I recently left a very toxic job, one that consumed me of my time, energy, sanity and well-being. Why did I stay there for 18 months, then?
For almost 10 years, I was happily employed in my dream job. I felt a sense of stability and security. I took pride in what I did and achieved. Unfortunately the business came to a natural end, teams were made redundant and I was offered a transfer to another part of the business. I turned it down as it was what I viewed as a demotion.
This was three years ago, and I label this whole period as a sliding door moment. It’s been as if I jumped onto the train just as the door was closing shut and it has taken me on a tumultuous journey through my lowest points in my 40-plus years of existence.
That long-term job offered my an anchor and I found a lot of support amongst my co-workers. It is only after I left that organisation did I come to realise that it was me who needed them and not vice-versa. Contacts ceased pretty much overnight with people I leaned on. Not out of malice. Life goes on and people decide who to take along with them. I wasn’t on their list. I found myself a new role which I accepted far too quickly without sufficient due diligence. I lacked confidence that anyone would employ a working mother who requires flexi-hours. Before starting my new role, I went home for a week. I was shocked by my dad’s appearance. His movements were slower and very considered. I urged him to get himself checked out and he was diagnosed with early onset of Parkinson’s. My dad has always been my rock. I don’t think the doctor’s words sank in for a long time.
Back in London, further rudderless, I found myself overcome with anxiety as I faced very aggressive individuals at my new employment with absolutely no support.
Within two weeks, I lost a family member and another, a mentor/father-figure. Words cannot describe the sense of loss I felt. Grieving for dad’s inevitable decline in health and the death of two others consumed me.
I dreaded going into work everyday, tearing up as I approached the building and consumed by anxiety. After eight weeks, I decided I couldn’t continue working there as the environment was not only hostile, but I found I was regressing in terms of skills and responsibilities – a mis-sold role.
I landed my next role fairly quickly. However, the warning signs were there but I chose not to see them as I was worried about being unemployed. The team we supported were incredibly aggressive and their head had been summoned by HR on many occasions but they had never succeeded in curbing his aggression. His team took his lead and treated us like pond-scum. During this period, my husband suffered an ailment and was house-bound, unable to drive for a period of five months. Having started a new job, I had to shoulder school run duties around work and endured comments from my boss such as ‘a part of me thinks you are taking the pi**’. Again, feeling rudderless within my work environment and outside, i suffered from anxiety. Even for mundane things like remembering to take the bins out for bin collection day.
Physically, I was beginning to suffer as well. Falling sick every three to four weeks with a bad cold/flu. My back started hurting and I ended up with sciatica. After about eight months in this role, I decided enough was enough and I was going to take time off to rest and reflect before contemplating any role.
It was then that my parents came over to visit and they were shocked by my appearance. Not only had I lost a lot of weight, but also what my dad referred to as ‘spark for life’. I’d always been mischievous, bold, with a smart reply for anything and everything. But what greeted them was someone so low in esteem, confidence and in a state of despair.
A month after they visited, I dashed home as dad had taken ill and we nearly lost him. There was no sinking any further, where I was concerned. The bright side of that episode was mum and I grew closer.
When I returned to London, it was with my parents prayers propping me up. I started my third job in a space of 1.5 years and it was yet another toxic environment. To highlight the lack of empathy/support in this environment, one of my co-worker’s dad passed away. She returned to work within a week, and only 3 people out of 40 paid her their condolences and the rest didn’t say anything. She wasn’t offered any extra time off, not encouraged to do so. She told me this a few weeks ago when we went out for lunch and I asked about her dad as it was the first anniversary of his passing.
Whilst I was deemed to have held an important post, any decisions I took were sustained and deferred to an aggressive bully of a boss. I had no handover notes from my predecessor and had to figure things out as I went along. I never switched off from work for the sole reason that I reported to such an unreasonable person and was again consumed with anxiety.
I called my mum and told her that I can’t keep running away from this terrible anxiety which seems to be triggered from lack of support. She urged my to go for stress counselling. I found someone locally and we worked through a lot of the issues I had faced in the last three years.
What I hadn’t appreciated was that I was grieving for:
- Dad’s slow deterioration of health
- The death of the family member who I hadn’t seen for a few years but affected me tremendously
- The death of my mentor/father-figure
- The loss of support that was afforded by my work-family
The anxiety could be traced right back to when I was around 6 years old when I had a bully of a class-teacher who used to hit me (I had limited grasp of the Asian language being spoken in class, and used to misinterpret instructions). I never told my parents (I didn’t know that I could have!). Further, when I was around 9 years old, we lost a number of family members in a terrible car-crash. A year after that, there were threats made to my dad’s life (we lived in a part of the world where such occurrences were the norm). In short, I was consumed by anxiety as a result of rather serious causes when I was pretty young and never worked through it. My therapist explained that as I consequence, in recent times when things have been quite stressful and I have had no support, the tendency had been flight vs fight. That plus grief, had pushed me into a terrible state of despair. Through therapy, I acknowledged that I was good at my job, but perhaps it just wasn’t the right role nor environment.
Two months ago, I decided that I had spent enough time at my current role. Whilst I had nothing new lined up, it was time for me to move on. Mentally, I was exhausted. Physically, I couldn’t see how I could start a new role without taking time out for myself. Time to put on my own oxygen mask.
I went through a number of interviews recently and someone brought up the point that I may be a flight risk. I explained that I had rushed into roles but it is important that I find the right environment to thrive in . What dawned on me during these interviews was that if at any point, any of my previous managers had taken the time to talk through what was bothering me at work, I would have mentioned grief and anxiety. Had they then offered support (e.g. working from home once a week whilst my husband was ill for 5 months so that I didn’t feel like I was stretched in every possible direction), therapy, dealing with a bully of a boss (a blatant – ‘she suffers from anxiety and your behaviour triggers it’), perhaps I would have felt stronger to stay on.
The despair slowly started to lift in January this year. I stumbled upon The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. Having watched the movie and read the book, something willed me into thinking positively. I found Oprah’s podcasts online which have been very therapeutic. My current read is Jack Canfield’s the Success Principles.
I have a vision board above my dressing table which serve as a daily reminder of my goals. I have a gratitude journal which I document on a regular basis. I carry with me a little card which lists all my goals. I feel all of life’s abundant gifts – and folks, it does work. What you focus on, expands. When I find myself thinking negative thoughts, I catch myself and turn it into a positive.
I have come to the realisation and acceptance that I am responsible for setting down that life-anchor.
My goals, visions and dreams serve as my rudder and I am in charge of steering my life onto a positive path.