The Toxic & The Terror

I recently resigned from a job I loved. It was a tough move – there was so much happiness there. I went from someone figuring out life to someone who knew what they were doing within the three years I spent there – with a team that appreciated, celebrated and stood by me through it all. I didn’t really think I would leave as early as I did but I also can’t believe I stayed there that long.

Every workplace has problems. It can be workload, it can be processes, it can be pay. But sometimes, it can also be a person. In a department of 60+ amazing human beings that I loved working with, that one person had more effect on me than they should have. It all only started when they started.

After a year of everyone around me being jealous of the experiences I was having through my job, I had an experience nobody would want for themselves. A casual conversation used against me to keep me out of a project. Something I said I intend to do in the future was turned into “We never know how close the future is. She could leave tomorrow.” That should’ve been my red flag, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

In a flat working environment where my former manager is now one of my closest friends, they tried to set hierarchy. I was beneath them and they wanted me to know it. When something I did wasn’t working for them, there was never a conversation. I never received feedback on the 14 versions we worked on together where I tried to keep up with changes that were continuously presented on wrong drafts. I simply got removed from the project when they responded directly to the person on their same paygrade. It bothered me but I told myself, “One less thing on your to-do list. Focus on the rest.”

I should have seen how the small things were adding up. Not just in the real world but emotionally. How this person was making me feel with every decision they made against me. But that’s the thing – these things never capture our attention long enough for us to know. If only I’d known.

6 months since they started. That’s when I knew. The anxiety, the panic, the constant jitters on calls with them. But I’m not silent. I’ve never shied away from letting the world know how I feel. So, I spoke about it. I spoke to the people around me. I spoke to the ones who had power to make change. I spoke to colleagues who could sadly relate.

There were emails – words that person wrote to taunt others just so they wouldn’t get called out for their own flaws. There were phone calls – things that person said to put ‘people in their place’ so we wouldn’t tell that person how they were failing at their job. There was so much that so many people were going through together that we all spoke about.

Nobody cared.

So, I made a decision. I stopped talking. Instead, I observed. I went to meetings and said nothing. Watched everyone try and watched every reaction on that person’s face. I sent emails with different people on copy to learn when their tone changed. I learnt to work around them, never having to be in a call together, never having to talk to each other. It’s no way to work but it’s the only way I could.

For the first time in a really long time, my anxiety was tolerable. I wasn’t panicking every time I heard their name. My heart wasn’t in my mouth when they said my name. I was able to function because I taught myself how to manage them and when I couldn’t, I followed their tactics and asked to be removed from their projects. I was lucky enough to have a team that understood.

Not everyone does.

When you are a manager and your team member tells you someone’s rude, someone wasn’t nice or that someone was making them nervous – listen.

Don’t encourage them to have open conversations with that person. Toxic people are often narcissistic. They don’t like hearing how they aren’t doing something right. When you encourage a person affected by them to speak to them, you are encouraging someone who trusted you to walk into a war path where the other person will always hold more power.

Don’t tell your team that the toxic person is nice deep in their core. Don’t humanise their behaviour. Bullies with a million reasons are bullies still. If there’s a deep underlying cause, it is their responsibility to work on it. It’s not yours to tell them. It’s definitely not the victim’s.

I watched a toxic person rise through the ranks after we told people how they behaved. I watched them build a stronger army. I watched them fail at everything and get away with it every time. I watched them stay – no matter how badly we all threatened to leave.

I ultimately left for a very different reason but the day I left and realized there will never be another call, another look, another casual sentence thrown around to prove how low on the food chain I stood – I felt my shoulders relax, my heart stopped racing and I knew I’d done the right thing.

Not everyone can.

Anxiety

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I try to explain to her,

“Nothing scares me, nothing at all.

But from the moment I’m awake till the moment my eyes close,

I’m afraid of everything around me.

The things that could go so right and those that will go wrong.”

She laughs. She doesn’t understand. “How could you be so afraid?”

I want to tell her how this works.

I want to show her all my thoughts.

Instead I explain with a lot of words.

“I fly a lot, don’t I? I’ll tell you how this goes.

I’m packing at home. I’m terrified of leaving Mom.

I worry my dogs will die again. This time I won’t be around.

I worry I’ll leave a medicine. I worry I’ll leave my passport.

I worry I’ll miss my flight. I worry of getting caught.”

“Caught for what?” Her cluelessness makes me smile.

“If I knew, I’d be careful. But I don’t.

And that’s just where this all begins.”

She shakes her head with a smirk.

I don’t blame her.

I sound insane, even to myself.

But how else can I explain?

“I’m afraid of sitting next to a stranger.

I’m afraid he’ll be drunk.

I’m afraid the flight will face turbulence.

I’m afraid we won’t reach at all.

I’m afraid our parents will find out.

I’m afraid I might land safe.

I’m afraid that I won’t have a place to stay.

I know I booked that great space,

But what if it’s a scam? What if they had issues?

What if I’ve lost our money on something that doesn’t exist?

What if my trip sucks?

What if I get mugged?

What if you find me dead?

My life revolves around a series of what-ifs

And I’m at a point where I don’t know how to tell

If what I’m feeling is an instinct or just plain ol’ anxious.”

 

“You sound stupid. You should be like me.

Not a care in the world. Things will happen as they should.”

 

I want to tell her that’s my biggest fear.

“What if it all goes wrong and I can’t stop it?

It’s out of control and my life goes to shit?

How will I survive in the middle of chaos?”

I hear his words from a recent memory,

You can do this, darling. I believe in you.”

I smile a little.

His words calm my racing heart, if only for a minute.

 

But then it starts all over again.

And I sit on a train, clenching my fists, holding my tears,

“Oh God, please. Not again.”

She’s lost, yet right next to me.

She has no idea how fast my mind was running

We were headed to sign a contract,

Another thing that makes me cry.

 

Not just tears rolling down my face

Like a yesteryear actor and a bottle of glycerin.

I cry like a baby does in the middle of the night

Loud, breathless, arms at my side.

Unable to speak,

Unable to move,

Unable to breathe.

I cry hysteria but I sit where I am.

“Because I can’t move.”

“Why not?”

“Because it will be the death of me.”

“Says who?”

“Me. A dark version of me.

A deep voice inside of me.

I can’t move.”

One hand on my chest, I remain as I am.

Waiting for it to end.

Waiting to breathe again.

“Until the next time

I go through it all over again.”

 

She tells me she doesn’t understand.

I’m now afraid to explain.