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Sexual Abuse Survivors

Working a job with PTSD

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Having PTSD and a working a job is all about knowing your limits. Find your limits and respect them. I give this advice and I try to live by it, but more often than not I’m too proud to admit to myself that I even have limits. That never ends very well as you can imagine. When you have a mental condition, you have to accept that there are things you can’t do as well or as easily as others. Just like a guy with a broken leg can’t run a marathon, you have your mental limits too and those limits are just as real as any physical limits. I never accepted that I have limits. I know that I have them, yet I still can’t accept that I’m not as capable as other people. I tend to push myself a bit too much instead of giving myself some space. The only problem is that when you violate your limits, you lose whatever little control you might’ve had, instead of stepping back when you feel uneasy and taking a 5 minutes break.

When I first started having anxiety attacks, and actually the first two years after the assault, I didn’t think it was possible for me to ever get married. I didn’t believe I’d ever trust a guy again and it broke my heart to know that I would never fulfill my biggest dream: to have my own family. Then I “met” my boyfriend  (we had actually known each other for years, just never saw each other that way before), and he healed me in several different ways, in both mind and heart. I never thought I would be able to have a job either. How was I supposed to do that, when I couldn’t be alone with strangers? My boyfriend made me believe in myself again and with the help and encouragement from him, my closest friends and my family, I gained enough courage to get a real job.

I work at McDonald’s now and they’ve been so amazingly supportive so far. I’ve had 3 anxiety attacks during those 4 months I’ve been working there and both times they just handled it fantastic. The first 2 times were at the restautant, and they were there within a minute to support me, when I couldn’t breathe and my body was shaking so much I almost couldn’t keep my balance and they made sure I had all the time I needed to regain control. The third one was on my way to work, I was almost hit by a car and had to crash on my bike in the side of the road to avoid the car. I therefore didn’t make it to the train and had to call work to say I was going to be late. And while I was hyperventilating, and thinking about the car that almost hit me, that I had to call the police and how I was letting people at work down for not being there, my manager tried to calm me down and told me to go home and relax and sort myself out, and that they would be fine without me so I shouldn’t worry. I mean, how lucky am I to have a workplace like that?!

3 anxiety attacks in 4 months doesn’t seem like a lot to affect your work life, but PTSD is not only anxiety attacks. I can get uneasy if I’m taking orders from men, or if some guy comes up to complain, especially if they raise their voice It’s not even that we deliver a bad service or quality, people are just looking for something to complain about sometimes and it freaks me out if they are rude or loud towards me. Another problem with PTSD is that I (and probably other people with PTSD too) have some periods of time that lasts weeks where I don’t sleep more than 3-4 hours at night, and the sleep that I do get is nothing but nightmares of the night of the assault, which means that I’m not only exhausted for not getting any sleep, I’m also exhausted for reliving my worst nightmare over and over again. This might actually be the worst problem of them all, because those are things that I literally cannot control. I mean, I can, to a certain point, control the anxiety if I’m having a good day and I try really hard and take a lot of precautions and stuff, but nightmares cannot be controlled in the same way. When having normal nightmares, sometimes you realize it’s a dream and you can wake yourself of from inside the dream, but if you’re 100% sure it’s not a dream, you won’t bother trying to wake yourself up, it won’t even occur to you. That’s my problem with these nightmares, they seem so realistic that I don’t realize they’re just dreams.

When I’ve had a night like this, with practically no sleep at all and nightmares in the sleep that I did get, it’s no secret that I’m not feeling like working 8 hours among other people and potentially angry and/or rude customers. Quite frankly, the mere thought of it scares me because I know I won’t be able to control my anxiety after i night like this. And also I’m usually so tired I just walk around like some kind of zombie anyway. But what do you do in this kind of situation? I feel awful about calling in sick in these kind of situations, because it’s not the kind of “sick” you’d normally expect. Is it even a kind of sick?

I talked to one of my superiors about it a few weeks ago. Well, that’s a lie actually. I broke down crying before meeting in at work when he asked me if I was okay. I must’ve looked like the zombie I felt like. I explained the situation to him and told him I didn’t want to call in sick just because I hadn’t slept. I mean, everyone has nights where they don’t sleep, but as I explained to him, I was just so unlucky as to re-experience my own raping every time I finally fell asleep. I didn’t expect to be believe or understood but he seemed to understand it completely and told me to head home immediately to get some sleep, and not be afraid to call in sick if I had one of those nights. And then he said that even though it wasn’t a physical illness, it was still an illness and I therefore had the right to call in sick.

This helped me a lot, and took a lot of stress off my shoulders. My goal is to prove to myself (and everyone else suffering from a mental illness) that it is possible to have a mental condition and still have a job. I’m still figuring out how to do this and trying not to push myself too much before I can handle it, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that the things I thought was impossible to do with PTSD is not impossible at all, so long as you are motivated to get the best out of the situation.

Respect your limits. Only push them when you feel like taking it a step further.

Take a day off if you feel like you really have to. You don’t physically have a broken arm or leg, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to get a sick day. That doesn’t mean you should exploit the opportunity and just take days off though. That will just ruin it for the people who really does needs to call in sick.

Talk to your managers, or whoever is in charge. Explain to them what you’re going through.

Stay happy! It’s a mental illness, so you have to keep your mind positive!

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