over.
Bingo!  Workplace bullying is something the target has little to no control over.  It's not something the target walks knowingly into.  It's more like the frog sitting in a pot of water on top of a stove.  The burner gets lit and slowly warms up the water.  The frog doesn't notice that the water is increasingly getting hotter as it's little body keeps adjusting to the heat.  It's warning senses become disoriented, defused.  Finally, the frog boils to death.

Workplace abuse, workplace bullying has similarities to the above scenario.

Working bullying starts very slowly.  It doesn't jump from the workplace being healthy for all individuals to being completely toxic for one overnight.  It takes a long time to get from point A to point B.  At it's earliest stages, bullying can be stopped.

The problem is ... at its earliest stages people like HR, management, the Union and even to a degree the "target" do not recognize the beginnings of workplace bullying for what is it and, more importantly, for what it has the potential of becoming if not stopped immediately.  After I started researching workplace bullying, I discovered that it takes the average target approximately two years to recognize that they are being bullied.  That was bang on for me.  It was almost exactly two years from the start to when I began to think that possibly, just perhaps, maybe I was being bullied in the workplace.  At the time, I first began to think that maybe I was being bullied, I was still very resistant to the idea - and I was the target.  How much less will others in the situation realize it for what it is.  It was only when I started putting in search terms on Google and started really looking at this article and that article that I came to realize that I was being bullied in the workplace.

Realizing it, though, was not enough.  I needed to get others on board to help me.  And here is where the proverbial Pandora's box starts to open.  At each stage, different dynamics start to unfold.

At first, I thought things were more or less cut and dried.  Go to HR with the research I'd accumulated and they would do something to stop the situation and prevent it from going any further.  But that doesn't work because at this stage there are dyanmics in place which in hindsight I've come to recognize:

  • Workplace bullying has been called a form of workplace violence because it is all about power and control.
  • The more the target attempts to do, the more the bully resists and
  • Workplace bullying becomes a vicious circle.
There are various types of bullying which, I believe, were all in evidence at one time or another in my scenario:
  • serial bullying
  • vicarious bullying
  • mobbing
What are they?

Originally, there are three kinds of people in the workplace:
  • the bullies
  • the targets
  • the bystanders
As the dynamics change and the bullies become more and more in control of the situation, the bystanders start to align themselves - in my case most of them aligned themselves with the bullies.  No one, in reality, stays neutral.

  • What is appropriate behaviour in the workplace?
  • Who defines it?
  • What is appropriate behaviour for managers?

And then, at the point in the story which I've been telling recently - the end - there are significant factors:
  • GFA (Global Functioning Assessment) - what is it?  And why is it so important?
  • Workplace policies - or lack thereof - relating to harassment or bullying
  • The role of HR - accommodation, workplace policies regarding bullying/harassment, Ontario's Bill 168
  • The role of the Union: to protect the target or to protect the bullies?
  • Conflict of interest
  • Confidentiality
  • Appropriate employee conduct - what is it?  and who defines it? Use of personal property i.e. cell phones in the workplace; appropriate use of company time and assets
  • different kinds of bullies - i.e. lightweight, mid weight, heavy duty and extra heavy duty
All of these need to be looked at, individually, at some point in time as each one of these affects the dynamics of the situation.

Today, I've run my course.  For whatever reason, I've entered a period of extreme tiredness where I sleep more - and enjoy it less - which is why sometimes the blog posting for the day is delayed.

Three years and counting - the effects/affects continue.  Life continues.  Sometimes good; sometimes not so good.  But even in the worst days, there is always something good:  a laugh perhaps; time with a friend; someone with an affirmation out of the blue friends, family.  There is always something like the sunset at the beginning of the blog and the white peacock just below.  Something to sooth the tired soul.

Until tomorrow ...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Post Workplace Abuse: Life in the Trenches Dodging .... More of the Story

Some days you're the statue, some days you're the bird.  I felt like I was the statue during this time.

Going away for a few days didn't change my situation, my reality at all.  I was still in the early throes of a stress breakdown.  I stuttered.  My cognitive skills were impaired.  Yet, at the same time, it gave me what I needed to muddle on and through.  It gave me just enough of a break to pull back from my new reality so that I was no longer actively in crisis.  Maybe not too far away from it, but a bit removed from it.  Able to cope.  Maybe barely.  Maybe not too well.  But still able to cope.

Coming home, it took me a few days to be strong enough to access my emails and discover what the phone calls a few days previously had been about.  Something about a posting I'd made on my Facebook, that it was an ethics violation and demands that it be removed immediately.  These emails were sent over the weekend while I was away so, of course, since I didn't get them immediately, I didn't delete the "offending" Facebook comments in the demanded time frame.  I sensed anger in the emails because my supervisor specifically mentioned frustration that I was not answering my phone and, thus, she could not talk to me voice to voice and was forced to resort to writing.  Maybe because she didn't want a written record which would be copied and kept?

On my part, I was under the assumption that once I was signed off on sick leave by a doctor that the workplace was not to contact me except for matters dealing specifically with the sick leave i.e. short-term disability forms, when I would return, etc., the mechanics of how long I would be gone and when I would return, that sort of thing.  But nothing personal.  Nothing dealing with discipline.  I was under the assumption that that sort of thing would have to wait until I was well again and back in the workforce.  I was wrong.  Or rather, if I was correct in my assumptions, HR and my supervisor never got that "memo" as my story reveals.  I kept responding to their emails that I was off sick and needed time to heal and asking them to respect that.  They didn't.  They just kept finding new, innovative ways to come into my home via phone calls or email.

Reading my supervisor's emails, I was thoroughly confused.  I had nothing on my conscience, so I asked my supervisor for clarification.

It came in the way of screen shots. Of my Facebook page.  Not just the current one that they found offensive, that the bullies identified with and saw themselves in, but ones made more than a more previously at the time of my first breakdown talking about going into ER and what it was like.  My supervisor was monitoring my Facebook.  Not only that, I felt she (and they) were like peeping Toms peeping in on my most private thoughts and feelings via the computer rather than a window.

I felt violated.

I know that my profile was public until that incident so that it was not invasion of privacy in reality.  Because Facebook is public.  Anyone can access it until you set your privacy settings so they can't.

But still, I felt violated.

I lost more of my innocence that day.  More of my belief that people, in general, were good and kind and respectful.

I lost more trust - especially in those I worked with and for.  I realized that I was caught up in something that was way beyond my control.

I felt like a very little boat in a very big sea caught in a storm with huge waves washing over me and threatening to capsize my little boat.

It was tough.  Very tough.

I am so glad that I didn't experience this a few days earlier as was intended by my supervisor or I would probably have been overwhelmed completely.

In that moment, FEAR came in - and stayed for years as an unwelcome guest in my soul.

I no longer trusted people - and over time that extended to people in general.

Basically, I had these strong reactions because, in effect, I'd been successfully bushwhacked by my opposition.

If I could draw, I would express my feelings by drawing a picture of the outside, brick wall of a building with no windows, resembling the production part of the compound I worked in with pairs of arms reaching out of it.  Workplace bullying reaching outside of the workplace.

 I no longer felt safe even in my own home because I had no idea what these people were capable of doing.  If I'd had fear of retaliation in the workplace before, I was now terrified of what retaliation outside the workplace could look like.

I have no idea why someone(s) unidentified decided it was appropriate to look up my Facebook file. I have no idea why management and HR felt it was appropriate and didn't ask appropriate questions and discipline people.  I only know that doing things correctly, i.e. seeing a doctor, getting booked off work, not communicating to anyone i.e. co-workers in the workplace except those I needed to keep informed that I was off and for how long, didn't work.  I felt like all my efforts to protect myself were futile.

I believe now and believed then that I was cyberstalked by these people.  I mentioned that in a follow-up email to my supervisor.  To no avail.  By that time, I feel I had been so thoroughly devalued in the workplace, my character so thoroughly assassinated, that no matter what I said, no matter how much truth it might hold, it was automatically disregarded.

The possibility of being cyberstalked, the probability of inappropriate office behaviour and misuse of company time and equipment was blown off as not being a significant issue.  My behaviour and only my behaviour was the issue.  Even when sick.  Even when in the throes of a stress breakdown and trauma when the victim is acting in what they think is a normal manner in an abnormal situation.

What I was experiencing, my friends, was not a normal situation.

This was when the fear not only descended but blanketed me so completely that I no longer felt free and happy and alive in my body.  I felt constricted.  Emotionally paralyzed.  I was afraid to venture outside the house even to a near by shopping mall as I was afraid one of these people might see me and perceive that I was stalking them perhaps?  My therapist and I have talked about this fear many times over the intervening years.  She felt my fears were irrational.  But in light of what happened after the fact, after I was in effect no longer in the workplace, I could not shake these fears.  They became a constant part of my emotional make up, my new reality.

Spontaneity left.

This was when I entered into what I now call the "shadowland" with all traces of who I really am removed from my Facebook and from my personal day-to-day life as well.  My Facebook made private.  Status updates changed.  I no longer shared anything even remotely public via Facebook.  

It's taken more than three years of working consistently through all the effects and affects of the entire trauma before I realized that I do have a story to tell - and I have a right to tell my story.  To work through the pervasive fear and begin to live life more fully again.

I have no idea what my former colleagues might think if they do chance upon this page.

We're all gone from that workplace now.  All of us.  The building we once worked in is closed.  Everyone has had to leave either in retirement or finding new employment.  Scattered to the four winds (hopefully).

After years have intervened, the question still remains that if these former colleagues did access this blog, read it, and see themselves in it, would they be willing to jeopardize what they have now in order to further victimize me?  I don't know.  I hope not.

Only time will tell.

Until Monday.  Have a good weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Surviving Workplace Abuse: A Photo Blog of Memories on the Road to Recovery

If you haven't guessed by now, photography is my hobby, my passion.  It's almost as much a part of me as breathing air is.  A camera is as much a part of my accessories as is my purse.  As much a part of my wearing apparel as are my t-shirt, jeans and shoes.  It is my right-brain therapy and, as such, has been a crucial part of my journey towards recovery post workplace bullying.  Which is why it made so much sense and worked so well when hubby took me and my camera to Niagara Falls for a weekend away when the rubber met the road in my workplace situation and it looked like the rubber was going to win.

In previous blogs recently, I've shared the unorthodox method hubby used when I was in crisis from the workplace:  taking me away, putting my camera in my hand and giving me the freedom, the power, to do whatever I wanted to.

The camera I used in this trip, which is now my "second best" - was new to me at the time - a Canon powershot with a 35x optical zoom lens, so this trip afforded me the opportunity to play with it and see what it could do.

There's more to the story of how the workplace (mis)handled things during this period of time, but before I go there, I've decided to show you the rest of the story of that weekend away.  That is, the rest of the journey that weekend in (selected) pictures.

I think we all need a break from the heavy duty, nitty gritty work of recovery at this point.  What better way to do that then to take a look-see down what is now a part of my memory lane and visually see what I saw.  Experience what I experienced.

As I've indicated before, this trip was special for more than one reason.  As Niagara Falls is not super far from us, we often take day trips which means we wake up, drive there, find a parking place, roam around in the touristy area for a few hours, maybe grab a meal somewhere, walk up Clifton Hill (always a must) and then head home usually via Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario where there are all sorts of one-of-a-kind touristy shops.

This time was different as we left at night, arrived at night, stayed overnight and walked around at night (hence yesterday's pictures).

Then we had the full day the next day to walk around.  To do whatever I chose to do.  To go wherever I chose to go.  This time, we were in a different area of Niagara Falls, Ontario.  Still in the touristy, falls area, but further down from our normal.  Therefore, a different view, a different perspective.

 I'm looking down from "somewhere" guessing these shots are taken from the general area above the cliff  where Falls Incline Railway is located.  It was not only something we hadn't done for years, but afforded me a great vantage point for fun photography that day.

It was so neat to be up on top looking down.

Notice that although it was April, April in Ontario is still very close to winter.  No leaves or even leaf buds on the trees to obscure my view.  There were tourists, yes, the hardy type.  Definitely not as many as in the summer when you can't move for the crowd.

Ice.  Large blocks of ice at the bottom of the falls.  Something I had never seen before and which I could not get enough pictures of.

At the top as we wandered around, I saw someone taking pictures of a friend and asked if they would like me to take a picture of them both.  Then they surprised me by offering to take a picture of us!  Notice, the top/dress I am wearing is hand crocheted - by my hands.  Especially when I'm hurting, I need my comfort clothes which translates to those things I've made which make me feel good.

Spring was coming.  I took this picture to remind me that no matter how bad things are or appear to be in my life, spring always comes after winter.  Always.  Things will get better.

As I've mentioned because Hubby gave me power and control over our wanderings, we wandered all over the place.  Places we normally aren't.  This picture is still taken from the top of the cliff where a parking lot used to be and is now a beautiful promenade with hotels, restaurants, etc.

And then there's the Falls.  Always the Falls.  This time the Horseshoe or Canadian Falls as we had wandered all the way from one end to the other on top of the cliff rather than down below right alongside the Falls.  A different view.  A different perspective.  Notice the snow in the upper middle of the picture.  Spring may have been on its way, but it wasn't there ... yet.

Along with the single white crocus, this little guy was another symbol of spring arriving, winter ending.  Both physically in the real world and emotionally in my world.  No matter how bad things appeared to be at the time, no matter how painful, this was just a season in my life which would pass.  Hopefully.

At the incline railway looking down as we slowly descended from the cliff to base level.

A view of the cable car and tracks leading up the cliff.

The falls up close and personal displaying all their might, their power, their majesty.

The next few pictures show various views, angles and perspectives of the falls in late winter/early spring from the Canadian side.  My side.

They show views I've never gotten before or since.

Colours I've never captured on file - or rather SD card - before or since.

I could say that of all the Falls shots taken that morning that the one below is my favourite, but then I tend to look at each one separately and claim them all my favourite.  Why?  Perhaps because one picture along cannot capture the whole experience but several can highlight different aspects of the experience.

Just as in life, we tend to look at one incident whether incredibly good or incredibly bad such as my situation at that time in the workplace and look at it as isolated, alone.  We tend to look at that one incident as being the totality of our lives.  And it's not.

Here we see the barrenness of the landscape.  If we looked at this alone, by itself, we would fail to realize that in just a month or so the landscape would become alive with tourists, green with grass, plants, etc.  It would come alive almost overnight.  As if by magic.

Just like my life would eventually come back from its barrenness, starkness at that time.  It would take longer than a month, much longer, but it would come back.  With nurturing, with care.  And most of all ... with time and therapy.

All I had to do was take a 90 degree turn to the left, and there was a completely different view entirely.  No longer facing the Falls, I'm now facing the cliff and seeing the huge, Skywheel peeking up above the barren trees.  Life's like that, isn't it?  Things may look pretty bad from one viewpoint, but if we just turn 90 degrees or more or less, we see a whole different perspective.  Things definitely no longer look the same.

I don't think this picture needs any prose to accompany it.  It is what it is.  Just like life.

Through the barrenness of the winter foliage - or lack thereof - there were signs emerging that winter was definitely ending and that spring was coming.  Snowdrops are one of the earliest of all spring flowers to show their heads.  Delicate yet hardy as they peek their little heads up through the earth.

After we returned to our car to head back homeward to reality, the adventure was not yet over.  Hubby still handed over complete control of the route we would take home, of where and when we would stop so we decided to drive along the Niagara River Parkway.

Whenever I wanted to stop, the car just magically pulled over and found a parking place.

There were many places I had wanted to see closer but had never done so.  So I took full advantage of the opportunity.

Here is one such place I'd passed many times but never stopped at: the Whirpool Areo Car.

I saw the car on the other side of the river and thought that the attraction was still closed for the winter and that the car was docked on the New York side during the winter months.

So I started taking pictures just to see how close up and how clearly I could get pictures of it with my new camera.

It took a few pictures before I realized that the car was not stationary, that it was moving, ever closer to where I stood on the Ontario side of the gorge.  And there were people on the other side.

Life is like that in a way.  Life never stays stagnant.  Never stays in one place.  Always moving.  Sometimes forward, sometimes backward, but always moving.

And then I looked down and was just as fascinated by the rugged terrain I saw below me as I was by the sights in front of me.

And then I looked to my left and saw even more sights which fascinated me.  More fodder for my camera.  More memories to look back on and uplift my spirits.

The next two pictures go together as I stood at the top of the gorge overlooking the Whirlpool Aero Car.  Remember that earlier I wrote that I was trying out a new camera with more zoom capability than my previous one.  On the other side of the river, the New York side, I saw what at first looked like miniature people. But as I saw zoomed in more and more, they got closer and closer, more distinct.

Until they were fully exposed.  Just like life in a way.  Things that are indistinct at first view can become closer and more obvious as we research, analyze, recover.  I find it very ironic that the picture I took shows someone taking a picture of their friends.

Once back in the car, we passed Sir Adam Beck hydroelectric station heading away from Niagara Falls to Queenston, Ontario where we would end our roamings that day and head West and home.

As we continued down the river, we made one last picture-taking spot.  Again, we've never stopped there before or since.  I'm not even sure exactly where it is, but it was another piece of the puzzle which leads to healing.

We've reached the end of the line with the below picture of Brock's Monument in Queenston Heights Park.  Or at least our ramble along the Niagara River and all its scenic places on the Niagara River heading away from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Here, we turn left and start heading West towards home.

Enough for today.  I hope you enjoyed your journey in and around Niagara Falls Canada with me as your "scenic tour guide" both through the geographic area which is so familiar to me and the hazardous terrain of healing from workplace abuse.

Tomorrow?  We probably unpack our bags from this trip and work more on the journey of recovery post workplace abuse.

See you then.