This week is Anti-Bullying Week in the UK and the topic is something that is extremely close to our hearts in the #BeTheRipple team. To show our support for the wonderful work that the charity BulliesOut do around the topic of bullying, we have decided to post out pieces every day this week, amplifying voices, sharing stories and exploring the way that bullying makes people feel.
We are happy to share another piece today for our blog series, the piece is entitled 'A story of why we need everyone to understand and address workplace bullying', written by Coralie Ponsinet.
Coralie has experienced workplace bullying and is now determined to use her lived experience to speak up, help those going through workplace bullying, and change workplaces in the hope that none will ever have to live what she went through. Her piece will resonate with anyone who has been bullied at work, it's a story that needs to be heard.
You can find Coralie on LinkedIn: Here.
Over to Coralie:
My name is Coralie and I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have become passionate about fighting workplace bullying since I was diagnosed with PTSD a few years ago after having been bullied at work. I then spent over a year without working and I have still not fully recovered - and don't think I ever will.
I worked for my ex manager for one and a half years but did not realise until well after I left that job that something was wrong with me. In other words, through all the time I worked for her, I blamed my growing anxiety on myself and never thought that her behaviour was 'not normal'.
I had a problem I couldn’t see
A few months after I started this great career opportunity, I started having trouble sleeping. Then every morning I started crying on my way to the office. My health deteriorated to the point I went to hospital twice in a year – my neck was blocked and I had severe stomach cramps. After extensive tests, it turned out there was nothing physically wrong with my body and doctors recommended taking it easy at work.
After almost two years, I left this job to relocate to another country.
Half a year after settling into this new life, with a new job, I started feeling constantly exhausted and saw a GP, who seemed more concerned about my mental health than my physical health.
He referred me to a counsellor, which was odd for me because I was convinced there was something physically wrong with me.
I reluctantly went to see the counsellor. It felt so awkward, sitting in that office facing this guy. But when the session started, I started talking and talking. All I could talk about was my ex-boss and how terrified I was about work.
As I talked more about my previous work, the counsellor explained that I had been bullied and I was very burnt out and suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
After I left his clinic, I laughed so hard. For all I knew, this guy was crazy.
The following day I went to work and had a panic attack upon arriving to the office. I was no longer laughing. I was terrified. I felt broken beyond repair, and I could not understand why. So I continued seeing the counsellor.
It took me over a month to stop denying his words. But after I started having panic attacks every Monday morning, I ended up acknowledging that I was traumatised by my previous work experience.
Once I finally accepted my diagnosis, I already felt much better. I even texted all my friends on that Monday when I finally accepted the words “workplace bullying” and “PTSD”, as I was so relieved to have words to describe ‘what I had’.
It was hard though. My initial internet searches about PTSD indicated this is something war veterans, people who got raped, or other horrible experiences, often live with. All I did was going to a regular office job. Comparing myself to those better-known cases of PTSD made me feel like a huge fraud. I repeated in my head what my friends told me 'come on Coco, you have a great life, just take a deep breath and you'll be fine'.
But that this is not how it works.
Despite opening my eyes, I hit rock bottom
The panic attacks became a daily occurrence. I was lost. For so long, my identity had been tied in so closely to my job, but the idea of continuing waking up every day to go to the office was terrifying.
So I decided to take a career break, something I would never have thought about doing before.
The day I resigned, it really felt like my world was collapsing under my feet.
The following year was an emotional rollercoaster for me, alternating between anxiety, depression and better days.
I came very close to getting a new job for the first time six months after my break started but I had four panic attacks during the weekend before I was supposed to have a final interview. I ended up withdrawing my application.
I initially did not want tell the recruiter about my anxiety – people, especially in the workplace, are usually not ready to hear that kind of story. But I chose to explain that I needed more time before I could go back to work because I was still recovering from a previous bullying experience.
This was a victory for me. From that moment, I decided I was going to talk about my workplace bullying experience to potential recruiters. If that led to not getting a job, then it meant I did not want to work for these people in the first place.
Despite that, I was still not ready to go back to work. Seeing office workers in the city was making me feel disconnected from “normal” life and I thought I could never make a living again.
The light at the end of the tunnel
After that year feeling unfit for work, a friend referred me for a job in a company that took me as I was. I saw my psychologist just after I got the job, to prepare ways to cope with going back to work.
Before my first day I had a panic attack, but my new team was beyond amazing. They supported me whenever I would feel panicky, making me feel comfortable opening up about my anxiety, even asking me to raise awareness on mental health within the company.
My new manager put everything in place to make my work less stressful and more efficient, from weekly catch-ups to go over my priorities for the week to encouraging me to list what was causing me stress in my role so that she could help me manage these factors.
My life is "back on track" now but I can’t say I've fully recovered from my burnout. I work at a level that is way below what I used to do. Even though my new manager is kind, patient, and everything I need to trust myself at work again, there are still small things that can trigger me and make me lose my mind at work.
Making sense of it all by helping others experiencing workplace bullying
I can’t help but wonder if my life could have been different if I had known about workplace bullying while I was in that job. If I would have called it out and left that toxic environment before reaching the point of no-return. Maybe I would not have neglected the signs my body was sending me.
The one good thing that I take out of that whole nightmare is my determination to raise awareness on workplace bullying and its disastrous consequences on employees' personal and professional lives.
I am trying to write a book to share my story, the book I think could have helped me to understand what I was going through.
I am also launching an online support group for targets of workplace bullying in Australia to share their experiences in a safe space. Please follow my LinkedIn page if you are interested in joining this support group.
And if you are bullied at work or feel broken because of bullying, or if you can relate to my story, believe me: things can get better. You deserve to receive help, it is not all in your head and you are the victim.
Do not hesitate to contact me for a chat, I will gladly be there for you.
Thank you so much to Coralie for sharing this piece, clearly demonstrating the damage that can be caused by workplace bullying, even way after an individual has left the workplace.
Like so many stories of this kind, workplace bullying can drive individuals to do something that will make a difference for others, thank you Coralie for offering support to others who need it.
If you are not yet a member of the #BeTheRipple community, we would love you to join us. You can find us on Twitter: @BeTheRipple2020 and/or in our LinkedIn community: Here
Thank you once again to Coralie for sharing this piece.
If you have been impacted by bullying or harassment of any kind, please speak to someone you can trust at work or outside of work and get some advice from your organisation or externally. You do not have to put up with people treating you unfairly or unkindly, at work or in any other setting.
You can find expert guidance at the following links:
If you would like to submit a blog for this series, please send your work via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find PDFs of all blog pieces: