For someone battling a mental disease, being around toxic people is one of the worst experiences in the world. Their negativity – like a virus – oozes from them and tries its best to latch on to you. I know this. I have lived this through various partners and co-workers and it makes my mind spin constantly and destroys my body. When I first began to work in the industry I am in, I played a game with my favorite co-workers. The reality show “Survivor” had just premiered, and we would name the people we worked with that we would vote off the island first. It was a fun game. It wasn’t malicious, as those who were not a part of it had no idea what we were doing, and thus could not be hurt that they were first in the line-up for the ejection. I think it helped us with the few toxic people in our environment and gave us an outlet for our frustrations.
I have been a nomad in my work life. I find that I land in a position, get the job done, and then wanderlust pulls me to another place, another challenge – because I hate being bored. I am in a place now where I feel I could settle for a while. Where the weather suits my clothes. But the last place I worked – a state university that should be sued by all its former employees for lack of support in all areas of work/life balance – was the most toxic, vicious place I have ever been. I began reading accounts of holocaust survivors during my time there, just to try to understand how people could survive in a place that constantly beats them down. I felt like an indentured servant to my supervisor and her minion. I had no freedom. I could not breathe. Every day I felt I was drowning in negativity and venom.
Last night, I began thinking of the numerous times I have been institutionalized and the people I have met in these places. I thought of the unending group therapy sessions that seemed to go nowhere, and observing the different personalities and the way they constructed their realities. Then, I began to imagine myself and the women I worked with at that state university being in such a place together (because as fucked up as I can be, they take the cake on screwing with peoples’ minds) and what such an experience would entail.
There would be my dear friend who they have tried for years to destroy, but she has used every ounce of her strength to battle back against them. I think of the crone (my former supervisor) who has worked there for almost 40 years and knows nothing about how similar institutions work, and does not care about the future of our industry. I think of her minion, who is so angry at the world, for reasons unknown to me, other than the hints one would pick up on – her rage at being stuck in a small, one-horse town in upstate NY where she will never have the same level of recognition as her professor husband; her irritation at having a child with autism that she has to take care of; her playing the race card whenever she has the chance (even though her ancestry is 1/16th Jamaican and I never witnessed anyone treating her differently from the rest of us – in my opinion it was the card she played to frighten the school so that she would never be called out on her abusive behavior); and her need to be fucked hard and long by someone, anyone, that would make her take a deep breath and chill for five goddamn minutes.
I would love to be locked in a ward with them, to make them have to go through the endless meetings and sessions that we are forced to do when they lock us in and assign us our “rules”. I would love their psyches to be dissected by the professionals in the white coats, and watch as they are forced to look at themselves, long and hard, in a mirror and see if there is any possibility for them to grow. To become better people. To let go of the anger, rage, resentment and abuse that they live with on a daily basis and then poison others with this sickness.
Because for those of us dealing with bipolar struggles, or any other mental health issue, being around people like this is like living in hell on a daily basis. They suck the life out of you and look for your weaknesses, your Achilles Heel, and if they find it they latch onto it like a great white shark and drag you down into the depths of the ocean. I could go to work, observe their behavior – understand greatly how it was affecting me mentally and physically (I lost 20 pounds my first year there and was model thin, but very sick) and others, but there was nothing, nothing I could do about it. The system was broken. The university did not care their employees were being abused, and if it was ever brought to their attention, they dismissed it as an anomaly.
This place almost destroyed me. It is destroying my best friend who is in a fight of her life for sanity after being henpecked by them for years and told she would never amount to anything, even though she is one of the best people I have ever met in the field. She has balls, more than I do, to stick it out as long as she did. But like me, it became too much and without the backing of the company you work for, what is the point? What becomes more important – your sanity or a paycheck? It’s a hard decision in this day and age, but I think we both realized that we had to leave and follow our own paths in order to get them and their toxicity out of our heads.
I suffer as a bipolar person. It is a disease I am passionate about others understanding because I think we all walk around with baggage and issues. Some of these are environmental. Some stem from our childhood. Some come from synapses that do not fire correctly in our brains and make the pendulum swing from manic to depressed within moments of one another. And then there are those who are toxic and so self-absorbed that nothing matters except the accolades they receive and how many people they can step on to get to where they want to be. They do not care how they do it or whom it harms.
These are the people I fear. These are the people who need help. These are the people who should be locked away and be taught compassion and understanding and selflessness. I know the crone and the minion will never get there. They will live bitter lives and continue to harm anyone that comes across their path.
I am so glad I am no longer there. I am still cleansing myself, almost eight months later, after leaving that place. I am still trying to get my mind back to where I believe in myself again, and believe I am worthy of what I do and those I help.
God knows I do not want to be institutionalized ever again. I cannot be assured from one day to the next if I will ever accomplish that feat. But if I am, I would love nothing more than to find myself in one of the annoying group sessions, sitting across from those two, and watching, listening to them being taken apart, piece by piece.
© Sorrow & Kindness