Monday, September 9, 2013

Workplace PTSD

A few incidents this week reminded me of how TERRIBLE a workplace I left, and how incredibly fortunate I have been to find a relatively healthy workplace. I knew that my former job was soul crushing, largely because of an abusive boss. And by abusive, I mean sexist & verbally abusive (threats, intimidation, put-downs). The abuse took a toll on me, both during--and apparently after I left!

Two incidents served to remind me of this during the week:

(1) My boss came into my office with pursed lips after I'd made and fessed up to an error earlier in the day. My thoughts: "This is the end. I'm going to get canned for a minor error, or he's going to tell me that he's reported me to the chief, or that I can't go to my conference any more." Reality: Boss sat down & shared with me that he had applied for another position and wasn't selected, and that he was kind of disappointed.

Like a normal. dang. person. Having a normal conversation.

(2) My boss called me this evening after some shit hit the fan with a case I'm working on. My thoughts: "I must've messed up my documentation. I must've left something incomplete. Something terrible must have happened with the case and he's calling to give me the bad news." Reality: Boss called on his commute home to say that he missed saying goodbye to me and knew that I'd had a really heavy and emotionally trying day, and that he wanted to check in on me & make sure I was okay.

Working for my old employer, I gained over 20 lbs. I felt depressed and hopeless: Living for weekends and then devoid of energy when they finally rolled along because just going to work every day sucked the life out of me. In addition to being constantly sick, I was at the dermatologist 2-3x/monthly to burn off warts that just wouldn't go away. My blood pressure went up 15 points. All of these things have resolved since moving. ALL of them.

But the emotional sequela is going to take a bit longer to clear.

Did you know that workplace PTSD is kind of a thing? It's under the umbrella of workplace bullying. This site has user-friendly descriptions (, and the following really spoke to me:

"Targets are independent. They refuse to be subservient. Bullies seek to enslave targets. When targets take steps to preserve their dignity, their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaigns of hatred and intimidation to wrest control of the target's work from the target. According to the 2007 WBI-Zogby Survey, 45% of targeted individuals suffer stress-related health problems. Additional findings regarding targets' health can be found in WBI research and the PTSD-related research by others posted at this site."

Any time I stood up for myself, I was smacked down. My requests to be treated like a human being were never outlandish, but on several occasions were met with open laughter during staff meetings, where my boss would proceed to spread himself out in a power-position and mock me.

I wish I was kidding. I wish I would've written about this sooner, because it feels GOOD. Honestly, I was afraid to. I was afraid he'd come after me and sue the pants off of me, even though I would never directly identify him publicly (frankly, due to this fear). And I was ashamed. And frankly, I was too fucking traumatized. I turned my boss in to the EEO reps on campus after the millionth degrading statement about women came out of his mouth. He had already befriended this person and they turned me away. I turned him in to HR--3 separate people on 3 separate occasions. Minor behavioral changes ensued and then he would up the ante as soon as they turned their attention onto other matters. I felt incredibly alone.

Since I have left, he has turned his bullying behavior toward the next most senior person in the clinic. He now gives large gifts and privileges to the lowest employees and refuses this individual a raise despite her being the lowest paid psychologist to work there in the past 5 yrs.

My husband is the kindest, most compassionate man I have ever met. When I came home from work sobbing one day, he said that he's never wanted to hurt someone so much in his life. This was about 1.5-2 yrs ago now, and don't worry, he never did anything to my former boss. But this man literally took an intelligent, independent woman and just did everything in his power to fucking break her. And toward the end, I was too broken to want to do anything but crawl into a bathtub, and then into bed.

For the first time in my life, I started an antidepressant. If you've gotten this far into my blog it's because either (a) you're a friend who cares, or (b) this is happening to you and it feels validating/normalizing to know that someone else went through it. So I'll try not to be shy about the fact that I never publicly announced this. I kept it pretty private, because I was ashamed of it, too. But I had fallen into such a dark hole that I needed a way out. I was plagued by vacillating sadness and panic attacks. I couldn't continue in that way. So I went to my doctor, and then I went to a psychologist and began talking about how I would begin rebuilding my confidence so that I could go look for a new job.

I don't want this to turn into a pity-party story, because although there will still be moments where I am "triggered" and must remind myself that I'm safe, and happy. I feel like a victor. I can feel myself getting angry as I write this, and that feels wonderful because for so long I was just scared. He had me convinced that I was no good in my profession and couldn't work anywhere else (see verbal put-downs...)! I am proud to announce that I know for a fact: I MAKE MORE MONEY THAN HE DOES. God that feels nice. But even nicer is knowing I have something he never will: The respect and admiration of my colleagues.

When my former coworker tells me stories about him (often--she's miserable) I encourage her to get out because there is no fighting against this bully. He's borderline corporate sociopath with the way that he's managed to build connections that prevent any of his employees from seeking support externally, in order to ensure his abuse can continue. And then I remind myself that I DO believe in Karma, and Karma is a real bitch.

So that is the story of how it is that I came to catastrophic thinking this week while at my lovely job with nice people. It is going to take me a while to really heal from the experience of my former job.

Imagine all of that happening, and then planning both a formal wedding and a move and career shift. I am one strong woman. That is what I've learned from all of this. I may have been broken down temporarily, but I came out stronger than ever before. And when I left that God-awful job, and my boss mumbled some apology for his behavior, I was able to say, "Honestly, it was the catalyst that propelled me onto bigger and better things. I probably would've been content to just sit in this job and I wouldn't have ever known what I was capable of."

And it's been true. :)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"Sorry About the Cancer."

The phrase I've heard from too many people who don't know what else to say. The good news is that as my dermatologist said, "If you're going to get any type of cancer in the world, this is the kind that you want." WANT is a stretch, but the sentiment is that it's treatable and that's great. I'm having one ulcerated spot removed at my regular dermatologist, and need to go to the big city for the other procedure (MOHS).

So, of course I've been reading up about skin cancers and treatment lately. MOHS surgery sounds great: They move in, remove the tumor and a layer of skin underneath, and test quadrants while you're still in surgery to ensure that all cancerous tissue is removed. That surgery will be done by my ear, and will take about 4 hrs. I've got a great husband who's already planning time off to come with me. I'm feeling mostly okay about the whole thing, but have an uncle who died of untreated skin cancer(s) and wish they would've come off yesterday. Instead I have surgeries scheduled in SEPT and OCT.

So I was feeling a little down on my luck, because we found these the week of our honeymoon and spent 2 days in doctors offices. But we still had a fantastic honeymoon and it was so nice to have some time away from a REALLY emotionally demanding job. When we got back from the honeymoon I started up regular medical massage b/c lets face it--working long hours, planning a wedding, dealing with family health crisis after family health crisis, and finding out that years of tanning in preparation for prom/homecoming/lifeguarding season/trips to Hawaii/graduations/etc has likely led to said skin cancers is just really fucking stressful.

My massage therapist is like an angel who dropped from heaven. She's over 70 and I questioned whether she would have the strength to iron out knots in my back. She didn't need to. She is just so incredibly gifted with a healing touch, and has an incredibly knowledge of physiology. She thinks I may have pulled 2 ribs out of place, so I might need to add chiropractic care to the agenda soon. But she fully supports my efforts to jump back into yoga and see her for the next 7 weeks first so that we can see how far we get.

Oh: And her son was in the Army. And she loves Army medical care providers, and immediately had a soft place in her heart for me when she heard what it was that I do for work. So she extended a 1-hr session to 1.5 hrs and I walked out feeling like I'd just gotten home from a wk-long vacation in Hawaii, sans sun damage. No kidding. She's that good.

So I rolled out of her office, went to look at a few decommissioned Navy ships and leisurely find good food in Olympia, and rolled over glass in the street--flattening 2 tires. Really??

I attended a Cognitive Processing Therapy training a few months ago, and one of the things that really stuck with me (specific for treatment of PTSD and related to the "just world phenomenon, but I think, a nice sentiment for life...) was one of the speakers saying, "We ask 'why' when we face tragedy and adversity in life, but we never ask 'why' when we encounter joy and happiness. If we are going to ask 'why' for one, we must do so for the other."

So in that spirit: Why did I have such a magical wedding? Why did my referral to massage therapy land me in the office of the most healing hands I've encountered in my life? Why do I have no fewer than 3 groups of visitors/friends/family coming to my home in the next 2 months, and a mindfulness in psychotherapy conference to attend? Why did I find the perfect career, and end up in a workplace where I can finally be myself and feel genuine camaraderie with my coworkers, doing work I find meaningful?

When you think of it this way, skin cancer and a few flat tires seem more inconvenient than unfair.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our Bozarth Mansion Wedding

I'm a Mrs! At least, on the marriage certificate. I still need to do a LOT of name changing with the state, my licensing board, and a flurry of other agencies. Our wedding was beautiful and we were so glad that we kept our venue despite having moved away from the area. We were told that ours was the most intimate wedding of the summer, with most people opting for guest lists in excess of 100, and in most cases 200. The smallness was so wonderful. I wasn't at all stressed and had an opportunity to speak with nearly all of our guests, except a few shy folks who took off quickly after the reception.

Having over TWO YEARS to plan was a blessing and a curse. In the time that we waited for the "right time" for our wedding, two other friends were engaged and married, and one even forgot that we had been engaged first and began telling us all about how wonderful engagement/marriage was! This fully activated my competitive spirit and jealousy. I was so in love and our date seemed so far on the horizon. When I left my job for greener pastures I had some regret that we hadn't just had some sort of shotgun wedding.

In the end, though, it was so worth it. I created a schedule and began purchasing all of the items I could dream up to create a whimsical and perfect day. Including 2 pairs of shoes. Just in case.

We were married 8 months after I began my new job. Without any sustained effort, I had lost 10 lbs because I was so much happier in my work. A dress that had a large gap in the back when my generous grandmother purchased it for me fit like a dream on the day of the wedding and was incredibly comfortable.

Bit by bit, in classic bride style, I splurged on details for our big day. Instead of planning seeming to be a chore, it began to get really fun as each month for a period of about 7 months, I would look forward to packages showing up on our front porch.

Hand-painted signs from Etsy. Upcycled spoon bracelets for my bridesmaids; a part of their thank-you gift(s) along with regional honey and a "7 year pen."

In true groom fashion, my now husband wasn't terribly interested in planning for the details but happily accepted the chore of finding us a classical guitarist for the ceremony and reception. SO MANY of our guests raved about this guy in the weeks afterward. And he only broke my "No Disney, No Broadway!" rule for music once. And frankly, I didn't even notice because he disguised it so well, until one of my bridesmaids pointed out that he snuck in something from Aladdin. Egads! ;) He was fantastic and if he was messing with me, I love it. My kinda guy.

Our greatest find was our wedding photographer: A laid-back Montanan with a background on photojournalism. As someone who likes to protect my privacy on the web, it wasn't difficult to find all of these beautiful shots of detail to post to my blog. He had an amazing eye and really captured the spirit of our day. (Photo credit: Mike McCall, McCall Media,

Another fantastic decision was to book a caterer who took care of all set-up and centerpieces. This left only wedding party flowers to purchase, which I splurged bit on. No close-ups of those, but trust me--worth the splurge. It was so nice to not have to worry about tear-down or setting up our decor. They did a fantastic job and was one of the reasons that the day was utterly stress-free.

Pies from my favorite bakery in Montana, regional wine, and champagne rounded out the laidback feel that we were hoping for. We purchased a small cake for a cutting, which was AMAZING (Sweet Frostings Bakery), but the pies really stole the show (The Break; Missoula, MT).

I could write so much more; and maybe I will another day. My husband was so gracious with letting me integrate pieces of MT into the day: logs that we set pies atop of, and even a Montana Blessing at the end of our ceremony. So even though I didn't get married in my homestate (I didn't ever really think that I would) felt like a MT wedding to me. Most of all, it felt like a wedding. I found a really beautiful quote online months before the wedding: "Remember that this is a wedding and not a production. As long as two people are married at the end, everything went okay." I used this as my mantra and ended up relaxing about the whole thing. Amazingly, nothing really went wrong on the day itself with exception of 10 or so RSVPs not showing up due to various emergencies or personal circumstances. Something we could've never planned for, anyway. It's really true what they say about your wedding day being over so quickly, and so I soaked up advice about soaking in the day and taking time to enjoy. It didn't feel slow, but it also didn't feel like a crazy production that was over in a flash. It felt: Perfect.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I haven't written a bitchy/whiny blog because I'm too busy being happy. It's amazing what getting out from under an abusive employer can do for one's overall well-being.

I've spent weekends with friends who are close-by and exploring the surrounding area with my man. Our new home is huge and new and lovely, and we finally have room to cook and entertain. My co-workers are hilarious and the funny-kind-of-dysfunctional. My job is secure after making it in with the Feds right before the swan dive off the fiscal cliff. And I feel my work will be significant.

Happy feels good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


To date, one of the most liberating experiences of my life has been that of quitting my soul-crushing job. Sugar coat it: I did. Make the best of it: Check. Go every day and remind myself that it's work that I love and was born to do (and that I cared deeply for my clients): Double check. Bury myself in work to see if keeping my head to the ground and doing great work would keep me distracted and everyone else happy: Absolutely. But putting up with daily sexism paired with vacillations between stonewalling and verbal abuse from upper management became too much to bear and I began looking for jobs months ago.

As luck (?) would have it, the job that I've wanted since finishing grad school came available. The circumstances were so perfect that it truly felt like fate. In fact, when I quit my job and my employer became teary eyed (SERIOUSLY??!) and apologized for his treatment of me, I responded by saying, "Honestly, it was for the best. It served as a catalyst for me to move onto better things."

Quitting was easy and incredibly difficult. Easy because I knew with every ounce of my being that it was the correct decision. Difficult because my employer had been so unpredictable that I feared that once I gave my notice he would retaliate. This retaliation came packaged as forced paid administrative leave. My coworkers were told that I was advised by HR that I'd done "such a great job" that I was given additional paid time off as a gesture of good will. I've never in my life worked in such a crazy place. My decision to terminate employment was completely voluntary, and I gave appropriate notice. But I was actually told by my employer that I should leave early and that saying goodbye to coworkers outside my immediate office was "unnecessary and inappropriate." Granted, when I told HR about this my employer's tune changed and suddenly I was the recipient of an office goodbye party.

The entire thing was crazy-making. It's been nearly 2 full weeks since I gave notice, and I still wake up and can't believe it's over. But it is. I will never have to go back to that job. I have learned firsthand how damaging it can be to one's health and relationships to stick with a job that is miserable. I pushed my limits and learned a lot about myself.

Now I had/have 35 days between jobs to take care of myself, enjoy my friends and family, and move. I have a job with the feds!! I am officially "in the system"! This is no small task - it involved the completion of a 20+ page application, physical exam, finger printing, background check, screening interview, and the list goes on. But it comes with many great benefits, including great opportunities for continuing education, career advancement...not to mention retirement, health insurance, and a great jump in income. Given that most of one's income growth happens within the first 5 years of employment in a given field, I was ready and glad for the jump.

I should note that none of this would have been possible without the love and blessing of my fiancé. In September after a particularly bad day, I was feeling really down (ok - I just deleted 'crying.' That's the real was so bad that I was crying...)-- and looking at job postings. We had agreed not to move out of the area for 3 years, which felt like a death sentence. (That sounds dramatic when written, but it really did). I showed him the ad for my dream job, and he looked at me with sincerity and said, "Go for it. Apply and let's see what happens." When what happened meant that he would need to transfer schools yet again, he happily agreed to do so. And just 3 days ago we picked our new home. Yesterday we were approved for it. And now we are cleaning out our home and realizing that we get to begin a new life together.

Everything feels fresh and new, full of possibility and opportunity. It's exhilarating and terrifying. I really hope that things work out for us. I believe that they will.

Oh, and as an aside: I've lost nearly 10 pounds since learning that my shot at this job was pretty good. It's amazing what reducing stress can do for the waistline.

Friday, November 9, 2012

True North

I've been silent for quite some time because I have no laptop and because I've been contemplating the next move in life. I've been making the best of a bad situation-- Spending time with great people, working on remaining more physically active, and planning for my wedding.

In the past month I've had jam-packed weekends: Celebrating a friend's 30th birthday, and shopping for a wedding gown with my mother and grandmother. I've made beautiful memories and tried really hard to remember that bad moments don't equate to a bad life. I really do have a full and beautiful life.

Focusing my energies outside of work and onto other valued areas of my life has led me to recognize and trust my intuition and strength. Since I was a tiny child I've always had a true and steady sense of right and wrong. At times this has gotten me into trouble because it impacts the expectations that I hold for myself and others. But for the most part it has been a wonderful internal compass that always leads me to True North.

Recently I've silenced this voice and stomped on this compass out of a sense of loyalty (another personal trait that I often hold to a fault). But after months of silence and deference - I felt unwell and unhappy. I've found True North again, and changes are coming.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Things That Grow When Left Unattended

(1) My resilient garden: tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries
(2) The persistent warts on my fingers
(3) My to-do list
(4) My credit card debt
(5) My belly

At least raspberries made the list.

So here it is: The last 4 months have sucked balls, but I'm ready for a turn-around. I've been working out regurlary in an effort to crack down on #2 & #5 (I feel so much less stressed when working out regularly, not to mention it's nice to see the inches slide away). I've already begun to notice that clothes are fitting a little better. My posture is improving because I can feel my abs again, so I will count that as a success. I think I may be ready to set up an appointment with a dermatologist to crack down on these warts, because truly, one has been on my pointer finger for over TWO YEARS and I'm sick of attempting to CompoundW that shit off. I believe it has been frozen over 20x and not died, so we may be talking surgery.

But back to the sucking part. If I had to sum it up in a forum that I recognize to be quazi-public (and therefore, I monitor myself), I would say: My boss lied. Big, mega lies. Then he worked to cover his lies. As a result of his lies and his unsuccessful attempt to cover them, he simply eliminate the position that he had promoted me into and this resulted in a loss of income (see item #4). HR was present for all of this, and my name is fully cleared of any wrongdoing; however, this didn't un-do what had been done (eliminating my position). I am now in my original position and he claims publicly that I am a "highly valued employee," but doesn't speak to me in meetings. Much of this seems gender-based, as I notice that he is much more engaged with male employees and trainees. He tends to ask them more direct questions. When he hears responses from multiple sources, he will cite the men before the women.

I had thought that I was out of the woods so far as work-related-interpersonal-stress was considered, and had consequently quit going to yoga months prior to this. In fact, I hadn't been working out much at all and when I look back on it, it's probably because I wasn't very happy. Work was sucking far before any of this went down, and with other life stressors piled on top of it, I was a sad panda.

There have been times that I've considered throwing in the towel & looking for a new sub-field of employment. I really enjoyed corrections & think that maybe that is a group of folks that I could really jive with. But I don't think this is so much about me, as the environment I'm in. And I do really enjoy the clients I see here, so I'm reluctant to leave that.

So here I sit with a long to-do list, some significant motivation to once again cut back on expenses & reduce debt, and a good start on working out. I've been swimming, running, weight lifting, but haven't gone back to yoga. Honestly, my studio is so small that I'm ashamed that my teachers might see how far I've fallen. Basically, I'm ready to rise up in a sort of righteous indignation & be a fuckin' hot bride. I get married in about 12 months & would like to be in a better place (mentally, physically) for that day. So it's time to make it happen.

Also, I would like to buy a puppy. That's probably I looked up golden retriever pups and they're $1,000. But I'm convinced that this would improve my quality of life. I might think on it for a few months.