TW: workplace harassment, anxiety, ptsd, exposure therapy, rape survival
That last post was not the one I was meant to write. I meant to put all that off until Monday, and take the weekend to myself, and self-care and be strong and handle everything well. Obviously, that hasn’t happened.
One of the things that was asked of me in the appointment was about exposure therapy. It’s pretty much the only thing that’s definitively known to work, and it’s highly specific, because it involves being exposed to something triggering and/or the exact trauma, and dealing with it, in order to re-learn that it’s safe. It worked the first time I was raped, and I kind of instituted it myself – I had to live in the room where it happened, I had to see people who were involved, I had to go to places where he was. I didn’t get over it, but I coped until I no longer had to do those things. Now I can go into the mall, but it’s a crapshoot as to whether I’ll be assaulted for how I look, so that bugs me more than the prospect of running into him, which I did every week for two years as I cut through to class from the bus stop, no matter what route I took.
Specifically, he wanted to know if I did it in the office or if I was given tasks to do outside the office. The idea that I do it outside the office was a bit weird to him, because most times it’s done in the office because that’s a controlled environment.
The thing is, with being assaulted because of how I look, and being treated the way I am because of my condition, it’s not meant to be a thing I get used to, and exposure therapy is very limited, because it’s supposed to register as Not Okay that someone comes up to me while I’m sitting on a bench, texting my mum to say I bought her a thing, and they pat my clothes and tell me they had to interrupt me to tell me how good I look. If I ignore them, they’re meant to take that as a sign I don’t want to interact, not assume I’m deaf and forcefully make me look at them to lip read. That particular lady then got hit by a bicycle. I’m assuming she learned from that.
But with my condition, things like going outside, dealing with people, that is exposure therapy, because for 18 months the only people I interacted with harassed me. There was the one who trapped me at my desk to tell me that having crystals on my wall was against my religion, the one who would dictate over my shoulder while stroking my back, the one who showed pictures of someone’s mangled genitals around because they were disgusting, and of course, the people I actually worked for, who don’t deserve mentioning. I can’t do that in an office, because it’s the whole concept of having an uncontrolled environment that’s the problem.
The thing that triggered that post was simple. I discovered, I forget how, a website, where a lady takes questions about workplace issues, gives her answer, and then people in the comments go on about how great she is. I frequently disagree with her answers, but it’s only recently I’ve started to comment, because I keep going to it out of some desire to torture myself, and of course, exposure therapy. It makes me upset, and if I am upset because of something else, I can transfer the upset to that. Until now, my comments have been so late they’ve been ignored.
Today, in between being a terrible person because I wondered if the coup in Turkey meant Greece got Konstantinoupoli back, I wandered in to check whether anyone had replied to what I said yesterday, and apparently, I replied early enough to not only get dogpiled, but the lady herself had replied! Some of the commenters literally take her word as something akin to the Gospel, so I’m not sure that I was meant to be upset by what she said, but it was, and I actually cried for like a second.
The topic in question was the use of work email for personal reasons. People apparently think that’s okay. My comment was that in some workplaces I had seen, it was not, and was considered stealing company resources (the fact that it is an extraordinarily low cost aside), and it was common here for personal use to be covered by a social media policy (with some real life examples), and that having such a policy could be a tool to discipline people whose work is affected by an imbalance of personal use, but that I viewed some allowance as a good morale boost/retention strategy. Even commenting on this site triggers a shift in my brain, back to that old not-me, and I’m convinced it’s part of why I’m backsliding, the same way as I immediately felt better once I stopped mainlining Phoenix Wright games, even though those are a vastly different field to mine.
Today, apparently using work resources for personal use is perfectly acceptable, policies are infantilising, and the kicker is that she thinks my perception of workplace norms has been warped because they were weird.
Of course, everyone agreed with her, hence the dogpile. I was like
I responded, because I’m stupid, and pointed out that I’m aware my work history isn’t normal, but in my area, this is not. I gave a bit more detail, an analogy, and deleted a thing about misrepresenting the company as it was long, although I should add that back in. She holds fast that it is not, actually, you know, dodgy to use work resources for personal stuff, and that’s why she thinks it’s not normal.
I’m aware that where I have worked and the environments I have worked in are not normal. This is why I got out even though nobody actually agreed with me until after I got out and they saw the damage and had proof in the form of a successful workers’ comp claim. I don’t need some lady on the internet telling me that it’s normal to send personal emails from a work address with work stationery and that places that don’t let you are bad and that one workplace skewed my perception of normal, or people saying “but it was her first job and she didn’t know better”, because it wasn’t my first job I used in the example, and they’re talking about a workers’ rights organisation, i.e., the people who are like ‘you got fired for being on Facebook at work? no probs, we’ll sue and fix that right up for you for free!’. I’m extremely aware of what normal is.
But having a policy that said “limited personal use, during lunch, no torrenting, no social media” isn’t infantilising. Here it is normal. That’s a pretty standard thing. To say that isn’t normal is basically saying all the other stuff that happened is normal. I flat out stated that I know some of the things I went through are nor normal; this is considered normal, here, in this particular climate, where at-will is not a thing, 457s are overused and undermanaged, casual workers have more security and yet can’t rely on hours, and every position must have a contract. It’s different. Here, it is normal. I drafted a hundred of them. There are other posts on this site, that are like “an employer can do that, it’s not illegal, it might be weird, but it’s allowed”. Why is this thing so abnormal? If it was pens and paper, and someone took a pen and a ream of paper home every week, that would be theft, right? Or putting personal mail through the franking machine? Small, but not right.
By saying that is the abnormal thing about everything I’ve been through? That hurt me.
I’m terrified about speaking up for myself because if I said “hey, this thing wasn’t done on time because I wasn’t told to do it and when I asked about it I was told not to do it”, I got told “but you should have known to do it anyway”. I complained about being dragged into an office for three hours to have everything explained to me because I said that receiving instructions in text speak was Not Okay, and I got told that “it’s the only way I can make you understand things”. I had to stay late, because I lost that time while it was decided what to do, and changed, and every abbreviation was explained to me because she was incapable of writing full words. I couldn’t manage my own workload because I worked for three people and if I was seen doing something for someone else I would get confronted = “Why haven’t you done my work yet? It’s urgent, I just emailed you.” Doesn’t matter that I’m half in a cupboard, doing other urgent work, and the email was sent while she saw me in the cupboard specifically so she could complain that I hadn’t read it yet. I made myself sick and was throwing up, so she followed me to the toilet and told me off for not being at my desk and how she had to follow me to tell me the thing she’d already told me. I never got lunch. I had a panic attack and I was told to get back to work, and when I refused I was given the silent treatment.
Work only realised how bad it was when the partner couldn’t find her on her work from home day – her work from home day was her day off, you see, and of course she couldn’t be found when her client complained. They made her stay at work longer, meaning I had to work longer, because I couldn’t get anything done if she was there, because I had to physically find every document in the files for her, in her personal filing system, where there were four copies of everything because she needed a new file to take to each meeting (this was one of the things I should have known to do, even though she told me she already had the last one and that was fine), because she couldn’t find it, and I would know where it was. I closed the door behind me and she complained that I slammed it and I received a warning for being impersonable. Clients, other people, both internal and external, would call me instead of her, and she encouraged it. The internal people said it was just faster and they didn’t want to deal with her. The external people put up with it, because she would just hand them back and say I could deal with it, never mind that I shouldn’t have been doing so, and chances are they would have called me back to explain it to them anyway. I received blank files and it was expected that I would know to have everything ready for court, because I knew what to do and she didn’t want to give instructions. It was expected that I would spend twenty minutes on the phone screening new clients, because she didn’t like to be surprised and if a client didn’t want to discuss it with me, I got in trouble, because that wasn’t my job. The time I put a call through without asking her first, because it was a new phone system, an urgent call, and she was waiting for it, she gave me a warning because she hadn’t been able to emotionally prepare for the call. Nobody else expected to rock up to work and have the day’s files laid out with a printed timetable on top. She arrived to work early and was annoyed that it wasn’t there, yelling at me in front of everyone, because she was early and I should have magically known to have it there even though I was working solidly through until 8pm the day before and it was one of two times she was in the office before me, so I wasn’t actually, you know, there to update the file with her emails from overnight, and put it on her desk. She wouldn’t check her email for months at a time, so I often received work when it was too late, making everything urgent. (She didn’t know I was off sick for over a week. I got back to over three hundred emails, because she sent me all the work anyway. Meanwhile, I’d been receiving emails at home from the court, because they knew they received an incomplete application, and I hadn’t done it.) When I was given emergency access to her inbox when she was off sick (and then away for no reason for a month with no warning), she got back and stopped giving me instructions because she decided I could just check her email for her and do it all without her being involved. I had to spend an hour every morning fixing accounts, and both the only accounts person who would touch her accounts and I were told off for being social during work time. Then, because she wouldn’t manage her accounts herself, that became my job too, and I had the accounts manager calling me all the time, demanding that I drop everything because a bill hadn’t been paid and to follow it up and answer all her questions right then.
When I had a panic attack that left me unable to move or talk, I was told it was important so get back to work. She gave me the silent treatment, because “I think of you as my daughter, so if you’re going to act like a child I will treat you like one”. Her actual daughter got appendicitis at school, and the school called me instead of her. I had to explain what appendicitis was, how it felt, how it was treated, and whether I thought her daughter was making it up. I wasn’t allowed to say no. Another time I had a panic attack I was forced to go around the office apologising for being disruptive because it was decided it would make me feel better.
Using the work email to be like ‘hey, I won’t be home, can you cook tea?’ or ‘you need to get on a plane, your mum is dying’? That’s downright normal compared to all that.
The two kickers – workload was reassigned. We were meant to have input. I explicitly asked to be moved and to not work with the man who repeatedly wandered out of his office to talk to me and put me down for whatever he felt like, as well as advising me on my career without actally being asked to do that. I was stuck with him on top of what I was already doing, because “it’ll be good for you”. I walked out after a week or two weeks; I can’t remember now, and I stopped journalling because I didn’t have the energy to go through it all a third time, because I had to ring my parents when I got home every day and tell them everything that happened, and if I did not they would ring me and not hang up until I did, and then email me until I picked back up, so I don’t have a reference. What I was already doing was being yelled at for having a panic attack because work was given to me for Monday at 4:30pm on Friday with the statement “it’s okay! You can just do it when she’s not here! You’re just being stupid!”
The only way I got a day off to go to the doctor was because I had booked it months in advance. I hadn’t been able to take a day to go to my surgical followup, and I’d had to go in on my previous two days off, and I’d been told off one of those times for having plans on my day off. I went to the doctor, who sent me to the psychologist, who told me that he would support a workers’ comp claim.
My claim was only accepted when she resigned under mysterious circumstances, and instead of me taking her job as planned, they gave it to someone else, who knew her. Everyone knew her. I imagine the conversation went like this:
“So, we have an outstanding workers’ comp claim, what do you think we should do? We’re due in court next week.”
“Are you kidding me? You have no grounds to contest this. You’re lucky she isn’t suing you in the civil system! Withdraw, now, before this goes public and destroys your reputation.”
I think, anyway. They didn’t even ask me for the keys back, so someone must have told them that the only thing they could do was to leave me alone.
And not being allowed to use company things for personal stuff is the thing that isn’t normal? And you’re giving advice on workplace issues?
What the hell?
It took me a year to re-learn how to dress myself, because that was something that was also policed. “Your neckline is too low. Nobody will like you like that. Your necklace is twisted.”
“Don’t touch me,” I said, and I pushed her away.
“What’s wrong with you?” she said.
I am never going back to work. I know this. You just don’t get over being systemically harassed. No amount of exposure therapy makes that not be a thing that reaches in and pulls it out.
Naturally, there are a bunch of comments that are calling me stupid, what I said stupid, and nobody is going to accept that a thing is not okay, because they want my normal to be just like theirs, and won’t listen to anything else, just saying the same thing over and over. They can’t differentiate an example from being an exclusive solution – citing that a thing worked and in this office here is how it worked = “but we don’t have admins so we can’t do that so it’s bad”. They think my example means I was disciplined for it and are mocking me, when they haven’t even been able to read it properly = “but her grandmother was sick, any decent person would make an exception once or twice”. They all say she, because she is the default there, something about feminist representation. That hurts too.
I have been through a lot of not normal shit. Someone saying “please don’t send personal emails from our work account” isn’t that. At all. Dismissing me by saying that it is? Dismisses my entire experience.
I suspect this is the catalyst for breaking up with the site. It will be a positive change, I think, to not get caught going through links being like “other people had this happen to them to and wait she said it’s okay? At least other people know how it feels. Wait, do not just go apologise to make you feel better, that’s stupid, apologies don’t work like that…” for hours at a time, until the flashbacks are so strong that I can’t see the screen and the air is stale and the lights are bright, the walls are red, and I hear her voice in my head.