It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on Facebook or in real life that work has been really, really challenging for me lately. I am in state civil service, in social services, and beyond that I am not getting into specifics. It’s a decent job with decent benefits and I’ve been with this agency since 2001. It was the job that got me back on my feet after my disastrous slide into insanity back in 1998, when I quit a really good job as a municipal bus driver because I had undergone a series of personal losses and setbacks and lost my mind a bit. But that is another story.
I’ve always been a little socially awkward, a little too eager to please, a little gullible, a little too desperate to have something resembling a circle of friends. I have a long history of disclosing way too much about myself in casual conversation. People at work tend to know me way better than I know them. Nothing really embarrassing or extremely personal, but I have always kept my walls rather low.
Until now. Recently it’s become clearer and clearer to me that I am an outcast at work. I am not anyone’s friend or confidante. I am not taken seriously or valued for my efforts to help my co-workers. When I have attempted to provide assistance or be part of an effective team, I have been laughed at or ignored. At Christmas, I made an appeal to two of my co-workers to initiate a collection for a gift for our supervisor, because I knew if I did it, nobody would contribute. Nothing new.
As far back as grade school, I’ve been an outcast. An “other”. I have never had more than one or two friends and trust comes hard to me. And nearly every time I have chosen to ignore my instincts and trust people, I get hurt. For example, one of my co-workers had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. There was a massive party on the work floor of the office, right in the middle of everyone. Right next to my cubicle. I worked with this woman from the day I started at this agency, we shared many great conversations over the eleven years we've known each other and worked together, and when she was leaving to go on maternity leave, I was the only person in the office who thought to organize a party of sorts for her. We had cookies and gave her a nice card with some money in it. I made a sweater for the baby to be. Never thought much about it. While she did not organize or plan the birthday party, obviously, I was very pointedly left out. The people who organized the party, a high school-type clique, went so far as to whisper my cube-mate over to share the cake and celebration. In the meantime, I’ve been in this office for most of my career with this agency, I’ve worked with many of these people the whole time, and last year, my 50th birthday came and went with no acknowledgement of any kind. Not so much as a card. Not so much as a single word.
This is not an isolated incident. For years, I have been excluded from office activities and nobody ever really talks to me unless I initiate the conversation. People who I thought were my friends were actually using me (and many other people) as a laughingstock. One person, an older caseworker I’d known and respected since I started at this agency, requested I share his cubicle, and I was really flattered by that because I thought this worker was a friend. Until I realized he wanted me there as a buffer between him and the annoying person on the other side of the cube wall, and as fodder to laugh at my reaction to the annoying person. My value was purely humor.
There are many other examples, but I don't have the heart to recount all of them. If this sounds like a pity party, I guess maybe it is. I guess it does hurt, being either reviled or invisible. I am increasingly hard of hearing but I am not deaf, and I am certainly not blind, and I hear whispers and see people laughing behind their hands at me.
Between observing things more closely at work and a severe emotional reaction to reading "Cat's Eye" by Margaret Atwood, all the peer abuse I've endured most of my life came to a head. While I suffered nothing like the level of abuse the protagonist of that book did, I did suffer, and at the hands of many, many people in my life. It's left me with major trust issues. I no longer trust my co-workers.
So the wall is up. I no longer speak to anyone at work unless it’s completely necessary. There is an impenetrable barrier that is permanent. I talk to my supervisor and the managers as needed. I will answer if asked questions. I volunteer nothing. I initiate nothing. There are no further niceties. I’m finished.
I do my job and I do it exceptionally well. I am there to do my job for nine more years. I plan to transfer to another office as soon as possible, hopefully in a year or so. When that time comes, I will walk out the door and chances are, nobody will even notice. Except that they no longer have anyone to whisper and laugh about.
There was a time when my office felt like a second home to me. That time is over.
I am not seeking sympathy or friendships or anything of the kind. I am perfectly happy to live inside my wall at work. I need nothing but my paycheck every two weeks and my health insurance should I be ill. I don’t have to be chummy with anyone to get that. I am not about to open myself up for further hurt. I have all the love I need from my family. Everyone else can bite me. Work is not my life, work is how I pay for my life. It’s time it was put in its proper place.