Lately there has been a wave of tremendously courageous women (and men) who have raised their voices against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Something that was once hidden behind a veil of silence is now out in the open, and the careers of perpetrators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are quickly disintegrating. There is so much power when one voice becomes a chorus of voices, and I applaud each and every one of those people who have used their voices.
Attention has been brought to the issue of bullying by such tragic stories as that of Amanda Todd, the young woman who took her life after experiencing torturous bullying. Bullying doesn’t only affect youth, though, and experiencing workplace bullying can have equally devastating consequences. That’s where my #metoo story comes in.
More than a year has passed since the workplace bullying that I experienced, but it hasn’t gotten any less painful. I saw on Twitter that it’s #BullyingAwarenessWeek, and felt compelled to add my voice to the mix. Yet as I contemplated what I might say, my stomach began to churn, and all of a sudden those events from over a year ago felt like only yesterday. To be honest, it took a glass of wine (ok more like two glasses) to get started on this post, but here we are.
My experience of workplace bullying
We tend to think of bullying as occurring mostly among youth and being fairly overt and recognizable. Workplace bullying can be much more subtle, making it difficult to recognize whether you’re actually being bullied, and equally difficult to convince others of what is happening. This can foster a deep sense of shame and self-doubt.
The bullying that I experienced came from multiple individuals, but the one leading the charge was in a position of power over me. Everything I did was consistently undercut, and I was made out to be something I wasn’t. Because the leader of the attacks was in that position of power and very much a smooth talker, others bought into the picture this person painted of me. When I started to speak up about what was happening, no one believed me. Instead, I was the one that was the problem.
I was crying daily on my drive to work, desperately wishing I could be driving in the other direction. After I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in a bathroom at work, I decided the only way that I could begin to take back control of my life was to resign. However, the champion bully was not content to leave it at that; instead, the same lies and misrepresentations followed me like a horrible smell. And who were prospective employers going to believe, me or this person? Well, whoever and whatever they believed, it definitely wasn’t me.
I was unemployed for months. When I did eventually find work, it wasn’t because it was what I wanted; it was based on these being the only people I could find who hadn’t been exposed to the malicious lies about me. The whole situation triggered a relapse of my depression that still hasn’t lifted. I have cycled through various phases: blaming myself, being angry at the perpetrators, and hating the entire world for allowing people to get away with this. At my lowest lows, I have even considered physical harm to others, because at these low points, jail time didn’t seem like it could possibly be any worse than the house arrest imposed by my depression.
Understanding what happened
While in graduate school I became familiar with a research method called autoethnography, which involves examining the interplay between culture and one’s own experience. I thought that writing might help, so I put together what I think is a pretty good autoethnographic paper about experiencing workplace bullying. Months later I still haven’t submitted it to an academic journal because of my fear that editors or peer reviewers would tear it to pieces and invalidate my experience, just as it seems like everyone has since the bullying first started.
Experiencing workplace bullying has in many ways destroyed major parts of my career and my life. Bullying that remains swept under a rug of silence allows the practice of bullying to continue unfettered. That is why I choose to raise my voice and say #metoo on #BullyingAwarenessWeek.