Today is my two year anniversary with my current job, and I must still be in the honeymoon phase, because I love it! Aside from my job as a waitress through high school and early college, I have never had a job that lasted for much more than a year, and with the exception of leaving my online writing position my last year of college when I graduated and took a full time job across the state, all of these job changes were due to one thing. They were not a good fit for who I am. They didn’t play to my strengths, and made me collapse myself, reform myself, to fit into a certain expected shape.
This is something that it took me a really long time to realize, but your job performance and satisfaction has so much more to do with the culture and the work environment than it does with what you are doing. A good work environment can foster creativity and open up your passions to succeed, to self motivate, and to dedicate yourself to the tasks at hand. A poor work environment can make you edgy, keep you looking over your shoulder, and constantly doubting yourself. Trust me, you will never do your best work or have near as much success with your healing when drowning in a poor company culture.
With PTSD, I think this is even more important. When you are struggling to keep a grip on things in your head, trying to keep it together in a stressful workplace will quickly wipe you out and leave you miserable, panicked and desperate. We spend 8 hours each day, 40 hours a week in these environments, and the culture is what makes the difference between a second family and a crucible.
I know that every one of us experiences PTSD in a slightly different way, but for me, I struggled to keep things straight. Feeling like a trapped animal, I tried to balance my work duties, doctor appointments, bills, etc. I struggled with this for a long time. This story is just one example of how it had an effect on me, and how one act of kindness made a life-changing difference.
I can recall one morning driving to work, already running late, afraid to hear the snarky comments from the busybody women working near the door, when I decided to check a voice mail I had not checked the evening before simply because I had dropped into bed at 5:30pm too exhausted to move or think any longer. The voice mail was a reminder of my doctor appointment I had forgotten about and had not asked time off for. The appointment was in 30 minutes… an hour away from where I was now. I called to let them know I couldn’t make it, and the receptionist, clearly uncomfortable, let me know that this was the third time I had canceled with less than 24 hour notice, and that their policy was to drop any patient after the third offense.
This was the only doctor that had so far been able to give me any hope. Any relief. Any chance at healing. And they were going to drop me because the condition they were treating me for had interfered with my treatment. I couldn’t even answer her, but instead began bawling. I couldn’t have said anything coherent if I tried. And this woman, instead of being annoyed or frustrated, made a beautiful, human decision.
She stayed on the phone with me for a moment and let me cry before she said “Hey, here is what we are going to do. We are running a bit behind today, and appreciate your willingness to reschedule your appointment for next week. How does that work?” She took the time to offer compassion to someone who felt at their wits end. While cautioning me to please try to make it to the next appointment, she rescheduled me. And I never missed another appointment.
I will elaborate more about my medical care in future posts, but because she offered this act of kindness, I continued getting help. My doctor fought to get me into the Mayo Clinic, and changed my life. I will never forget this woman’s act of kindness in this moment.
Get Out of Poisonous Environments
Back to the issue at hand: work environments. Within a month of this event, I decided that being surrounded by women that made you check everything twice, that forced you to save email chains just to cover your ass, and who would send messages to the boss behind your back to make themselves look better was just not going to cut it for me. It wasn’t even just issues regarding my work, but cruel comments about how my clothing fit (as a stress eater, I was gaining a lot of weight), my hair style, my eating habits, desk hygiene, timeliness, even listening to my headphones too loudly. Every action was an offense. I’m sure they would have complained about my breathing too loudly if they thought they could get away with it. There was one woman instigating the cruelty, but others would jump on board to ensure they didn’t become the focus of her inner darkness. Workplace bullying is a real thing, and I pity anyone who has to endure this pointless and hurtful behavior.
I managed to score a great position elsewhere in the company, and on my last day in that cruel department, I packed up every belonging, my computer, and all desk items, loaded it onto a cart, and moved it to my new desk in a completely new building. Excuse my language, but there was no way in hell I was stepping foot in that old building ever again.
Find Your Place to Thrive
Even though it was the same company, this new department was a glorious breath of fresh air. All of the women I worked with were exceptionally kind and fun loving, and encouraged me in my daily duties. We did bi-weekly lunch potlucks, send around goofy group emails, and took time to learn more about each others lives. I would often babysit kids for multiple co-workers, followed one woman’s journey when she married a man from a different country, and her pain and struggling to get him admitted to the United States (2 years!!!). Many I still have as references, mentors, and friends. It was at this point in my life where I was able to finally start the first steps in healing, surrounded by a supportive environment.
Poor Culture Taints Good Relationships
You can even love your job and the people you work with, but still suffer through a poor company culture. My first job out of college was almost my dream job. Working in website development as a project manager, I loved every moment of it and considered my co-workers to be my second family. We still had fun lunch events, got together after work on the occasion, could have a good laugh. But there was a desperate and miserable undercurrent. We were always behind, and the expectation was to work your butt off and catch up.
Ultimately, that is just like catching the mythical unicorn. It would be nice, but its just not realistic. In less than a year, I had massively burned out. After just six months, I started calling my mom crying on a semi weekly basis. 10 months in, I swallowed my pride, called my dad, and asked if he could loan me enough money to move back across the state to find a new job.
I had a bunch of interviews scheduled for a weekend vacation home. With culture as my foremost priority, it was amazing how much I could learn about a company in an interview. You should always interview the company back and make sure it is indeed a good fit for you as well. A good employer will respect this immensely, and by finding the right fit for you, you will set yourself up for success.
As I walked into the office of my first interview, I waited a few minutes for someone to notice me (no one was at the front desk, and there was just a long concrete hallway with conference rooms leading away from it). One employee finally popped out of a room and asked me in a snotty tone, “Who are you here to see?” (I could have been a client, seriously?) and my interview was not much better. Discouraged I went to the next interview. I felt that the interviewers at this next company were completely unprepared, and my impression was that they had a vague idea that they needed someone in this type of position, but had no idea what the details of this position would be (read here: no guidance, and no metrics to gauge your success. You will fail at this type of position. Every time).
I received a quick tour of the office at the conclusion of the interview, where the owner noticed an empty desk. “Where is [Name]?!?” she demanded. “Their screensaver has kicked in, so it has been at least 10 minutes.” I was flabbergasted that she would behave in such a way with her employees, much less in front of an essential stranger to her business. I could see the other employees muttering noncommittal answers and shying their faces away from her, not wanting to be tarred with the same brush.
In the parking lot, I climbed into my car and burst into tears. You couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to take that job.
The next day, I worked up my courage, and went to my last interview. Waiting in the lobby, I heard employees on the other side of the wall joking, laughing, even singing along to music. My interview was conducted by people that talked about growth and focusing on strengths. A week later, I was given an offer with a that phenomenal company, the very same I am celebrating my two year anniversary with. They focus on people, and work with you to build up your personal strengths as opposed to trying to fit you into a mold you don’t belong in. They celebrate how each employee is different, and brings a unique strength to the company as a whole.
It took me years to find the right place, but trust me, there are good jobs and good employers out there. Keep trying until you are able to find a place where you can be the best you there is, and find the stability you need to become a whole person. To heal. You deserve it!