Why Workplace PTSD is No Joke
“A clown was my boss at every job I ever had” — Too Much Joy
He would rap three times in succession — bap bap bap — and and one final extended knock on the wooden door that opened into the antechamber of the 15th floor of City Hall Bap bap bap…BAP! You could usually time it down to the second, that moment when the son of a bitch would start banging to be let inside, the self-perceived ruler of this corporate kingdom locked out of his own castle. To this day, every morning at 8:52 a.m. the hair still raises up on my back and hairs even though it’s been more than a decade since I worked for that boss. It’s Pavlovian. 8:52 a.m. Panic. He’d be banging on the door to be let in, then barking at his not one but two secretaries to “Get Jason Webber in here!”
This guy was an elected official in Ohio. I worked for him for about 9 months, hired because I was looking for a job — any job — and I went to him to see if he knew any companies that were hiring. Y’know, I mean, this guy knew everybody in town and I can’t fathom how many holiday cards this guy’s wife sent out in December. Next thing I know, he’s not helping me find a job, but rather, he’s offering me a job working for him. I’m perplexed at this change of events but hey, life is strange. So I go to work for this elected official and at first all is well. I feel secure for the first time in my life. I think the guy likes me alright, I’m working hard, but feeling good. And I get promoted before too long.
And suddenly it went from day to night in the blink of an eye. I end up going from being the new guy on the 22nd floor just trying to find his way around to basically being this guy’s whipping boy and Bob Cratchett. It was classic abusive behavior — he’d charm you to death and made you feel like you were his friend and then in literally the same minute, he’d turn on you in an unbelievably quick transformation and turn into a red-faced, spittle-flecking, forehead-vein-popping hobgoblin. It was Jekyll and Hyde territory all the way. Growing up in an emotional mine field like the Webber house circa 1975 to 1994, I had seen this kind of behavior in both of my parents, so the abuse I got from my boss felt familiar. Almost comforting.
For nine months, I let that bastard berate me, insult me, and humiliate me. I even went to the head of Human Resources and asked her how in the ever-loving hell this man was able to get away with treating public employees this way. She just shrugged. Legally, there was nothing the government could do to force the guy to abide by polite rules of society. The Boss Tweed archetype of the work-you-to-death employer went away with the advent of the labor union, didn’t it? Ah, and that was, you see, the rub. I was an appointed employee, serving solely at the pleasure and discretion of the official. I was not protected by unions, which I knew this official secretly hated despite his feeble attempts at being a Democrat.
While working for this man, I became addicted to Xanax, started drinking excessively, and lost 25 pounds due to skipping lunches and being too nauseous to sometimes eat dinner.
Twelve years later, that official is long since retired, a relic of the Good Ol’ Boys club. He can’t hurt me anymore. I know that.
But I still have nightmares about him shouting at me in front of the assembled reporters at a press conference. I still go into panic attacks whenever I hear someone rap sharply on a door.
The fact that it was completely within this man’s legal rights to treat people like shit and get away with it makes me sick. And you know what? I’m so tired of people excusing Steve Jobs’ abuse of his workers because the guy was supposedly a “genius.” John McCain is revered for his place in American politics and history, but I didn’t vote for the guy largely because I heard he was vile to his staff.
And let me tell you, these last four years of Donald Trump have been hell because there are so many similarities between that official I worked for and Donald Trump, that every day I would watch the news and get triggered over something the dolt would say. Nothing Trump ever said was nice or complimentary or positive in any tangible way. Every day I’d hear or watch Trump say something terrible and every day I would have a panic attack. Pass the pills.
Workplace PTSD is real. When you’re used to being browbeaten and treated like shit 24/7, you tend to carry it over from job to job, no matter how nice your new boss might be. You’re still waiting for them to start treating you like shit when you’re no longer the new kid, the exciting breath of fresh energy that made the office suddenly seem Technicolor. You expect bullshit office political games because that’s what your ex-boss thrived on, putting everybody against each other, then pointing fingers at his confused employees, screaming at them how they’re inept.
There’s got to be laws passed that protects workers from assholism. The Alec Baldwin speech in “Glengarry Glenn Ross” that every GQ subscriber loves to quote? Abuse. The end. It’s not funny and it’s not something that should be applauded; I’m still kinda pissed at Kevin Smith for putting it in “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” because that scene is such a trigger.
To that official, screw you. And to my fellow survivors of workplace PTSD, you’re not alone. I hear you. I feel your pain. Together, we can heal.