Being trapped in a toxic work environment can be extremely upsetting. For Soma Ghosh, workplace bullying destroyed her confidence. But finally speaking to her doctor, and starting various forms of support, helped Soma to get back on track
In 2015, I was crying down the phone to my business mentor as I had an anxiety attack. I still don’t remember exactly what I said; all I remember is her saying: “Soma, are you OK?”
I was feeling anxious about work, overwhelmed by a new job. This role was meant to be a part-time fixture while I was building my dream business to help career-coach women who were unhappy at work – which was unfortunately ironic.
She kept speaking to me calmly, and I recollect saying in a delirious state: “Maybe I deserve everything that happens to me.”
It was then that she said: “Can you please go to a doctor Soma – I am really worried about you.” So, I did.
A few hours later, sitting in the doctor’s office at my local walk-in centre, I remember crying as she said: “You are showing signs of anxiety.” The doctor gave me a small dose of diazepam to help, yet to be honest this made me drowsy more than anything. But the most important thing was that this was the first time I realised that maybe she was right, and I really did have anxiety.
In 1990, as a six-year-old child, I lost my father. After he died, it was just me, my mum, and my sister.
I had been an extroverted child, but when he died I became the opposite. I would sit quietly in the corner and read, feeling like I was the odd one out.
Growing up, I remember always worrying about being late, or not getting things done in a certain way. Any event I would go to as a teenager, I would always worry about what I should wear, how to get there, or even if I should go at all for fear of people laughing at me – I was always bullied at school for my appearance, so thought the same may happen in my community, too. I thought being a bit anxious was normal, and without realising it, this seeped into my adulthood.
When I started working as a careers adviser in schools in 2008, I would worry about events like parents’ evening, as I would have to travel back late from work; would something happen to me on the train? When I look back throughout my life, I always had anxiety about something. I just didn’t realise this until my 30s.
In 2015, while this new job was still as a careers advisor, it had a new level of stress and pressure I’d not felt in previous roles. I felt an overwhelming sense of inadequacy every day, which lead me to depression. I would feel afraid every day when I got up to go to work.
At first, I had noticed that a colleague seemed to be quite dismissive of me, but at the time I ignored it. I had dealt with tricky people at work before, and always managed to get on with my job and not let it affect me. But then I noticed a change in this behaviour...
It started with criticising emails, then mentioning I had forgotten to print resources, or that more needed to be done. I was accused of being responsible for something that had nothing to do with me. I was shouted at about a misunderstanding, and humiliated in front of another colleague who had been informed of all the things I had failed to achieve while working there. I was due to give a presentation right after that incident and remember feeling like I wanted to cry, but had to keep at it. I was constantly reminded of things I had failed to do.
When I spoke to my husband and friends about what was happening, they told me this kind of behaviour was not acceptable. In fact, they said it sounded like bullying. I didn’t ever want to admit this out loud, because surely you couldn’t be bullied in the workplace so subtly and not realise it’s happening?
I remember often crying myself to sleep because I really started to believe that maybe all the things they picked up on were because I wasn’t good at my job. Or perhaps I wasn’t doing enough to be helpful and supportive.
When I look back, I know this wasn’t true. Especially because no one else I worked with had a problem with me. I was also praised by another member of staff for my work, so I knew I had worked hard. In fact, I was always so overwhelmed by work that there were times when I was doing this part-time role on my days off. This is when I knew I was over-delivering, and trying to meet the expectations of someone who would never be pleased with anything I did.
During this time, I shut myself off, and felt emotionally and physically burnt out. I would often sit at home after work, or on the weekends, and not want to do the things I once enjoyed. I didn’t want my friends to see me for fear of crying about how unhappy I was. I would often make excuses about not going to places. I just wanted to be at home curled up in bed where no one could see me or talk to me.
I realised something needed to change. In January 2016, a month before I left the job, I sought the help of a local counsellor, who specialised in the person-centred approach. One of the biggest realisations I had was that I had never dealt with my dad’s death properly. This became apparent when my father-in-law, who was like a second dad to me, passed away the year before. I was carrying around grief from my past as well as my present, but feeling like I was inadequate and deserved everything that was happening to me.
The counsellor helped me not only with my grief, but my depression, and need to please others at the expense of my own mental and physical health. This was a common pattern for me that added to my anxiousness when things didn’t go to plan.
That first week where I no longer worked at that job, I remember feeling a sense of freedom, relief and calm. I could now fully concentrate on my own business. Even before my site was live, I had landed my first two clients.
Life seemed more hopeful. Having belief in my abilities, that I was good enough, and that I was a good careers adviser, helped me rebuild my confidence.
I also became more open and honest about my depression and anxiety with my friends. I told them I was too ashamed to tell them before, because I thought they would see it as a weakness and not want to be my friend. But, in fact, the opposite happened with most of them. It also showed me who my true friends are, as only a few people didn’t understand.
I have been running my business, The Career Happiness Mentor, for more than two years now, since March 2016. I help women who, like me, have lost hope of finding their dream job, and are feeling overwhelmed by it all. I also help people to rediscover their confidence.
Although I have anxiety and depression, I truly believe everything happens for a reason. So, I believe I was meant to go through workplace bullying to help other people, and I will continue to do what I can to support them.
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr, says:
Soma mentions how she was often unaware of how she felt and blamed herself for other’s negative behaviour. It can be easy to take feeling down for granted, and assume that is just the way things are. In reality though, we all deserve to be happy. Soma made a brave step, spoke to her friends, and sought support. In doing so she gained strength and a realisation that she has a choice in how she wants to feel. It is great that she is now using all of her experience to help other women achieve their career dreams too!