Blogger’s Note: The below blog post has been in progress since 2019. As of today, 17 April 2021, I will scheduling it to go live in May 2021 in honor of Mental Awareness Month.
I didn’t realize anything was wrong until the third time I broke down.
I was in the bathroom, dabbing at my eyes with a wet tissue to try to hide the swelling.
I had learnt the trick from walking in on a co-worker crying after she had been passed over for a promotion (for the second time in a month). She had been near hysterical and at that time I didn’t understand why.
(Turns out that she had been with the company for over five years so the disappointment was understandable).
Anyway so there I was teary and sobbing and I thought “this isn’t right”. It was my third breakdown since we restructured and got new managers.
I remember thinking that the amount of time I had spent crying in the bathroom was equal to, if not more than, someone in an abusive relationship.
Except I wasn’t physically abused. No, it was just emotional. But it was destroying me all the same.
That was when it hit me. My beloved workplace, the place I sacrificed everything for, was a toxic environment.
In my mind I played it back. All the arguments, the discrimination, the employees crying in the bathroom.
Would no one do anything about it?
Our managers were awful. Would no one step up?
Turns out that no one did. Within a few months, the new normal was accepted and we went from a company who respected and valued employee satisfaction to one that is only chasing the bottom line.
I was desperate to leave. But no one was hiring. There was an internal vacancy in a different department and I applied. Maybe it would be different in another department?
But then management stepped in and the role that was initially advertised internally was given to someone externally. I was speechless. Sure the rule was that we searched externally if no candidates were found to be successful internally. But I had been eavesdropping on cooler talk and I knew that job was supposed to be mine.
I stuck it out for another two years before I finally got an opportunity. It was in a field that I was interested in and it was a job role that I was interested in a while.
I placed my notice and against my better judgement, served those 30 days cautiously, convinced that management would find some reason to either fire me or worse, keep me forever. I knew the fear was irrational but I couldn’t stop it.
Eventually time came for me to leave. I literally said goodbye and walked out. No big drama. No big farewell speech. I thought that was it. I was wrong.
When I started in my new role, I struggled for the first few months. Not just because it was a completely new field but apparently I had mental wounds that still lingered.
I was too scared to leave my desk (in my previously role we weren’t allowed to). I didn’t even want to take lunch in the canteen downstairs for fear that my manager might need me and I wouldn’t be there. The first few times I asked for permission for stuff (can I drink my tea here? Am I allowed to stick up this photo? I didn’t know I was allowed to keep my phone on me) my coworkers found me funny. But as time went on, they came up with a phase for my experience- Work PTSD,
I hated it but it made sense. For so long, I had worked in an environment where I had not been allowed to do anything, this freedom- especially in a purely administrative role- was a novelty.
One of my issues with my first job is that I didn’t make the effort to learn more about the company and it’s culture. I was not going to make that same mistake again. I made an effort to get to know how things and people worked in this new role and focused on unlearning the new habits that I had from my previous workplace.
It took time and I thought I was fine. Until a friend and I made plans for lunch and I dropped by my old workplace to pick her up. I walked in to Reception and there they were. The UNholy trinity as I had nicknamed them. My former boss, her boss and his boss. Three levels of toxic management who were always seen together laughing and talking or altenatively meeting with staff and making them cry.
Instinctively I felt my shoulders hunch over in an attempt to protect me from their attention. “Please, please don’t see me”, I begged mentally.
Desperate, I turned away and started examining the stack of brochures on the receptionist’s desks, my hunched shoulders to them. Once I heard their laughter died down, I relaxed. The receptionist, who I had known from my time there, offered me a small sympathetic smile.
I waited for my friend to come downstairs and we went out to lunch. But I never made plans to hang out with her again during the workweek. I had felt like I was finally getting better but I couldn’t see them. I was still too fragile for that but maybe one day.