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Help me not fall apart.
February 9, 2014 10:51 AM   Subscribe

I need to get out of this dysfunctional work place but I'm stuck and feel myself breaking down.

I'm in a really bad spot facing a vindictive manipulator at the office who has gained the support of my boss, colleagues, and HR. My character has been smeared and this person has the winning advantage. I have been trying to do my part in keeping things calm and civil and focusing on the work but all my efforts have been undermined by this persons drama and intent to take me down. I desperately need to get out of this toxic environment but I don't have another job lined up and I am the sole provider for my family and we are in over our heads with debt and bills. I guess I have known for years that the office was very dysfunctional but stayed because I like my job. I've made some mistakes but always worked to fix them. I've taken accountability for my own part and have focused on the tasks.. This person no doubt has a vendetta against me. I am not looking for sympathy but it sure might feel a little better if there was some light at the end of the tunnel. I am a wreck and just need to get out before I have a nervous breakdown. I feel myself breaking and I just don't know what to do.
posted by peasncarrots to Work & Money (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you have any sick or holiday time you can use? Really the only answer is to get out of the toxic workplace, but even a tiny break from the relentless toxicity might improve your mental state enough to let you lay serious escape plans.

If somebody's been shredding your self-confidence, it's really easy to be left feeling like you don't have what it takes to escape and you have to just stay there until they finish destroying you. YOU DO HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO ESCAPE. We're going to help you. You can do this.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:59 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]


Take a deep breath. You are about to find a new job. You've just said some great things that you can use during your interview process.

"I've been blessed to work in an environment with all kinds of different people."
"I've stayed as long in my job as I have because I actually like it."
"I work hard to find and fix mistakes when I make them."
"I hold myself accountable for my part and stay focused on my tasks."
"At this point in my career, I think its time i look for an opportunity to broaden my horizons."

Get your resume in order, update your linkedin profile (consider joining the hidden Metafilter Members group) and realize that this is the first step towards a new job filled with possibilities.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:11 AM on February 9 [10 favorites]


Agree, sounds like you are in a crisis, stressing out, and need a little perspective. Use whatever form of leave you can get, even if it means going to a doctor and getting a note. Then take a break and talk to someone (a mentor from a former job, your union rep, etc.) and start brainstorming some stategies for getting out in the medium to long term and improving the day to day in the short.

You are not alone. Sadly, many people go through this kind of thing. They survive, and so will you.
posted by rpfields at 11:12 AM on February 9


Already some awesome advice.

Take an hour today to update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Just an hour. Sounds new-agey, whatever, it'll throw some energy out there that you are taking the next steps to a better job.

Your ship is moving forever forward and you need to be healthy, happy, and at the helm! Right now, you're taking on water and your bucket has a hole.

A terrible work environment will take years from your life, affect your health, and do nothing to improve your financial situation.

Take a sick day, see your doctor, tell him/her about your incredibly stressful situation, get a letter, and take medical leave. Two weeks. I've done this, so have a few of my friends, and it's really not that complicated once you give the note to your HR rep. My letter was written on a prescription pad!

Please take care!
posted by mamabear at 11:20 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]


Consider that, possibly, things are not as bad as they feel to you right now. Crisis situations can distort the way you're viewing things; what feels like being backed in the corner may not be quite as bad, objectively.

If you have no other trusted person, perhaps consider seeing a therapist once or twice? They can be good at helping you identify what the options really are.
posted by jayder at 12:31 PM on February 9


Spend 15 minutes a day on your exit strategy. That's 1 networking phone or polishing a small section of your resume. Every single day you need to make a little step. Every day give yourself a bit of positive momentum. If you get to bedtime and you haven't done anything then visualize your new job for a few minutes. It's easier to maintain momentum than it is to stop and restart.

Is your company large enough that there is an Employee Assistance Program? If so, please make that call. You're in a tough spot - forced to spend hours with problematic people and under pressure to keep the job to support your family. If there isn't a employee assistance program, find out what your insurance covers.

This situation is stressful enough that you deserve to have some help sorting it out. Ask for help.
posted by 26.2 at 1:14 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]


Okay, so breaking it down there are two things you should be working on now.

1. NOT LETTING THEM BREAK YOU

This means reducing your stress levels, building your self-confidence and experiencing as much happiness as possible. Talk to your doctor, talk to a therapist. If there are financial barriers making that difficult, seek out assistance programmes or use free web services like MoodGym and Seven Cups Of Tea as a stopgap.

At work, seek allies. Not to be on your side in the Battle Against Asshole Co-Worker, but to be on your side in the Battle To Feel Human Between 9 and 5. Make a conscious effort - no matter how shitty you're feeling - to be smiley and pass the time with the receptionist, the security guard, the cafeteria staff, the cleaners. Find somebody in that building who is pleasant and uninvolved in the drama that you can talk to about the weather or the local sports team or whatever. Just somebody who can be an antidote to the drama and bring you a little breath of fresh air and normality when you need a break.

Outside of work, spend time with non-duplicitous people who genuinely like you. It's likely that you've withdrawn from people while you've been feeling so awful. Reconnect with friends and family. Try to pick up the hobbies and pursuits that you've always been good at to remind yourself that you are actually good at stuff no matter what those assholes say. Cook comfort foods, reread favourite books, rewatch favourite movies. Accept that doing things to make you happy is absolutely a thing worth investing time in and is in the long term interests of your family.


2. YOUR EXIT STRATEGY

This means getting yourself in a professional and financial state where you can leave. Get your CV up to date. (If your confidence is low enough that you have a hard time listing what you do or what your skills are, go through old folders and emails to find evidence.) Start networking with people in your industry, but outside of your organisation. Go to MeetUp Groups, trade shows, anywhere you can pick up leads about openings. Apply for jobs, even jobs outside your usual bailiwick if they're going to pay enough to keep your family afloat.

Take a stocktake of your debts, go back and reread the small print on everything. Imagine if tomorrow you were to just say fuck it and quit your job. Which debt becomes the most pressing? Who would grant you a payment break and who would chase you all the harder. Whichever debt is the most pressing in that scenario is the one you should put all your energy into paying down now. Plan your finances from the starting point that you will quit and you're just doing a couple of things first to make that easier.

Find additional cash for your escape fund. Do you have stuff you can sell? Is there anything you can downsize? Your home? Your car? Your phone? Your cable package? See if there's anything in your life that you can swap for a cheaper model or any contracts where you can shop around for a better deal.

If you have insurance through your workplace, make sure you and your family get everything you can out of it asap. Physicals for everybody, eye checks, dentists visits. Work on the assumption that sometime soon you will be leaving, then work to make sure you've taken full advantage of anything the job can give you before that happens.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:06 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]


Thank you all so much for all your incredibly helpful responses. I do have time off that I can use and I definitely need it. I've started seeing a therapist very recently and am hoping to get a note to support my need to take off.

Latin Mouse, I have been trying to lay low and find ways to keep my dignity at the office since things escalated. My self esteem is absolutely shot to hell. I don't trust myself and I feel ill when having to make decisions. I am not the brightest bulb in the world but without having anyone to go to for guidance or productive advice, I'm left flailing on my own to figure things out. It's a constant battle of me reminding myself that I have to trust myself and that I cannot allow myself break. I force myself to keep my back straight, to at least pretend to be confident, to chat with colleagues who will chat with me. I've pushed myself out there while desperately wanting to crawl into a dark hole. Some days I feel better, while others, are worse and I tell myself to just focus on the work and it'll be okay but the problem is, a lot of my work involves communicating with those who are part of the drama. It's so bad that many times, when I speak, I involuntarily tear. Not a lot, just a little that I'll say I've been having problems with my eyes and they're irritated.

Thank you all for your practical and understanding advice and support. I look forward to reading any more that come in.
posted by peasncarrots at 2:34 PM on February 9


I can, and do sympathize. I just found a new job after spending 7 months in a job that was a bad fit with a nasty boss. I felt a tight knot in my chest all the time, like I couldn't draw in a full breath. Your situation sounds much more difficult.

Here's how I coped: I kept track of how many sick days I had and I used them, sparingly, but I took a day here and there and that helped a lot. I made sure to pack decent lunches and not eat junk. I got up from my desk frequently and took a walk around the office, with purpose, to seem like I had to Take These Papers Downstairs to The Finance Department Right Away but really just so that I had a little change of scene and a chance to stretch my legs and take some deep breaths.

I kept little treats in my purse like Tootsie Rolls. I listened to music with headphones when possible, even if just for a few minutes. Bach's Violin Concerto in particular made me feel like there was some order in my world.

I also actively worked on my exit strategy. I knew I wasn't going to make it in this job for a year so I tried to find a possible "I can take this new job if I absolutely have to even though it is just a stopgap" job. I called everyone who might know someone who would talk to me (never on company time or on their phone) and I got lucky pretty quickly.

With all due respect, I would like to take issue with something in your followup: You say you're "not the brightest bulb" but I think you sound intelligent and articulate. If we worked together I'd seek you out as a friend. That voice inside making you doubt yourself is the stress and depression talking. If you have an Employee Assistance Program where you work, consider giving them a call. Talking to someone about how desperate you are feeling might result in some ideas of ways to make things better. I hope so.

Good luck and please let us know how you're doing.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:39 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]


My workplace became so toxic that I became quite ill, it affected my heart, and I used up an awful lot of sick days on my way out. I wish I were better at not letting assholes make me feel bad, because that's a good strategy. Disengage from the games, battles, bullshit as much as you can. Document. Send email after meeting - When we met this morning, it was agreed that ..., X suggested ..., the suggestion for idea Q was tabled .... Be bland, factual, impersonal. It helps you establish reality with your manager, and your manager is the one who matters.
posted by theora55 at 8:44 PM on February 9


I am in a really similar situation to you right now and I think there's some amazing advice above. My small workplace has become such a toxic environment due to various issues that I don't really need to go into here - suffice to say there are constant financial pressures on the place and a lot of latent anger in my co-workers, to the point where several times a day I get told "if you don't X, we're going to close, and it'll be your fault." Passive-aggressiveness is the default behaviour there and there'll be stand-up sweary fights with things being thrown and desks being banged on several times a week. It's like the world's least sexy episode of Mad Men.

Last Tuesday, I got to the point of breakdown and left early after spending most of the morning sobbing in the bathroom. On Wednesday morning, I went to see my doctor - I've been put on medication for anxiety. I didn't go to work for the rest of the week and you wouldn't believe the difference it made to me, not being in that toxic, negative environment. The tiny things that sent me into a spiral of anxiety (complete rubbish like slightly scary storylines in books!) suddenly didn't matter, my power of rationalisation returned. It was like being me again, when I'd been this coiled-up little ball of stress for over a year. What I'd like to say, having had to battle through all kinds of negative thoughts about this is that even if it's been caused by external factors (ie. your workplace) this is now a medical issue, that life doesn't have to feel like this, and that there are people who want to help you.

I agree with all the people above who say that taking some time off will really help. I felt so guilty about taking those few days off, especially since we're a small team and it was a very fraught period. But whatever your financial obligations, however much you need the money, they don't pay you enough to make yourself ill. You're paid to do set tasks for them during working hours, you're not paid to give your existence over completely to their stress, to become their punching bag, to shorten your life and make your days and nights and weekends and holidays an anxious, miserable mess. If you're anything like me, you've probably got to the point where Friday evening is euphoric, but by Saturday lunchtime you're already dreading Monday. That's not how it needs to be. See the doctor, get time off, get medication if s/he feels you need it. You won't be able to find another job in this mental state - coping day-to-day, getting to 5pm is what's taking up all of your energy.

Also, don't feel that you have to suddenly launch into a jobsearch as soon as you get your time off sick. Don't put any pressure on yourself to do anything. Lie in bed 'til lunchtime if you need to. Get up at 6am and walk around your neighbourhood if you need to. Go out to your favourite café, see a film, play that computer game you've had your eye on, visit that museum you've wanted to visit for ages but never had the energy - or don't. It's up to you. Make your time yours again - that's a super important process when you've been forced to dedicate your existence to someone else's moods and whims for so long. It's almost a case of rebuilding yourself internally before you can really subject yourself to the pressures of something like a job hunt. But you'll do it! I know I can, and so can you.

This probably came out a little less coherently than I thought it might, because I kept thinking of something else to add, but I hope you find something helpful. Good luck! :)
posted by winterhill at 12:25 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


Most of my workplaces have had 8 - 10 people in the group. There is ALWAYS been at least one toxic individual and one minion. The toxic person controls others by speaking negatively of others as well as speaking highly of themselves. They make people paranoid that they too could be under the same attacks some day. The minion is too insecure to detach from the toxic person, and they seem to like the attention of the toxic person. What seems to be helpful is to interact more with the manager of the group. Do not be afraid to visit their office more to discuss your projects, and subtly point out your recent past successful problem solving strategies that kept the project moving forward. You may not think these successes were important, but if they kept things moving, then they certainly are. As you interact with your manager more, they will get to know the real you rather than the fictional character the toxic person has painted you. This really works and you have to be proactive about it. If you manager is blocking you from interacting with him/her, being dismissive, keep trying, you have nothing to lose. Stay positive about yourself, as you are your only advocate throughout life. Even close friends and family cannot always be with you, this is true for everyone. Even if you get laid off, you will survive this and move on to something better--but you will not get fired if you are doing your job and have had no warnings about your behavior and work. Best of luck, this is not impossible by any stretch.
posted by waving at 5:18 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Been there done that. I have learned that actively job searching is empowering! You may not get a job right away, but it's knowing that there are steps being taken to resolve the situation. If there is not a job that fulfills your needs, it may be satisfying to know that your current job is placating you in some ways.

To address toxic employees-because I don't know what you do or how you can cover yourself, it is difficult to provide specific advice. What I have done in the past is document everything. Emailed or case noted "consulted so and so about this and that". I also include my plan with steps (numbered). That way, everyone is knowledgeable in what I am doing and what I am accomplishing. Basically, I find ways to be one step ahead of the toxics and not let them minimize me or my work.

Good luck.
posted by LinneaJC at 11:36 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Can I mark all the answers as best because all of the responses here are so helpful. I don't feel as alone in my struggle to overcome this which in turn is helping me see that glimmer of light that says, "everything will be okay. you can and you will do it!" - of course, then the boss says something to stomp on me and I crack again.... I realize it's abuse and I just don't have the energy to forge forward and fight it. For better or for worse, I just need to get out and this feeling of desperation paired with the unknown near future completely unsettles me.

Winterhill, I didn't think so at first reaction, but you're right that I probably shouldn't launch into an all out job search. And the advices here on just taking a little time each day to work towards that rings true also. I am in no shape whatsoever to do my best at an interview. I can't think straight and thoughts just get run over by more thoughts and feelings are confused about what I've done right or wrong to get me to this place. I do need to take the time to first shake off that feeling of desperation to get out, shake off that feeling of abuse, stand tall and forge ahead. God, just typing this and I'm ready to crawl back to bed.

Thank you all so much. I have not felt so much compassion and understanding in such a long time, I don't even know what to do with it but maybe grovel. Thank you all and please don't stop here if you feel compelled to post. I will keep referring back as I gain the strength and knowledge to get out of this terrible state I'm in and hopefully someone else who is going through similar will do the same.
posted by peasncarrots at 11:16 AM on February 11


Things have taken a turn for the worse at the office where my boss indirectly threatened me. I've come to realize that in all this time, it was him who was manufacturing this taken down on me by getting "everyone" on his side and isolating me. I don't know why. I know I've done my best to fix any problems as professionally as I could. I've been here many years and never had a problem until now. I realize on hindsight that the events that lead up to this were always handled at an extreme level - leaving me befuddled and completely confused as to the situation. I've asked for time off with my therapist's note to support that I could use the time off and it went to HR who questioned whether I should be taking disability instead. Again, I'm confused - I just want to take time off... I've told them that it's not a disability, I'm trying to avoid that if anything. I'm up against the wall. I feel pinned down. I've been depressed and can't think clearly. I can barely focus enough to pay my bills. I've been shaking and twitching a little for over two hours thinking about having to go back to the office tomorrow. I have unreasonable fears that if I find another job, I'll be treated the same way. I'm petrified and even though I am hanging by a thread, I can't seem to stop the irrational thinking from taking over me. I'm just scared.
posted by peasncarrots at 3:08 PM on February 17


Just coming back to this thread, and so sorry to see that things took a turn for the worse. If it's that bad, maybe you would be better off to get the heck out, even if it's on disability, and focus on getting a rest and then getting another job? It sounds like they are making you ill, and nothing is worth that.

Please let us know how you are doing.
posted by rpfields at 12:44 PM on February 25


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