Monday, August 11, 2008

My Job Was Slowly Killing Me

A friend visited me for my birthday and got a chance to tell me about the hostile work environment being created for many employees in his department by their shared supervisor.

He told me he was glad to get away for a brief vacation because he’d been so stressed out at work. He even said that his office mate, a quiet and mild-mannered woman, was pushed to the point where she screamed at the supervisor before walking out on the job—never to return. The woman had already quit once. But, the company offered her a raise to come back to the job. They promised things would get better. They did. For a few weeks. Then, the hostile work environment was right back. And, that led to the woman telling off her supervisor and walking off the job.

My friend and this woman had been enduring the stress of working for this person together. With her gone, that allowed by my friend to be subjected to more negative behavior from his supervisor.

In fact, things got so bad that my friend said that he’d been getting tension headaches. Like clockwork, the headaches came every day on his way to work. He had knots in his shoulders from being tense all day. And, he was absolutely stressed out because his harasser was making his presence known all day. He barely got any relief from the behavior.

This immediately took me back to my ordeal in the workplace. I remember tension headaches well. I also remember the sleepless nights, hair falling out, and my diagnosis with stage-1 hypertension.

What’s strange about it is that it took me a while to really register how bad I was feeling. When you are being subjected to discrimination, harassment and/or retaliation, you are so caught up in every incident at work, in avoiding your harasser(s), and in surviving each work day without being set up for failure or set up for blame that you don’t really absorb what your body is going through.

I think it was weeks before I realized that I was frequently getting headaches on the way to work. I had problems concentrating. I went from not eating to overeating. There was one thing after another going on and none of it was really registering for me until everything pretty much registered all at once. The onset of hypertension was the biggest shock.

My doctor gave me a week to see if my blood pressure would decrease before starting me on a lifetime regimen of medication to keep my pressure down. I spent that week doing yoga and taking walks outside, when I felt stressed at work. When I went home, I made myself talk to my family about something other than work. I watched movies and forced myself to be distracted.

It worked. My pressure went down, but it was still elevated. That’s when I knew I had to make some really important decisions about whether or not to remain at that job and what to do with my future.

The point of this post is to remind anyone whose going through issues at work to remember their health.

This will sound harsh, but the people violating Federal statutes at work (or dancing on the line of violating the law) won’t miss one night’s sleep if you die from a heart attack. They’ll help collect money to send flowers to your family for your funeral and they will go right on attacking the next person.

In the midst of race-related issues at work, you should make appointments to visit your doctor because elevated blood pressure is no joke. When I realized I was having headaches, I never connected it to hypertension. I just thought it was a simple stress headache. But, it was more. Visit your doctor. And, if you need to really speak to someone about your issues, visit a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to discuss your issues.

I know Black folks like to go to church and not mental health professionals, but sometimes you have to go there if you are having serious issues coping with the realities of your job. It’s not always enough to speak to friends and family about your issues. I will be the first to admit that, for a short time, I needed anti-anxiety medication to sleep and deal with the stress. Things had gotten that bad over the YEARS of issues taking place at my job.

I want everyone going through issues at work to come out of it with their health, if nothing else. Whether or not you file a complaint against your employer or you find a lawyer to assist you is secondary compared to living to see another day.

Look after your physical and mental health, before all else. That’s easy to forget in the midst of racial drama at work.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I am going through the exact same thing at work. I want to just walk out but the job market is tough right now. What did you end up doing?

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am right there. I have turned in a written resignation once. It was handed back to me, and I went to HR. We got the most of it resolved. The employee was sent home for a day to think over how to not threaten, and make obsene comments around me. Now my supervisor is taken over just making me feel 2 inches tall on a daily basis. I was called in for a review yesterday. I was told I wasn't performing by the new standards set up. We did have one 2 hour class and had 1 example of how we were doing. After 3 months with no feedback I am called in and just told I am under performing. I tried to just suck it up and not get emotional but I teared up. The supervisor told me to face him and quit avoiding eye contact. I did not want to let him see me cry. My next day of work is Friday, and I don't plan on going back.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so sad, but this is what I live with everyday. Its painful and traumatic to be bullied by a boss who is insecure and who knows that your abilities outstrip those of most of the people around you. I am hurt and conused about much of what I experience everday and have started incessantly burping, which CAN'T be good for my health. Part of my stress relief is looking for other jobs everyday. APPLYING FOR 2 JOBS EVERY DAY, will severely relieve your tension headache.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Keithy George said...

Mate, I totally agree with you about the blood pressure thing in connection working in a fucked job. I found success is lowering my blood pressure by getting fit using a speed rope, seeing a psychologist and learning about maintaining a stress diary and controlled breathing techniques.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh get of it I am sick to death of people crying racism. If you want to stop racism it starts with you. see yourself as an extension of others instead of being separated from other people. My job is killing me slowly only because the work is just too dam much. The only reason i am doing it is for the money.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keithy George, you are right, keeping a stress diary does help. I am doing just that, EVERYDAY!

12:58 AM  
Blogger sownds08 said...

My employer is stressing everyone at work out by giving us way more work than any one human could ever possibly handle. I get headaches and shoulder pain from time to time and it worries me. I wish I could just leave but I don't have any where else to go right now.

1:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It helped to read all the comments. My job is to support 18 adults with disabilities by managing a day program with the team of 10 staff. I have been doing this for 5 years. Until 4 days ago my record was excellent. my supervisor has managed to change that in ways that I can't prove with documentation. I want to file with EEOC but my passion for the field makes it hard to walk away from the person centered approach that me and my team have worked hard to implement. To strive to make a difference in a persons day is important to me. thanks for just letting me post. there is a lot more to my story but just getting it out anonymously helps. Thanks

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that this was for black people even though I do have a small %, I am white as a plastered wall. To the point, I have a problem with being set up for failure. I would leave, but there are no jobs in my area. I think my supervisor knows I can't leave. While everyone one else can take a picture with their phone, talk to people longer then two minutes, or is just doing my job, just not right to her (she states: "I don't know what you do, but your not doing it"). Or dress code stands all around me but doesn't reach others. I have a BS in Mass Communications and have no where to go with it. I am the 1st to go to a counselor, but unfortunately our HR, is our Office Manager, is our Accountant, and she is the one hawking me. Today she told me, "You need to get with the program". That look that a person who is really mad and starts shaking and gets this look that says, if you saw one more word... if you were my kid I would beat're fired! I would like to clarify the image, I have been waiting to be respected as an adult and now I am 25, married, educated, and own my own home, work 40+ hours a week 8-5 Monday-Friday and I felt more respected as a 14 year old (and that is not just picking numbers out of the air either).

1:39 PM  

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