Lawyers, Charlie Sheen, and 50 Cent.

Over the Christmas holidays, I learned that I have a real live angel watching over me.

Remarkably, the story of my so-called legal action against my ex-employer is truly heartwarming. Really. It’s heartwarming.

Years ago, I had my first real experience of anxiety and work getting to know each other. I did not want them to become pals, but they sure as fuck did. It was rough.

And really. Who the fuck would willingly go from happily doing his or her job to breaking down very publicly in a single bound, and purposefully shred everything they’d built for him/herself for no reason? We can’t all be Charlie Sheen.

The thing is, my employer at the time was so cool about it (I was certainly not working for AssWipes Limited). They got it, they understood, and they respected that I am a human, and like all other humans, I was broken sometimes. They knew that 1. it’s okay to be broken sometimes, and we just need some time to mend, and 2. that it wasn’t exactly legal to deny me of that anyway. Whatever their reason for treating me with kindness and understanding, I could give a shit. I was able to heal, regroup, and reenter the workforce as good as new.

It can be simple, you know.

What I also learned was that I could get through really hard, humiliating stuff. It also didn’t mean I was worth less than anyone else, or that I was less deserving of respect. I’ve been there, and seen it, and experienced it: employers can treat their employees in a humane manner.

I was resolved not only to stand up for what I felt was right, but also to create a happy ending of sorts. Resolve things in a way that did not end with them having laughed their evil laugh and won, while I was left to rue the day I went quietly into the night.

I needed to end things on my terms, or die trying.

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The same way as 50 Cent feels about dollars.

After I resolved to pursue some sort of action against my former employer, I had no idea where to start. I actually filled in an online questionnaire to a local law firm (my friend’s dad is a partner there, so I figured it was a good place to start) saying I potentially wanted to commence legal action against my employer. They did not email me back immediately, so I began crafting my own bleeding heart of a letter to my employer myself. I figured I could just handle this myself, not spend money I did not have, and that my beautiful, heart wrenching words would cause Idiot, Idiot & Co. to smile kindly upon me from their tall golden thrones, pay me a sum that would cover 10 years worth of therapy, and sign off on a meaningful hand-written apology letter. In blood.

I texted Boyfriend and my mom the hastily written Evernote letter I drafted. It truly touched their hearts. But my mom in particular thought that I should hold off on emailing anything just yet. She gave me that sage advice, “sleep on it.”

But during our conversation (is it a conversation if one of the participants is blubbering like a toddler?), I remembered something.

I know a lawyer.

Now, lawyers don’t cost $free. Even the ones who are friends of yours, or more like acquaintances. Most lawyers around here charge around $500 per hour. It is very difficult to afford a lawyer when your income is $0, and you’re paying hundreds of dollars per week on various therapies to keep your mind from succumbing to the quicksand it has stumbled into.

But I decided that perhaps he could at least give me some direction. Maybe tell me whether I had a case to bother with. Suggest a lawyer in town who was worth spending all of my pennies on.

Just kidding. Canada doesn’t even have pennies anymore. I’d be using my credit card, obvs.

I was fucking terrified of writing him an email and having to reveal my story. Having to include another human in this already mortifying tale was something that I did not want to do. But I didn’t really feel like I had any other options. And connecting with this man seemed to hold a small glimmer of light.

So before I could talk myself out of it, I emailed him. Asked to meet when he had time.

He wrote back.

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Job Opportunity.

There is a really great job opportunity being posted on a couple of websites in my city right now. It’s the same job title I currently have, along with all of the same types of tasks. It looks like it was written for me.

Oh wait. It is written for me. Except it’s not.

My employer has placed an ad for my job.

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&#$*%!

Of course, the moment I saw it, my heart dropped. It was not like I was entirely surprised by this; to be honest, I’d been searching my work’s company name on various career websites to see if they’d ever post some kind of ad like this. So on some level, I knew and expected it.

But I certainly was not actually prepared for this. I felt a panic attack coming on. I felt sick to my stomach and my mind began to race. I can recognize it as my Ego saying “THEY WANT TO REPLACE YOU, THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, AND THEY ARE TRYING TO WEED YOU OUT.” Yes, my Ego talks in all-caps.

But that’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. That they want me out.

I immediately texted my Work BFF with the link. She is often the one who actually posts job ads for our company, but she had no idea this had been posted. It must have been my boss who did it himself.

As I walked downstairs to tell Boyfriend, I tried really, really hard to remember what my psychologist had told me. She’d gotten me to write down some simple steps in my phone about what to do when I felt a panic attack coming on, or basically whenever I felt I was going to combat.

But the problem is, when I’m defence mode, I am not able to contemplate much else. I was already vaguely aware of other reasons why my boss might have posted the job, but it didn’t matter. My anxiety was telling me it was because they want me out, and it didn’t want to consider any other reasons.

Boyfriend calmed me down. He made sure I could see that maybe my boss has other innocent reasons for posting the ad. They need to replace me because I have a big job. They legally cannot deny me my job when I am ready to return (although they could fire me and offer a severance I guess), because I am on medical leave. It’s not like I quit.

This helped a little. But I was still struggling to find that rational thought process my therapist had gone over with me. I wanted to put that plan into action and try to make it work.

But I was at a loss – not only was it not really ingrained in my memory, but my Ego was so hell bent on being right about them wanting me out, that my Ego was arguing my side instead of trying to take a step back and look at things objectively.

I went back upstairs, and Work BFF called me to talk it over. She offered very similar advice, and after we chatted for a while, I did start to feel better. She suggested that I write my boss an email setting out a plan. He has no idea where my head is at, and the fact that he is not approaching me about things, although it totally sucks, doesn’t mean he is not supportive or doesn’t care. He probably sees me as fragile and is not comfortable with it.

So I did pen an email. I tried to make it as honest and real as possible. I did not write as though I were a computer (I tend to be very formal and use, as Work BFF puts it, ‘big words’ in my letters and emails) so that I would come off as a person. I had her review it, and I am going to send it to him on Monday morning so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, I am studying my little cheat sheet for how to handle my panic attacks. It is difficult work. It’s not easy.

Here is an overview of what I need to do. I haven’t really gotten down to business yet. After I wrote the email, I went into hibernation and napped for a couple of hours, then continued to avoid everything until now. Since writing is one of the best ways I can express myself, and really explore things, I may as well do it here and now.

***

  • Ask myself: how can I see this differently? What am I blind to?

This should slow things down, and shift my focus. The goal is to look at things from a bigger place. But I find it near impossible when my Ego has made up my mind and things feel black & white.

But in this situation – My Ego is blind to any other result except the one he’s come up with. I could see things differently by looking at it from my boss’ perspective, or really, any outsider’s point of view.

  • What feelings are here?

My next step is to recognize my feelings as things that are not a part of me – they are just something that I am experiencing. That’s also really hard to do when you are all revved up. My therapist said it’s important not to say “I am sad,” for example, but rather “I am feeling sad” or “sadness is here.” This way, it’s easier to think of the feelings as passing clouds. They aren’t me.

Today, I was experiencing fear. Fear was telling me that I wasn’t wanted, that I was out of options, that I was not in control.

  • Is what Fear says true?

I need to think about whether Fear is really all-powerful and right about everything. It’s Fear that is doing the talking and making the decisions (along with my unwanted BFF Anxiety). But does Fear really know the absolute truth?

No, not necessarily. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I can say it’s possible that Fear is wrong. Or, at a minimum, it’s only half-true.

Perhaps my boss does want me out. Maybe he doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter: I still have control over how I react and what my next steps are. I still have options, I am still a great employee, and there are 100s of other job opportunities out there for me.

  • What IS true?

It’s important to keep my Ego in check.

This is just a circumstance. The opposite of fear, in this case, is honesty, safety, and most of all Trust.

  • If I look at things from the feeling of Trust, what would I be thinking? Feeling? Doing?

This is to help me realize that there are certainly other viewpoints, and those viewpoints are not coming from scary, pessimistic, negative places.

If I felt safe and trusting, I would be thinking that my boss is just covering his butt. He needs to solve the short-term problem of needing more support in the office while I am away. And if Trust really has an opinion, it’s that he has recognized that I needed help (I had, after all, asked for an assistant in our department in the past). Maybe he can finally see the gap I left, and needed to fill it, and also realizes that if I get hit by a bus, they need someone who can take over. They need someone who can take over even if I’m just on vacation, honestly. Maybe this person isn’t a replacement, but rather an addition.

  • Finally, I need to remember the following. The Self is the one who needs to be doing the talking.

I trust myself. I belong, and I’m wanted. I’m a good employee and I’m useful.

Those make me feel confident, open, and receptive. I feel more physically relaxed when I am experiencing those feelings of openness. I can take my time, and I have a choice.

***

I am still struggling with truly feelings the feelings of safety and trust. On paper, it makes sense. I can write all of that out and it doesn’t really have any holes in it. But it’s difficult to truly realign myself to that thought process.

I think that next time something similar happens, I am going to take out a sheet of paper and write things out. If I do this over and over, even for the small stuff, I will be better at it, and can turn it into an automatic response over time.

Hopefully, I will learn to quiet my Ego and think with my Self.

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Choices.

I’m still struggling with that the hell to do with my life, in terms of my job and my return to work. I’ve now taken 9 working days off of work (about two weeks), and that means I basically have one month left, minimum, before I need to make my next move. Or non-move.

Originally, Boyfriend would not let me think about work until “Wednesday”. I was too emotional, and broke down in a panic whenever I thought about it. Literally, of course. My thoughts were so scrambled, and everything was a mess in my head. I couldn’t form a cohesive thought process in that state, let alone make any decisions about anything.

I mean, I cried because I spilled a cup of juice.

I’d randomly bring up one aspect of one issue I had, without giving him (or even myself) any context, and proceed to stress out and have a panic attack. He’d hold me while I cried, and after I calmed down, I would try to explain what I was getting at. He stopped me every time, and told me it was too early to try and make decisions. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to think about things yet, but, “you can start thinking about work on Wednesday.”

Well, that Wednesday was Wednesday of last week. So … Nine days ago.

I have thought a little bit about work, come up with some very minimalist plans (so trendy), but I haven’t really decided what, ultimately, I want to do. What I should do.

I’m trying really hard to make sure I am striking a healthy balance between my wants and needs. It is difficult.

What do I want? Well, I would love to travel, sleep in, go for massages, talk to my therapist every day, read. Have some wine.

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Balance is key.

Dammit. I also need to make money.

Can this blog please take off, morph into a travel blog, and make me an above-average wage, please?

I like my job. I do. But has taking a 6-week stress leave destroyed any chance of discretional advancement? Will my employers never trust me again with anything important, or will they assume I am a flight risk? Will they assume I can’t handle things? Will I prove them right, and panic and panic and panic? Or can I re-frame my thinking? Will it even work?

And if I can reshape the way I think and react….. Do they deserve me? Do I want to work there? After what I’ve endured, the way I feel that my values are not aligned with theirs, and the fact that I am not particularly passionate about the industry I actually work in….  Should I move on? Should I treat my feelings of rejection as a good reason for redirection?

As a result, I have a few choices, which I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so:

  1. I could return to my current position, and try to move forward in a healthy way. No guarantees.
  2. I could quit, and take a lesser position elsewhere. Easily. But be paid far less and be far less engaged. That will also hurt my pride.
  3. I could return, but continue to job-hunt, and when something amazing lands on my lap, I could reevaluate things then.

When I couldn’t immediately decide, I briefly considered a career change. Maybe I could go back to school? Do something I am passionate about, start from scratch. My mom did it at around my age; she went back to school and cultivated a career. I took an online test to see what jobs might be best suited for me. One of those personality/career evaluations – don’t worry, it wasn’t on BuzzFeed. I am strongly Introvert, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging (which I am not surprised by in the least). I also think it’s important to note that Mother Theresa was also ISFJ (but let’s not focus on the fact that Kanye West is, as well…).  Anyway. The job I currently have was already a suggested career. I the test took at least 15 minutes, which I realized was all of the time I felt like investing in new avenues.

Because you know what? I’m good at my job. I’m really good at it. I enjoy it, aside from all that political bullshit. And I’ve carved my position out where I am, now, which is hard to do in my profession. I cannot find something that is exactly equal to what I am doing right now. There are clear plateaus in my field, generally speaking, and I’ve already experienced hitting one. I don’t want to go back to that. The place I’m at is, as much as I hate to admit it, a good one.

And so far, the truth is, I have looked into other positions out there, but there isn’t much to choose from. My outlook, as it stands, is bleak. I could become employed easily, but I would take a pay cut (a sizeable one). I’ve applied for one great job that I am technically under-qualified for, but I have an ‘in’ and could be a contender. But I really can’t bank on it. And if they do offer me the position (by some stroke of pure magic), I still do not know whether or not I should accept it.

If I give up my job right now, I could be turning my back on a lot of things. A great career. Promotions. Bonuses. Pride in what I do. I’d be giving up the feeling of helping people (which is a big thing for me. I do help change people’s lives in a pretty big way). No, the industry isn’t my thing, but there are aspects of it that I play a big role in that are important. I can’t be sure that I can duplicate the good things I have going.

And the big kicker is that they already know me, which can be a good thing. I do have a major support system there. People I call family. Best friends, even.

I just don’t know what to do. Maybe this is all an indication that I am not ready to figure things out, and that I should continue to use my time to figure myself out a little more.

Maybe I will think about it next Wednesday.

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