This time of the year, in 2008, I was made redundant. It has been the most significant event of my life, so far. It was the culmination of the worst period of my life. Period.
It is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life, and not in a good way. It left me with scars I still carry.
I started a new job as a Software Engineer around March 2006. I made it clear at my interview that I did not want to be a team leader, or a manager, or take on board any responsibility that may increase my stress levels. I had good health reasons for avoiding stress.
I had two remote managers. Our team was small and consisted of a handful of developers. After a couple of weeks or so I was approached by the local Director to become a team leader. I turned it down.
After this my situation changed. I felt isolated. I was sure I was being treated differently to the other team members. I started to get uncomfortable and anxious about this, and wondered where it was going. It seemed I had been sent to Coventry by the remote managers. I considered leaving and cutting my losses, but I was keen to do the job.
I went on holiday early in October 2006. I started getting a sore throat about a week after I returned.
My throat got worse. I also developed a chest pain over the next few weeks. Just to rub it in, acid reflux appeared. I was very worried that it might be something serious. We have a family history of cancer and I was very scared it might be my turn. I went to my GP who referred me to an ENT Consultant. He did not find anything. I was then referred to a Gastroenterologist Consultant. He did not find anything. They had prodded and probed, inserted cameras under anaesthetic, and more painfully, without anaesthetic. I had been fed barium and X-Rayed. But it seemed physically that I was OK.
I continued to go to work. It was a way of taking my mind off what was happening to me. I spoke with my remote line manager. He just hinted I take time off sick. I explained I did not want to, but he was not sympathetic. By this time I was imagining all kinds of things, including cancer.
On 22 January 2007 my father-in-law died in his sleep. He had been unwell for some time, but his death was unexpected. We had to make a lot of trips up to North London where they lived, to organise the funeral and try to support my mother-in-law who was hit very hard.
I got much worse at this point. The pains became very severe. I was signed off sick in early February 2007. I still had not received a diagnosis. At this point, I suspected that work did not believe me, and thought that I was faking illness.
Work sent me for an independent medical assessment. Although on one level this made sense, for me it reinforced the idea that they did not believe I was ill.
The doctor renewed my sick note monthly. At renewal time I received a flurry of contacts from recruitment agencies. I had records going back years and I knew that I had never contacted them before. They were very abrupt and rude. No foreplay. “Are you looking for work?” was a common opening gambit. I knew they were being put onto me by work. It confirmed what I had already suspected. Work did not believe I was ill, and were checking up on me. Looking for another job was definitely not on the radar at this time. I was desperate to know what was going on and get it fixed.
For the next few months I was off ill, but I did not know what the problem was. There were clues, such as the day I lay on the sofa in the foetal position, crying, wishing I was dead. This was a significant low point. I badly wanted the pain to stop. I hated not knowing what was going on. I did not like the way work was treating me and the way some individuals behaved. The pains were very bad and very real, my misery and despair was very real.
My wife was also struggling with her work at this time. She had a boss who expected her to do his job too. She was off work with Clinical Depression the same time I was off. After three months she tried to go back, but after a short period could not face it and ended up taking early retirement. This put more pressure on me to continue.
Finally there was a breakthrough in summer 2007. The penny dropped with the GP and he put me on anti-depressants. These helped, and after a month or so, I started back at work. He also told me about somatization. This is a condition where stress gets turned into physical pain. When stressed I still suffer pain in my throat and chest to this day. Even though there was a general improvement with the anti-depressants, it was very tough going. The medication helps you to keep your mood up, and therefore to function more normally, but it does not cure all the symptoms.
In the meantime, I received news from my sister that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This was a huge blow and it set me back a lot. Both our parents had died from cancer. It was one of my biggest fears before I was diagnosed.
I missed her 50th birthday at the end of August 2007. I had only recently started back at work and I was simply too tired to make the journey to Cornwall. A few weeks later I visited her in the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. She had just started her chemo.
When I started back at work, I was separated from the team and sat outside the local manager’s office. This was not very helpful. Being treated like a naughty boy.
The GP referred me to a Consultant Psychiatrist. He was to supervise my medication and therapy for the next few years. I started going to monthly sessions. Over the next few months he sent me on a CBT course lasting a few weeks and provided me with a lot of material to help me understand what was happening. He controlled my dosage. We talked a lot. He was someone I could talk to when no-one else seemed to be listening.
During the summer my mother-in-law's condition deteriorated rapidly. She ended up in Northwick Park Hospital.
I made more trips to visit my sister in September and October 2007. It did not seem to be going well and her friends who had been helping could not be expected to do more. I brought her home to live with me at the start of November 2007. She made visits to the local Oncologist and spent some time being treated in hospital in Winchester and Southampton. She gave up on the second course of chemo because it seemed futile.
I made another trip down to Cornwall before the end of the year. She lived in a little hamlet called Polgigga. Turn left at the last exit off the A30, just before it turns into a dirt track for Land’s End. Polgigga is a couple of miles down the lane. Just about as far west as you can get in England.
My sister deteriorated rapidly. Our living room had been turned into a hospital ward. It was very distressing for me, because it was the third time I had seen a similar progression with a close family member. They had all died at home. It is a difficult thing to watch, but it is the best for the patient. The local GP and support team were excellent.
My sister died on 22 January 2008. Exactly a year after my father-in-law.
My mother-in-law died a few weeks later, in February 2008.
There were several more trips to clear my sister’s flat and affairs and to sort out my mother-in-law's property and her affairs. It seemed I was on the road all the time.
Over the 12 months from early 2007 until early 2008 I did a lot of motoring. The drive to Cornwall was a 500 mile round trip. My parents-in-law lived in Harrow Weald, and while not so far, it meant negotiating the M25 and London traffic. It added to my fatigue. I wore out a set of new tyres in that period.
After the funerals were over, for the next few months there was some improvement in my condition, but I started to feel increasingly uneasy about what was going on at work. It was clear that something was going on that was not being discussed. I received a pay rise. A lot of fuss was being made about turning the company into a billion dollar company. A China office was being expanded rapidly. Things were clearly not what they seemed. (See my posts on INFJs. I *always* know.) This did not help my recovery. It raised my anxiety level.
I scattered my sister’s ashes in Sennen Cove on 5th June 2008, along with those of her black Labrador, Jess. I had wanted to do it on the 4th, which was our father’s birthday, but the sea was too rough.
We had a work performance review in the middle of September 2008. I was told I was a 3. This was middling. 5 was excellent and 1 was awful. In the circumstances I thought this was fair enough. I had had my moments, but I was still really struggling. I was anxious about the unknown. I was tired. My concentration was not great. My memory was not great. My personality was still on holiday. (It would be a few years before I got my pre-frontal cortex back, this is commonly the last part of the brain to regain function.) My confidence was shot, indeed, confidence is still a problem for me. I was still being significantly affected by Clinical Depression and its symptoms. If you look them up then you will find that there are a lot of them. Not surprising. When your brain is broken, then pretty much everything that makes you what you are, is broken. In all the time I was ill, one symptom I *never* suffered from, was thoughts of suicide. I wanted to die, but I never, ever, considered doing it myself. I experienced many of the other symptoms.
There were announcements about redundancy and, at the start of November 2008, I think it was my father’s anniversary, the 4th, I was called in for an interview with my local manager and the HR director. I was told I had been scored a 1. This meant I was going to be made redundant. I was not given an explanation. They ignored me when I said that they were marking my illness.
A week later I was kicked out.
This caused a massive relapse. I was worse than I had ever been, in spite of the anti-depressants. I spent the next few weeks preparing the paperwork to take them to an Employment Tribunal for Unfair Dismissal. Under the rules you have 3 months to lodge a claim and I spent that time trying to pull myself together to fight. But when it came to the crunch, around January and February 2009, I could not face it. I was still hurting badly and very low. The thought of adding more stress and anxiety to my life was basically unthinkable. And I had to start looking for another job.
Other things I have not mentioned in the narrative above, had a serious, negative, effect on my life and my health during this period.
One member of the “team” took a dislike to me and made it her mission to prove I was not a nice person.
On one occasion she stood in the middle of our row of desks and, while looking at me, loudly mentioned a recent story that suggested Rupert Murdoch was anti-Semitic. I did not say anything, because I knew what she was doing, and I am not anti-Semitic. But it was a clear test aimed at me.
Another day she went around introducing a new team member at the time when I had been removed from the team and was sitting outside the managers office. The new person was introduced in summer 2008. A few pleasantries were exchanged. Nothing unusual. As she walked away with him, she said “See, I told you he was attention seeking.” Even more shocking, he agreed.
The person I was sat next to was not much better. There was the time he probed me about my sore throat. It did not seem a natural conversation.
I suffer from hay fever. Sometimes quite bad. My neighbour probed me about my use of hay fever medication including offering me his. Another unnatural conversation.One conversation about the medication included the same person who felt I was racist. From what I heard of that conversation it seemed clear I was not believed about suffering from hay fever, either.
I got the impression I gained a reputation for being a philanderer about this time. This has followed me down the years. If a period of time passes when I am not obviously being a philanderer, then the story changes, and I am gay.
There were many other incidents. Collectively they were an indication of what was happening. I was continually under observation, being discussed and tested. Something that has continued to this day.
It has added a lot to my anxiety and discomfort throughout the years. It did nothing to help my recovery. For all I know, the false stories contributed to me being made redundant. This fits with the way my redundancy was handled.
The result of these experiences have lasted until today. I did not have these issues before this time.
I still suffer from anxiety attacks when I get stressed.
I still somatize stress into a severe pain in my throat and my chest.
I do not trust directors, managers, and especially not HR personnel. Nothing I have experienced since that time has shown me that this view is wrong.
I have a complete antipathy to certain management styles. In particular, the “social engineering” style is anathema. I do not consider it an acceptable management “style”, under any circumstance. I never have done, but now I am in a much better position to explain why it is such a bad idea. Skulking around suggests you are hiding something. Motives are opaque and therefore suspect. The uncertainty of having a person sneaking around behind your back makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. Not only is knowing that someone is going around playing puppet master very unsettling, but the fact I was being treated like some kind of lab rat is very upsetting. Being observed, discussed, and effectively experimented on, is not very nice. When this happens it affects the way people around see you and interact with you. It effectively declares open season and then more undesirable things start happening. I *always* know when it is happening (INFJ remember), I know this is *exactly* what has been going on, which is why I get really upset and ill.
It should be obvious that "social engineering" - interfering with a persons reality, messing with their head - is the opposite of helpful, especially when that person is very aware of what is going on. If mental health issues are involved, particularly if someone is trying to recover from something like depression, then this behaviour is not only unhelpful, it is positively unkind, cruel and destructive.
I tend not to trust co-workers. This is obviously not fair. Not everyone has been involved but so many have taken part it makes it very difficult to tell who is natural and who is working an agenda. I know *many* people have joined in and some have been evil. They don't know me, but are willing to be complicit in behaviour where they have no idea what they are doing and the effect it is having. Or perhaps they do, which makes it even worse.
The company were taken over about a year later. The price? A billion dollars.