Bullying In The Workplace: An SLP's Story
I have a story to tell. And now, I feel it's time to tell it. I've kept it hidden. It's been such a source of pain and shame, I'd rather pretend it didn't happen. However, on this journey, I've realized I'm serving a purpose. And that purpose is to HELP others. So....here, the story begins.
Over 2 years ago, I was a successful SLP working and living in the same community. My children attended the school where I worked, and we had built long lasting relationships with beautiful families in the 10 years we had lived in that space. Over the course of many years, I had established what I consider a wonderful reputation as an SLP. I was well respected, sought out and esteemed by my peers. I certainly thought I had the "perfect" set up, being able to work and help so many people I cared about. Having my own children at work WITH me was an additional gift, as any mother would agree.
Unfortunately, over the years, I began to see and experience things that made me feel uncomfortable. Education being what it is, my District began making changes that, in my opinion, were NOT to the benefit of special education. The staff was over worked, students were being short-changed, and in many cases, administrative decisions were solely determined on budget. The needs of our students were becoming less of a priority. Lines began to get crossed, and I became extremely unsettled. So, I began to speak up. When I wasn't heard, I spoke louder. Then, louder still. I believed I had a duty to be a voice for the community and children I loved.
In my quest for good, something terrible happened. My message was not received well.
What happened after that sparked a chain of events that has forever changed me. If you have never been bullied, intimidated, lied about, mocked, laughed at, abandoned, and defamed, it is truly like living in HELL. In a matter of 6 weeks, I became a shell of the person I was. The greed, power and evil I experienced was limitless. I rapidly became sick with anxiety and panic. I fell into a deep depression. Immediately, their truths, became "my truths", and I believed I was worthless, horrible, unethical and dispensable. Every day, my soul felt like it was ripped out of my body. Most people looked away while I was bullied and physically intimidated, and did nothing. The punches kept coming. And each one was worse than the last.
I tried to fight back. But my courage weakened by the minute. In the end, like most people who are bullied in the workplace, I felt it was just easier to leave. It killed me to hand that victory over. The thought of leaving my students crushed my heart. But I knew going back would land me in the hospital with mental illness. I spent most of that summer in bed. I sobbed. I screamed. I prayed. My children watched me lay on the floor some days, unsure of who I was or where I was going. I was simply, broken.
I tell this story for two reasons. First, if I can help ONE person, somewhere, then I have served the purpose God calls me to serve. Second, I want others to know that I survived. It took a long while to climb out of the hole I fell in to. I'm surely not the same person I was before. But I survived. And out of the ashes has come beauty.
I was fortunate enough to find an amazing place of healing. God led me to a school with an amazing staff and community. My friends pulled me out of depression and anxiety. They accepted me. They loved me. They reaffirmed my worthiness. After almost a year, I began to feel happy again. I wasn't the same. But I was functioning. I am forever grateful to the people who were so kind to me. I'm sure these teachers didn't realize how damaged I was. I wore a mask most days- too afraid people would see the shame I was carrying.
Bullying in the workplace is real. In 2014, The Workplace Bullying Institute complied research on such topics. 72% of Americans have witnessed bullying at work. However, 72% of employers deny, discount, encourage, rationalize or defend the behaviors. Bosses are considered the largest perpetuator of bullying behavior compared to staff members. You can click here to see the results of the survey if you'd like. Every day in education, there is talk about "bullying". We talk so much to our STUDENTS about how to create a school culture that is intolerant of such behavior. But what happens when the ADULTS become the perpetrators?
I'd love to say that , as the result of my experience, I could give you strategic advice to prevent and battle bullying in your school, District or in the teacher's lounge. Unfortunately, I can not. The only words of wisdom I could offer you is that you DESERVE to be happy. There's been a lot of talk the last few years about "self care" as an SLP. I find it refreshingly amazing that so many of our well-known colleagues are reaching out to us, to "school us" on how to do this BETTER. If you are in a situation where the stress and culture is making you physically ill, please LEAVE.
I have been fortunate enough to find speech teletherapy. For me, the PTSD symptoms of walking into physical school buildings has been hard to overcome. I have no choice to attend school functions for my own children, but it's still very hard to walk through the double doors. Teletherapy has provided me a way to love my job again, without the stress and anxiety. Whatever the answer is for YOU, please take action. Don't remain in a situation that fills you with dread and fear. No amount of self-care activities you perform will save you when the situation you are in gets really bad.
I successfully survived a terrible situation. I have real scars, no doubt. But I'm here. I'm doing what I love, and I have regained most of what I had lost in my life. The journey I am on now is bringing me full circle. I used every brick they threw at me to stand taller than ever before. I own a private practice. I design materials for SLPs. I LOVE my job again. My new community is helping me rebuild my self worth. Know that, if you ARE where I WAS....you can rebuild. You can grow stronger. You are loved. And you bring beauty to the lives of the people you treat. You are worthy and meaningful.
The bully can only take that away from you if you let them.
If you'd like to follow my journey, please click here for more stories.