My Job Made Me Sick

For 12 years I worked in a toxic work environment. I never knew when I arrived to work each morning whether I would have a job by the end of the day. I desperately needed to work because we supported our son in prison so he could buy necessities like food and shampoo. Also, our older son and his terminally ill wife had moved in with us. She received governmental help, but it wasn't enough for them to rent an apartment. He couldn’t work because he had to be her constant caregiver. By staying with us, they could afford to pay their other bills.

I applied for a job with a governmental agency for security in a time when many companies were going out of business. When I first started working there, it wasn't too bad. We were all on one floor in a nice building. But the training for the job was nonexistent and the others in my job description were already several months behind in their workload. Fortunately, the office secretary befriended me and since she had held my position before, was able to partially guide me through the mess. I eventually moved up from my first position, thanks to the manager who hired me. I even had my own office.

I was constantly ridiculed.

The parent company decided that the rent in the nice building was too costly for what they perceived as low production. We moved to a small building with cubicles instead of offices, which was part of a small strip mall. The increase in the noise level was horrible. My cubicle offered no privacy. It was located outside of the new manager’s office who never called people to come to her office. She just yelled out their name. This constantly interrupted my work and I couldn't concentrate. Yet more and more demands were piled upon me in this manager’s effort to prove I was not as good as her.

The pressure increased as the demands from the parent company grew greater. We knew the demands were impossible to meet because of the financial status of the clientele we served. But the parent company was in another part of the state, never visited our clientele area, and never really cared whether we could actually meet our goals or not. It pushed many of the employees into an unhealthy competition for their jobs.

I was constantly put down and ridiculed, not only by management but by some of my co-workers. One manager seemed interested in hearing about my family life, and being naive, I told her some innocuous things. She pretended to be my friend, but after a while I realized she would stab me in the back and gossip about me. I felt as if I was the laughing stock of the office and became very self conscious.

My health deteriorated and my blood pressure soared out of control. I’d always suffered with ADD and low self-esteem but soon I developed depression and anxiety issues. It didn't help that I was in my 60s when most of my coworkers were quite a bit younger, and I was also overweight. I had to force myself to get up each morning and go to work. I would come home so tired and stressed that my marriage suffered. I contemplated suicide more than once, but I promised my counselor I wouldn't do it. His stipulation was that I had to talk to him and one other person I trusted before I tried.

Thanks to counseling, our marriage survived. My sanity was partially restored, especially when my family realized how toxic my work environment had become. I managed to get through the final year with the support of my family and friends. I became involved in volunteer organizations. My mind was stimulated again and I found I could concentrate better. The work environment didn't really improve. It became worse and worse. But something in me changed.

Something in me changed.

I began to be more involved in my community. I think I finally realized that I was “worthy of praise” when I became an active member of a woman’s organization. People, whom I really didn't know well, told me what a good job I was doing, even when I didn't think I was. To my shock, I was nominated to be the president.

Toward the end of my employment, I was tricked by a coworker into printing something for a family member, which was a cause for termination. I was so ill with worry, I didn't go into work the next day. The managing attorney asked why I had done it and I looked so confused she knew immediately what had happened. I had been victimized so I would be fired. The attorney stood up for me, however it was the last straw. I announced to management that I would retire at the end of the fiscal year. By then I was in my early 70s.

I still regard those 12 years as years of actual darkness and, once I retired, I never went back to that office. I slept a great deal after I retired and slowly my mind and body healed.

Due to the encouragement of a dear friend, I joined Toastmasters and discovered I had an aptitude for public speaking and leadership. I was voted in to several leadership positions and achieved their highest education level after just a few years. Thanks to this positive and encouraging atmosphere, I have recovered most of my self-esteem and found many wonderful friends. My husband has joined and we are very active, even in our mid-70s.

Am I stronger because of the toxicity of my work? No. I am stronger because of the people with whom I now choose to associate. I have learned to remove myself from toxic situations, and walk away from toxic people. I surround myself instead with positive, caring people who share my goals and attitude.

If you are suffocating under the toxicity of your workplace, it can really help to talk with someone. Just use the form below to connect with one of our free and confidential mentors. Because you don't have to go through this alone.

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