How does PTSD manifest itself in the workplace? What makes a seemingly “normal”, well-adjusted and often “super” salesman/woman suddenly and inexorably crash and burn, often ending up taking their own life and leaving everyone, including their nearest and dearest, scratching their heads. I hope that the following article will help you understand these issues.
First thing, let’s try to establish my credentials. I’m not an “expert” or a trained counsellor — I’m a survivor and I hope the following background will go a long way to explaining why I’m so passionate about making more people aware of the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was born on the 8 May 1958 and had two loving parents, an older sister and a younger brother. Looking back, I realise to many I had a privileged background. Not that my parents were wealthy, but we lived in a large house, though I later learned the price my father had to pay, both physically and mentally, to maintain this life. My mother, while not going out to work, was always looking for ways to earn extra, and for a time she was one of the bestselling Avon ladies. Eventually, she created the first ever mail-order company selling collectables and was seen for many years as the foremost expert in this field. My sister was gifted student with an excellent memory and became a solicitor. Unfortunately, and much to my parents chagrin, neither my brother nor I were academically gifted.
For the first 14 years I had a great time. Yes, I failed my 11 plus, but wasn’t traumatised. I was lucky that, instead of being sent to a sink school, my parents decided to send me to a private school. Unfortunately, a year after I joined, the school closed, and I went to the local secondary modern. Again, this wasn’t too traumatic. I made friends and joined the athletics squad, as I could throw the discus further than most. That’s as good as it got, though — when I went back to school in the September, aged 14, my life turned upside down.
The first thing that happened, was one of the “guys” realised that I was Jewish, which must have been a shock as the year before some of my class had been at my Bar Mitzvah! Nevertheless, this discovery led to me being on the receiving end of a daily barrage of name-calling: “Yid”, “filthy Jew” or my favourite, “Jesus killer” etc. Unfortunately, Anti-Semitism, along with other forms of religious hatred, haven’t gone away. As we know, it’s alive and well in 2019, but it’s now disguised as antiZionism and anti-Islam.
However, according to my class mates, I committed a far worse crime than my birth, and that was getting a Saturday job. I stopped throwing a discus, gave up my paper round, going to football. My job was as a shampoo boy in a local ladies hairdresser and this, according to my class mates, made me queer (GAY hadn’t been coined in those days). The fact was, I was far more interested in girls, so the idea of being attracted to boys was as far off the mark as that I killed Jesus. Now, the enlightened in my class had another reason to physically abuse me, and for 5 days a week I was either spat at, punched or kicked for apparently being a specky Jewish Queer. My only release was my Saturday job — which became an after-school job and eventually my first full-time job — listening to music and being with friends at the weekend.
As anyone knows who’s been bullied, once you’ve given up trying to stand up for yourself, you learn to hide your pain and brush off the dirt from your clothes or recover your property, which often would be used instead of a ball in a game of piggy in the middle. Some of the bullied become jokers, or in some cases become bullies themselves. Those that are bullied find it very hard to let people know the pain they’re in for fear of what will happen if they “grass up” the bullies. This is still the way with many who are bullied. Regardless of our age, we brush ourselves off and stand up, dry our tears and get on with life the best way we can. That’s how the majority survive.
Unfortunately for many, when they leave school and make their way in to the big, bad world, they seem to have developed an aura that a bully picks up on. How do I know this? Because it followed me as my working life progressed?
Eventually, I quit hairdressing and went to work for my family as a sales rep based in Derby and all points North. While I was good, I hated every minute of it, as one of my uncles seemed to dislike me and took every opportunity to find fault in everything I did. When questioned, though, he said I should “grow up” as it was only “a bit of fun or constructive criticism”. During this time, I had 4 car smashes (possibly a sign that I was trying to take my own life). After my 4th car smash, which involved the Bishop of Wakefield (he was driving out of a pub), resulted in an overnight stay in hospital, I went home and ended up breaking down in front of my family. To help me calm down, my mum suggested I had a half a Valium (this was mum’s favourite cure-all from being nervous about an interview to a raging fever). Fortunately, the half a Valium worked, and I only needed to take it once. I made the decision to stop working for my family and get another job.
Once again I dried my tears, brushed myself off and painted a smile on my face. To my family, workmates and friends, I became fun person to be around, always joking, a driven and often great salesman. I was the person the company relied on to “cuddle” the clients. On the inside, however, I was slowly being eaten up by the memories of what had happened (real and imagined).
There came a day, shortly after my 39th birthday. As a family, we’d been through so much trauma, including our younger son being admitted to Great Ormond Street at 9 months old and having twothirds of his liver removed, our elder son requiring surgery to remove his ulcerated colon and my wife being diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many, we’d lost many members of our family, and I’d seen a business crash. I suddenly became overwhelmed by the pain of my life. I sat in my car looking at a brick wall, trying to decide what speed I needed to reach if I were to drive my car at it so I could stop the pain. I started to write a note, but then I began to think of the ripples that my action would create and shoved the pad in the glove compartment, dried my eyes and went to work.
By this stage, I was on autopilot. My work was suffering, and I was getting daily “encouragement” from my bosses to either ship up or ship out. What saved me was that they were “friends” who couldn’t understand what was happening. It was only when one of the directors needed to use my car that my half-written letter was found, and the cat was out of the bag. Between them and my wife, I was dragged kicking and screaming to counselling. It was this action that saved my life, as I was forced to face the many demons that had haunted me.
While counselling was the start of the healing process the “journey” from despair to happiness took many years. Yes there were times when I could have easily slipped, but with the encouragement of others and understanding of how to avoid or at least stop negative people from entering my life I have reached a “Happy Place” knowing that whatever happens in life, it cannot take me back to the where I was. So yes, I feel I am an “expert”
I hope that you now have a better understanding that PTSD is not solely the preserve of the military or emergency services, but it can and does affect far more people than you first realise.
Over the years, I witnessed plenty of “banter” in the workplace, where people often quit a job rather than face the daily onslaught. The traditional belief that this happened only on the shop floor has recently been exposed as a myth, thanks to the actions of people like Harvey Weinstein and Philip Green.
So what are the signs we should be looking for as an indicator that someone is having an emotional crisis? The problem is that, as we know, every person is different, and therefore the triggers can be too numerous to fully understand.
However, warning signs can be seen, if you’re prepared to look for them.
- Has the person changed from someone who’s happy to someone who’s going through the motions?
- Does the person display swings in personality?
- Has the person begun to drink slightly more?
- Has the person’s family been involved in any emotional situation — for example, death of a loved one (including a pet), an illness or maybe an accident?
- Have they suddenly been confronted with an unexpected bill?
All of these, with the exception of drink, did affect me at one time or another. However, as I’m not a clinician, I can’t list every conceivable situation.
So what should you do if you become aware of any changes?
Start by being human. Suggest that you have a coffee together and chat. If they don’t want to or feel they’re unable to discuss what is “going on”, as they can’t articulate why they feel like they do, suggest they speak to a counsellor. If they are a work colleague, speak to your line manager or boss and advise them of your concerns. Make sure you make time to spend a few moments every day with them until they feel ready to confide in you. If and when they do, there are at least three things that you can suggest:
- Recommend that they see their GP.
- Direct them to our website, where we have an ever-growing directory of help and advice www.the365challenge.org.uk
- Contact the Samaritans tel 116123 or visit their website https://www.samaritans.org.
What you should not do is try and cajole them into disclosing what is hurting them, as the person may feel their job is on the line.