“I traveled across the globe to a different world, desperate for respect and to be given a chance. So much of my identity is tied to my work, my career, my profession. Now I have anxiety attacks thinking about sitting in an office.”
It’s been 2 years now since I first noticed the symptoms. I only started medication last month. The support group information says that it’s natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. But what I’m feeling has passed just fear for my physical safety and mental well-being; it’s paranoia and debilitating anxiety for a ubiquitous environment – Office Space.
Recent studies have examined the link between racism and mental illness. They’ve found that racial microaggressions (subtle and unintentional forms of racial discrimination) were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms and negative affect (Nadal, K. L., Griffin, K. E., Wong, Y., Hamit, S., & Rasmus, M. 2014).
The first time I started to internalize the organization’s racism and sexism my skin retaliated. I had such an unusual breakout that the dermatologist felt sorry for me. She could give me no specific reason or cause. It wasn’t seasonal, it wasn’t allergies, it wasn’t ascribable to a particular thing. For the first time, I had a physical ailment that was labelled as “unknown stress”. I didn’t know then, but what was happening to my skin was a physical reaction to my toxic work environment.
It took six months of counseling for me to believe that the strain on my mind could trigger physical symptoms. I was shaking uncontrollably whenever I sat in my office because of the unrelenting abuse. Then another eight months of therapy to accept that I was emotionally suffering and needed medication. I blamed myself, minimized and belittled my experiences. There was no shortage of advice since almost everyone I met had experienced some race or nationality based toxicity and they said that they survived by being less sensitive. I tried my best to grow a thicker skin, until my very own skin objected.
From a distance things seemed so great. I was made to believe that this institution wanted me, wanted my different views and ideas. After all, that’s what the website said, that’s what the recruiters and interviewers sold me. It was supposed to be a place with so many countries represented that this would be utopia of D&I – Diversity and Inclusion at its finest. A great blend of thought leaders, ideas, people, colors and identities. The best minds in one place doing a great thing towards one noble mission.
From day one, I was THE problem. I believed it. They convinced me. My powerful nature was viewed as “not knowing my place” so I changed to be more silent. My initiative was considered “too much confidence”, so I exercised restraint. My competence was considered “intimidating”, so I dumbed myself down. Nothing I did would matter. Nothing I am would be enough. I would find no solace, no allies and no fairness. There’s no explaining how unprepared I was to be ill-treated by every one of each spectrum of the rainbow. Being kicked down by other women was painful enough, but seeing other Black women turn their backs on me was unbearable.
The air towards me was thick and toxic. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see. I felt lost.
Within the first year it was made clear by my colleagues that I was unwanted. Although I had been competitively hired from a job advertisement, but I wasn’t supposed to be there…I wasn’t what they expected. Someone said to me “don’t worry, you’ll survive”. I offended her with my reply, “I don’t just want to survive, I need to thrive”. My expectations were too high. I would not be nurtured, I wold not be encouraged and I would not be positioned to grow. I was to be a statistic and then discarded when I passed my target usefulness.
This everyone knew and treated me accordingly…with deep-seated hostility.
Everyone knew. Everyone, but me.
END PART I
Atlanta Black Star: Why are Black Women Suffering from PTSD? https://maps.org/news/media/7181-atlanta-black-star-why-are-black-women-suffering-from-ptsd. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
Commentary: The Trauma of Insidious Racism. http://jaapl.org/content/37/1/41. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
The Link Between Racism and PTSD. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culturally-speaking/201509/the-link-between-racism-and-ptsd. Retrieved March 20, 2019.