Thursday, June 16, 2016

Recovery From Workplace Abuse: Totally Down for the Count

I left you last time in the back parking lot of my church.  Crying.  Devastated.  Ready to give up and give in to self destructive thoughts.

I started on what is turning out to be a blog series last year when I started to try to move out of my "safe" room and into life.

My thoughts at the time were that I wanted to reclaim what I had left.  Meaning left after all the losses following workplace abuse especially those physical/cognitive losses.

Moving out of my self imposed exile at that time in early 2015 turned out to be impossible because some of the affects like the debilitating fatique and anxiety came crashing back into my life like waves on the seashore after a huge storm.

I find myself again, now in mid 2016, at a point where I'm once again trying to take steps to reclaim my life.

However, in order for you, my reader, to fully appreciate where I am now and why what I'm doing now to reclaim my life is such a victory, you need to understand where I was.  Where I'm coming from in this journey of recovery post workplace abuse.


After that incident, I talked with my counsellor at my next appointment about all the physical junk and how I was exhausted most of the time, spending most of my days in bed sometimes unable to do anything even sleep.  Just lying there, unmoving.  If I tried to get up, my body would feel shaky and weak.  Walking even within the house was hard as I tended to go off balance.  Talking.  Many times the thoughts, the words wouldn't come or if they did, they were all jumbled up.  I was still driving but I was starting to realize that my cognitive processes were so damaged that I was probably not safe on the road.  I figured that out AFTER I stepped on the gas instead of the brake at a corner and AFTER I pulled in front of a car at a roundabout.

It was time to rethink things.

The problem was that everything I had read about depression et al was that the best recovery strategy was to keep as normal a routine as possible.  Which is what I had been doing.  Which is why I went to that women's meeting even though I really wasn't feeling up to snuff.

Which was a huge mistake.

With the physical, the recommended tactic is to rest.  If you have to do nothing, do nothing.  If you need to sleep, sleep.  Etc.  Listen to your body.  Do what your body is telling you to do - or not do.

Therefore, my question to my therapist was: "What does a person do when they are experiencing both physical and emotional consequences? Continue with their normal routine or rest?"

Her answer.

The physical always takes precedence.

The conclusion.

No recovery was going to happen unless I started listening to my body.

So I did.

This one session changed the entire focus on my journey to recovery.

It soon became obvious that I had gone too long, too far on fumes alone.  There was no reserve energy left in the reservoir.  I wasn't going to suddenly snap back and become active again in a few weeks.  The "tank" was too empty and was going to take a very long time, if ever, to fill back up.

Days become weeks. Weeks became months.  Months ... continued to pile up and a new year, 2012, emerged.

There's a big problem with dropping out of life as you know it, staying home, and taking care of yourself.

Out of sight; out of mind.

People I was used to socializing with at church or at the women's weekly meetings didn't call, drop by, send a note, card or an email.  It's not that they didn't care.  It was simply that they didn't know what to do.  When it's a physical sickness, we all know what to do.  But what does one do when it's trauma? PTSD?  How do you reach out?

At the time, I was OK with this because frankly, all I know about trauma, PTSD and workplace abuse is what I've learned going through it.

I created my own safe place.  When I could get out of bed, I would sit in front of my computer watching DVDs or TV shows on the net.  I knitted.  I crocheted.  I rarely interacted with anyone unless it was my husband who had been laid off work himself and became my caregiver, driver, grocery shopper, you name it, during that bleak time.

I didn't even have the energy and cognitive skills to cook - something I had once loved to do.

I was well and truly down for the count.


This was where I was during the Fall months of 2011.  Basically unable to get out of bed and even sit up for more than an hour.  Not even able to to talk.  Or drive.  Or cook.  Or shop.  Or do any of the things that I had enjoyed doing before workplace abuse/trauma/PTSD entered my life and created havoc.

This is the part that's important for me to remember when I feel like I'm stuck and not going anywhere.

Recovery from trauma/PTSD/workplace abuse resembles this picture of a barge going through the Welland Canal: slowly slowly slowly. So slowly, it doesn't appear to be moving ... until it's there, right abreast of you, continuing on it's journey from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. 

And so it is with recovery from workplace abuse.  It is a very slow, almost imperceptible process taking a very long time to make any noticeable progress.  Progress which can only be measured by landmarks along the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Recovery Post Workplace Abuse: Well and truly stuck and down for the count

Sometimes my road towards recovery looks more like this massive core of a mountain (Pilot Mountain in North Carolina) than it does something that I can navigate.  It feels at times like a big, vertical obstacle stuck right in the middle of my path with no way around it.


My last two blogs have been detailing how I felt stuck for a prolonged period of time - all or most of 2015 - despite my intense desire to move on, move out of my safe place and regain my life.  Or at least a semblance of it.

Yet ....

Yet looking back at the very beginning when the "altered abilities" i.e. physical affects struck with force and completely knocked me down for the count, I can see progress.  Marked progress.

Let's go back to the beginning, the very beginning of the debilitating chronic/physical affects which began in the Fall of 2011.

As with most things, although I knew that I was seriously tired which led to serious depression the summer after what I call "the end" of my working life or "when all hell broke loose," I was unaware that these things (a) had come to stay and (b) would be followed by more and more debilitating affects.

I just thought I needed to rest and after a good rest, I'd feel better.  I was blissfully ignorant of what was to come in the following weeks and months.

I figured I just needed a time away.  Along with hubby.  Camping which usually relaxes me and fills me with feelings of well being.

How wrong I was.

So we went on our vacation.  A car camping vacation to places (mostly) that we had been before.  I was so tired though that I felt unable to even help with the packing.  Which, in itself, should have been a red flag as it is very unusual.  I'm usually the one to plan, to get together or at least to supervise the process.  This time, I was unable.  I let hubby handle almost everything from choice of tent to all the camping gear we took.

 By the time we got to our first destination - a campground in Tobermory, Ontario, I was well and truly wrecked.  Unable to do much of anything except rest - and take pictures.  Even that was an effort.  On top of the fatigue which was getting worse daily instead of better, I felt like every nerve ending in my body was sticking straight out. At one point, a child rushed by us in the little town of Tobermory yelling something (as children do) and I jumped.  Literally.  Not a good sign.

After that, we realized that eating at a restaurant was beyond me at that point..  Again, another red flag waving briskly.

We bought sandwiches, etc. at a local food market and took them to the lighthouse where hubby found a place to sit and eat sheltered by rocks, where people could pass by us but not really have interaction with us.

Tucked away in a  hidy hole in the rocks, t felt safe.

People passed around us, but didn't notice us.  It was as if we were invisible.

At this point, a great need for perceived safety came into play.  I felt safe(er) in small places like our small canoe camping tent and the hidey hole my husband found in the rocks at the lighthouse.

I didn't know why I was so edgy.  I didn't know it had a name.  Later I found out that what I had just started experiencing and would continue to experience for many months after that was called hypervigilance.

I didn't know it at that time, but I was only at the very beginning into the world of physical affects.  In addition to the extreme fatigue and the hypervigilance came lack of balance where often I would have to reach out and grab something - or someone usually hubby - to keep from falling over. Weakness and shortness of breath also become constant companions.  Shakiness as well.  Meaning my hands, my body would be shaky.

By the end of that trip, I had to lie in bed for hours not able to move or do anything - even read - just to be able to get up and eat a meal.

To say I didn't understand what was going on is an understatement.

Nothing in my experience had prepared me for this.

I was totally in unchartered territory.  Figuring things out as I went along - from one crisis to another.

And at that point, no one in my "circle" of friends and acquaintances could shed any light on the process.  Partially because each person's journey is different.  But mostly because the people who "walked" alongside me had never been this way before either.  They were as clueless as I was.

We were all concerned that things were getting progressively worse instead of better as time went on.


Until I saw my counsellor shortly after coming back home from this trip.  By that time, in order to get to her office which was at the end of a long corridor I had to reach out and touch the wall in order to stay vertical.  My balance was noticeably affected.  My counsellor was accompanying me to her office, noticed my difficulties and commented: '"This is not like you."  Which was the opening I needed to open up about all this physical stuff that had come upon me and was consuming my life.

My counsellor not only is well versed in trauma but has had some of her own.  She told me a little of her own story where she had been in an ongoing traumatic situation and months later had a health scare.  She herself was seeing someone at that time who told her that 6-12 months after a trauma, the physical kicks in.

I was right on the marker when the physical stuff showed up to claim my life.

At the first, I continued trying to live my life as I knew it: attending church; going to the weekly women's meetings; etc. as this is what I'd learned from the past.  Continue your life as normally as possible.  If it's the time you normally eat.  Eat.  Even though you might not feel hungry.

However, the more I did this, the worse I got until I had an unforgettable experience at a women's meeting.  I knew I wasn't feeling up to going, but I felt I should.  So I did.  My face started to feel hot and I wanted to leave but I stayed.  I saw a friend leave early.  I wanted so badly to follow her because I just didn't feel right.  But I didn't.  I thought I had to stay to the end.  Because that's what I normally do even though I was praying for the meeting to end as I was physically very uncomfortable and just wanted to escape.

Escape did not turn out to be that easy.  Someone I had developed a friendship with spoke to me and said something that hurt me badly.  I know she didn't mean to.  I know that what she said was said out out of ignorance because she doesn't understand PTSD and trauma. Heck! I wouldn't either if I hadn't gone through it. But I was so low at that point that I couldn't handle it. I burst out into tears.  Actually sobs.

Sobbing I ran to the door.  To perceived safety.

Someone waylaid me.  I know they were concerned, but they were not capable of helping me and made me feel worse.

I continued sobbing as I finally escaped to the safety of the parking lot and got into my car.

Driving off, I realized that I was in no shape to go anywhere.  Especially driving a car.  So I drove to the back of the church where there were no cars.  Pulled out my cell phone and called my husband who dropped everything he was doing, rushed out the door without even closing it and drove to my aid.

I wanted to die.  I wanted to kill myself.  I didn't want to go on any longer.  I was exhausted from the battle.

I felt my life lay in tatters around me.  Emotionally, I was a wreck from the constant onslaught of condemnation, criticism, etc. from the workplace.  Physically, I was at one of the lowest points of my life.

I was ready to give up.

I wanted so badly for someone to come alongside me in that vacant part of the parking lot and just sit with me.  Not try to tell me this or that.  Just sit with me.  Just feel my pain.  Just let me know that it's OK to cry.  It's OK to not be OK with things.

It's OK.

I called my daughter (thank God for cell phones) and she stayed with me on the phone until hubby came to get me.

Via the phone, she sat with me in my pain that morning.  She never left me until hubby arrived and it was safe to do so.

I'll stop for the day now.

I know this is a cliff hanger. A heck of a place to leave my reader.

YET ...

Yet, it is a good place to leave in a way.  Rock bottom.

Where things can only go up from here.



Life is so much easier.  So much more clear cut when looking back.

As they say, hindsight is 20-20. As we learn, as we move on, move forward, move away, move somewhere.  As we process.  As time dims the pain, the hurt.

As we take several steps backward and can look at the entire mountain, not just the up close and personal obstacle.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Life Post Workplace Abuse: Psychiatric Injury

In my ongoing journey on the path of recovery from workplace abuse, I often look at the birds flying high, seemingly effortlessly and carefree above me.  How I envy them, their ability to fly above the cares of the earth.  To be free from the shackles of such earthly things like trauma, PTSD, etc.

In my previous posting, I wrong about how stuck I felt in 2015 when my soul, my spirit longed to get free of my limitations and move on.

But. My. Body. Wouldn't. Let. Me.

I felt trapped.  In my body.  In my mind.  In my altered abilities.

I was well and truly stuck.

The affects or what I call the "altered abilities" simply weren't going away.

By early 2015, it had been almost four years since the two back to back stress breakdowns which ultimately resulted in these chronic "altered abilities".

A person close to me remarked at that time that it's been four years now (in 2015) intimating that I should be all better by now.

The problem was I felt the same way. 

Why after four years am I still so tired?  So anxious?  So unable to get thoughts out?  To speak at times? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Why after all the counselling, all the resting, all the this and that could I not get completely well?

Why couldn't I simply put the past behind me and move on?

Why? Why?  Why?

Why couldn't I get past what happened in the workplace?  Or rather, the injury created.

And that in reality is the crux of the issue.  Not that I was abused in the workplace.  Not who did or did not do what.

It's the injury which resulted from those four years of escalating abuse.

The psychiatrist I saw took the easy way out and diagnosed me with bi-polar disorder and mixed personality disorder - on the basis of a very short appointment.  I didn't time it but if I had would it have been 15 minutes? 30 minutes?  I know it was not longer than 30 minutes.  Much too short to form an objective diagnosis - in my opinion.

Later on, I did have a much longer assessment with a Psychiatric resident who agreed that both these diagnoses were incorrect and came up with depression.  Which is true - to a degree.  Based on my subsequent research, I'm guessing I have psychiatric injury which is not a mental illness but is an injury: a correlation between cause (workplace abuse) and effect (extreme fatigue, lack of balance, lack of cognitive functions and others).  The accompanying depression would then be reactive depression, again cause and effect.

At one point, the psychiatrist I was relying on to help me through this horrible time indicated that I was "wasting his time" as his job was only "to prescribe medications."

And that is why getting an objective diagnosis was impossible.  In a system where the specialist feels that he is nothing more than a pill pusher, he is not going to be inclined to waste time where he could be billing multiple patients talking and listening to one patient - which a diagnosis of psychiatric injury would require.

So, no I don't have a brain injury related to an accident or even a concussion.  What I have are affects that mirror brain injury in some respects but are caused by severe stress not a blow to the head.

Yet ....

Yet, I often look at a physical situation which people including myself can understand more easily and correlate what applies to my own situation.

In late 2015 I got an insight from a blog I read about a young lady who was literally knocked out of her shoes one day several years back exiting her school bus when she was hit by a recycling truck.  During the critical period when Lydia's life hung in the balance, her parents started a blog, Pray for Lydia, so that people in the community could keep track of her progress, pray for her and encourage her family.  This blog is now irregularly posted as the critical has become the chronic.  Yet, for Lydia and her family recovery/restoration continues on a daily basis.  In this blog, her parents wrote:
Set backs are hard.  We were informed at the start of her recovery, that her progress would not always be upward and onward, but that it would include set backs, as different parts of the brain rewire.  We were prepared for them in our minds, but so unprepared for the length and depth of the hardships they could bring.  Lydia’s trajectory of healing and recovery has changed significantly in the past two years.  Things she could do independently post accident, she can no longer do.  Some days, she cannot memorize, or communicate succinctly, keep a train of thought, or handle commotion and stimuli.  She is often anxious and unsettled.  She suffers, and we are at a loss to relieve her pain.   So often in the past couple of years, it has felt like the tires spin, but there is no traction.  (emphasis mine)

It was reading this that I had an "ah ha" moment.  A moment of clarity.  While Lydia has a traumatic brauin injury caused by this horrific accident and I have psychological injury caused by stress, there are correlations that can be made on the journey to recovery.

This posting helped me to understand why things I could do in the earlier phases of the injury/recovery process are more difficult if not impossible at times now.

I too was experiencing anxiety on levels I hadn't previously.  My startle reaction was in high gear. I couldn't remember things or memorize things.  And the list goes on.

It felt like my progress on the road to recovery was stalled.

This posting from Lydia's parents reminded me in ways that I would not have realized otherwise that recovery with brain things is not always straight forward.

It's complicated.

It's frustrating.

The person recovering from traumatic brain injury like Lydia suffers.  As does the less visible person with psychological injury.

And the people around us suffer as well.


I will stop here today.  As I continue on my own journey of recovery post workplace abuse, I wonder where I go next on this journey.  Will I break free of the bonds and boundaries that surround me?  Or will I stay stuck?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

On the Road to Recovery: Trying Something New

Last month I did something new. 

Not exactly exciting but new – to me.  

More like frightening to be sure.  Way outside of my comfort zone.  Way outside of my little safe place.  The room where I live probably 80-90% of my waking life.  The room where I write, where I knit, where I watch DVDs.  Where my life is safe.  Predictable. Where I am in control.

I started writing this blog posting in a small cafĂ© in my hometown.  I was sitting in a room in a small cafe with other writers who are writing.  Some chatting, but mostly writing.  Most strangers to each other.

My first meet up meeting ever.

The first meeting for this writers meet up.

All of us were getting our feet wet so to speak.  All of us united together to find a place to write. A few hours without other distractions or disruptions.

For me, the motivation was multiple:  (a) to start writing again; (b) to write without the seductive siren call of the yarn (as mentioned before I can't knit and write at the same time.  Ironically, I wanted to bring my current knitting project with me. That's how hooked I am on creating with my hands); and (c) to start going into the outside world again, to socialize with others.  To socialize with others with whom I (hopefully) have something in common.  In this case writing.

It went well.  Our gathering spot is a local cafe which has a side room with a long table.  Some of us met in this room which proved to be a quiet spot; some met in the main room where there was more noise and activity.

Me ... I found a quiet corner in the side room.

I wasn't ready emotionally to meet people, to fraternize, to socialize, to talk.  I just wanted to be there, to write, to observe.

I just wanted to dip my little toes into the waters of the outside world and see how they reacted.

First I was scared.  Okay, terrified is a better word.  I was going to back out but I told one friend and that one friend encouraged me to go.  She said: "If you don't go, you'll always wonder what you missed."  She was right about that.  What she didn't realize was that if I didn't go to the first ever meeting, I would probably never go.  I would remain scared.  I would prefer to stay in my safe world.  My safe room.

So I got up and went.

Originally, I was frustrated.  As in really frustrated.  I couldn't get on the net.  So yes, I could write using Word but I couldn't write on the net, directly onto my blog - which is what I wanted to do.  Having my laptop with me, I didn't bring pen and paper so the old fashioned way was out.  That was another frustration.

On top of the above, people scare me.  Okay, scare is another understatement.  After my experience in the workplace, people terrify me.  I didn't understand then what people were capable of and I definitely don't want to repeat the experience.

So right away, I had two strong emotions vying for my attention: terror and frustration.  Not a good combo.

But I stayed.

Eventually, I settled down enough to find another way.  To write on Word and then upload what I wanted to onto my computer at home.  It worked.

I got home and had a headache for the next few days.  But mixed with the physical pain, probably caused by the stress of going out on my own, was another feeling:  pride.  I had faced one of my demons, starred it down and had survived.

I. Had. Done. This.

And if I had done this, this one small thing, I know I can do more.  Little by little.  Step by step.  Piece by piece.

I haven't written since that afternoon in that little cafe, yet I think I made real progress on the road to recovery that day.

I. Went. Out.

I. Left. My.  House.

I voluntarily walked into a situation that was scary and stayed.

Today is again the third Thursday in the month.  The day designated for the writers meet up.

Today, I am here again in this quiet room at this big table with other writers. We're a very quiet group.  Yet, there is comfort in quietness.  There is safety in quietness.

It's not so scary at all.