Then I was bullied myself.
My experience may sound like a very simple example of bullying ... but my guess is that those stories we usually hear about - the ones with dramatic circumstances with horrific outcomes - are the only examples we hear about because they are news worthy. Which means we may dismiss the milder forms of bullying in our everyday lives.
But I now understand what bullying means, and how it can be the smallest of circumstances that build up overtime to create feelings of sadness, hurt, paranoia, and ostracism.
And I don't think I'm particularly weak, which just means that this can happen to anyone.
I accidentally came across an email at work that was not intended for me ... but it was about me.
It was from one woman I worked with to another. I was really quite shocked. I worked closely with both these women, helping them out quite regularly with their own workloads, and I really liked working with both of them. And so when I read what they had said about me, it hurt.
And it made me curious. Why would they say such things? How long had this been going on? I had a quick look around and noticed other messages I had access to (unbeknown to them). I had to stop looking after a while, because it just got too much for me to comprehend and cope with. It had been going on for some time. Anytime I was not helping them out with work, they decided I wasn't working at all or pulling my weight. Anytime I was off sick or went to a doctor's appointment, they had something to say about it. Things of that nature.
I started to become quite paranoid. I remember checking how often I had been away from work over many months - turns out I could count the days on one hand - but they continued to make comments about me. About my work. About my hours (which was odd, since I was in the office much longer then them).
I honestly thought I could deal with it all myself ... and by deal with it, I mean ignore it.
I started giving these women the benefit of the doubt - almost justifying their actions - in the hope that I would feel better. Obviously they were mistaken. Perhaps they were just joking, they didn't really mean what they said.
I also started watching what I said and did around the office. I would start my day even earlier and finish up late, taking smaller lunch breaks - as if I was proving to the world that I was not what they said.
In my mind, this would solve the problem. But when the hurtful remarks and untruths kept coming, I was just so hurt. I had respected these women, and really enjoyed working with them in the workplace.
My husband was furious when I finally told him. I honestly didn't see this as bullying .. but he helped me to realise that I had started to change my behaviour because of it. I had started working longer hours with very short breaks, all so these women couldn't have any possible reason to comment.
I remember one particular day at work I was so flat out busy with a day of back-to-back meetings, I had to quickly scoff down a sandwich at my desk as I wouldn't have much time to leave the office for lunch. I ended up chocking, and coughing a bit. They thought I was coughing out loud to prepare everyone for my eventual sick day the next day. That really made me upset.
These occurrences started to occupy my thoughts all day, and most nights. I just couldn't get over the fact that the women I worked so close with, who I enjoyed being around and valued their opinion, had been gossiping about me for so long.
I became more paranoid. I would notice when they were talking together, if they were whispering, straining my ears to hear what they were talking about. I would think everything was about me, even though I'm sure it wasn't.
Then one week, I came down with a cold of some sort - I had a deep mannish voice, I was a little feverish, and my nose was running like crazy. Feeling that way, I sometimes had to blow my nose and cough. Turns out I'm human.
Well, these women thought it was all a show to take a sick day the following day. They laughed about it.
I was so determined to not get sick, to prove them wrong .. but I did, and I made myself stay at work, sweating through my clothes, eyes all watering. It was a very long week. And my body took such a long time to get over what was probably a simple cold. I developed a bad cough. After having been at work all week with a cold, I started coughing and just couldn't stop. And when I saw these women messaging each other, again predicting a sick day, I decided I had to say something.
I actually reminded myself that I am a adult. Sure I wanted to preserve my working relationship with these women - I had to work with them for several more months - and I really didn't want to make things worse.
But. Enough was enough. I am a person too. And I was not in the wrong, even in the slightest.
And .. it turned out I had whooping cough.
How I felt after something had been done:
At first, I felt very afraid that it could all backfire. I didn't want to make the situation worse. I knew management would talk with them together and separately, as management took bullying very seriously, and I didn't want these women to talk about me more.
I was also very afraid that they would just find other opportunities to talk about me instead, and that this would make working at the office awkward. I had to work with them each day, after all.
But after a few hours of being highly suspicious, I felt relief. It was a burden lifted.
Even though I was living in a city where I still felt like the new kid, with almost no friends, I felt better.
Struggling with bullying yourself?
Perhaps you are guilty of criticising others. I know I'm guilty of criticising myself.I once blogged about this here, and I really do this we can be too hard on ourselves and others.
We can never truly know what someone else is going through, or what they are struggling with themselves, and even if we did know ... it is never our place to criticise, judge, or cause trouble.
Whatever the case may be, my bottom line is this:
Negativity is dangerous.
Positive thinking is empowering.
And you really truly are too valuable to be defined by bullying.