You wake up in the morning and the sound of the alarm already makes you feel sick to your stomach. You get up anyway, but you have this feeling of unease that you carry around with you as you approach your car and drive to the train station. While driving, you try to focus on the road, the wonderful sun that is starting to peek out, the trees that are showing their bloom. Spring is surely approaching.
However, once you park your car and walk towards the train station, something feels awry. The feel-good emotions that you were able to capture in your car are now gone. The closer you get to the train station, the clearer the feeling becomes again. You feel nauseated, lightheaded, and just want to run back home. But you don’t. You push through your uncomfortable feelings, get on the train, and let it take you one step closer to work.
Sound familiar? This used to happen to me all the time. The alarm clock, the train station, and many other experiences or objects in my life became “triggers,” or associations that my body made with “work.” The alarm signaled the arrival of a new day, and a new day spent at a place where I would be subjected to constant criticism and walking on eggshells. The walk to the train station was obviously felt with the doom of an impending day. There were so many objects and experiences that would make me feel downright sad and depressed! Honestly, too many to count: The clothes I wore, the salad I ate, the snow in the morning…
The bad news about triggers is that even after I left that toxic workplace, they still lingered in my body. My mind could not process the difference between just a regular walk to the train station when I would just be visiting friends, and the sense of dread that I felt every time I had to do this to go to work. Needless to say, I felt so many triggers throughout the day! This was specially true the first year after I quit my toxic job. I had to get an entire new wardrobe so that I wouldn’t have to wear the same clothes I wore when I went to work. Every time I looked at them, I felt nauseated. And I used to love those clothes! But under the pressure of such a bully boss they took a different meaning.
The good news is that all of that, little by little, began to change. I noticed that even though my mind knew that I was no longer in an untenable position (as a matter of fact, I was quite happy and successful in my new life!), my body did not know the difference between my current situation and my past one. I had to make a true effort if I wanted to break out of this cycle. PTSD does not disappear in a day. I had to consciously train myself to undo the damage that being in that toxic environment had caused.
I was really up to me to make these changes. Just like when I decided to walk out on my employer of almost 22 years, this time I enlisted a good dose of truth and courage to see myself on the other side. I know that you can do it to: You can leave your toxic work behind and find your new self on the other side.
Best of luck!