For many years I was bullied and categorically selected as a scapegoat on my job where I worked as an assistant nurse at a large international company within homecare service for elderly. In this article I will undisguised tell my own story on how I was victimized. Bullying can happen anywhere, anyone can become a victim as well as anyone can become a perpetrator! It can happen at any time when people do not see the warning signs. Not even the two managers, who succeeded each other during this time, were able to interpret these signs. I developed a severe depression with anxiety attacks, but during these years I was in denial. I never thought that I was depressed, or that I was being bullied at all. Bullying is a serious societal problem because of our attitudes toward our fellow human beings. I think we have a System Error here!
When the old wounds burn and linger,
when your cheek is wet by tears of loneliness,
life as wearing a millstone around your neck,
your song as sorrow as the gloom of lost cranes,
go and drink a breath of the winds of autumn,
watch with me the pale blue sky!
Come and stay with me by the gates of the meadow,
when the wild geese fly over the village.
(Nils Ferlin, Swedish poet, 1898-1961. My own translation)
BULLYING – System Error
Bullying! What do you think of when you hear that word? Do memories from your own childhood turn up? Were you subject to abusive treatment at school or elsewhere when you were a child? You may even have your own experiences of adult bullying in the workplace or elsewhere? The problem of bullying and harassment does exist at both schools and workplaces! It is a reality for many people and a daily reminder that you are not worthy being “one of us!” Often, schools and workplaces solve the problems by letting those who are being bullied to move to a new school or, as is usually the case with workplaces; the person who gets bullied is often fired! This really is discrimination and a criminal violation of human rights. Victims of bullying may perhaps suffer a lifetime for this injustice, while schools and workplaces are free from judgment. There is something seriously wrong with the whole social system here! In the computer world it is called a System Error Code 10; Error_Bad_Environment!
Between the years 2004 to 2010, I worked as an assistant nurse within one of the largest homecare providers for elderly in Sweden. Soon the stress in the unit showed its true nature, faced as scapegoating. I am convinced that poor conditions in the workplace can bring bullying and discrimination. When workplace conditions worsen, people’s bad sides will be clearer. Discomfort and stress in the workplace creates troubles, irritation and hostility, a hotbed for bullying. Colleagues could use a different tone of voice when they spoke to me, compared to how they spoke to other co-workers. I could also be completely ignored by some. In addition to what happened to me personally, things also happened behind my back. According to co-workers who have been talking to me recently about this, things were said about me without my knowledge, while others also made general comments to me that I was lazy and incompetent and that I did a bad job.
In my previous article I gave a hint about me being bullied for many years and how I, because of that, suffered from a deep depression and still does. Now I will take you several years back, because it all started with different episodes from the time when I worked for this company. If I add up everything that happened to me during these years, it is no wonder that I became depressed with recurrent anxiety attacks! But as I said in the preamp above; I was in denial, because I thought I just had misunderstood the whole situation and started to convince myself that it all was just in my fantasies. Here is my story of how life has treated me.
“OUTED” BY ACCIDENT
Among things that were uttered against me were anti-homosexual opinions. My sexuality was often associated with, or disguised in criticism of the way I made my job. What my sexual preference ever had to do with my job, remains a mystery to me! One of the reasons why these things happened to me may have been a seemingly insignificant event in our lunchroom one day in spring of 2008. A colleague that I have known for many years, happened to say too much and told the others that I was gay. I was also present at that time where we sat during our lunch. “So what,” I thought. But I could take it, because it was true; I am gay!
She meant no harm, of course, but others took advantage of the situation and used this information occasionally. Some time after I had resigned from my job, I was thinking of the past events and soon I found out that of about twenty co-workers, I could only trust a handful of them. My co-workers have told me later on about gay jokes that were uttered to make fun of me, when I was not present to hear it myself. But I surely have heard enough with my own ears! Usually it is not WHAT they say that is offensive, it might as well be that they do not say anything at all. Silence can also speak for itself!
I was often mocked by the night staff, when I came in late in the afternoon and they were waiting to get the keys they needed in the evening. They called me names and comments like:
– “Have you been drinking coffee with your oldies as usual?” This was an expression that one of the managers also could use. I was soon blamed by my manager for not doing my job quickly enough.
During the years 2004-2008 we had a manager without an official education in leadership or economy, she was a worker like any of us, so she was unqualified for the job as the head of our unit. She left her job in fall of 2008 but a couple of weeks after she had left, she came back and made a short visit to our unit (to get some documents or something) and loudly she said so everyone could hear:
– “Some oldies have complained about you and we have lost three of them when they have turned to other homecare providers.” That tart comment was the last I heard from her before she left the building with a sneer on her lips. She is still working for the company in another unit. Why did she say those things? She was no longer our boss! Our coordinator could make comments too:
– “I just knew that Jonathan is gay, it is so obvious, he is so pathetic!”
REORGANIZATION AND LOGISTIC PROBLEMS
On top of all the stress may also be added that there were several reorganizations of the activities, where workers from other units were merged with our unit, only to disappear after a while to move somewhere else, which further contributed to discontent and confusion among us, followed by more stress. Studies have been made that say that this is one of the reasons of increasing insecurity, bullying and anxiety in the workplace.
It did not get better because we also had to take over several homecare visits from other units, so that our catchment area became even bigger! Soon our unit was geographically the largest among all homecare providers all categories in Stockholm! Imagine 20 employees and only 7 of us had a driving license. The rest had to walk, use bicycles or take the bus to their visits, and that in turn could take a long time for them to get ready with their work. Those of us who were blessed with a driving license often had to help them with their jobs, with even more work to do! Hello, we have a logistic problem here!
I told that for the managers in charge that this is impossible, we can not work under these conditions, but nothing happened. Oftentimes the whole situation could turn quite stormy. Everyone was dissatisfied with the situation in the workplace. Now and then I got a picture in my mind through these years;
“And here we are in a spaceship lost in space on our way out in the darkness” (just like in the movie 2001 – A Space Odyssey.) Sometimes my mind drifted away to Titanic and other shipwrecks in history!
Thoughts about contacting the Headquarter began to spin early in my head, perhaps as early as 2008. “I need to talk to someone, it does not help talking to the manager or the coordinator,” I thought. I tried with brainstorming among a few co-workers I could talk to, if I could tell about me, but they advised me not to tell about my personal problems that occurred on the unit. I then decided to emphazise the general mood and the stress we all experienced on the unit. That was also the approach I took when I finally contacted the Headquarter in January 2011, a long wait, I know. More on that in part 3.
COLLAPSE AND SUICIDE ATTEMPT
There were several episodes during the later years, which led me to two collapses, with feelings of being “burnt out” from all physical, emotional and verbal slurs and the stress I experienced. The times when this happened were in March 2009, followed by a suicide attempt, and in October 2010, another anxiety attack caused by the pressure, stress and oppression. I suffered from something resembling “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” these are problems that still hunts me to this day.
On these occasions, I asked our new manager, who had just arrived to our unit in fall 2008, for help to give me new tasks or help me to go over to another unit within the company, because I still had no thoughts of leaving the company. But she did not want to help me, she just said:
– “It doesn’t matter, because everything is just as hard for you to do. Besides, if you want a change, then it would be better for you to resign!” Finally, I was forced to resign at the end of October 2010, with a notice period of three months.
She also said something peculiar my last day at work; briefly she just spitted out that
– “A lot of the elderly people have made complaints against you!” The same as her predecessor had said. They must have been talking about me between each other. She never specified how many they were or what they had complained about. None of the elderly that I used to visit had ever complained about my work efforts. On the contrary, they were very happy and had chosen to continue using our services, thanks to the good service that I and other colleagues gave them. Later on, I have heard that when I had left, and the elderly found out what had happened, some of them left the “sinking ship” and went over to other homecare providers!
Speaking of my former boss, I actually got a phone call from her the other day! She asked me if I would like to work for her as a Personal Assistant. She explained that she also had left the company shortly after I had been forced to resign, because of the problems there. Now she is a manager for another homecare provider. I was nice to her while we spoke, but the memories came back to me and I felt the anxiety rising within me, my heart was pounding hard and I became terrified! Believe me, I was shocked when she called. I shortly explained that I got a long-term sick leave due to the severe depression and anxiety disorder I got from the way I was treated during her time as a manager. I explained that I could not accept her offer!
End of that story. Nothing more to say. After the call, I felt offended! How could she have the nerve to call me after everything that happened back then? She did not even lift a finger to help me in my hard time under her leadership! She did not even apologize for her violation of my rights! But that is history for her now. She has moved on in her career, while I have not been able to do that!
No more healthcare jobs for me! It is my firm belief that the methods of my manager, her predecessor and several of my co-workers were intended to scare me away from my job. This was the purpose of the harassments I encountered in the first place; an attempt to break me down mentally and have me to quit my job. Another possible explanation is that my colleagues chose me as a scapegoat when they felt it did not help to complain to our boss for the bad working conditions. That was made individually, it was not made in consensus, but the result was the same!
QUALITY COORDINATION – BUT NO QUALITY!
Here is another event. During 2007-2010 I was responsible for quality issues, routines and documentation of various events in our unit, you may call it a Quality Coordinator specialized in Logistics. I also had such a training from another business, so that became handy. I trained my co-workers in our routines and how to write so called “deviation reports” where we noted incidents and events that could be harming to the elderly people, all in accordance to the statutes. It could be about such things that a resident/patient had been given the wrong medicine or no medicine at all, that is very serious! In that case, a nurse, hospital and family members were contacted.
It could also be about someone who had fallen and hurt herself. These are accidents that also had to be reported to the nurse, hospital and family members. After such cases, a routine check was always performed of the house to see if there was anything in the home that caused the accident; loose carpets, electrical cables, thresholds, bad shoes or slippers, medical reasons and so on. In consultation with the family and a physiotherapist, the home could then be customized with different aid facilities such as handles in the shower, lifting device to the bed, walker and other things. These are the home modifications. All was done in order to avoid further accidents in the home. Such were the routines and that was my job among other things. All to often, these routines were not followed by some of my fellow co-workers, do not ask me why!
Once a month I sat in the Quality work meeting with my manager, the coordinator and a representative from the night staff where we went through monthly events, discussing problem solutions. It worked for about a year and a half, then they stopped coming, or my manager could cancel the meeting just the day before! Finally, I was sitting there all alone with this information and continued with this work for another 1,5 years, until 2010, but then I stopped when there were no interest in such things as quality, injury prevention and security!
Did I feel victimized? Did I feel sadness, misery, remorse, disappointment and desolation? Did I bury myself in overtime work in self-pity? Did I starve for empathy and compassion? Prominent psychologists think they know that this might be the case; a depressed person wallow himself in self-contempt and inferiority complex. But the last few months of my employment, I mustered a strength I did not believe that I had, to resist oppression! Though I was depressed, I was really annoyed at the company’s ignorance towards the old people we were there to help and for me being scapegoated! But I am alright now… I guess… kind of… perhaps…not.
Next on The Meadow of Tzedaqyal: Part 3, Facing the Big Company, aftermath of the controversies and some info on victimization at work and PTSD.
© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
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