My world was changing economically. Certain government incentive schemes meant that work which previously had been mine, was steered away to other, more preferred, suppliers. In the greater scheme of things this was fine, even desirable, but at my individual level it was also an injustice I had to deal with. My business turnover began to dwindle, and the stress it came with was difficult for me to handle. I had been blessed with a very in demand skill-set and the word of mouth reputation that I never ever had to canvas for work! That was changing, and fast!
A sudden change rectified this, but it brought with it an old set of problems. My main client for some time decided they wanted an in-house HR Manager, and I was the obvious choice. Having been their HR provider, I knew they did not need one, but they wanted the prestige of being able to say “our HR Manager”. It was a catch 22 for me – it meant forsaking my own business and going full time. I negotiated a consulting deal where I still had a day or so a week for existing clients, and became an employee again.
Having just been through the trauma of my mother’s revelations, my tolerance for authority was again at an all-time low. Add to that my heightened sensitivity towards injustice, and we had a recipe for disaster. From the inside, I began to see shortfalls in ethics, and lost trust and faith in my employers. When an employee confided in me about her concerns, I took it on myself to investigate and find the truth. Foolish. Foolish, foolish, foolish. Understandable, maybe, but very childish and unwise. This put me at complete odds with my employers. At the time, I could not even see this. I honestly thought I was doing the right thing.
Obviously, that was not what I was doing. I was jousting again, being a “crusader” again, against immovable and indifferent windmills. No matter what my investigations revealed, the fact that I was doing this was a no-no on every level.
Looking back, I am amazed at my lack of insight. As an HR professional I could see these subtleties and errors of judgment a mile off, except when I was committing them myself! I am still surprised I did not get fired.
At the same time, my remaining free days were now taken up with another client. This was a unique situation, as the primary concern of the recruiter who hired me was “Can you handle a toxic boss?” That alone should have had me running for the hills, but my ego took over and I said “Bring her on”.
Obviously in my state I could not handle her. She was obnoxious, corrupt, overpowering and had simply zero people skills. She was churning through staff at the rate of about 3 per month, so my main jobs were hiring replacements and, then as a respite from her, negotiating with unions. My main coping tactic was to acquiesce and be a robot. Any challenges, alternative ideas, missed deadlines were responded to violently and aggressively. She was also not above playing the race card if she felt it could give her more leverage.
I tried to cope. I used tidbits of information others gave me to work out ways to handle her better. I enlisted the support of other managers who could see the tides of destruction she generated, to try and show her other ways of handling situations. They eventually suffered as I did under her toxicity.
I began to develop severe muscle pain in my back and neck, and was soon booked off ill for stress and anxiety. My struggle with authority figures had been resurrected in a very challenging and upsetting way.
This was the beginnings for me, of my battle with depression and anxiety. I had never faced a trigger that brought it on, so until now it had been a silent partner, waiting for that moment when it would surface. All it needed was the right trigger, and here it was.
Financial stress, ethical stress, authority struggles, an unrelentingly toxic work relationship. I began to crumble quietly, but I had no idea it was happening. My fuse got shorter, my ability to multitask dwindled to amost zero, and my strategic vision collapsed. I became a day to day survivor, at least in the workplace. I did not see a doctor – I had no idea what was going on, and at that early stage, I could not see the problem. I thought I was just handling a stressful situation. I had no idea that that stressful situation was eroding me, day by day, hour by hour.
Luckily for me, another chapter of my life had begun, and there were two anchors that I could begin to hold on to.
One was my amazing pastor.
The other was this amazing lady who had come into my life from across the ocean. A surprise arrival from far away, and we had truly connected.
There was hope again. Hope for normality, whatever that was. Hope for happiness.