Insomnia, Part Ninety Bajillion Thousand and Four

Substitute baby elephant videos for cat videos, and I have lived this exactly.  I’m watching it now, at 2:50 a.m., because of course I can’t sleep.  I was asleep. I woke up at 12:21 and now I can’t nod back off.

My hips hurt.  I’m not old enough to have arthritis like this. Well, apparently I am, since I have it. Oh yes, I have to remember to get more Tylenol. I should start a list. I don’t want to get up because that’ll wake me up more. I can remember Tylenol without writing it down.

Baby elephant videos! Now I want to go to Africa. I should have done that years ago, finished college then and joined the Peace Corps. I could have gone to Africa. Maybe I still can. No, the Peace Corps isn’t going to take an arthritic, insomniac 50-something and send her to a third-world country. Not without a gazillion waivers about the lack of modern medicine.  But Africa has elephants! Africa has shamans too. Maybe a shaman could help me sleep. Couldn’t hurt.

I could just go to Africa on my own. But that would cost a lot of money. I don’t have a lot of money.

Relax about money, willya?  Aren’t you always all right?  Your financial aid will be there right after the quarter starts.  Our Congress of baboons hasn’t shut down the government like they did last year. You already got your award letter. The money’s just waiting for you. Relax. Things always work out. But what if it doesn’t this time? It will.

It’s hilarious that a group of baboons is called a congress. My favorite is a murmuration of starlings. I would like to see a real-life murmuration of starlings. Do we have starlings up here in Seattle?

I miss meadowlarks.

I still want to get a bird feeder. I keep forgetting to get a bird feeder.

Aaarrggh, so tired! If I don’t get some sleep, I’m going to die.

I wonder what happens when I die?  I guess I’ll find out when it happens, and am I really so impatient to know this?  What if there really isn’t an afterlife? What if we humans cling to the notion of an afterlife simply because we’re so egotistical as to refuse to accept the possibility of our just not being? I’ll guess I’ll find out when it happens.  But what if it’s nothing? Then I won’t know.  I won’t exist to know.

Now I want to turn on all the lights and crawl under the bed, except I wouldn’t fit under there even if I were still skinny, which I’m not. And there are probably spiders.

Great.  I’m trying to sleep in a bed that has spiders lurking under it.

If I fall asleep now I can get 3 hours.

I bet I could go to sleep if I read a boring book.  I don’t have any boring books. I don’t keep boring books on principle.  Now I wish I hadn’t returned Anna Karenina to the library. Not to bash on you Anna, but your book was kind of a slog. I’m rereading Catcher in the Rye now but that won’t put me to sleep. I like Holden Caulfield. He’ll just keep me awake.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who can honestly say they’ve read War and Peace. Maybe I should get a copy for nights like this. Twofer: eventually get some sleep, and eventually be able to say I’ve read War and Peace.

I wish that tranquilizer would kick in. Sometimes they don’t. If I get back to sleep in the next 40 minutes I can get in one complete 90-minute sleep cycle and hopefully not wake up feeling like I’m hungover. That means I have to turn the computer off.

Pretend you’re on a train. You always feel rested when you sleep on a train, even if it’s just dozing, even if you nod off while sitting up, getting kinks in your neck. You’re so insulated, speeding through the world but not of it, because the world is flying by and you’re sitting snug in the blanket you always take, safe with the night on the other side of the window, out there, where it can’t touch you…

Yes, I Do Rock

I smoked my last cigarette two years ago today.


[break for applause]


1.  Yes, I still miss it.


2.  No, I’m not happy to be rid of my smoker’s cough.  That’s because I didn’t have a smoker’s cough before I quit, but I have one now.  I’m told it’s because the cilia something-or-other thingies in my lungs, or maybe it’s my bronchial passages, I can’t remember which and I’m too lazy to look it up, are healing.  I was also told this healing cough would last six months tops, but two years later, I’m hacking away like a three-pack-a-dayer.  I believe that belongs in the negative accomplishment column.


3.  Yes, I miss it.  I’m walking down the street and I catch somebody’s smoke and I’m all, gaaaaaaahhhh, please let me stand next to you!  I am one of those weirdos who likes the smell of fresh cigarette smoke.


4.  I have not been able to take a month on a yacht touring the Mediterranean with the money I used to spend on cigarettes.  Somebody owes me, because I had a lot riding on that.

This is what I look like not smoking on a yacht.  See?  Righteous.

5.  OK, I’ll admit I don’t miss it when I’m enjoying a play or a concert and I’m no longer one of the poor addicts outside freezing my butt off for a butt and missing what turns out to be the best part of the show.

6.  It’s true what they say (whoever “they” are, although I seem to be one of them right now) that unless a smoker really wants to quit, she won’t quit.  I tried to quit I don’t know how many times before I finally succeeded.  Those other times were because I wanted that anti-smoking guy to ask me out (who wasn’t worth the effort I went to picking out what to wear), or because my parents disapproved (even though said disapproval was one of the reasons I took up cigarettes in the first place), or because public service announcements were making me feel guilty (but not much – who really listens to those things?).  Those things don’t cut to the bone like just being over it does. You can gasp and wheeze and nag and lecture and show nasty pictures of diseased lungs all you want to.  A smoker is not going to become a non-smoker until that’s what she wants to be, plain and simple.


7.  I especially miss it when I have to buy clothes and am reminded how much weight I gained after quitting.  I really should have done this when I was younger and could lose ten pounds just by not eating Snickers for two weeks.

8. Now I have this weight to get rid of.  I miss Snickers, too.


9.  I don’t miss being owned by Corporate America, because I’m all about not being owned by Corporate America or Madison Avenue or pop culture hype.  So there, Big Tobacco!  I’ll see your billions of dollars in advertising and your added addictive poisons, and I’ll raise you gritty tobacco grains in the bottoms of all my handbags and always running out of cigs in the middle of the night! Read ‘em and weep!  I win!

10. I miss breathing fire when I was angry.


11. I used to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee.  Now I don’t smoke and I drink tea.  I don’t care if it’s better for me.  I like the tea all right, and I have my little tea ritual, nothing like a full-on Japanese ceremony so don’t get impressed,  but it’s not the same. Black coffee and cigarettes: one of the most satisfying clichés ever.


Charcoal sketch by KellyNGin, deviantART. Used under Creative Commons license.


12.  Dream Girl just peeked at what I’m writing and high-fived me.  Now I remember.

13.  I was so happy the Christmas I was able to give my kids what they’d wanted  – for me to quit smoking.

Why, no.  I don’t miss cigarettes at all.  And yes, I’d love a cup of tea.

I Never Thought I’d Miss Scorpions

I am supposed to be writing a poem right now, and that poem is not supposed to be about spiders.  I intended to start writing it a lot earlier.  Like, yesterday, but I kept finding other things to do until it was after midnight.  Then this morning I slept in, which I am almost never able to do.  Then I felt guilty and knew I had to get writing it as soon as I had my coffee, as this particular poem has reached the level of lurking in my head and it’s making me cranky.  Then I decided I didn’t want to think that closely about the issues that make me want to write the villanelle, so I decided I should go for a walk.  That got me feeling all noble because if there’s one thing I don’t like simply for its own sake, it’s exercise.  Then I was so hot I had to sit in front of the fan, which is by the computer, so I decided I might as well upload the pictures off my camera, and while I was online I might as well poke around iTunes, and look at pictures of Moscow estates because I am reading Anna Karenina, and watch that one baby elephant video that always reassures me all is well with the world, and you know how it is.

I never did think it would be possible to miss scorpions, but I do.  That’s because up here in the Pacific Northwest you have some nasty-ass spiders.

Just to be clear, yes, this is what I kind of miss:

Awww, look at that face. Photo:  Angus McNab, Flickr Photo Sharing.

Mind you, the first time I ever saw one of these, it was in my bed.  Even that trauma cannot make me think PNW spiders are any improvement. Besides, the scorpions in Nevada are big enough you can pretty much hear them coming.

The spiders up here don’t even lurk all that much.  Oh, no.  They are not hiding-in-dark-corners colors so much as they are bright red or bilious green.  They’re right out there in the open.  I’m out for my walk, tripping along, feeling healthier and more virtuous with every step, approaching a lovely bower-like arrangement over the sidewalk and thinking, oh how pretty, Nature made a shady leafy arch for me to walked under and then – BAM!  Out of the corner of my eye I see it, crouched greedily in its web that is cleverly spanned across my path, ready to pounce.  Aauuggh!  I’m doing that oh-my-god-is-it-on-me dance on the sidewalk, and I can hear all the passing drivers laughing at me.  Okay, I can’t actually hear them, but they must be laughing. I would be.

A clearer picture would have required getting within 3 feet of it.  Frankly, it wasn’t worth my life.

I have learned that is their favorite kind of place to hang out.  They spin webs between street signs and tree branches, between the hand rails on staircases, between the eave and the porch railing.  Don’t give me that “They’re more scared of you than you are of them.”  If that were true they wouldn’t be all up in my face and trying so hard to get on me.  They’re not trying to catch bugs, either.  The bugs are in proper bug places, like on the floor and under rocks.  These spiders are trying to catch people.  They are pretty small as spiders go but they seem to think they are Shelob, and I’m not willingly getting into it with anything that has that level of chutzpah.

The morning after arriving at our new home in Washington, my husband told me how I was asleep on the mattress on the floor and a huge spider, the size of his hand at least, was marching across the floor right toward my head, but he killed it.  I’m sure he wanted me to recognize his spider killing bravery and laud him as my hero.  All I could think was – really, you had to tell me that?

Many years ago, back in Nevada, a black widow was on the curtain right above my baby son’s head. Mother reflex kicked in and I killed that bitch with my bare hand.  Before that I wouldn’t even kill spiders with a broom because everybody knows they can run right up the broomstick and bite your arm off at the shoulder, and I’m not stupid.  Well, not usually.  In a fit of temporary stupidity that lasted for several years I continued to kill my own spiders until said baby son was big enough to be the manly spider killer for me.  Then I reverted to common sense and stopped getting that close to something that is so inherently lethal.

Because these creatures are lethal.  I don’t know if they’re poisonous, but they don’t have to be.  All they have to do is scare the spit out of you on the stairs, so you fall and break your neck.  They only put webs there so you can see them out of the corner of your eye at the very last minute, out of some warped spider sense of fair play.

I have now put off the villanelle as long as I can for today.  Perhaps feeling invisible spiders crawling on me will serve as additional inspiration.

Smoke From Fires Past

This morning my husband went with me for my favorite walk near the train station and ferry terminal, down by the beach.  I look out at the Sound on one hand and daydream, and I look at the beautiful homes on the other hand, and daydream.

Today, it was noticeably smoky.  To listen to the news, half the state of Washington is on fire.  This is a regular occurrence in a region with so much wilderness.

When I was a little girl visiting my parents in Carson City, Nevada, smoke would often creep over the hills behind the house from various fires in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or even farther away, in Yosemite or Mammoth Lake.  The grownups would talk about the pristine beauty destroyed, the careless way the fires were started, homes lost.  It was the reference to homes lost that frightened me.  The grownups discussed these things calmly, but I lay in my bed at night wide awake, with panic fluttering in my chest. No one knew to comfort or reassure me because I never said anything about it. Nobody else seemed scared and I figured I shouldn’t be scared either, but I was.
When I was a bit older we moved to a small town in Nevada, to a home smack in the middle of nowhere, populated (it seemed to me) mostly by jackrabbits and sagebrush and scorpions.  People regularly burned excess brush and weeds from their property, which wasn’t a problem until they chose too windy a day or weren’t paying close enough attention.  Twice we had to vacate the house at the last minute when neighbors’ burns got out of control, and a third time when another brush fire edged too close.  I remember the tense grimness of my mother’s expression as she gathered photo albums and ushered children into the car.  My father hosed down our roof before turning to help the volunteer fire department.  All three times we were able to return home within a few hours.  I would watch the smoke out the passenger window as we drove away, electricity running through my veins.  I wouldn’t be able to sleep for weeks after one of those mini-evacuations.
I don’t know where that childhood fear came from, but I no longer feel that edgy fear at the sight or scent of smoke in the air that I used to.  Still, I cannot imagine what it must be like to have to choose which of your possessions are the most valuable in a matter of minutes.  I can’t imagine literally fleeing for my life.  I don’t consider myself materialistic but I do have a few possessions I consider treasures.  The digital age has made some things easier, since my photos and journals and other written ramblings are all stored on the Cloud.  I don’t own much that isn’t easily replaceable, but I can only imagine how cavernously empty it must be, to have all those tangibles of home, the layers of the years, reduced to hot cinders.  In spite of the unexplained childhood fear, I think it must be easier for the children.  Grown-ups build homes one brick and framed photo and hand-me-down vase at a time.  I think it is easier for children to be at home anywhere they are safe with those who take care of them.
I’m sending out wishes for rain, and for safety for all in the path of this season’s infernos.



Because My TBR List Isn’t Quite Long Enough

What is your top choice for a “classic” novel that everyone should read, and why?
There is a lot of literature considered classic that I have, and have not, read.  There are a lot of different lists of classic books out there, which differ because there are also several different definitions of what classic literature is.  Some lists contain mostly books written more than 100 years ago, and seem to be focused more on the authors (Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare) than on the books themselves.  Other lists contain older favorites as well as Pulitzer Prize winners and cult favorites from a few years back.  The Miriam Webster online dictionary defines the adjective classic as “used to say that something has come to be considered one of the best of its kind; that something is an example of excellence; that it has been popular for a long time.”   Going deeper, it’s also claimed that a classic has to have universal appeal, has to stand the test of time (thereby eliminating anything written recently), has to be of notable artistic quality, and has to make an insightful remark upon the human condition.

Jon Sullivan. Public Domain.

Last night I started Brave New World, and a few minutes ago I downloaded Anna Karenina.  Yes, I know, it’s sad that I haven’t read either of those books yet, but there you have it.  The Gutenberg Project is my favorite website for literature that’s in the public domain.
I’m looking to add to my already endless TBR list with what you consider the best of the best, whether it’s “officially” a classic or not.  If you were to recommend a “classic” classic to a young reader, what would it be?  (I’m torn between Pride and Prejudice and anything Sherlock Holmes.)  What do you consider to be the best of the more modern classics?  (My nomination is To Kill a Mockingbird.)  What’s your favorite comfort book, the one you know almost by heart and can read over and over?  (Mine is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler.)

Working for Cersei Lannister (Or, I Escaped Workplace Bullying With My Head Still Attached and You Can Too)

***UPDATE

I had a hard time writing this piece.  It’s not the tightest piece of writing I’ve ever done, and I’m not sure I can ever make it that way.  It’s the story of an extremely painful period in my life.  I am probably too close to it to ever write about it academically.  That’s okay.

As I read back through it, I see I didn’t get deeply enough into the pain and desolation workplace bullying causes.  The constant demeaning and belittling chip away at you until you feel like you have nothing left, until you feel like you are nothing.  It isolates you from everyone around you.  In those aspects it’s not very different from an abusive personal relationship.  A big part of my self-identity has always been my professionalism, my skill, my competence.  I have always worked hard to excel at whatever my job is, and I’m proud to say that I have always succeeded at that (with the exception of waitressing, which taught me a whole new respect for food servers).  I’ve always been a stellar employee and my bosses have always loved me to death.  My time as a bullying target devastated me to the core.  Being treated like an idiot, an incompetent, a hopeless loser, undermined everything I knew about my ability to earn a living and support my family, and it served to take my entire career away from me.  I understand completely how people snap and harm themselves or go on murderous rampages.  I daydreamed about it, and that scared the shit out of me more than any other facet of it did.  It took more than a year of counseling with a wonderful therapist who specializes in recovery from abuse for me to get past the worst of the injury.

I knew this piece wasn’t ready when I clicked “publish,” but I felt compelled to get it out there.  It was gnawing and nagging at me.  Maybe there was someone out there who was in that dark place who needed to read my words on that very day.  I may never know, and that’s okay.  Maybe it’s a continuation of my recovery, to own my story and to share it.  That works for me.  Maybe a bully needed to stumble across it and be confronted with a mirror. Given what I understand about the narcissism that drives bullies, that’s doubtful, but one can always hope.  Maybe I’m imagining these deep explanations and I really just wanted to be done with it.  That’s okay too.

If you are in a situation like mine, you know of what I speak.  If you’ve never experienced it, you may not be able to understand, and that’s okay.  I appreciate that you’re trying.
Thanks for reading. 🙂

***


It’s embarrassing to even talk about workplace bullying.  Strong, smart, independent adults don’t get bullied, right?  Wrong.


First – the fact that you’ve been bullied at work is not your fault.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that you asked for it, or that you have a big “Kick Me” sign taped to your back, or that you’re incompetent.  In fact, you’re probably extremely competent.

Second – bullying in the workplace is a lot more commonplace than people think.  People who haven’t experienced it personally have at least witnessed it, more likely than not.

Third – have I mentioned that it’s not your fault?

Workplace bullying has a dynamic very similar to that of an abusive marriage or relationship, and the injury is much the same as well.

Not. Even. Funny.

Workplace bullying – or “professional personality clashes” or “office aggression” as it is euphemistically called – happens to roughly 35 to 50% of the workforce.  I saw one statistic that said 80% of us have been involved in workplace abuse, as targets or witnesses.  This number includes both men and women in roughly equal parts.  The majority of workplace bullies are women.  The majority of workplace bullies are bosses. The majority of targets are highly competent and excel at their jobs when left in peace to do so.

If you think you’re not paying the price for workplace bullying just because you’re not directly involved, think again.  It is estimated that workplace bullying costs business and industry roughly $250 million every year.  When workers are bullied, businesses lose through poor employee performance, sick leave, firings, resignations, retraining, and being on the wrong end of a lawsuit.  Businesses aren’t going to be the nice guy and eat those costs.  They pass them on to you the consumer, in higher prices, and they pass them on to you the employee, in lower pay and higher health insurance premiums.

But the toll I’m here to talk about is the personal one.  It’s the toll every target has felt, and it’s the toll none of should be willing to let a fellow human being be weighed with, not if we believe we live in a civilized society.  Targets have lost everything from their self-esteem to their health, careers, children, marriages, retirement funds, and even their lives.  When more than half of us will deal with such poison at some time in our careers, we have to decide that it is unacceptable and call it out when we see it.

I moved from Nevada, my home state of more than 40 years, to embark on what promised to be a new life and a wonderful new career with a high-end law firm in Seattle.  You know what they say about promises.  I unpacked the moving van, ironed my first-day-to-work skirt, and stepped out of the elevator and into a nightmare.

Oh, my new boss was wonderful at first.  She was downright chirpy, thrilled with my skills and experience, waxing glorious about how from now on they would go to my home state to find competent staff.  In hindsight, that should have been a warning right there.  She was behaving exactly as abusive spouses do:  in love at first blush until they’ve “got” you, and then their true selves come out of hiding when they believe you are well and truly snared.

The first couple of weeks were pretty good.  There was an immediate glitch when she realized I didn’t have the intricate knowledge of one software program that she had assumed I had.  She had never asked, and I had never thought to mention it.  Who lists what they can’t do on a resume?  We agreed that it wouldn’t be a problem.  We were both sure that I’d pick it up quickly.  (After I moved on to an environment where I was able to think straight, I did indeed pick it up quickly.)  But then other things started to be wrong.  She’d have little snippy moods.  She made critical remarks that stung, until I convinced myself I was overstressed and taking them the wrong way.  I started having trouble sleeping.  I was suffering from culture shock, moving to a posh big-city office from a hometown law practice in a rural area with five stoplights.  Where I’d come from the tallest building was the three-story Holiday Inn; here I got vertigo merely looking up at the skyscrapers.  It was a huge adjustment for me.  But Seattle is a beautiful city and I was excited to be here, eager to get settled in and find my groove.

My own little movie: Horror in the Highrise.

I couldn’t seem to find that groove, though.  No matter how hard I tried, things got worse.  For every thing I mastered to my boss’ specifications, it seemed there were two others I did wrong.  I lived the 50-50-90 rule in that office, the rule that says if you have a 50-50 chance of choosing the right way to do something, there is a 90% probability you will chose wrong.  I got a withering glance that clearly said I was an idiot when I was figuring out the city’s system of buses and trains.  (I have never ended up at the wrong place or been late for an appointment.) I was given pointless, busywork tasks designed to humiliate and punish me for making an error.  “What exactly did you do at your other jobs?” she snotted at me once, when I had one too few spaces for a paragraph indent.  One space. When I overlooked sending the client a copy of some correspondence, I was shouted at.  A bookkeeper came in once a week, one of those whose perfume announces her arrival five minutes beforehand, and it made me terribly sick.  To allay the situation I suggested taking my lunch early on those days, and got eyes rolled at me in reply.  Rolling eyes was the standard response when I volunteered anything or offered input.


My insomnia worsened horribly.  More days than not I went to work with only an hour or two of sleep, if I hadn’t been up all night.  It came as no surprise when PTSD reactivated and I began suffering crippling panic attacks.  Desperate to feel better so I could work better, I saw a medical doctor for anti-anxiety medications and something to help me sleep, and saw a psychologist to brush up my coping techniques.  Both of them, independently, diagnosed that my main problem was working in a toxic situation for an abusive woman.  (I burst into tears while talking to the medical doctor, and when he asked why all I could blubber was, “Because you’re being nice to me.”) Still, just as in the abusive marriage I survived, part of me was convinced I could overcome, that I could be the stellar employee I was expected to be and that I was used to being.

It wasn’t just work I had to adjust to.  I was trying to help Dream Girl adjust to a new school, to learn my way around my neighborhood, to figure out train and bus schedules, to rent my house out long-distance, to not reach for the cigarettes I’d successfully dumped, to finish unpacking, to sleep, to stay one step ahead of the cockroaches – not to mention the rats that came later, in the awful apartment we’d rented sight unseen, long distance.  My husband somehow managed to find us a nice new place in the midst of my 2 a.m.sobbing about vermin and bitch bosses.  Otherwise helpless in the face of my newfound hell, that was the only thing he knew to do to help me.  I was miserable, and all I could think was to keep trying, stick it out, it will get better.  I desperately hoped that moving to a nicer apartment with quieter neighbors would help me to sleep, at least.

It did not get better.  I have previously equated the dynamic of an abusive working relationship to the dynamic of an abusive marriage, and I stand by that.  I was never at work without tissues and mascara in my pocket, because it was a pretty sure thing I’d end up locking myself in a bathroom stall and crying my eye makeup off.  I began to gaze yearningly at the balcony windows of the nicer offices in the suite, thinking idly that stepping off the ledge would stop all of my problems.  I’ve mentioned before that bullying has cost people their lives, and I’m not making that up.  People have been driven to suicide, seeing no other way out.  I was thinking about it constantly.  Then came that Tuesday when I once again locked myself in a bathroom stall and called a crisis line, sobbing hysterically.  Later that afternoon, after yet another snippy interlude with my boss, I blurted out to a friendly co-worker in the office suite, “Has anyone ever been fired from here?”  My fellow employee told me sympathetically that some did, although most people quit because of my boss’ “moods,” and told me that was why my predecessor had really left.

The Seventh Level of Hell sure had a beautiful view, though.

And that’s when it clicked.  Anyone who has escaped and survived an abusive relationship will know that clickI’m talking about.  It’s that moment when the sun breaks through the clouds and the light bathes you and you know, really know, that it’s never going to change, because the situation is exactly how the person in control wants it.


That’s when I remembered the payroll records I’d seen for three assistants before me in an eight-month period.  (I wasn’t snooping. I had to skim them in order to file them away.)  That’s when I realized how patently ridiculous was the story my boss had given about why the assistant before me left the job.  And that’s when I realized the big thing:  I was not the problem.

I also realized that no matter what it did to me financially, the best thing I could do for myself and my family was to get out.  That afternoon I left work and had a cup of tea where I could use the phone privately. I left rejuvenated, with an appointment to meet with a professional recruiter the following week.

Thursday came and with it She Who Marinates In Perfume.  She and my boss were both standing in my work space and I was already sick from the fumes when I was asked to find a particular bank statement out of a disordered stack 3 inches thick. My eyes watering and my head pounding, it took me two tries to find it.  My boss and SWMIP exchanged snarky comments about me above my head.  When I found the statement the boss gave an exaggerated sigh, rolled her eyes, and snatched it out of my hand.  When she fired me the next day, one of the reasons she gave, in a condescending tone, was that I “obviously lacked the skills to read a bank statement.” (Another employee there told me she was fired partly because they didn’t like the way she put stamps on envelopes.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

But here’s the important part, the part I had to repeat over and over to myself so I’d get it, and the part that you need to understand too:  The important part is:  It doesn’t matter if I had the skills or not.  It doesn’t matter if my health issues did not deserve consideration.  It doesn’t matter if I made mistakes or not.  Even if I was not picking up skills, even if I had health issues that didn’t merit accommodation, even if I was making mistakes I shouldn’t have, at the end of the day, it’s a matter of human decency.  Nobody deserves to be treated like I was treated.

Let’s repeat that.

Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

You don’t deserve it either.

Why do so many of us fall for this?  Why do so many of us believe we somehow deserve what we’re getting?  I have a theory and I’m pretty sure it’s correct.  Remember those self-help books that talk about the psychological concepts of power-over as opposed to power-with?  I think those are the dynamics at play in the bullying drama.  We, the targets, believe that the bully is coming from the same place we are.  We believe that we all want a productive workforce and happy employees who work together well for the best interest of the company and its clients.  Taking that view, if our coworker is seeing such a problem with us, then they must be right.  Right? They’re just trying to help us be the best we can be.  It’s not until who knows how long later, when we have that click moment, that we realize the bullies aren’t seeing anything from a power-with point of view.  The bullies are all about power-over.  They cannot care less about the client’s satisfaction or the company’s bottom line.  Bullies aren’t out to help us to do our jobs better.  A bully wants power and control, plain and simple, and her go-to source is you.  When she knocks her target down, she’s stolen power.  When she can keep her target down, she’s drunk with it.

Can we change bullies?  The answers vary.  I’m no psychologist, and opinions differ among psychologists.  I personally think that we should never accept bullying, but it’s easy for me to say that after I’ve come out the other side.  It’s not so simple when you’re too deep in something to even think straight, needing to feed your family and without a financial cushion to fall back on.  I also think we need a lot more legal safeguards in place, to make it easier for targets to press a grievance and take it to the judicial level if necessary.  The way things are now, bullying almost has to have a provable element of racial, gender, or sexual harassment, or blatant threats of violence, for a grievance or lawsuit to be successful.  That has to change.

My story ends happily.  I was fired the day before I moved to my new apartment. I balanced the box with my few office possession on my lap as I rode the train home, numb.  Back home in Armpit Arms (as we’d dubbed it) I packed and I cried, in a surreal state of combined relief and terror.  Thank all the powers that be, that I didn’t have to go in to that hellhole on Monday! How on earth was I going to feed my family, pay for the movers arriving bright and early? But I’m free! But…the bills the bills the bills! Keep packing, keep crying. The next day we accomplished the move. After a long day I collapsed onto the mattress surrounded by boxes in the middle of the bedroom floor, exhausted and aching and unemployed and too tired to care.  I slept the sleep of the redeemed, for sixteen hours.

My nightmare was over. It didn’t matter what job I found next.  It didn’t matter if I had to hustle washing windshields at stoplights; I was out of that awful place. Anything, literally anything, was going to be better than what I had just been through.

As it turned out, I had no trouble at all explaining my situation to my recruiter. Apparently my former boss has something of a reputation, and workplace bullying is getting more attention now. Firing me was the best thing that horrid woman did for me. I have skills and competence that were easy to market. I do a great job and I am a valued employee again. My boss told me so just yesterday.

My story is only one anecdote, but a lot of anecdotes add up.  I hope you will read at least a couple of the same books I did, listed at the end of this post. These authors provided me a rough idea of the statistics I included above (if the numbers are wrong, it’s my mistake), and they are well worth the read.  Of great value is the website of Gary and Ruth Namie, which you can find here.  A lot of my information came from my wonderful therapist, who specializes in treating targets of bullying and other abuse.

It does get better.  You’ve made it this far.  You deserve a happy ending.

Go get it.

Recommended Reading:

The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton
The Bully at Work, by Gary Namie, Ph.D. and Ruth Namie, Ph.D.
The Complete Guide to Understanding, Controlling, and Stopping Bullies & Bullying at Work, by Margaret R. Kohut
Help Within Reach by Pamela Raphael, M.A.

Everyone Else is Doing It, So I Will Too


Someone said, or more like, several someones have said, if you want to be a writer, then write.  That’s what writers do.
Hmm.

For pondering, I find feet are better than belly buttons.

I am a six-time NaNoWriMo winner and I love the frenzy of it, but I haven’t gone too far into the editing process because – editing, yuck.  (Although I’m great at editing other people’s stuff.  I guess that’s the faultfinder in me.)  I’ve written pieces on various aspects of Goddess spirituality, the world and the Universe around us, but I haven’t done all that much with it.  I’ve doodled some poetry and haven’t done anything at all with that.  I’m a dreamaholic, in love with dreaming and dream analysis.  There are various things about which I like to rant and rave.  I’ve written some academic essays and research papers that got A’s and good peer reviews in my classes.  I also love to read, and I read a lot, and I’ll be happy to tell you what I think about what I read.  Actually, I’m happy to tell you what I think about pretty much anything.
It’s all writing.  It’s all writing that I enjoy, about things I like learning and thinking about.  I figure a blog of my own is a place to put it all together and let it out into the Big Bad World, kind of like walking your child up to the classroom on the first day of school.  You love it, you want to keep it close to you and safe, but you know that at some point you have to let it see the light of day and go out on its own.
It’s new to the world.  Please be kind to it.