Living with PTSD: How to (not-so-tactfully) tell your (now former) boss that he was one of your primary triggers

I quit my job this weekend. And now I am going to get my life back. But more on that in a minute…

In an effort to diminish the stigma surrounding PTSD, I’ve always been very open about my struggles. For those unfamiliar with my life story, however, here’s a snapshot:

At age 15, I unfortunately caught the eye of a 24-year-old man who had dropped out of college and moved in with his parents … who attended our very evangelical church. This “relationship” went on for five years. He abused me in every way that a man can possibly abuse a teenage girl/woman. Just before I turned 20, my mom saw fingerprint-shaped bruises on my upper arm. Within a few short months, she helped me transfer to a new college in another city. I moved into an all-girls dorm and broke up with my abuser by phone.

Next up – journalism. I wrote for various newspapers for 20-plus years. Reporters don’t like to admit it, but we do suffer from the trauma of what we’ve seen and experienced.

Finally – the desert. Turns out that the most primitive, reptilian part of your brain doesn’t just “get past” being lost in the desert for five days and four nights, especially when you damn nearly died alone. This happened on a vacation, when my photojournalist husband and I let down our guard. Just before we left on that trip, my children informed me that Big Bend sounded like a dangerous place. “Oh, don’t worry,” I told them. “We’re journalists. We’re used to danger. We know how to take care of ourselves.”

After I was discharged from the hospital, I stupidly went right back to work and spent the next year working on a series about what had happened to me. Some exposure therapy is good. Daily exposure therapy is not. Lesson learned.

Since leaving the newspaper in December 2014, I’ve cycled through three completely different jobs in an effort to find a place where I fit in. I didn’t tell anyone about the PTSD at the first two.

But at the third one, I finally felt a need to explain why I am the way I am. Admitting one’s vulnerabilities and subsequent odd behaviors is humiliating. But I thought that if I shared this part of me with just the women in the office, it would make me less self-conscious and them less skeptical of my quirks. And again, I truly believe it’s important to feel as though you can be your authentic self, even if that means that you like to keep your office door closed, socialize only with female employees and call in sick when you just can’t bear the thought of being around people.

Which brings me to why I quit my job last night via email.

My now-former boss was a major PTSD trigger. Why? Because he exhibited all of the traits that my abuser did – the possessiveness, the tracking of his female employees’ comings and goings via the front-office staff, questioning where you’d been or why you were there. He was satisfied only when all of his team members were confined in their offices with their doors open.

I told my mom at one point that I felt like I was back in high school, trying to constantly placate my jealous ex-boyfriend – only this time,  the damage was happening in the workplace.

Thanks to my psychologist and psychiatrist, I made it through the first part of 2019. In recent months, however, I knew I was beginning to crumble. I was becoming that same scared-shitless 15-year-old girl answering to some older white man who seemed to think I was company “property.”

And then I realized that I could not let this happen to me – not again. I’ve put myself back together twice now. I can’t do it a third time.

So I emailed him. Told him why I was quitting in very blunt language. And in doing so, I picked up one of those crumbled-away pieces and put it back in place. I’m cracked, yes, but NOT broken. I am not that teenage girl anymore.

Which is why I did not leave quietly or politely or nicely. Years of therapy taught me that we have to call out men for being misogynistic. Otherwise, the cycle continues and more women suffer.

I got a second chance at life when I was rescued in the desert. And ever since, I’ve just been … wallowing. No more. I was granted extra years and I want to enjoy life instead of just trying to survive it.

I already survived an abusive relationship. I survived the desert. Now it is time to thrive.