Thursday, March 24, 2011


I've started to think that part of the reason I have all this free-floating anxiety, and these panic attacks (under control now through therapy), this tension and stress, my be a mild form of ptsd.

Now, my intention is really not to make light of ptsd, please don't take it that way, because I certainly haven't experienced war or daily beatings or a mugging or something that one would traditionally think about as causing ptsd.

I was at a training today about how to provide support to survivors of sexual assault and rape and one of the interesting things I took away from that session was when they presented research (forgive me for not having citations!) that said that women are 2x more likely than men to report symptoms of ptsd and that this is due to the microagressions that women are subjected to on a near daily basis.

In thinking on it, since joining the working world after graduating in 2004, between then and Oct 2010 I only had one job (for a period of one year) that didn't make me contemplate quitting it every single day.  While in some cases the direct supervisor was good/ok, I've had 16 supervisors since 2004 and only 4 jobs during that time. You do that math... It's enough to give me whiplash.

Out of those 16 I had FOUR good supervisors, supportive supervisors, encouraging, caring, thoughtful, fair... I am forever grateful to them. In some cases they were great supervisors in bad positions and the office culture was supremely fucked up.

In my first job the supervisor was a somewhat more malevolent version of Michael Scott--racist, sexist, abelist-- you name it.  He was also a religious fundie with 9 kids, each a year apart, and liked to pontificate about how insurance shouldn't cover things like HIV meds or pregnancy care for unwed mothers because those were lifestyle choices, and why should he have to pay for that?

That job sent me to the hospital for panic attacks.  The only good day on that job was the day I quit, but somehow I did last for 2 years. (Actually, I know how I survived-- my awesome direct supervisor, Bon-Bon! She shielded me from a lot, but she up and quit about a year after Michael Scott II came on board. I didn't last much longer after that.)

My second job was GREAT. 2 Great supervisors, interesting work. Mostly nice co-workers. (One shitty one who could have been Debbie Downer's sister...)

Why did I leave that job? OH, you know... more pay, a promotion... sigh. It was probably a good thing because my awesome supervisor only lasted 2 years at my second job because her boss was a whack-a-loon, but she'd managed to shield us from that. (noticing a trend in what great supervisors do?)

Third job... started off ok, except for my awesome supervisor up and quit about 3 months after I was hired. Grr.  Which left me in a shitastic mess of a situation with a quick succession of 5 shitty supervisors in less than a year, each one more insane and controlling than the last. But, no need to go into that now...

Then, layoffs! Fun, fun...

Fourth job... managed to get another job in my same department, which I was grateful for, except that my new boss was a heinous bitch and incompetent and a micromanager (the trifecta!).... and then the office went through another round of layoffs a year later ... (I was spared, but the ax was over my head)...

All that to say that of the past 7 years only one has been a good year at work. Only one year in which I didn't want to pretend to be sick every morning so that I wouldn't have to go in. Only one year in which I didn't wonder, "What am I going to get yelled at for today?" Only one year in which I  wasn't held responsible for things I had no control over.  Only 2 out of those 7 where I didn't worry about losing my job due to downsizing. Only 1 year in which my workspace wasn't moved or reconfigured without my input or opinion. Only 1 year in which I wasn't subjected to sexist remarks at least once a week.

So, yeah, while I haven't experienced "trauma" in the textbook sense, I certainly feel traumatized by some of my work experiences.  I'm not the only one, for what it's worth-- I'd say at least 90% of a workforce of about 4,000 feel similarly if the people I've come across in the past 4 years here are any indication.  Always waiting to see if you're the next one to get the ax is not a great way to spend your time... hearing that there will probably be more cuts in the future is sure to keep you on your toes.

And aren't I a pretty pretty princess for complaining about a job I still have? I know it. Add "survivor's guilt" to my list of anxieties too.

So, I've talked about my past jobs, but what about my current job?  It's great. I enjoy it. I find it meaningful. I work with kind and supportive (and enlightened!) colleagues.



It's all going to change in the next 6 months.

Sometime in those next 6 months I'm going to get another new supervisor. I'm going to get a new colleague who will share the functions of my job. My assistant's contract will be up and we don't know if it will be renewed (harder on her than on me, I acknowledge.) The entire department I work for is likely to be split up, reconfigured and report to someone else in an entirely new structure as well as change physical locations.  The office I work directly in is likely to be split off from my current department and join a completely different department, cut off from the colleagues I'm currently working with.

So. Yeah.

Don't really feel like I can get too settled or too comfortable where I'm at, and that scares me.  While I feel like I'm in a supportive space I know all too well how quickly that can change, and that it's very likely to change, and also that there's nothing I can do about it. (A lack of control over one's situation is also a trigger for ptsd, we learned today.)

So, yeah... I don't really know how to let go of this anxiety and stress. After all, I might need it again shortly.


mmeperpetua said...

I wouldn't downplay the idea of ptsd. I recently read something related to anxiety/stress/trauma and the layoff culture in which we currently find ourselves. It's horrible.

What would add to it (at least for me) would be working in an environment like yours where one would expect a higher level of...respect? Understanding? Intelligence? respect for gender/ability/race? It's so disappointing.

Hypatia said...

Oops! I should point out that job #1 with the Michael Scott clone is NOT where I currently work. My current workplace has issues, but that kind of (blatant) sexism/racism wouldn't fly. (the non-blatant sort... uh... well... it's complicated.)