Post Traumatic Stress from…Work?

4 min read

My career counselor told me she thinks I have post traumatic stress from my last two jobs.

I laughed when she said it. The past two years have been intense for sure, but post traumatic stress? Isn’t that usually reserved for soldiers, victims of violence – you know, real trauma?

I knew my sense of confidence and self-efficacy took a serious hit with the job I left in 2013. I admittedly felt a bit raw going into the next place. Like jumping into another relationship when you’re on the rebound. However, unlike a relationship, working to bring in an income is essential to my survival, since the only person taking care of me, is me.

Photo cr: lifecareeroptions.com.au

Photo cr: lifecareeroptions.com.au

My career counselor also astutely assessed: “You probably felt increasingly anxious when asked for things.” How did she know?!

Due to the nature of my last role, I received many requests (or “demands” depending on who did the asking) to the point where when my phone would ring or chime, even outside of work, I’d sigh wearily and wonder, “Who wants something from me now?” I am fairly certain I experienced my first anxiety attack at that place, so…maybe she was onto something with the post traumatic stress. She does have a psychotherapy background, after all.

She presented this unofficial diagnosis after I shared with her that while job searching – feeling as though my life were in limbo until I secured a new job – when I reviewed job descriptions and envisioned what the day-to-day work might look like, I felt such an intense aversion. Worse than my revulsion at the idea of spending an afternoon with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Elizabeth Hasselbeck. As though one of those positions might beguilingly lead me into the arms of an invisible boogeyman, its massive hands slowly tightening around my dainty lady throat until I can’t breathe. Squeezing the life out of me.

Eep. So, maybe I am a bit burned out.

Cracking under stress

Photo cr: Bernard Goldbach, flickr.com

One morning, a few weeks after I lost my job, my youngest sister, C___, called me and when I answered, her words rushed out before I finished saying “Hello,”

“Keisha, omigosh! Ok, I know this is going to sound ‘all about me’, but can I just tell you? The best thing about you not having a job is I can reach you whenever I want to now!”

I chuckled. She was right. In the short time since I’d become a woman of leisure, she and I had spoken more often, almost daily. We even Facetimed! What is this magical world where one has time to face…time?

I traveled to Austin a couple of weeks ago for a needed vacation. Yes, you can need a vacation from the exhaustion of cycling through what I term “The Five Stages of Layoff Grief” and worriedly wondering what you’re going to do with you life. I also wanted to reconnect with another part of myself.

Having moved around a bit, people sometimes ask me, “Which place feels more like home to you?” Every place feels a bit like home to me. Each place I’ve lived and where I’ve experienced life in new and unfamiliar ways, has helped to shape who I am. The me that I am in San Francisco, the life that I live here, only represents one part of me, it’s one view of my world. Austin represents another. I have family there in the way of close friends and now my sister C___.

Importantly, in Austin, I’m more easily able to relinquish the fear of being vulnerable, fear of having my insecurities and weaknesses exposed. The walls that we gradually stack up as adults are more permeable in this place where I lived as a college student. There’s no putting up fronts with my Austin family. To boot, the town is friendlier; I could shed my tough city armor. I needed time away to breathe; to let the waist out.

IMG_20140817_ACL

I stayed with my sister, whom having newly graduated from college, just began a new job and rented her first non-college apartment. My last evening in town we assembled her new dresser while Mork & Mindy (RIP Robin Williams) and then The Cosby Show played in the background.

I loved being able to spend time with my little sister, doing nothing more than setting up her apartment. With our 13-year age difference and living so far away from each other, I miss/ed out on the chance to do some of these simple activities with her.

I also met up with several of my friends from college, including former roommates, my best friend and a friend, F___, with whom I keep in touch on Facebook, but hadn’t seen since we graduated over a decade ago.

Over breakfast with F___ – the food in Austin is excellent – we caught up on the goings-on in our lives since college. She’d worked for nearly a decade as a CPA until one day realizing she didn’t like it very much and didn’t want to do it anymore. As she described her emotional evolution, I identified with almost everything she described feeling.

So great to catch up with my friend F___ after all this time!

So great to catch up with my friend F___ after all this time!

I told her I felt like I’d become a robot. It happened gradually enough that I didn’t notice the spark fading from my smile, the twinkle from eyes. She nodded as I shared that working in the environments I did forced me to repress so much of my natural self.

Whether it be stifling my creativity and humor in writing a report – gotta be professional, no quips allowed! Or something as basic as adapting to the fact that a lot of people don’t say good morning to each other at work (or other social niceties) and you need to calm your friendly Texas ass down.

Simply not being able to say of the lazy, pompous blowhard with a penchant for taking credit for other people’s work and throwing others under the bus (and there are always these people), “This guy is a poison to the team. At least five people have left because of him, yet you guys are steady promoting this fool. If the company goes down, you have yourselves to blame for being blinded by bullshit;” or when you want to shout in a ridiculously contentious meeting, “We’re not curing cancer people, calm the fuck down! No one is going to die!”

F___ is currently exploring an interest in the film industry on the business side of things, and encouraged me to take some time to consider what’s I want to do next. As she smartly said, “Working for years and taking a couple of weeks off every once in a while isn’t long enough to get re-acquainted with who you are.”

She’s right. I’ve been out of work for almost two and a half months now and it’s not until just recently that I’ve felt even close to being me again. It’s as though I’ve been unwittingly enrolled in a crash course called: “Revisiting Keisha: 101.” I returned from Austin reinvigorated.

Perhaps my career counselor exaggerated a bit when she said I have post traumatic stress, perhaps not. I certainly don’t think my situation compares to more typical PTSD cases. I do know that I haven’t felt this free and light in a long while. I smile more, I laugh more, I write more, I read more and I have more time for the people I care for. Sunday night thoughts are no longer sullied with the pallor of the impending Monday morning. I’m enjoying seeing the world from a different perspective – it’s different with the daytime free! Even my career counselor, whom, up until a couple of weeks ago, hadn’t seen me in almost a year – since I took the most recent job – commented when she greeted me, “You look great! I can see it in your eyes.”

I don’t want to return to the way things were before.

Sister selfie at Mt. Bonnell in Austin

Sister selfie at Mt. Bonnell in Austin

10 Comments
  • heatherwyancko
    November 17, 2014

    We spend so much time at work it’s nuts to do something we don’t love! I’m glad you had some ‘in between’ time – I hope you were able to get really clear about what you want and that it’s now happening for you. You’re a terrific writer – I hope you’re using it ‘professionally’.
    Heather Wyancko
    http://thriftstories.me

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 19, 2014

      We spend so much time at work it’s nuts to do something we don’t love!

      I completely agree. I’m hoping to make that happen. Thank you kindly for your compliment. I also hope to use my writing professionally. We’ll see. Thanks for your comment!

  • shellyscabaret
    November 13, 2014

    I totally ended up with a case of career PTSD. It took months to shake off the the anxiety and tightening of the chest after I quit teaching at the high school level. Loved the kids, but I came to the realization that I’m too “sensitive” for the classroom (not in the I-get-my-feelings-hurt way, but the sensitive-to-too-many-energies way). Also, I found teaching within the confines of Common Core and endless evaluations and professional development to be incredibly stifling to my creativity. The job SUCKED THE JOY AND LIFE OUT OF ME. It was a learning experience though, as difficult times usually are.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      November 14, 2014

      Shelly, I swear you are in my head:

      but I came to the realization that I’m too “sensitive” for the classroom (not in the I-get-my-feelings-hurt way, but the sensitive-to-too-many-energies way)

      I feel like not enough people understand the different ways we can be sensitive. I’ll say that I’m sensitive and have to explain that I mean I’m sensitive to other people’s energies and emotions. It’s a blessing and a curse.

      It’s a shame that bureaucracy gets in the way of teacher’s focus on actually teaching. Our educational system needs a lot of reform.

      Glad you’ve moved on from that! I’m glad our difficult learning experiences do not last forever. 🙂

  • rachelstolzman
    October 16, 2014

    I read this post thinking, I hope this woman changes fields. I get the sense the field you’re in is prone to abusiveness. You’re too young and talented to spend time in a field like that. I love your blog’s name and what I’ve read so far. Well done! Listen to Nina Simone’s To be Young, Gifted and Black and meditate on what field to work in in the future! All best!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 16, 2014

      That’s very sweet of you to say, thank you! You are more right than you know about my needing to change some things. I’m working on it!

      I’ll be adding that Nina Simore song to my playlist. Thanks again!

  • Emma
    September 10, 2014

    I am with out a doubt a person who has suffered form work place PTSD.I am no longer employed by this corporate MONSTER.I suffered from a lot of anxiety the first few days, I felt like I was going through a bad divorce. I feel so free now. I smile more, and my headaches are no more. I able to spend more time with my family, and focus more on finding out who I really am.

    • thegirlnextdoorisblack
      September 10, 2014

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Emma! Happy to hear that you are out of that environment!

  • Farhaneh
    September 3, 2014

    I am so happy that you are blogging because I can just point people to this entry when I have to explain how I felt when I was going through the same stage. And comparison to PTSD suffered by military personnel notwithstanding, I think your therapist nailed it.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      October 2, 2014

      I’m glad I was able to capture your sentiments accurately. I thank you so much for sharing your experiences! It really helped make me feel less nutty and more hopeful. 🙂

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