Last week I wrote a blog about my friend Anxiety and how we met. I’ve pinpointed an incident that took place almost a decade ago as the root cause of my trauma. And while I have dealt as best I can with that incident, Anxiety and I remain good friends. She drops in every now and then. It’s inconvenient, but some guests just don’t understand “no”.
After many years of therapy, I’ve come to realise that while the initial stress point was being held up in the sanctity of my own home, a secondary and more insidious stressor was the reaction of my manager at the time.
At the time I was the night news editor for a local newspaper. I worked from 2pm to 10pm. They were horrid hours, but there was a healthy night allowance, so I sucked it up and did the job. When I was held up, I requested a shift to a day shift while I had trauma counselling and attempted to deal with my fear.
Testing my strength
This was agreed to and my editor also agreed that since it was a temporary situation I would keep my night allowance. However, he went on leave and while my manager was filling in he began making demands on me that tested my strength. Forcing me to sit away from the familiarity of my desk, to sit in an open area with my back exposed – they all increased my stress. It was after all a week after I had been assaulted.
When I broached the subject with my manager, his response was “Just get back on your horse. I’ve fallen off my horse many times … I just pick myself up and get back on it. Have you never fallen off a horse before?”
The straw that broke my back was when I looked at my salary slip and realised he had not signed off on my night allowance.
My first full-blown panic attack engulfed my body. It had me gasping for air and paralysed. I could not feel my arm. I had to be hospitalised and spent a week being poked and prodded only to walk away with a diagnosis of PTSD and anxiety.
I reported my manager to our Human Resources Department. My editor and I both had our say before the Human Resources officer. I was told by my editor that my manager is a champion of women. He understands “women’s issues”.
In the end, it was agreed that the matter was not handled with empathy. My editor undertook to get my manager to apologise for his behaviour. Seven years later, I have yet to receive that apology.
However, no apology will give me back my dignity. No apology will wipe away the humiliation and extreme isolation I felt at that time.
As I sat with a female human resources manager and a male editor, I realised how entrenched misogyny is in the workplace. I realised then that the glass ceiling for women is real. Empathy is in short supply. I realised that to protect myself, I would need to extricate myself from that situation.
Here I am – a freelancer and my own boss. I’ve come a long way since that incident. Yet every now and then something happens that leaves me totally incapacitated again.
This time it was the threat of physical violence against me. It was made by a fellow committee member at an organisation I belong to. For months the women in this committee have faced a sustained attack from this man. Some of us have had to block him on our cellphones, emails and social media. As he launched a very public assault on some of us, we endured condemnation and judgment from people who didn’t have the facts. And then when he realised he was not going to get his way he threatened physical harm. The response of senior members of the organisation was this man needs empathy. This man should not be shunned. This man must be brought back into the fold and made to feel safe.
I was floored.
And again I found myself paralysed. By fear. Anxiety had dropped by unannounced. Again. How rude!
This, while male and female peers were sitting back and saying “just get back on your horse”. One woman told me this man does not have the means to travel to where I am to harm me! So I should stop ruminating about him.
Another person said we need to put “petty differences” aside and think about what’s best for the organisation.
Are you kidding me?
Harm, like empathy, is a many-faceted thing. Harm does not have to be physical violence. Threatening physical violence is as harmful. And in a country where violence against women and children has reached epidemic proportions, it boggles my mind that people do not see the hypocrisy of their statements. It boggles my mind that we seek to explain away men’s bad behaviour. It boggles my mind that we make excuses for the open threats men make on our person.
And so Anxiety and I have reunited for a fresh session of sweaty palms, heart palpitations and throwing up.
This as these colleagues pontificate on whether the “threat” made was real, perceived or mere hyperbole.
- Read more about my work journey here.