Past Job Still Haunting Me

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So, the pandemic kinda made everything weird. I found a job about a year and half ago and was super stoked about it as I was unemployed for several months. Seemed like it was going to be a good fit, everyone seemed nice. It was a start up, so I knew going into the job it was going to have some hiccups. I stayed less than 6 months it was so horrible.

The guy that started the company was a previous military medic, which was fine. What wasn't fine was trying to run a sewing shop full of women like a military operation. He would terrorize us almost daily, come into the work area and just intensely stare at us to try and make us work faster, make rude comments, blatantly play favorites, and would not listen to any input we had to say about how to run the sewing shop. We were expected to have a production ready shop in no time with no support or materials. The machines we worked on were new territory for all of us in the shop. It was stressful trying to troubleshoot a machine and still try to make production rates.

To top it all off, he refused to properly heat the workshop during the winter. There were extended stents of time we came into literal ice covered machines and were expected to work at full production. We were expected to sew production rates in full winter gear plus gloves and mittens. I would watch him put his coat on to come terrorize us in the workshop. When he got too chilly he would run back into his nice, heated office. For months, all of us asked for properly heated working conditions. He kept coming up with ridiculous excuses about why he couldn't keep the building heated, but really he just wanted to cut corners. He drove a $200k+ Maserati and couldn't afford to pay the heating bill? Really?

When I was working there, I had the worst anxiety I'd had since high school. I would have panic attacks and full breakdowns on my way to work. I called my spouse several times during said breakdowns so he'd help calm me down. I woke up in the middle of the night in full panic ready to fight my boss. I was extremely irritable about every little thing and would fly off the handle with no warning. My coworker was so stressed out she lost a lot of weight and her period for awhile. Needless to say, it was terrible.

I'd put in my 2 weeks notice and barely made it a week. I snapped one day when the thermometer read less than 30 degrees F inside the building. My machine wasn't working right. And I about ran over my fingers with an industrial strength sewing machine. I sincerely could've lost my fingers if I hadn't caught it in time. I ended up flipping out on him and left. I called OSHA. I definitely do not regret that decision. I was incredibly worked up for the next few days and just couldn't seem to calm down. Boxing classes were the only thing that seemed to get me through it.

I kept getting intense anxiety attacks out of nowhere for a while, then they seemed to taper off. But now, I'm working at another sewing job that is a million times better, but I'm getting flashbacks to this horrible previous job. I was doing okay for a while, but it's creeping back up. Random things will give me waves of anxiety that shouldn't. Today, for instance, my coworker had machine issues and we had to pull out a back up machine. Said back up machine was similar to ones I used at the other job and I was getting anxious about seeing it and was having thoughts about that place all day.

How can I get this horrifying pit of despair out of my life? I'm tired of giving this place any more of my energy. Any help would be appreciated.


Any help would be appreciated.
It sounds a bit like you needed to vent and be heard. I'm sorry you had such an awful experience. Sounds a bit like a sweatshop to be honest, and I think you made a good call both (1) getting out; and (2) calling OH&S.

How can I get this horrifying pit of despair out of my life?
Let's break it down a bit.

If you step back for a moment, and look at what you experienced in that work environment, it makes sense that this is an experience that hasn't washed out of the system as smoothly and quickly as you'd like. You were under incredible pressure, in an impossible work environment, and (life and finances being what they are) it wasn't the case the you could just get up and walk out whenever.

So, perhaps take a moment to have some compassion for yourself. Some lingering anxiety and bad memories of this experience makes sense right now. That's not you giving your old boss energy he doesn't deserve, it's your system giving you space to wash out all the intense emotions and stress you were under for so long. This is the recovery period - you time, not shitty-ex-boss time.

There's reason to be optimistic that things will revert to your normal. People experience extreme situations every day without going on to develop a mental health condition.

That doesn't mean it hasn't impacted them, or caused them huge amounts of lingering distress, long after the experience is over. It's simply saying distress makes sense, so be compassionate with yourself for having feelings that make sense.

When you notice yourself starting to panic, try and tap into that self compassion. Your brain hated working there. Your brain wants reassurance that "this isn't like that". Ground yourself where you are, and give your brain time to adjust to "yes, we really are out of there for good".

You are out of there for good. And your brain will adjust to that in time. But it makes sense that for a while, given how awful it was, that every so often you need to reassure yourself "I'm okay now".

Boxing classes were the only thing that seemed to get me through it.
Right, this is my drug of choice too! I won't bore you with the long history of research on the topic, but exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health right now. Eat well, sleep well, and hit the gym as often as you can.

Another thing to perhaps consider at this point is to start looking forward. If this is your preferred area of employment, get informed on your rights. It will not only help you reset your mind back to a sense of agency and empowerment, but it will also potentially help you connect with supports that can steer you out of this should it ever happen again (or any variation of it). Knowing you're not alone, and not powerless, can be immensely helpful.

The other suggestion I have is keep your primary care provider in the loop. They can be super helpful in helping us know if we are getting stuck in anxiety that might be starting to look more like "Anxiety the mental illness" (most common mental illness there is fwiw), and if it does, get you hooked up with the right professional supports and medication support if it becomes appropriate.

This experience is behind you. You did that. You left, you reported him, and you moved on. Your emotional state will catch up, just give yourself a bit of time.
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