#770: Coworker’s thoughtless comments are triggering me.

Hi Captain-

TW for mention of suicide/suicidal ideation, if you would appreciate the warning (“mention” like “this thing exists in my past” mention).

I started a new office job (my first office job, though not my first 9-5) four months ago, and so far it’s been great! It’s a smallish office- about 30 people- as we’re one branch of a larger corporation. I get along with basically everybody, and I like my work, and I feel really happy that this is part of my life (which, being a graduate of art school, I never expected, but what a happy accident!).

My one issue is with somebody I don’t feel likes me- she works in the cubicle attached and directly facing me, in a department I don’t interact with lots. I am mostly okay with her not liking me-I don’t even know she doesn’t like me for a fact! I asked somebody I interact with daily about it, by saying “hey, Matthew- I’m not asking if Linda has said anything negative about me, I’m asking if Linda is maybe somebody who is hard to read and really into her job and I shouldn’t take anything personally about it”. Matthew was super worried she’d actually done something (I told him if she had, I’d be talking to my supervisor, not him!), but once I assured him it was mostly just my own alarm bells going off about nothing concrete, he did say she wasn’t somebody to mince words and was mostly here to work, and previously, others had been kind of set off by her. This made me feel way better, and now I just think- Linda isn’t here to make friends! Neither am I! We can just do our work and not be friends and that’s totally okay!

My one thing is- sometimes, when talking to others (in person or on the phone), Linda likes to say, “It made me want to kill myself!”. I know she’s in charge of a big system overhaul that started two months ago and everybody’s coming to her with their issues about it, and it sounds super stressful! But- not as stressful as actually attempting suicide… which I did, 9 months ago. The day after my attempt, my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. Luckily I survived, and I did lots of inpatient and outpatient therapy and I’m definitely in a better place in so many ways. But, hearing that just kind of zones me out for a bit. It’s not even that often- maybe once a month- that she says it, but it hits me in a way that’s heartbreaking and yucky and way too MUCH. I’m just there to tap away at my computer, I don’t want an earthquake every four weeks!

I just don’t know what to do, though. If this was somebody else- say, Matthew- I would feel absolutely comfortable quietly telling them that idea affects me for personal reasons, and to please refrain from using it in the office. But Linda and I are firmly not-friends coworkers. The fact that she’s using it in what is, still, a private conversation- but is anything private in a cube maze?- makes me even more uneasy. I have no clue if we have HR- if so, they’re probably located in the home country of the corporation, just like our IT department. I would maybe consider discussing it with my supervisor, but I don’t necessarily want to reveal my personal mental health struggles, and since I’m a temp, not permanent, I want to basically be as bland and “inoffensive” as possible.

I am really, really happy I survived. I want to keep enjoying what basically feels like a second chance as much as possible, in the steady, routine comfort of my tiny cube- without monthly reminders of what I did to myself, and what was done to me. I also just want to keep my head down, type away, and, if I’m fortunate, transition to permanent. Any advice is ridiculously appreciated!

Cube Dweller

Dear Cube Dweller,

First I want to say, FUCK YEAH, YOU! I so admire how you’ve worked to heal and to knit your life and your health back together after such a horrible experience, and I’m so happy that you’ve found your way into work that you like.

I’m reading the F*ck Feelings book right now and I’m not ready to give a full review since I’m not quite done, but I think it might be a good resource for you, particularly right now. I don’t think it’s a good fit for everyone, but what I am finding useful is a repeated suggested strategy of:

a) Validating your own feelings (not ignoring them as the title suggests) and not trying to talk yourself out of or shame yourself for feeling what you feel,

b) Trying to achieve better emotional resilience and results by choosing your battles more strategically. Does every feeling need to be acted on/Are your feelings the most important factor in how you decide to act? If you are in an unpleasant or unfair situation, can you accurately assess the likelihood that it will change and what your own capacity is for changing it? For example, does changing your behavior change something about the situation, or does any change totally depend on someone else having a change of heart (that evidence shows they are unlikely to have)? Are you trapped (in a relationship, in a workplace, etc.) by your vision of what should be happening at the expense dealing with and taking more care of yourself around of what is happening?

c) If the situation is changeable, do you have the energy budget to try to change the situation/is it worth it to you to try? And can you do it in a timeframe that equals “soon,” or does it require years of costly emotional investment in something that is already not working for you?

d) If the answer to c) is “nope!”, can you figure out other ways to take care of yourself? Can you congratulate & validate yourself for the good things you are doing (carrying on, maintaining your integrity) and apply your energy to something you can do (letting go of a toxic relationship, finding a new job, building new skills, applying your energy to a cause or goal that is important to you)? Can you try letting go of shame and negative self-talk?

If that sounds suspiciously like “Oh God/Flying Spaghetti Monster please grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” you’re not wrong. If it sounds like this approach completely breaks down around activist and social justice movements and unfair, violent systems that must change and must be made to change, and that it assumes the reader has enough privilege to decide whether or not to ignore or accept something that hurts them, you’re not wrong. (Maybe the last third of the book gets into that?)

I still think it applies to you, dear LW, because I’d like to attempt a tiny bit of cognitive reframing. Right now you are worried about whether “Linda” likes you. Better question: Do you like Linda? Or do you find her strange/avoidant/brusque/given to jokes that are in poor taste/hard to read? Right now your internal story of work is, “I like my job and my coworkers so far, and they like me, except for Linda, who I don’t think likes me.” What if we edit your head’s story to “I like my job and all of my coworkers so far except for Linda, who I don’t really like.”

One strategy I find useful in dealing with everything from thoughtless offhand comments to outright trolling is to ask myself, Self, do you even like this person? Are they someone whose opinion is important to you? If Commander Logic or the Goat Lady were to say “You are being a sack of shit right now,” that would hurt my feelings and make me rethink my entire life, but some Trump-loving Twitter Egg is not on Team Me and was never going to be on Team Me and I don’t have to care what they think. That doesn’t mean that mean words don’t sting or eat at me sometimes, or that I can prevent yucky feelings in advance by deciding not to feel them, but I think it is a useful and learnable skill to be able to remind myself that hey, at the end of the day I get to decide whose opinion really matters to me and I get to decide whether something deserves a response and/or continued engagement and attention. If you don’t really like Linda, over time, try describing the situation to yourself as “a person I don’t like sometimes says thoughtless things that I don’t like. Howabout that.” I know there is much more going on than that (trauma reactions and the ubiquity of casual ableism in the workplace are motherfuckers), so I’m not saying “magick yourself into feeling different!” No! I am saying, try telling a different story about what’s going on as a way to practice gaining a little distance from the situation gradually, over time.

You would be well within your rights to say, “Casual suicide jokes: tasteful AND hilarious. Do keep making them,” in your best Professor Snape disdain-voice when Linda says her thing next. See also: “Is that really appropriate at work?” or “Wow, sound really carries in these open offices. Let me give you some privacy” or “I’m sure you don’t mean to be insensitive, but your casual suicide comments really bum me out.”

Right this second, however, I think you’ve assessed the situation exactly correctly: Linda isn’t a friend, she has more status at the company than you do as a temp, sometimes working in open office environments means deciding to pretend to tune out your neighbors’ phone conversations, you need/want this job to last and become permanent, you don’t want to disclose your history in a potentially unfriendly environment, and when you are feeling triggered and sensitive about something it’s not always the best time to escalate a situation. In addition, just as Linda doesn’t know your history with suicide, you don’t know hers. I don’t think her comment is appropriate, in the same way people most certainly have not been “raped” by Ticketmaster surcharges, but I also know that sometimes survivors go very dark and dry in their humor when talking to trusted folks…like her friend on the phone…in what she is thinking of as a private conversation.

It’s not fair that you have to deal with this calculus on top of everything else you’ve got going on. But it is time for a risk/reward assessment. Run this all by your therapist, and try to think through scenarios and what you want and what you value most. Do you put your energy into changing Linda’s attitude and favorite catch phrase in the hopes of preventing another incident where you are triggered by her thoughtless remarks? Do you put energy into spackling over the situation and pretending things are okay, at least until you have a permanent job? Since you’re the one running the risks, you’re the only one who can decide what is worthwhile to you.

One thing you can try is creating a self-care protocol around this. When Linda gets on the phone for a chat, could you use that time to stretch your legs/get something to drink/run that errand on another floor that you need to run? Removing yourself from the situation on your own terms could give you back some agency and power. If she does say something that makes you feel unsteady, what strategies or tools do you have for dealing with that feeling of being overwhelmed? (Deep breaths, grounding yourself in your physical environment, removing yourself from the situation, reaching out to a friend, sitting with the feeling and naming it, imagining everything happening from a great distance, imagining intrusive thoughts as little puffy clouds that implode as they come near you, mentally reciting the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, rewarding yourself with something comforting at the end of the day). It can feel silly at first, but the more you do whatever ritual you decide upon, the more second-nature it will become.

Let’s be real: When I was suffering from PTSD symptoms after witnessing a murder, feeling like an open wound half the time and like I was traveling through jello half the time, a lot of these recommendations would have been beyond me and it’s okay if it’s beyond you right now. It’s early yet, blog posts and books are not a substitute for ongoing mental health care, and you have all the time in the world and infinite tries to practice self-care strategies and rebuild some armor and resilience. Someday this is going to be easier. Someday you are going to help other survivors by being the person who says, “Cool it with the insensitive comments, thanks” like a superhero as you direct dissenters to your Field of No Fucks. In the meantime, can you find a way to be gentle with yourself and give yourself credit and praise for how well you’re handling everything so far? “Self, even thought I felt really awful and overwhelmed for a few moments today, I was able to get through it. I’m alive and well and I’m doing the best I can, and my best is pretty okay.” 

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214 comments
  1. Madb said:

    LW, I’m so happy that you have been living well!

    I know that it took me a very, very long time after my last deliberate suicide attempt to be able to not fall apart when I heard someone making casual suicide “jokes”. Now it’s something that I can usually let flow past, but sometimes it makes me shiver and shake just to hear or read someone doing so. What helped me get through the really bad times was a combination internal snark rant (along the lines of “Yes. So funny. Hahaha. You’re an idiot”) that never got said to the people who weren’t someone to actually speak about things to for one reason or another and immediate self-care in at least a small way. Usually a cup of tea, but that’s because there are few things in life that cannot be at least temporarily alleviated by proper application of hot water to the head. (Tea, shower, boiling water over the ramparts…)

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      Mmmmm hot sweet tea. It also means taking the time to go and make a cup of tea, which is just as valuable as the tea itself.

    • basketcasenz said:

      ” internal snark rant”
      If you need to make it more external – send it in an email to yourself and then delete it. I know the advice of “write it down and throw it away” has been given here before to help people through as well.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        YES. I’ve managed to get the self discipline to (sometimes) write a comment on a comment section and close the tab without sending it, even.

        • Monika said:

          This reminds me of the joke website that the John Oliver show set up!

          http://screamintothevoid.com/

          You can type whatever you want and when you hit the submit button (helpfully labeled “scream”) it disappears with a little scream noise. I guess you would have to leave the sound off in an open office which is a shame really. It adds to the experience.

          • Myrtle said:

            I’m going to be That Person again and point out that the computer is likely to have a keystroke logger on it as well. Someone needs to design a Mr Yuck-type graphic for the office communications equipment, to say Danger. Keep Personal Life Away From Touching This Gear.

          • Muddie Mae said:

            “Likely” to have a keystroke logger seems a bit strong. It’s certainly possible but I really don’t think this is a business norm yet.

          • I don’t suppose it matters exactly how likely it is. If we don’t know whether there is, and there is any possibility of it at all, then it’s a risk.

          • Alice Fraggle said:

            Thank you for the link to Scream Into the Void. I hadn’t seen that, but I NEED that in my life!

      • I have what I can only call a snarksnark notebook. Whenever someone really pisses me off, I quietly go away, write down exactly what I would like to say to them and that makes me calm down and respond more sensibly. The book is in a secure place and contains no names, and I keep it because it’s quite amusing reading my rants later. Plus actual writing with a pen is soooo much more satisfying. Maybe not a good idea in an office though.

        • Oh, I like this very much! I think I need a snarksnark notebook for dealing with my boss! I can keep it in my purse.

          LW, I am also a suicide survivor. I am so glad you made it–and glad I did too. ❤

          I have a coworker whose significant other starved to death (I believe he was depressed and stopped eating). Every time he says, "Going to lunch now. I'm starving!" I cringe.

          • It’s a little weird to cringe because someone says a word or mentions a subject you think they ought to be traumatized by, but they demonstrably aren’t. Please don’t police how other people deal with their own shit! It’s super uncool! 🙂

          • Um… “Please don’t police how other people deal with their own shit! ”
            …Mirror time?

          • Don’t cringe at someone else’s speech around their own shit on their behalf. It’s presumptuous.

          • gmg said:

            Seems there was maybe a nicer way to say this. “I hope this is only internal cringing — I get where you’re coming from, but Coworker needs to be free to handle his own stuff in his own way.”

          • I’d offer a list of the words I wouldn’t be allowed to say by strangerontheearth’s logic, but it would be pretty long. Three of my past romantic partners are dead; two died while we were together. So I take kind of a dim view of policing other people’s speech based on what you think they should be traumatized by, because I’ve had it done to me, and it’s actually pretty uncool. As I said above.

      • Yes! I had a really tough visit from family who LOVE to make ‘non pc’ comments and made a thread on the forums to get some of the snark and rage and hurt out. Double benefit: people commented telling me it was reasonable to be hurt, which really really helped.

        Ah, er…end gratuitous self promotion?

        • jdrives said:

          I have also found the forums an enormous source of help when venting frustration or working through a problem. As an extension of the CA.com community, the folks there are kind and helpful. If anything this was a plug for the awesomeness of the forums, which I whole-heartedly second!!

      • escapee from the cubicle farm said:

        Please, please don’t send “internal rants” on the company email system. Not even just to yourself, not even if you delete them immediately.

        • YES THIS. I’m super paranoid so I go so far as to only type them on my phone, into a note pad or a personal e-mail.

          Your work computer is not a safe space. (Which maybe can just be shortened to Your work is not a safe space, honestly.)

          • Zillah said:

            This, though I’d change “safe space” to “private space.” People absolutely have the right to feel safe at work.

          • jdrives said:

            Absolutely. I’m sure that different employers have different levels of monitoring, but I work for my State government and everything is logged and subject to scrutiny, especially the Microsoft Outlook email system. It is also potentially discoverable/public record, I believe. This may not be limited to government, as my husband formerly worked at a credit union and in the course of a lawsuit happening there after he left, some emails he sent were pulled and used as court documents (thankfully nothing untoward was found on his end). All this to say that work computers should not be used for ranting purposes, but perhaps a personal cell phone or notebook that could be stashed/locked away would do the trick.

          • Sadly, the abstract idea that people have the RIGHT to feel safe at work (which is a good idea I agree with 100%) is so unreflective of how the majority of workplaces operate that I don’t think it ends up having much impact on what is or isn’t a good idea for OP to do.

          • Courtney said:

            Yep. I once worked for the phone contractor for my local county jail, and part of my job was pulling up inmate call recordings on request. I had several of the jail employees ask me if the employee phones were recorded too. I always told them that while I didn’t have direct knowledge of it, it was best to assume that they were (and not say anything on them that they didn’t want heard by their supervisor, in open court, or on the evening news.)

        • Nor even on their computer, even to your personal e-mail. They could be monitoring traffic; they *even* could be keylogging.

          • This is true. I got a phone call from my company’s IT security after sending an email to a friend on my own Hotmail account, via my own home broadband connection. But they flagged it up because it contained swears and I was using a work laptop.

          • FlyBy said:

            @amberxebi – Good heavens, either your company’s IT has too much time on their hands or your management has some very strange ideas about what IT is supposed to do. Monitoring for people typing swear words? WTF?

            (Source: In IT. Could monitor emails or other computer activity. Never have, never expect to outside of actual security requirements and specific management requests.)

          • I thought the same about too much time on their hands, which is surprising given how many employees there are. They said it was flagged as a “security risk” whatever that meant. Probably they just randomly scan every now and then. I’d been sending swears from that computer for a long time. Bottom line is you can never be 100% sure whether/when it might happen unless you work in or very close to the department that’s doing it.

          • Jackalope said:

            I know some work systems just automatically flag certain things (specific swear words could be one of them). It’s an auto-pilot thing but if it catches something, then the person in charge of security is alerted.

        • Myrtle said:

          Oh, thank you for saying this. Longtime tech person here: Everything that goes through their servers, they own. This means the WiFi network too.
          Consider instead the excellent advice to buy a notebook and hide it. Dont write any names. You can underline and draw arrows and it’s great.

    • Other upsides of tea: When some people “zone out”, especially over something really upsetting, it can be akin to a form of shock, which means that warmth, sugar, and electrolytes all help you recover faster.

    • Been there, done that said:

      “boiling water over the ramparts”….. I absolutely love it.

    • d said:

      LW here- thank you! Shout out to you for surviving, too. we’re part of a club that- while I would never, ever wish membership on anybody- boasts some of the absolute strongest, most resilient people I know.

      hot tea sounds so soothing, wonderful idea! we have a keurig at work, which I’m still a little starstruck by, but I will make friends with it for sure!

    • J R said:

      Here’s a simple thought: Ask for another cube away from this person who upsets you. Don’t go into any details, just find an empty space and ask for it. In my experience, cube farms almost always have empties around somewhere. If they ask why, just say sometimes Linda makes remarks you can’t help but hear in the close office environment that you find distasteful and distracting. Sounds like they are already aware that she isn’t a gem to be with.

      Hope this helps!

  2. thelittlepakeha said:

    Not entirely an analogous situation, but when I was at a disaster recovery job that was extremely emotionally intense I used the reward strategy – any day in which I had to deal with death, I got to go to Subway on my way home. Depending on finances that might need to be scaled down, but it did work for me, in combination with letting myself take a break after the actual task to gather myself a bit. Obviously in my case it wasn’t like there was someone I could ask to stop Doing The Thing, but I suspect asking Linda to stop Doing The Thing might not work so well: even if she was apologetic and tried to stop, since it’s something she does once a month rather than sprinkled through her speech all the time it’s likely that it would be difficult for her to actively remember not to and take quite a while to phase out of her vocabulary. And after-the-fact apologies might even turn it into an even bigger thing. That metric might well change if it does turn into a permanent job, of course, where the phasing out time compared to the staying at the job time is a much different ratio, but while it’s temporary I’d probably try to frame it myself as “a thing that happens at work occasionally” rather than “a thing I can change if I find the right button”. I feel like the latter would stress me out more as I tried to find the right button rather than focusing on self-care.

    YMMV, etc.

    (And as someone who also has SI in their background you’re doing way better than I was to be working at an awesome job just a few months later! Go you!)

    • Big Pink Box said:

      This is the strategy I used to use as well. If I’d encountered a particularly horrific situation at work I used to reward myself. I started that job two weeks after a devastating bereavement and while still technically homeless, so certain scenarios were really great at triggering that ‘rug pulled out from under me’ feeling.

      My treats involved things like getting to hug the stuffing out of my housemate’s labrador, or something similarly soothing and grounding. Promising myself big snuggles and visualising the “OMGhumanyouarethebestest” face, during a traumatic interaction, used to instantly calm me after a couple of months.

      LW – you are a credit to yourself. I am guilty of worrying about “Why does $person not like me?” too, which I chalk up to my low self-esteem. The Captain’s advice, about mentally refraining interactions with Linda, can take a while to take effect, but once it does take hold it’s very freeing.

      I hope you go from strength to strength in your job, and that the Linda situation will end up being a tiny crease in the fabric of your life.

      • d said:

        LW here (I should probably just copy and paste that at this point, hah!)- your last line is so sweet and puts things into perspective (without being all “you worry too much!”). Thank you 🙂 As I read your comment, I realized I have some home issues currently (roommate turned uncomfortably passive-aggressive, moving at the end of the month though!) that are *absolutely* contributing to how I’m coping with Linda- when one situation seems too big, or vague, frustration or being triggered can come out in another smaller situation. I imagine I’ll be more steady on my feet once this month is up!

    • d said:

      LW here. Thank you very much for the nice words 🙂 I have to admit I am lucky in that I got prompt psychiatric help, had a mostly awesome psych ward stay, and that naturally, I tend to find it easy-ish to throw myself into something during recovery (this wasn’t my first psych ward stay, so experience helps with that, I suppose!). So I definitely am aware that my timeline is just one of many possible timelines, and all are a-ok! So however you recovered was probably best for you and I’m glad that you’re able to give awesome advice about coping! The idea to frame it differently is great and useful!

  3. Reading this, I feel guilty about my usage of “makes me want to kill myself”…. but even though the things I say it about might sound trivial to some folks, I say it when…. I am thinking about killing myself. Stress and frustration bring up suicidal ideation for me and though I’ve never tried I sure have thought about it a lot. Saying it out loud sometimes sounds ridiculous, which to me can be helpful, or sometimes it’s just naming the thing, my old familiar adversary that I know how to do things about.

    • Goat Lady said:

      We understand that there are many, many reasons a person might use that phrase. This letter isn’t about judging Linda, it’s about helping the LW cope. Unless you actually are Linda, it’s not about you, and you can relax.

    • Hmmm, I had scrolled down to the comments because I also say “I want to kill myself” to express stress. And reading your comment makes me realize that as a depressive it is legitimately my knee-jerk response, because it’s my comfortable, worn-out blanket made of knives and barbed wire. My brain knows the shortcut well: stress = self-harm. So even when I’m well, as I am most of the time now, I’m also stuck in a well-worn brain path of responding that way to stressful situations. Thanks for illuminating that for me.

      LW, I would focus on your self-care over changing Linda’s behaviour. The way I see it you have several possibilities if you confront Linda:

      1) Linda is a total jerkstore about it and tries to make you justify why you feel it’s inappropriate, bringing up a mess of feelings.
      2) Linda is a survivor or has a mental illness herself and becomes defensive because she wants to define her own relationship with that.
      3) Linda is totally cool about it and stops.

      To be quite honest, I feel like #1 or #2 is going to be more likely in this situation. People do not like to part with their favourite sayings. People in cubicles, as the Captain mentioned, often operate on the let’s-pretend-we-don’t-hear-each-other level. If it matters enough to deal with a #1 or #2 situation if it comes along, perhaps bringing it up is a good choice for you. If not, don’t.

      I see this as an opportunity for you to practice taking good care of yourself. As big as the hurdles are for you in saying something to Linda, they will be much larger in situations where you are outside work. An employer legally owes you a non-hostile workplace. Neighbourhood bars, Inappropriate Friends, overheard conversations on the subway – these things don’t have an HR department to help you out. If you can become amazing at self-care, you’ll be in a much better position to avoid being struck by a cold sweat while you’re just trying to go about your day.

      I’m glad you’re still here! You’re incredibly strong and I know you’ve got this.

      • Trix said:

        Mmm, it’s a phrase I’ve used quite frequently when stressed – yes, intended to be a jocular cover-up, but with real “I’m not coping” emotion underneath.

        But if someone said to me – and no, I don’t come off as super approachable in the workplace – “Sorry, that phrase really bothers me”, I would cut that shit out. No, I wouldn’t ask the circumstances – they’re not germane to the request. Now I’ve been alerted to it, I’m planning to cut it out, anyway.

        Yes, I have had suicidal ideation, but that’s not the reason I use the phrase. It’s probably monthly, as well. The only reason I know I’m not the subject of this letter is that I’m not working with someone who is a temp.

        Yeah, maybe the co-worker won’t have the kind of mortified reaction I would, and maybe the risk to benefit calculus is still too high (compared to making hot cups of tea or putting the headphones on when a phone conversation starts), but I don’t like the assumption that she wouldn’t be prepared to give up a thoughtless pet phrase if alerted to it.

        LW, your letter has made me think, so speaking up here has already had an effect.

        Regarding Jennifer’s question, though, I don’t think I would appreciate what might seem to be a passive-aggressive statement on my coping skills, because that is the first thing I would interpret that remark as.

    • JenniferP said:

      Hey Rosie and others in this thread who have shared their own instances of this, thanks for reminding us that one possible response to Linda (someday) is, “You keep saying ‘x makes me wanna kill myself’…what’s that about?

      • Serin said:

        I have had that conversation more than once with people I was close to. If my goal had been to get people to stop using that kind of language, the results wouldn’t have been very satisfactory — I got a lot of “Wow, you’re literal — when people say ‘jeez,’ do you think they’re actually praying?”

        (Somehow I came out of adolescence with the message, “People don’t joke around about suicide — if they mention it, assume they’re serious.” Evidently that isn’t true? It still sort of shocks me to hear.)

        • Mary said:

          My version of that message is, “People will joke around about suicide, but you propbably can’t tell who is joking and who isn’t. Always better to err on the side of taking it seriously.”

          So yeah, I think you did a good thing taking it seriously, and I’m sorry if it was frustrating.

          • BB said:

            This reminds me of a woman I saw in Target once talking to a young toddler. She was upset they didn’t have the exact towels she wanted. She kept saying “I want to kill them” about whoever bought the towels and then for something else. She repeated it about 4-5 times in a gruff voice and I just lost it! I said “Listen to yourself, do you really want that kid absorbing those mean ideas? it’s towels, and we’re shoppers. No big deal! ”
            So, I guess I’m a literalist too. It just felt so ugly, that she kept repeating it that I was sure the kid was surely going to pick up this adversarial vibe. Bizarre.

        • IDK, that sounds satisfactory to me! “Hey person who jokes about suicide, are you suicidal?” “Nope.” “OKAY GOOD.” Like maybe you’ll feel a bit silly about having to take things to the Serious Place, but it’s far preferable (as someone who’s found the Serious Place was the place to go, also the ER) to feel a bit silly than have someone be actually suicidal.

          • Marna Nightingale said:

            ILU LIS.

            And, yep. Part of normalising mental illness and learning to live well is to, well, normalise it.

            You know the tone you’d use to ask someone who just tripped and went down hard in front of you whether they need help? That is a good tone to ask someone if they might be thinking about suicide.

            It does have to be kept apart from asking Linda to cut down on her use of the phrase, though. You’re not asking to punish her, or mark her out, or get in her business, or make her embarassed about the phrase. You’re asking her because you want to know if she’s suicidal. LW I know you absolutely know this – I’m saying it needs to be very clear in your _delivery_.

            Experiencing being taken seriously about it may change how Linda feels about saying it, but if that comes across as your main goal she’s going to feel – especially if she IS feeling suicidal – as a filthy trick.

          • shehasathree said:

            Yes, THIS.

    • And The Rest said:

      I wondered if this might be going on with Linda and might be why she is the way she is at work (no nonsense under the guise of keeping it together). There might be another way for LW to approach Linda: disarm with kindness. “You say that on occasion… are you doing okay?”

      This might be more effort than LW would want to make in this situation, and there is the risk that Linda might actually open up with talk about awful things going on her life (potentially even more triggering?). It’s the gamble that Linda is a stressed but mostly decent human being who never thought her statement would ever be taken seriously.

      Something to try only if the LW feels they can and want to handle it that way.

    • Cor! said:

      Yeah, I can only look back a bit disturbed at how often I used this as a kid only so a few years later I would actually have suicidal and self harm thoughts as a teen (nothing came of it, thankfully!).
      I guess it’s easy for some people who may not have experienced suicidal thoughts or may not have been so close to death to consider joking about it normal, it just doesn’t occur to them that someone could ACTUALLY feel like dying, to many, death is a very abstract and far away thought.
      My situation is a bit different, but I remember a moment in high school some time after I had lost my mom that I was being picked up by someone and a classmate just said casually ‘your mom’s here’. They meant it with absolutely no malice, and I wasn’t upset about the slip up, I let it pass, but the whole thing sorta stuck with me for a while. At the time I was going to therapy and it was nice being able to get off my chest without being judged.
      Maybe you can’t control people’s default reactions and assumptions, but the way you feel about them can’t be controlled either, having an outlet can be a great way to get the tension off

  4. apricity said:

    I agree with the suggestions to have a cup of tea/coffee/water/etc and a bit of a break to resettle yourself. Office jobs generally also allow you to take 10-15 minutes (or even longer) for you to leave, go for a walk, chill in a small meeting room etc.

    I also struggle with people who aren’t friendly at work (anxiety goes off like a rocket) and my best coping strategy is to reframe it. So, it’s not that Linda is Not Friendly, it’s that she’s very task focused and very focused on herself, and spends approximately zero time thinking about me and other co-workers when we are not talking to her. I find this much more soothing. “We have an indifferent relationship” just kind of cruises along fine, much more peacefully for me than thinking about how either of us don’t like the other.

    • d said:

      LW here- I think you nailed Linda exactly in that description! she is neither good nor bad, she is just different than me in lots of ways, and we can absolutely coexist peacefully. honestly, after I spoke with Matthew, I was much more comfortable in the idea that we were coworkers, not friends, and being not-friends coworkers was absolutely ok. like two cats who are not BFFs, but kind of coexist in the house peacefully, and sometimes you come across them sleeping on the same bed together and it’s really exciting! Linda and I are never going to get matching BFF necklaces- but when she needs help finding a file on the system I work with, I am totally there for her.

      • apricity said:

        Yes! I like your cat analogy. 🙂

  5. skinnyhobbit said:

    I’ve a coworker who regularly cracks suicide jokes and psych ward jokes. It sucks, LW.

    I try to keep earphones on when she’s having a conversation.

    • Temporary Null said:

      I have worked in cubeland a few times, and noise cancelling headphones have been a godsend. I know not all jobs will let you wear headphones, but if yours does, and you can afford a pair, buy some.

    • Elf Krystal said:

      People who crack those jokes are either:
      1. Insensitive clods who don’t realize they can strike a nerve in people who have lived through psych difficulties or…
      2. Trying to relieve their own tensions and fears through the use of “humor”. for example I worked in the Operating Room for many years and occasionally heard remarks that would be very cringe worthy if the patient was awake or present, i.e. after working a ten hour shift in a burn room a scrub tech said he had been working with “crispy critters”. This person is not a bad person, and probably used that term to keep from crying his eyes out at the suffering of the burn patients he had to see for the last ten hours. The term was shocking to me but I could recognize the pain experienced by the person who said it. Not excusing bad jokes here just looking a little at motives behind them.

    • Nashira said:

      I work in an office that causes me to regularly be exposed to people either a) consciously being dicks in ways that trigger my ptsd crap or b) records that can trigger it merely by existing. For both A and B, headphones with really good music (Hamilton soundtrack!!!) have been a literal lifesaver. As in, I now go whole days without suicidal ideation and my psychiatrist is talking about me “graduating” soon if this keeps up.

      I did have to go against established (stupid) office policy and ask to wear them, though. I used the lie that all the conversations around me made it hard to concentrate, without explaining why that was. Amazingly, the sky has not fallen and nobody cares that I wear them, now. Or if they do, my boss has shielded me like a pro.

      • jdrives said:

        Congratulations on your progress! And good on you for advocating for yourself to wear headphones. I’m happy that strategy worked for you, and also HAMILTON!!!

  6. Emily said:

    I think bringing this up with a supervisor would not require talking about personal mental health struggles. You could just say you’re worried about her when she says these things. It might result in a supervisor having a conversation with her in which concern is expressed and which has the effect of making her aware that other people are paying attention to what she’s saying and maybe she shouldn’t say this particular thing.

    • dr_silverware said:

      No, I don’t think that would be the effect. I think it’s pretty cruddy, passive-aggressive, and transparent. I don’t think it’s a cute game to play or that it’s useful to let someone in a cube farm know they’re being watched–if the message works. I also think it devalues a time when you might actually need to tell a supervisor “I’m worried about so and so.”

      • Lusy said:

        Once when I was in high school, some of the other students referred me to the school counsellor because a picture I’d drawn of a dragon destroying a village made them think that I was suicidal. (Protip: if a 13-14 year old is drawing a picture of a dragon eating people, it’s probably because they like dragons.)

        It didn’t make me feel cared for, or as though I’d done anything wrong. It just made me feel as though I shouldn’t trust people

        • TW relative’s suicide

          This sort of thing happened to me in college. My soon-to-be former roommate knew my father was a suicide and we didn’t dislike each other as much as simply not click. Her soon-to-be second roommate and I typically didn’t havbe much to say to each other but I’d make polite conversation. We were walking to lunch together and I idly mentioned that I was having a hard time dealing with the side effects of the medicine the infirmary gave me for a persistent bug. I said, trying to be hyperbolically funny, that I either wanted to sleep for three days straight or I felt like I was leaping off the bell tower (implication meaning I’d be so loopy-happy that I’d think I could fly or float away into the clouds). I am a depressive, and was one then, too, but was not, at the time, going through a bad depressive slump: I was just sick with college crud and tired of feeling yucky and frustrated with the medicine the infirmary doled out (they started with the weakest and cheapest pills possible and then adjusted accordingly if your bug or illness persisted, so a lot of times they wasted our time with doses of baby aspirin or what were probably free samples and placebos).

          My then-roomates’s future roommate was a stir-stirrer and a person who couldn’t just not like someone without also making them “sick” or bad or wrong in some way, and so she gleefully reported me to the Residence Advisor right after lunch, who embarrassed me by publicly calling me in for tea and sympathy. My then-roomates’s future roommate also told the entire dormitory that I was suicidal. I had to tell my personal business to the RA and deal with concern trolls and some sad friends constantly asking if I was OK when I went a while being quiet (which is my default setting, so THANKS, poop-disturber, for adding this burden to my daily routine). This was, however, the last straw with roommate, who (of course) 100% supported her friend and the drama she cooked up.

          I think recipients/victims of someone’s concern trolling about their (possibly alleged) suicidal ideation are very capable of telling the difference between someone who really gives a damn about your welfare and someone who either thrives on drama or wants to tone- or vocabulary- police you in some way. The first situation may be inconvenient, but the person meant well. You can’t even give that tiny bit of credit to a trouble-maker or drama parasite.

          On the plus side, when they swapped medications on me for the fourth and final try at stomping the bug flat, they actually had a positive effect as I no longer had dramatic energy and mood swings and the bug was vanquished.

    • JenniferP said:

      I would not take this approach unless something about Linda made it seem like she was *threatening* to herself and others and/or deliberately bullying the LW in some way rather than making a passing comment to blow off steam or using a thoughtless catchphrase. If Linda were actually having suicidal thoughts, the LW outing that to management (something that they themselves do not want to out to management) is not cool. I would never assume that management really cares about Linda or the LW as human beings, but they do care about “protecting the company” and might not be so benevolent.

      • Annalee said:

        [Content warning for stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness]

        I would never assume that management really cares about Linda or the LW as human beings, but they do care about “protecting the company” and might not be so benevolent.

        This.

        “Be sure to tell management if you hear a coworker express suicidal thoughts” is part of at least one widely-used training on how to prevent mass shootings in the workplace. Expressing this kind of concern could endanger Linda’s job and significantly damage her reputation. That stigma shouldn’t exist, but it does, and lying about that kind of concern is really, really messed up.

        Also, Linda has made it pretty clear that she does not want to establish any kind of emotional intimacy with the LW. Carolyn Hax and Ask A Manager have answered several questions from women trying to shut down coworkers who are butting in on their private business and calling it “worry,” and if I’m remembering right, the Cap and Melissa McEwan at Shakesville have both written about how coworker “worry” gets used to infantilize adult women in gross, sexist ways. So even if the LW were genuinely concerned about Linda, I’d suggest that they weigh how their concern fit into that problematic pattern before deciding whether to make the LW responsible for allaying their fears.

        • Emily said:

          I’m not suggesting LW embellish what it occurring but merely that she report what he’s hearing and say “this concerns me.” (And this would actually concern me, so I think concern is within a normal range of responses, even though it’s not actually LW’s.) To say that she absolutely shouldn’t do that and would somehow be wronging Linda seems to me to assume that Linda has a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding things she says in public at work, that she clearly knows other people can hear, not being told to a manager. I don’t think that expectation exists. Yes, Linda could suffer adverse consequences. I do not think that’s LW’s obligation to manage. If she suffers adverse consequences, it’ll be because she is engaging in behavior that her workplace sees as inappropriate. LW shouldn’t tell someone about this, even though this behavior is also making her suffer?

          • Muddie Mae said:

            I think approaching the manager is going to reflect poorly on the LW, at least in the work cultures I’ve been in, and the potential fallout wouldn’t be worth it. For one, managers generally expect you to try and address these issues on your own, so it would be a bit much to go directly to the manager. But more importantly, this kind of hyperbole is so common that the LW risks coming off as overly sensitive, overly literal, or just weird (for lack of a better term). They’re a temp – if they get on their manager’s bad side, they may well find themself replaced with a different temp tomorrow.

          • JenniferP said:

            HR isn’t there for temps, the temp agency handles that, so then it’s a whole THING.

            LW, following Emily’s advice about invoking HR is not ideal for you. HR doesn’t do what many people imagine it does.

          • HornetsSuck said:

            Yes, yes, yes, HR will, more often than not, pull the rug out from under the person who approaches them, betray every “confidence”, and do everything they can to label that person “a bad fit” with the current job.

            Not that I have experience with this or anything and might possibly be a little bitter.

        • d said:

          (LW here) I super appreciate your last paragraph! I think once I stopped trying to befriend Linda, and just accepted the “no emotional intimacy” thing, I felt a lot better about the situation and less stressed- and I’m sure Linda herself was like, “finally, this girl backed off!”. I need to respect her boundaries and that means I’m not super emotionally invested in her, and vice versa. she deserves to not have me “worry”, and I admit I’m not genuinely concerned that Linda *is* suicidal, so I won’t be going that route at all.

    • Zillah said:

      I’m really not a fan of that approach.

      I’ve experienced people in a position of authority over me approaching me in somewhat similar ways over similarly minor things, and it sucks. It can absolutely be necessary in situations where someone is bullying you or harassing you, but otherwise? It’s so overboard, and it’s overboard in a way that could stigmatize Linda and make her feel unsafe for comments that, while insensitive, are also very, very common. It’s not a witty or subtle way to address the issue – it’s pretending that the issue is something completely different than what’s actually going on in a way that could foreseeably harm Linda. I want the OP to feel safe at work, but passive aggressively casting doubt on Linda’s mental health is not the way to go.

      • Emily said:

        Are these kinds of comments common? I’ve never heard someone saying something like that at work and I think I’d actually be really concerned if I did. I think the behavior is inappropriate and worrying independently of anyone else in the office being triggered by it.

        • You are asking if hyperbole is common.

          The answer is yes. It’s so common we have a word for it. It’s so common it’s a literary device that dates back to the very beginnings of Western literature, at least (I can’t speak to other literatures, as I only have training in Western and classical literatures). It’s so common that there are entire scholarly tomes about hyperbole in literature. So yes, hyperbole is common, and yes, sometimes it takes the form of making declarative statements in which the hyperbole is intended to indicate the degree of the speaker’s feelings toward whatever it is, and sometimes these declarative statements involve speech about extremes of physical or mental states.

          Like, “I would punch a sloth for a cup of coffee right now.” Would I actually punch a sloth? No; sloths are adorable. But I REALLY want a cup of coffee.

          • Zillah said:

            Yes, this. Something like, “Ugh, I’m going to kill my boyfriend if he forgets to call again” or “The Yankees were destroyed by the Astros in the playoffs” are super, super common, at least where I’m from. I can understand certain examples bothering people based on their history, but calling them worrying without any further context would – again, at least where I’m from – would make you come across as a little strange and tone deaf.

            I mean, some things are generally considered off limits. A lot of people, myself included, call people on using “rape” in that way, and you generally don’t hear things like “lynching” for the same reason. Specifics are also often concerning and uncomfortable – “I’m going to kill my coworker” is pretty common and not likely to cause alarm unless it’s delivered in a certain tone or in a highly charged situation; “I’m going to shoot my coworker in the head” is a different story.

            But “I’m going to kill myself if…” and “I’m going to kill them if…” and “I could kill for…” are super, super common.

          • Zillah said:

            Which is not to say that the OP is wrong for being bothered and shouldn’t try to address it! Just that I don’t think Linda is behaving in a way that is going to be particularly unusual, and so if the OP comes at this from the point of view of “Linda is worrying me,” it’s likely to either be taken as indicating something far more unusual than it is (which isn’t fair to Linda) or that the OP is strange and possibly prone to exaggerating (which will reflect badly on the OP).

          • wayofcats said:

            I’m going to be using “punch a sloth” as part of my own Sensible Hyperbole program. To avoid troublesome phrases like LW is dealing with.

          • rhythla said:

            Speaking as someone who suffered at the hands of other people’s “worry” over hyperbole:

            In middle school, I had been super aggravated by a jerk in my class who had been kicking my chair for the whole hour. On the way out of the classroom, a “friend” asked if I was ok. I said “no. I just want to go home and play shooting people.” My parents called N64’s Golden Eye game “shooting people,” so that was what I called it too. I can see how that is not really appropriate, but again, I was in middle school. This “friend” and her group of friends really disliked me and my BFF for “stealing” our mutual friend away from them, but instead of doing something constructive, they went to the teachers and principal and told them that they were “concerned” about my comment.

            Long story short – all of the adults over-reacted (this was around the time of Columbine) and I was unofficially suspended for 2 days (as was my BFF, but not the mutual friend, hmm…) and things were never the same for the rest of the school year. I was completely distraught over the whole thing and was so worried I wouldn’t get into the good high school I had applied to. My mom had to threaten to sue the school over the whole thing before the school finally relented because all they had was these other girls’ say so and they had been caught lying about me before to get me in trouble.

            The primary lessons I learned from this experience were:
            1) Don’t trust women
            2) Don’t trust authority
            3) Actually, don’t trust anyone

            I have been in and out of therapy ever since. I have made significant progress, but I still find it incredibly hard to make friends, especially with women, because in the back of my mind, I am always worried about when they will back-stab me (doesn’t help that I’ve been back-stabbed by women multiple times since then which “proves” it).

            So please do not speak to HR about Linda, LW. Like the others have said in the thread, HR/management do not do what people think they do. They are not there for you – they are there for the company. If you talk to a supervisor about your “concern” or “worry,” there is a very good chance for very real consequences for Linda.

          • I often find it curious that hyperbole online especially seems to be taken very literally, with people reacting to common, throwaway statements like ‘I want to punch a sloth’ as a real, literal threat to all sloths of the world.

            I do have a situation though where it’s hard to tell if a statement is just hyperbole or if it’s something to take seriously, and I genuinely don’t know how to handle it. My mother often makes comments about wanting to kill herself in a tone I associate with the typical careless exaggeration that most people (including myself) engage in from time to time. On the other hand…she is depressed, deals with chronic pain, and has lost several family members to suicide. So I do worry when she says it and don’t know how concerned I really should be. I have told her several times that it makes me worry, and she brushes it off as something everyone says…which again, in my experience is pretty true. I really don’t know how one tells the difference between hyperbole and a real threat of harm to oneself at times.

          • rhythla, those kinds of false accusations DO really hurt one’s feelings and stick around. I think I was probably six years old when a classmate claimed I was using profanity and I got in big, BIG trouble.

            What they said I was doing: Saying the f-word over and over during class.

            What I was really doing: imitating Muttley the Dog from Saturday morning cartoons and saying muttery irritable-sounding nonsense like “ratchafrackinhassenpfeiffer” or something akin to it, which my BFF and I both did fairly often and found hilarious.

            The classmate who tattled on me was well aware it was a joke and that there was no cursing, they were just being a dick. I didn’t even know any profanity at that age beyond maybe “damn” or “hell,” so to be accused of using the “f-word” (which I had never heard and only seen scrawled on walls in bathrooms and which I assumed meant defecation, lacking better context).

            Obviously, decades later, the injustice of being punished by my teacher and parents and scolded in front of my peers still stings!

            Some people cannot be trusted, sadly. I’m sorry your “friend” decided to cause trouble for you.

    • solecism said:

      I know this is well intended, but it could be interpreted as concern trolling. In the end, not helpful, and potentially creating a hostile workplace for Linda.

  7. azurelunatic said:

    If you do decide to bring it up with your supervisor, you might be able to frame it like:

    “Hey Supervisor, every couple weeks someone in my hearing range uses the phrase,” etc., “and when it comes up it always reminds me of a really painful situation my family went through not that long ago. I’m able to pull myself together after a little bit, and I know she doesn’t mean anything bad by it, but it is still distracting. I know the system overhaul has been super stressful for her, but I hope she might be able to find a different way of expressing that in the office.”

    “Thank you for your concern; my family has had a lot of great support and I do have people to talk to. It’s still a painful subject, and I don’t like to bring it up at work.”

    It was something that happened with someone within your family (you), and the exact details are private and still not something you’re expecting to think about while unprepared in an office setting.

    Being a temp is all kinds of fraught and I wish you luck.

    • Annalee said:

      Yes, this. I’m also fond of “someone close to me” when trying to explain why I don’t want to hear jokes about unfunny things in contexts where I don’t want to disclose. As in “Hey team, someone close to me recently survived a suicide attempt, so jokes about how work issues ‘make you want to kill yourself’ are really upsetting, and I’d appreciate it if you’d find a different way to express your frustration.” We are, after all, close to ourselves.

      If anyone gives you guff about this (to the tune of “why are you so sensitive”/”we’re just joking”), you can turn it around on them and their lack of empathy. “I’m sensitive because someone close to me nearly died. Please respect that.” “I know you’re joking, but I don’t find it funny, because someone close to me nearly died. Please respect that.”

      • Oh man — at my last job, I worked as a tech writer consultant on client sites, which meant everyone around me were clients (well, they reported to the same boss I did, who could cancel my company’s project with them).

        And there was someone there who actually told me that my work made her want to shoot herself in the head. Which is how my brother died.

        When it happened, I was just flabbergasted — all I could say was “Wow, really?” And she didn’t back down, and I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. Even if I hadn’t had that personal experience, it just seems like an over-the-top criticism to make to a coworker.

        I never forgot it, though, and ranted about it sometimes with friends (including client-coworker-friends), and when I got a new job and gave notice, on my last day there I decided to confront her. I rehearsed it in advance, and I hope I delivered it in a collected and professional way, explaining how I hadn’t forgotten that because of how my brother died, and she said she hadn’t known that, but someone close to her had killed themselves too, and I said, well, maybe it’s not an appropriate thing to say in the workplace, and I hoped she’d consider that in future. She didn’t really back down, but I’m glad I was in a position to finally say something. I know it’s not always possible, but it’s such a relief when it works out.

        • HornetsSuck said:

          Good for you for confronting her about it! Sorry you found the wall of defensiveness.

          Also, as one tech writer to another: WTH. That. Is not. A useful or appropriate criticism in any way shape or form.

    • Anisoptera said:

      I would actually caution against taking this to a supervisor. If the LW is going to raise it they should approach Linda directly (and probably that won’t get great results either) – for something on this scale management and HR generally expect you to manage it between yourselves. Hell people don’t always get good results when they raise really sustained and obvious bullying with HR/management, even in companies with a fairly good culture. And while this is serious and triggering for LW it’s not directed at them personally, but rather overheard. I wish that weren’t true, but kicking off a complaint like this at work is generally costly to your own reputation and not terribly helpful.

      People are very likely to tell the LW they are too sensitive, as hyperbole like Linda’s comment is pretty widely excepted in our society (whether we think that’s right or wrong and should change aside) and it’s seen as normal and harmless. In conversation with friends and acquaintances you perhaps could imply someone has a lack of empathy as Annalee suggests and practice returning the awkward to sender but in the workplace? To your boss? When we say things like this to friends and acquaintances and bigoted Uncles and whatever we’re doing so knowing we don’t care if we upset them. That it’s OK to upset someone who’s upset you by showing that you are, in fact, upset. But we do care about not upsetting our bosses, especially when we’re an easily replaced temp with very ltitle standing in the office.

      Going to your boss because you’re upset about overhearing someone say something that’s widely socially acceptable is going to make it look like you’re the problem. Sometimes it’s worth it to get into this fight in order to try to change the culture around these issues. But even when you win it still has a heavy personal cost – starting with either outright losing your job or it becoming a very difficult place to be. Linda, for example, if the supervisor actually went to her and told her about the complaint, would now go from prickly co worker to personal enemy who’s angry about being dobbed into the boss over what I guarantee she sees as a harmless joke. And a senior colleague who has it in for you can make life pretty miserable, doubly so if you’re in such a junior, tenuous position.

      To use another hyperbolic violence metaphor, in these situations you have to ask yourself is this the hill you want to die on? Like is this worth losing your job over? Making work hell over? Sometimes the answer is yes, but I feel like probably not in this particular case, because from how I read it the LW’s goal is to protect themself from being triggered, not necessarily to wade into the (thankless, difficult and personally costly) battle of changing cultural norms around casual mentions of suicide.

      • Annalee said:

        Yeah–my advice to return the awkward to sender is definitely for peers–not supervisors.

        Taking this kind of thing up with management is definitely a risky prospect, and how well it’ll work is going to vary widely from workplace to workplace.

        In cases where it does seem like a good move, the “someone close to me” / “my family” thing can be a good hack around having to disclose deeply personal things to a supervisor. But the Cap and others are right to caution that HR is not an employee’s friend, and certainly not a temp’s friend.

      • d said:

        LW here- I think this comment sums it up all very neatly, in that unfortunately it’s not just as easy as “go to HR/supervisor, Linda is told to stop, Linda stops and everything is right with the world”. and obviously, I’m looking out for myself- and my position within the company- in a pretty big way. the most helpful thing I’ve gotten out of the answer to this letter, and the comments people have made, is that it’s OK to recognize that this is not the hill I want to die on (weirdly, I use that phrase too in everyday life!), that even though I actually tend to be very outspoken about mental health issues, there are sometimes places and times where I can’t be. and it’s ok- I’m not a bad person for looking out for myself.

        and I’ve also received so many awesome tips for coping when triggered, that I honestly might not have thought of by myself, so that’s been so great, too!

  8. Ankh said:

    If your job is one that permits it, I recommend headphones. Music, audiobooks, podcasts – there’s a whole world of things that you could be listening to that block your co-worker out.

    • mythbri said:

      I was going to suggest this, too. And it has honestly made my life so much easier – when my co-workers decide that they need to drop everything work-related and Talk About How Those Damn Liberals Are Ruining America, I listen to Pandora or podcasts and blissfully continue my work. Sometimes I use the coping strategies that the Captain discussed in the post – taking an opportunity to stretch my legs, go down the hall to talk to a co-worker about Thing instead of calling their desk phone, etc.

      I realize that it’s not the same thing as being triggered and that not everyone works at places that allow headphones, but it can help.

    • d said:

      (LW here!) I was actually using this tactic for a bit (just to block general office noise as well, as I’ve got [medicated] ADD and occasionally one end of a phone conversation about claims will become THE MOST INTERESTING THING I HAVE EVER HEARD), but recently we got a mass email about proper internet usage, and listening to the radio/songza/etc is strictly not proper usage. I have an older phone but no data, and my poor ipod bit the dust a while ago. I’m really not wanting to push my luck (the life of a temp), so this is absolutely great advice and if it applies, others should use it, but it doesn’t quite work with me. but I appreciate it! 🙂

      • Muddie Mae said:

        An old fashioned over-the-air radio (with headphones) might be an option, if there are any radio stations in your area that don’t make you want to punch a sloth.

      • peeta8 said:

        You might be able to make a CD of music that will play on the computer, or load a small playlist onto the hard drive — having just a couple really self-soothing songs has been enough for me at times. I have even put song lyrics in my purse notebook and *read* them to myself at bad times — playing the song in my head.

        Also, big Jedi hugs for you. Sounds like you are strong, self-aware, and making awesome progress!

        • Anisoptera said:

          Seconded. I’m old enough that office music through my headphones meant bringing a wallet of CDs to the office and plugging my headphones into the computer. See also loading a bunch of songs onto a USB drive.

          I honestly think this is so helpful to avoiding overhearing stuff at work that’s super stressful that I would recommend finding a way to get music through headphones happening again. You also might be able to pick up a second hand iPod cheaply, or even ask around friends and family if anyone has an MP3 player sitting around that they no longer use. Banning Internet streaming music in the office is usually about reducing traffic on the office internet connection, not about anyone having a problem with music per se, so if you aren’t streaming it you should be fine…

      • Jackalope said:

        Being of the old-fashioned technology sort, I have a portable CD player that I use at work. I check out CDs every few weeks at the library to listen to (classical and new age music mostly since if it has lyrics I’ll listen to them instead of working). In my case the issue is more that I love my neighbors too much and was talking to them rather than working (and one of them has an extremely loud, piercing voice), but it could work the same in your case. Since I’m not using any work resources (my own CD player, my own — or borrowed-from-the-library — CDs, and my own batteries), no one cares.

        • Trix said:

          The biggest problem with bringing non-streamed music to work (and you wouldn’t believe how streaming can cut into a business’s internet capacity) is that is if people place copyright music on a corporate device, the business is liable for infringement. So yes, keep it on your own phone, music player, or CDs. (If you play original CDs back thru the computer, it’s generally less of a problem, since you obviously own the media).

  9. Marta said:

    So, I’m another person who does say this kind of thing (for me it’s ‘I’m going to kill myself’, and I say it to myself, and not outloud, but people have overheard me at that level before). I’m not suicidal. For me, this phrase is the one that turned up for my brain for a particular kind of badbrains feeling, where my brain wants something abrupt and climactic and final to Get It Away.

    Does anyone by any chance have any ideas for what I can say *instead*? I don’t want to be someone’s Linda, but having fitting phrases for my feelings is important to me because it’s a big part of how I can actually have feelings and know about them.

    • waxwings said:

      I have totally been there. For me, I worked on switching it out to “oh, this is /bs/” or “oh, f- me” (with the actual swearing, but I don’t know how you feel about that). If your sense of humor is dark enough and it won’t be more upsetting, “Even /I/ don’t deserve this” might do. (The nice thing about that is that eventually it can become “Wow, I do not deserve this crap” after a long struggle against the badbrains.) Hope that helps!

      • “Bollocks/Balls!” (if one is comfortable with using these words as a swear) is a similar satisfying stress-release interjection.

    • This is a really common refrain in my office that we use to deal with stress as well. BECAUSE maybe WE are A LITTLE STRESSED. And we would like that to stop, but it never will, as long as our clients are humans. There are also a lot of associated hand gestures. It is not uncommon to catch me miming putting a pen into my eye during a meeting.

      Time to get creative I guess.

    • Zillah said:

      Yeah, I think this is a super complicated issue, because while you want to be sensitive to people, not everyone says things like that for the same reasons. For me personally, making jokes about suicide and self harm are my way of laughing in the dark. I’ve mellowed on them some as my mental health has improved, but I still sometimes use them, and in some ways, they actually help me get rid of some anxiety and tension.

      My balancing act is that I’ve pretty much broken myself of the habit of saying those sorts of things in situations where I don’t know my audience, and where I’m reasonably sure that someone will feel safe coming to me with a complaint. YMMV, though.

    • Serin said:

      My go-to is “This makes me want to fake my own death and split for Mexico.”

      • Buni said:

        That is awesome, totally (with love) stealing that!

      • aebhel said:

        Yeah, I also use ‘I’m gonna run away to Mexico’.

        • As somebody who is suffering chronic eye-ball sprains from exposure to an endless stream of “I’m going to move to Canada if X” nonsense:

          You’re not being triggery and you’re not necessarily being offensive, but I gotta tell you, you’re not as funny as you think you are, either.

      • Vanessa said:

        I go with “ugh, time to move into a cave by the sea and never talk to anyone again”. Something about the idea of being a solitary, silent sea-witch is incredibly peaceful to me.

        • Jess said:

          Oh yeah, sometimes I go with “going to go feral and live in a wood”.

          • Mine is just “that’s it! I QUIT THE HUMAN RACE!”

        • Nashira said:

          I do talk about crawling into a cave and pulling the entrance in after me. It usually lets me express my frustration and makes my conversation partner laugh.

        • LW said:

          TW: I use the word rape in this comment

          I also really, really dislike suicide-related statements like the ones Linda makes, and I like using ridiculous ones like “going to put myself in a box and mail myself away” or “X makes me want to jump off the planet” or “fling myself into the center of an exploding star” because they’re 1. not possible and 2. more silly-violent than violent-violent.

          Honestly I don’t think making a statement like “Ugh, X made me want to kill myself/hang myself” etc., is that different from using the word “rape” to describe something being unpleasant, and I hate, hate HATE it when people use that word in that context.

    • TheOtherMartian said:

      Sometimes, when I feel a strong “Done With This. Want it/me to be Gone from here!” urge (an urge which is sometimes related to reflexive serious bad thoughts), I joke about, “Well, that’s it. Moving to X now!” where X is anywhere from the wilds of Canada or to the Moon or to Mars (or beyond) depending on just how cranky I am. (Mars is pretty cranky.)

      • VG said:

        I say “I think I’ll move to Australia” because of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. No one ever gets the reference, but it cheers me up a little to say it.

    • aliascelli said:

      I’m trying to wean that out of my language too…I have SI and the “jokes” were a coping thing, but I’d like to change. All my substitutes have been really violent which is also not what I want, but it’s HARD. My most common one now is “I could punch a wall.” Maybe I’ll try more of a “run away and join the ____” (circus, Army, IRS).

      • JenniferP said:

        I’m with the Commander Logic family: Annoying & irritating things are to be “launched into the center of the sun.”

      • gmg said:

        I’m glad this discussion has got me thinking about my own language around frustration, because one of my common ones is “[Irritating thing] makes me want to stab my eye out” (sometimes I specify “with a pencil”) and now I’m sitting here mulling that over like whoa, that’s a little over the top there, gmg.

        “Brb, boarding my rocket to the sun” is one I use when I just can’t deal with the stupid/crazy and want to peace on out. But of course, again, I suppose a rocket trip to the sun wouldn’t end well, generally speaking, so maybe I need a new destination. Pluto? That star system they just found where the aliens may or may not have constructed a huge solar array?

    • Megan said:

      I’m a big fan of “I’m done” as in “I am done with everything today/about this situation.” Or “NOPE BYE.” Any combination of those. (Full disclosure, those are from Tumblr, but I find they work well for me.)

      • LabLizard said:

        My go to is, “I am breaking up with this day/project/week/experiment.”

        • Kelly L. said:

          “X is fired,” where X is an inanimate object that cannot be fired, or someone so lofty I have no jurisdiction to fire them. This day is fired. My sore foot is fired. Bill Gates is fired.

        • Light37 said:

          A common phrase among my friends is “Today/this week/this month/2013 is officially FIRED.”

    • Marta said:

      Er, I apologize, I should have been more clear.
      For me this isn’t when *other* things are bad/annoying/frustrating, it’s about *me*. Like, say I ask someone a question, this sets off my particular social anxiety, that’s a badbrains feeling, the result is this felt-desire for something abrupt/climactic/final (which I guess my brain things would make me stop feeling that way?) and it comes out as ‘I’m going to shoot myself’ or something like that. It’s not something I can not deserve or run away from.

      But, um, I really appreciate people’s comments.

      • quietandsmall said:

        Trigger warning for suicide/suicidal ideation. May not be necessary, given everything, but I’d rather warn than not.

        I think I understand. For years and years (since I was about 14) I’d just reflexively say “I want to kill myself” several times a day, as a kind of litmus test after I’d done something or said something that had triggered a cascading waterfall of “you are so horrible. you are cruel, mean, manipulative – how can you possibly make up for what you’ve just done / said”. Most of these were tiny, tiny things, but if I thought I’d hurt or disappointed someone it would make me want to run away (and punish myself, really) through total oblivion. Sometimes I realised as I said it that I did, actually, want to kill myself and the idle thoughts running through my head were actually me making plans, and triggering that realisation meant that I could do something about that and help myself. Then I realised that “I want to kill myself” was not all that helpful a sentence, really, and over several months I changed it to an automatic “I want to go home”. That way, I wasn’t constantly saying I wanted to do something bad to myself, but that I wanted to get somewhere safe and away from the situation.

        Maybe I didn’t change it for the same reasons you want to, but voicing something consistent – anything – might help. Ritual is a good thing here, for me, because I know that when I say “I want to go home” I’m voicing the same feelings that used to make me say “I want to kill myself”. It’s the same sentence every single time. It doesn’t matter what other people are hearing, because I know what I’m saying. I still use it as a litmus test. Do I want to be somewhere safe? Or do I want to kill myself – not die, but commit violence on myself at an irrevocable level that leaves me utterly invulnerable to any consequence bar the total destruction of my own potential in order to totally and utterly escape from something I have done wrong? I know if home is home, or oblivion, and it helps. It helps me cope better.

        I can’t always go home when I want to, but it reminds me that I’ve got somewhere I can run away to. Maybe something like that would help/suit/be appropriate? (Before “I want to go home”, I tried “I want an undo button”. Just saying.)

        • mehting said:

          I say things like “I want hide in a closet or (under my bed) and never come out.” Occasionally I even move some blankets and books or laptop movies into a closet, and after spending a little time in there it becomes less a dramatic escape (which it is!) and more of a comfy safe space I can rebuild in.

        • Marta said:

          “but commit violence on myself at an irrevocable level that leaves me utterly invulnerable to any consequence bar the total destruction of my own potential in order to totally and utterly escape from something I have done wrong”

          wow. Thank you for that phrasing. I’m not the best with words and so this is both ‘oh, wow, words, yes’, and like, ‘someone else!’

          (Wishing you good things)

      • vass said:

        How about things that are abrupt and final but also not real world possible? Like “oh, I’m gonna feed myself to dinosaurs”? Would that work for your situation?

        • Nashira said:

          My favorite Middle Eastern (they’re a cultural hodgepodge) serves these poultry patties that I cannot figure out if they’re turkey or chicken, but know are deliciiiious. So I call them dinosaur patties.

          I’m now imagining the patties dipping themselves in extra sumac and mint and trying to eat someone, and failing badly at it. It is really funny.

    • Jess said:

      Yeah, I’m another one. Having read this post I’m definitely going to try and rein it in, aside from when I’m in small groups of people whom I know say similar things.

      One that I tend to say (in melodramatic tones) is “WHY IS MY LIFE SO HARD” (often abbreviated in text to WIMLSH), or “MY LIFE IS THE HARDEST LIFE.” This has the advantage of a) being so patently ridiculous I make myself laugh, often even as I am saying it, and b) being a kind of … verbal way of getting some damn perspective (I work in international development; compared with 99% of the people I work with, my life is, uh, really not the hardest).

      I also do a table-flipping gesture fairly often.

      • jdrives said:

        I also do fake rage-table-flipping. I must be getting pretty convincing because I startled some dinner companions recently!

        • Elf Krystal said:

          Easy There, Big Fella, yer scaring the children. =D
          Would have liked to see that actually…
          Falls under my category of “Live Theatre”, whenever interesting stuff is going on unexpectedly around town always called it Live Theatre Happening…

          • Elf Krystal said:

            Extreme Live Theatre Happening here, a bit long but worth the watch. 😉

          • solecism said:

            Thanks for sharing that video, Elf Krystal. It was fabulous!
            (Ran out of nesting.)

    • felineglorificus said:

      I curse The Evil Gerbil That Lives In My Head

    • Muffin said:

      My go-to phrases for this are usually “Ugh, it just makes me want to lie down on the floor,” or “It makes me want to roll around on the floor,” mostly because those are things I actually do when I am sad or stressed to make myself feel better. Overly literal, perhaps, but pretty untriggery!

      • soyabean said:

        A Tina Belcher style, ‘this is where I thrash’ comes to mind!

  10. Monika said:

    The occasional and strategic use of headphones might also be a useful thing if that is acceptable in your work culture. It can be seen as rude or standoffish but I have also worked in open offices where it was accepted as a sign of wanting to concentrate on something and tune out the normal open office noise. Good luck!

    • DameB said:

      I was coming here to say something similar. (Content Warning: 9/11) I’m not a headphones person, but was working on a news desk for a website during 9/11, in an open-office layout, even. We’d get gasps as reporters saw videos or choked emotional phone calls with their relatives in NYC. The whole thing was so overwhelming that I had to put on headphones for the first time at an office and found that not having to deal with others’ emotional stuff was very helpful as I tried to parallel process my own stuff AND stay on top of the news.

      If headphones aren’t your jam, LW, I’ll pass along advice from a friend of mine who has ADHD and swears by noise generators to mask voices. Not white noise but pink or brown noise, one of which specifically masks human voices. (I can not remember which and my google fu fails me before my second cup of tea.) There are websites where you can go and play them (for free!), trying different types of noise until you find one that blocks Linda in particular.

      Internet fist bumps (if you want ’em) for all the work you’ve done in the past 9 month! You’re amazing.

      • d said:

        (LW here!) actually, I do have ADD, and (I mentioned above, but after you commented) that snippets of one-sided phone convos can enthrall me to no end, once I’m kind of “stuck”. I used to listen to music (plain old music doesn’t “catch” me the same way real people talking does, for some reason? but videos are like potholes!), but we got a mass email reminding us that work internet isn’t for radio/music/etc. I might try to find an app for my phone with the appropriately-coloured noise! I use white noise to sleep, but never thought of the others for work! thanks! and thanks for the fist bumps 🙂

        • LabLizard said:

          I have an appointment on my phone that does white and pink noise (the one for voices) and it was a lifesaver when I worked in an open plan office with 100+ people. Added bonus is using the white noise to sleep on planes.

        • JaniesTiredShoes said:

          As someone really sensitive to sound, I swear by Coffitivity (though I’m sure there are many other similar apps and websites one could use). It does a really good job of blocking conversations and ambient noises while not being too distracting (for me).

    • Loren said:

      This is my strategy also. I work in a cubicle facing a co-worker who does not say triggering things but is very… loud. Large headphones, even when I do not play anything through them, muffle the sound just enough that I can’t accidentally hear her entire conversations.

  11. Anisoptera said:

    Hey LW. This post is kind of timely for me because I just got home from the office with my guts crawling with anger because a work colleague decided to be a poop head to me just because I sit near the thermostat. Obviously this isn’t even slightly analogous to being triggered by terrible stuff like suicide! My thing is so petty that I’m not even going to go into details, but an arrogant dude was disrespectful and I was super mad about it, on the inside.

    I mention this because one thing I’ve learnt about the workplace over the years is that there are always a few people who will piss you off (or upset you, or hurt you) mightily. I’ve encountered people who range from annoying, to outright bullying and ye gods have I endured my share of sexist BS. What I have learned about dealing with it is that you need to pick your battles. Taking someone on in the workplace is high stakes, and takes a lot of energy and intestinal fortitude. It can cost you your job. It can make you miserable. It can have negative consequences for your career.

    Sometimes it’s worth it. I will go down guns blazing to prove that I, a woman, am capable of doing my job in a very male dominated field. I will sure as hell start something over that. But…I won’t get into it over someone being a dickhead about a thermostat – it’s not important enough even though he was weird and disrespectful. I didn’t buy into the argument he was trying to pick and went back to my work and that’s enough. And it’s about what you can get out of fighting it too – I’ve many times just quietly left jobs because there was bullying that was harming my mental health. Because the best choice for my career was to not burn any bridges, and just go somewhere else where the bully wasn’t.

    The question to ask yourself is, is this fight worth what you could get from it? Is it worth the risk? Only you can answer that for yourself, but from your letter my guess is perhaps not right now, while you’re so new and your position is so tenuous. I’m sorry. It’s really hard.

    Someone else mentioned headphones. I too am a huge fan of noise cancelling headphones playing music loud enough that I can’t hear other people talking. I do this partly because I find it hard to concentrate over office conversation noise, and partly because it means I’m not reacting to the terrible stuff people sometimes say. This might not be an option for you in your role, but if it is, I can recommend it.

    Obviously none of this is a solution to dealing with ableist BS, and if you want to tell her to knock it off then I applaud you. Just think about what you want to get out of doing so and the cost to you, and if it’s worth it. It is sometimes worth it! But also know that these battles are easier when you have a bit more seniority, and a bit more job security (and financial security, and confidence in your career). Not *easy* but *easier* and lower risk. It’s not cowardly to wait until you’re in a stronger position if that’s what you have to do.

    • Mary said:

      I think this is really really important. There is a cultural narrative around challenging things like ableism and other forms of prejudice and oppression which says that you always have a duty to call it out, and that it’s cowardly not to. This is a really convenient story for power structures and the status quo, because it says that people who are oppressed *have* to direct their energy in a very particular way. LW, your energy and your safety are very important. If you want to challenge Linda directly, or go to HR or a manager, that is brilliant, but if you want to find ways of living around the problem and soothing yourself, that is also brilliant and an equally valid response. Someone else being awful does not oblige you to be put yourself in a dangerous situation to make them stop. You get to decide whether your priority is conserving your energy, keeping your job a calm place and working around Linda, or trying to change the thing she is saying. That is 100% up to you.

      (and all the more reason that people who aren’t directly affected b oppression aspire to be allies should do the calling out in this situation – I don’t think it would have occurred to me that this was a potential trigger for someone, but I will be more aware if I hear people say it in the future, so thank you for that.)

  12. Fellow suicide attempt survivor here, LW. I too had someone repeatedly trigger me a few months later and while the situation was different from yours (the person was intentionally triggering me, which wasn’t surprising as she made my attempt all about her and how she’d have felt if I’d succeeded), my situation did have some similarities with yours in that I didn’t feel able to say anything. I don’t know if this will help at all, but what I did in those moments was:
    1) give myself permission to feel whatever I felt in the moment
    2) give myself permission to leave the situation, saying I needed to use the bathroom or get a hot drink or check my email
    3) imagine those feelings as a cloud and visualise it gradually dissipating until I felt the worst of it had passed (for some reason the cloud was always pink, I don’t know why)
    4) if it stuck around, I would take a few minutes to write how I felt in a feelings diary, which helped the healing process as I could look back when I felt able and see how far I had come
    5) a little clichéd, but effective: the whole time, I would keep up a constant inner monologue gently reminding myself that these feelings and this situation would pass. I would imagine what life would be like without these feelings, and that would give me hope.

    Whether this is useful to you or not, I’d like to offer you Jedi hugs and lots of love. You are such an amazing person to have got through what you have and to get yourself into such a calm and rational place is a serious achievement 🙂

    • Rose Fox said:

      A thousand sympathies on that person being a jerk to you, amberxebi. I hope you’re well away from her, and safe, and feeling good about being alive.

      • Thank you Rose Fox, I really appreciate that. 12 years later, I’m feeling fantastic and am very glad I didn’t succeed.

        Unfortunately, the person in question is my mother and I can’t cut her out of my life without losing people who are really important to me. Some people are just gonna be jerks. That Christmas she gave me a lovely herb chopper (the kind with 2 handles and a crescent shaped blade) and I was about to thank her profusely when she made a ridiculous joke about me cutting my wrists with it, then added in a threatening tone, “don’t you dare even think about it!” Which….huh. I dunno. That was pretty typical.

        • Ace said:

          Wow. Just wow. Lots of sympathy from a fellow survivor! Sending Jedi hugs if you want some.

          • Back at you! 🙂

  13. Rachel said:

    Hi LW,

    You have said that you might feel more comfortable raising your concerns with someone in the office who you feel is approachable, like Matthew. Do you think it might be an option to share your objection to Linda’s comments with a friendlier co-worker like Matthew, and maybe ask them to speak up if they are in the room when Linda makes these comments, like “Hey Linda, please don’t say that”?

    It might be easier for someone established in the company to call out Linda on her behaviour, and she might take it better coming from someone she knows, plus it takes some of the burden off you. I don’t think it’s passive aggressive to do this if it helps you protect yourself and feel safer. Just an idea.

  14. aaq said:

    So in my last job, a coworker’s husband committed suicide. The whole agency responded wonderfully for her and so on, but after about 6 months, it faded for most of us. We were a close knit group (went out for happy hour every pay day, went out for lunch on birthdays). Occasionally someone would make a casual suicide joke/reference (e.g., as a reaction to having norovirus, which admittedly sucks but not that much). Someone else would take the opportunity to correct that person privately. That never fell to the coworker.

    Now, this situation differs from you because literally everyone knew about it. She talked about it, and, as a relatively small agency, the combination of gossip and Helpful Coworkers made sure that most new hires who would have any interaction with her knew as well.

    The point that I’m getting at is that if there is someone at work you feel comfortable discussing it with (big BIG if I know), you can maybe make a work!team you. If they also hear the casual suicide comments, they could either add another voice of utter disdain or BE said voice if you are not capable of snarky shutdowns right now.

    Unrelated, if your workplace and position is one where you could contribute such an idea, perhaps mentioning to your supervisor that suicide prevention training is a Thing That is Done Now. In my last job, we had people who went around doing QPR training (which ends up being surprise!suicide prevention training). It could serve as a subtle but swift kick to Linda and others. If they do this, you might consider getting excused, being on vacation, or coming down with some very very sudden 24 hour bug.

    • I hadn’t heard of that before and had to look it up because where I come from, QPR is a football team 🙂

  15. B said:

    LW, if you do decide to say something, I would go with the measured “hey, those kind of comments bum me out” rather than the snark attack, unless snark is actually some kind of predominant and unoffensive means of communication in your office culture. I wouldn’t assume Linda realizes the impact those words have and snarky comments seem designed to put people on the defensive to me. (now, if they are just an ass and you know it, that’s a different story entirely)
    … after having a pretty scary stalker, all the “I’m stalking uuuuu!” internet jokes got really old. There were some people who I felt comfortable saying “hey, that was actually a thing for me, can you not?”, others it was more of a wince and move on.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      This is a good point. There’s a self-protection reason as well – hyperbolic suicide comments are pretty common, and so snark-attacking someone for them is way more likely to reflect poorly on you than on the comment-maker. Especially as a temp, you really don’t want to get tagged as someone who jumped down Linda’s throat over “nothing”.

      • B said:

        Besides that, I think comments that put folks on the defensive tend to make the person focus on defending themselves more than considering the merits of the request, and thus are less effective. (Again, special circumstances may apply, ie, jerks who won’t get it anyway)

  16. Jenesis said:

    Since you work in a fairly small cubicle nest and get along with “basically everybody” else, is it possible you could enlist someone more senior, who possibly gets along better with Linda, as your Linda Handler? Having someone else on hand to say “Gosh, Linda, that’s not work appropriate. Please be aware we can all hear you,” could, if nothing else, reassure you that someone’s got your back on this?

    Otherwise, I nth the recommendation on headphones. It sounds like you can frame this as a work-efficiency issue, in that Linda’s apparently loud enough in her conversations (personal! pertaining to a different department!) that you don’t need to be overhearing and being distracted by, regardless of what the content of those conversations is.

  17. Clarry said:

    This anecdote from my experience isn’t the same thing, but you might find some wisdom (or humor) in it.

    I’d begun corresponding in private email with someone I knew from public group communication on usenet. You could say that I knew her but not well and not personally. She sent a brief email complaining about her boyfriend and ended with “I’m going to go hang myself.” I stared at that for a moment with mounting not knowing what to do. I felt reasonably certain that she didn’t mean it, but I kept picturing getting the news that she’d really done it while I’d done nothing. I pictured trying to contact emergency personnel in another time zone with nothing to go on but her email address, tried to figure out what I’d say. With a little online looking around, I was able to find what I was pretty sure was her phone number and called. She originally hung up on me after I’d explained that I was sorry but there was a suicide threat. Then she called back and told me that that’s just the way she talks. I was embarrassed for taking seriously something that in retrospect anyone could have seen was an exaggeration, but then I had to return to that slight possibility that it wasn’t a joke. We had a good laugh and an enjoyable conversation. I consider her a good friend now. It’s like we got to know each other fast. And you get bet she doesn’t throw around casual joking suicide threats anymore.

    A while ago I made a decision to tone down the violence in all my conversation. My life is frequently aggravating, inconvenient, irritating, or stressful. It is not life-threatening, postal, murderous, or tragic. If it does become any of those things, I’ll have the vocabulary to describe it without confusion. When my boyfriend comes home late, I say that I’m ready to scream at him, not to kill him. Both are exaggerations, but the latter is less offensive.

    I wonder if something like that could work with Linda. LW overhears Linda say she’s going to kill herself. She then tells her very seriously that help is available if she needs it and gives some resources for counseling. When Linda says in her prickly way that she most certainly wasn’t actually going to do any such thing, LW can say “well, I couldn’t be sure and didn’t want to err on the side of doing nothing.”

    • Jane said:

      You know, I also have made the decision to not use casual violence as a rhetorical device as much as is possible (though I admit I forget sometimes when speaking) in my communications. I feel that, especially on the internet in public forums, when you can never gauge who exactly you’re communicating with, how they might take your statement, or what belief of theirs you might be unintentionally reinforcing, using a lot of violent language creates a dangerously ambiguous environment.

      [[Also, it is somewhat amusing to concoct curses which I feel are in line with people’s transgressions. “I hope you step on Legos” is, for example, a very potent curse, as is, “I hope you leave a wad of Kleenex in the pocket of your black dress pants when you wash them.”]]

      • Serin said:

        I did that when I spawned, because I remembered how when I was small my dad would say, “I’m going to skin you alive,” and while obviously I never expected him to really do that (hell, he never even spanked us), the vivid morbidness of it used to creep me out.

        So, for instance, when the cat got underfoot and made me drop a plate, I used to tell her I was going to paint her whiskers purple.

        Once I’d started, I noticed how often people would say things like, “Your proposal has to say ‘Work will be completed by the backup department’ and not ‘Work will be completed by Hortense,’ because what if Hortense gets hit by a bus?” I started consciously replacing it with something like, “But what if Hortense wins the lottery and buys and island?”

        It’s a source of mild amusement to try to imagine getting a despised person out of the way without ill-wishing them. I wish Donald Trump would retire from politics and business and instead spend delightful days playing Candyland with young relatives.

        • aliascelli said:

          These are such great substitutes!

        • Holly said:

          I was taught in my first job to keep clearly written notes “in case you get hit by a bus on the way home”.
          I pass the same lesson on to my current trainees, only like you I use the “in case you win the lottery” instead of a bus. 🙂

        • vass said:

          That is really cool. I’m gonna try it. Thank for the idea.

        • Sarah said:

          I love this! Off to come up with delightfully ridiculous substitutions for myself. Thanks for the idea!

        • Reader said:

          Yes, this is great. And being “hit by a bus” or “thrown under the bus” are trigger words for my husband’s family b/c their 5yo brother died in a bus accident.
          Let’s all avoid violent hyperbole!

      • Light37 said:

        I’ve wished that people step on a Barbie shoe, because those suckers are like spikes. “May sea monsters devour his/her cuticles” is another fun one.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        Your curses are wonderful, shall steal. (And shall steal the idea; I love this.)

        I used to accept that other people’s rhetoric was more violent than I’m comfortable with using, but also that they were a) operating in a field where ‘burn down x’ or ‘… made me want to [violent threat]’ is something many people say and not mean. Then it became clear that for _some_ people, who have been on the receiving end of violence, this isn’t just an empty threat (“of course nobody wants to–”) but ‘this thing that happens to people like you, I wish it would happen to you’. That’s not being over-sensitive, that’s being hurt badly. (See also: ‘being on a death march’ used in the hearing of people who lost relatives TO death marches.’)

        So while I’m not always succeeding of cutting hyperbole from my speech, I am now making an effort.

        When you think about it, ‘please don’t say [hurtful thing] is like a sonnet: it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to express yourself; it simply means that you need to be creative in expressing yourself. Your examples bring that point home so well.

        • Jane said:

          I do think there’s still a place for hyperbole, I just think it’s always worth the extra minute to think about whether that hyperbole is violent or could have violent associations for someone. “I hope your neighbor leaves one hundred zucchini on your front porch” = hyperbole, but unlikely to traumatize, by my assessment. “I hope you die in a fire” = hyperbole, but something that could really happen to someone, something that HAS really happened to many someones, kind of scary, would not use.

    • Light37 said:

      “I wonder if something like that could work with Linda. LW overhears Linda say she’s going to kill herself. She then tells her very seriously that help is available if she needs it and gives some resources for counseling. When Linda says in her prickly way that she most certainly wasn’t actually going to do any such thing, LW can say “well, I couldn’t be sure and didn’t want to err on the side of doing nothing.””

      I think this could land LW in a heap of trouble. Since it’s a once a month usage of a fairly common phrase and used in this context, the LW might well end up with a complaint made about them- and there goes any chance of the job becoming permanent.

  18. Swistle said:

    This situation reminded me of something, and it took me awhile to remember what it was. Finally I remembered it, but I’m not sure if it actually does apply or not, because it’s about such a very different thing. Yet I think it MIGHT apply, so I will say what it is, and you can decide if it applies or not.

    What it reminds me of is people recovering from alcoholism, and how they have to manage the situation in a variety of ways. For example, something I’ve heard again and again is a recovering alcoholic telling other people that THEY don’t need to stop drinking around her just because of the situation, because the recovering alcoholic has to get used to being around alcohol: it’s so prevalent in our society, avoiding it entirely isn’t a solution to their problem, and can’t be.

    I think the reason this situation reminds me of that is that casual “makes me want to jump off a cliff”-type language is so prevalent in our society, stopping it from happening or avoiding it completely isn’t going to be possible, and can’t be the solution to the problem. Obviously, obviously, obviously, people in your close circle should not be making such remarks when they are upsetting to you, just as a recovering alcoholic’s spouse and good friends should not flop around getting tipsy in front of them. But the larger circle of society isn’t going to stop saying such things, and I think trying to MAKE them stop is going to leave you not only worn out and frustrated, but also getting in the way of your own healing and happiness by directing your focus to what other people are doing (the equivalent of trying to make people stop drinking wine in a restaurant, or stop talking about their hangovers at work) instead of on how you are learning to handle it.

    So that is what I was thinking. I realize the analogy is not exactly parallel, but it’s something that helps me if I imagine the things I wish others would stop saying or doing around me, when the things they are doing are not objectively and clearly wrong. Where we (meaning I and you and the other commenters) may disagree is in whether we do or don’t consider casual “I could just shoot myself” remarks to be clearly and objectively wrong, or whether or not we think everyone’s language can be constructed so that it doesn’t bring up any bad feelings for anyone. I had a co-worker who didn’t want us to mention our mothers or motherhood or being mothers, ever, because it was too painful for her to remember her own mother; I did not think this was reasonable. On the other hand, there are many words and subjects that I absolutely would avoid, to avoid hurting others—not only good friends but also co-workers or strangers. There is a line somewhere, but I don’t know where to draw it.

    • Goat Lady said:

      As another suicide survivor and certified crazy person (I could use my psych record for a doorstop), I think this is a really, really apt analogy. The world will never, ever actually be a safe place, and people can tell me I’m victim blaming and being ableist but it’s true. Depending on mental health triggers they are pretty much never going to go away, and in the long run it’s better to get to a place where casual comments don’t gut you every time, and where you aren’t constantly riding into battle to make everyone stop mentioning your triggers.

    • B said:

      Having worked a little with addiction recovery, the opposite can also be true; it is important for folks to have supportive friends and relatives – we tend to frown if say, the spouse refuses to get alcohol out of the house because “that’s not my problem why should I have to modify my behavior” (… to be supportive of your spouse’s recovery…?). Similarly, quitting smoking, I usually advise people to find a circle of friends who DON’T smoke, if their friends won’t agree to stop smoking around them. Avoid places where one usually bought booze/cigs/drugs/whatever.
      Yes when it comes to strangers, and out in public, in some cases folks do just need to cope. But sometimes coping means avoiding triggers. Sometimes it means asking others to be supportive.
      LW’s case is a bit blurry as to which category to me, since it is a coworker but not anyone LW is close with.

      • Goat Lady said:

        Yeah I guess I would feel differently if Linda were a friend, or directing this at the LW, or doing it frequently. Also I’ve had a decade now to be crazy and find coping mechanisms. Something that a co-worker who’s basically just a passing acquaintance does once a month? Falls firmly under “exercise coping skills, move on” because it’s pretty much not with the effort.

        Avoiding triggers can become a prison. It’s not always realistic to expect the world to change — regardless of whether it should. Movies and TV are always going to show people drinking and smoking, e.g.

        The LW has a therapist. In the LW’s place, I’d take this situation to my shrink and come up with self-care plans, because I can’t really see any situation where bringing this up wouldn’t negatively impact the LW’s position at work.

        • B said:

          I tend to agree; both on the specific frequency-acquaintance level of LW’s particular case, and that in general one cannot hope to avoid ALL triggers forever. I was more thinking heavy triggers, IE, avoiding bars and parties where drinking is the main activity, etc, and asking closer friends to support with that. But to compare back to LW’s situation, while one could request all office social gatherings not happen at bars, one probably couldn’t expect the whole office to never say something like “OMG this client is driving me to drink!” or whatever.

        • B said:

          cannot edit; “all office social gatherings not happen at bars” should have said “office social gatherings not ALL happen at bars”

    • addipanandosi said:

      Yeah, there’s a phrase that goes, “It’s easier to put on shoes than to carpet the world” and in this LW’s circumstances, it sounds like a shoes situation, not a “time to lay down some carpet situation”.

      • Light37 said:

        I like this.

        I think at this point focusing on self-care would be best- using headphones, white noise, switching cubicles- whatever works. I would not go to HR because a temp complaining about a permanent employee is not likely to get great results careerwise, especially when you want your job to become permanent.

  19. C. said:

    LW, you’re doing so many great things for yourself, and even the fact that you’re considering this situation from an HR standpoint — with an eye toward preventing/alleviating an issue, rather than triage-ing a trauma — seems like a sign of healing and growth to me.

    I’m in a cubicle area and face an office of an abrasive person who swears to himself, complains to his department colleagues around us (I am not one thankfully), and is distractingly rude to people a lot of the time. I say that not to diminish anything about your emotional and mental health and well being, which it sounds like you are taking really good care of and supporting, but more that I think cubicle situations show us how many people are truly boorish. This week alone I had an “I think this person dislikes me, do you think so?” “No, I think they’re just awkward, but do you think this other person hates ME?” conversation with a closer colleague.

    With my boor — when I hear him start to talk to someone or swear loudly in his office or whatever, I put on headphones and turn up the music. I hope you can use headphones where you work! If there’s a productivity concern or etc. you can certainly say music helps you focus on certain tasks or whatever and lampshade it in that way.

    Ahhh I wish you such good luck because you sound like a thoughtful person with a lot to accomplish.

  20. jellotheocracy said:

    Office politics range from benign to middle school from hell. I would find out if you can move cubes. If she has a history of revving folks the wrong way, she’ll probably not take any suggestions on her choice of inflammatory word choice. I would make up a reason to move cubes.

    If she has this kind of history, and your boss is really cool, maybe you can go to him, and lay it out, and move cubes.

    If she’s got this kind of history with rubbing folks the wrong way, and your work friend was completely concerned she did something to you, there’s probably a reason for it. I wouldn’t give her any ammunition in a time period where you are healing and feeling vulnerable.

  21. karnemelk said:

    I think Tina Fey’s words from ‘Bossypants’ are relevant here:

    “So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work, and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”

    So keep on workin’ like a boss. You’re already winning.

  22. LW, I want to send you jedi hugs and tell you that I believe things are going to keep getting better for you and wish you all good things.

    I think you totally have the right framing with thinking of Linda as someone you work with and aren’t friends with. And the Captain has some great ideas.

    It’s really great that you are thriving so much at your job. And I hope that continues, but work life can be fickle, so that’s why I always encourage people to try and build interests outside of it.

    Do you have a thing you do outside of work? It sounds like that has been mostly taking care of yourself, and you should absolutely continue to do that. And if you do have a thing that’s awesome!

    If you don’t, I will say I always feel like having something to look forward to helps me get through the tough parts of my work day. And it might help you redirect some of your bad feelings.

    When I was going through some bad depression and really struggling with work I volunteered at an animal shelter, and took a painting class from a local community college. They were both awesome. The shelter was great because I felt like I was doing something to help (though the shelter I worked with could also be very sad at times so you may want to be selective about where you volunteered if you decided to go that route) and I got exercise walking the dogs. The painting class was an excellent creative outlet for me, but is probably not nearly as educational for you.

    Anyway it helps me to have a structured non work activity that I engage in. Something with a schedule of some kind, or on a routine, where people expect me to be there, and where I can focus on doing something that is not work, and not just go home and zone out in front of the Playstation. For me it is important that it be structured and externally motivated, because having projects at home I”m just not in the mood to work on can make me feel really down. But you have to decide what works best for you, of course.

  23. nonasuch said:

    One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes people are, weirdly, more respectful of pain that’s one step removed than the pain that’s right in front of them. When it’s not your personal suffering at issue, people are less likely to accuse you of being oversensitive or overreacting. I’ve actually managed to get racist old folks of my acquaintance to stop being racist in front of me by telling them “This isn’t about my hurt feelings– it’s about the fact that saying things like that, and acting on those beliefs, causes actual harm to people I care about.” It’s dumb and terrible, but if you’re seen as disinterested you’re more likely to be taken seriously.

    If you were to say to Linda “hey, I know this would never have occurred to you, because I don’t like to talk about it, but I have a loved one who recently made a suicide attempt and it’s a nasty reminder when I hear you use that phrase,” as far as Linda’s concerned you aren’t oversharing or getting too personal or not being tough enough. You aren’t even lying, technically.

  24. Zillah said:

    Oh, OP. Jedi hugs. I’m glad you weren’t successful and that you’re doing better.

    How would you feel about bringing it up to Matthew to ask for his advice? It seems like he’s on alert for Jane possibly doing something insensitive or intimidating, so it may not be so uncommon – and might not reflect as poorly on you as a result. If you did do that, I’d mask the situation a bit – as someone suggested above, say that it brings to mind something painful your family went through recently, rather than something specifically involving your attempt – and make it clear that you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to say anything at all. He may have a better gauge on the situation. I have no idea about whether this would work – it’s just a thought.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is kind suggestion. It is also a lot of work and directs the LW to keep looking for a solution to something that might not be fixable or optimizable right now. My advice is to disengage from trying to solve or fix Linda & her words.

  25. Theecube said:

    LW:
    As someone who also has to deal with occasionally not cool coworker conversations, i totally feel you. Especially when hearing stuff like that at work, it can feel a little like you’re trapped into hearing all that negativity.
    I’d like to bring up the possibility of using headphones, or at least one earbud, if you have to be at your desk while she’s on the phone? I know for me, when I want to just plink at the keyboard and get my work done, having some music I love, while tuning out everything except listening for my name, can work wonders to avoid coworker comments. YMMV depending on how much interaction is required/you want with your coworkers, but if your supervisor allows it, that might help when you can’t leave your desk.

    Stay strong!

  26. Lizzie said:

    I’ve made thoughtless comments like Linda’s, and until reading this post I didn’t even think about how triggering they could be. I feel like an asshole now but I’m so grateful to have read this, because I can stop being (this kind of) insensitive in future. Thank you LW.

  27. Stardust said:

    Hey 🙂 congratulations LW on your job and how you’ve been taking care of yourself. Go you!

    Not sure if I need to include a TW in a thread with TW at the top but I will anyway – TW, um, casual suicide references

    My mum doesn’t seem to handle stress very well, like, she seems to be stressed all the time. She likes being busy but seems to deliberately take on things to stress her out, and she very frequently says “I want to knife myself.” JEEEZ. It’s just… it’s a stupid turn of phrase making light of very dark feelings (which from an outsider’s perspective, I’m sure she doesn’t actually literally mean it, it’s just her go-to phrase to indicate that she feels stressed or overwhelmed) and also I’m a super visual person so that’s just way too vivid for me. And it’s my MUM *shudder* meh.
    I’ve told her gently a few times that I don’t like her saying it but I think I’m going to have to tackle it a bit more directly. Definitely expecting a response along the lines of ‘I don’t mean anything by it’ ughh.

    Best of luck LW with resolving this x

  28. LeighTX said:

    I don’t have any advice or stories, I just want to say that I am SO glad you survived, and that you’re in a better place. Good for you!!

  29. aliascelli said:

    LW, I just wanted to echo the Captain and say that if you can’t make your coping skills work right away when it happens, that’s totally okay – you are allowed to feel awful and off-balance when you hear this and gradually work towards some sort of resolution.

    Once thing I’ve been doing is creating something called “coping cards” – for example, I have an index card up on my desk with four questions I can ask myself when I’m starting a panic spiral. I would never remember them in the moment, but now I don’t have to. Maybe you can write down (in messy handwriting or in a code, a few key words for each) one or more of these suggestions for when you’re in the thick of things.

    Even if you do absolutely nothing, please know you’re still amazing and fantastic and worthy of a non-triggering workspace.

    • d said:

      (LW here) I love this suggestion! I have a stack of cue cards with all the DBT skills on them (my therapist LOVED them when I showed her), so this is really similar to those, in the same vein as something I have found effective in the past. thanks!

  30. notcryingonsundays said:

    I have had this same issue with some people (seems to be more common among teenagers/college kids, but I still hear it), making “jokes” about self-harm. Like, “haha, emo people, I’m going to cut myself, har har.” And as adults, people still say things about it, like “X or Y makes me want to slit my wrists,” or speaking disparagingly about the issue or people they know that self-harm. When I was a teenager, I had that problem for about 3 years, went back to it for a year in college, and had a few slips later on.

    I had a classmate in law school that would make the “slit my wrists” joke when we had too much homework, but I didn’t dare tell him off or he might suspect I was mentally ill, report it to the bar admission committee, and hold up my licensure on “fitness” grounds. It was so hard when I just wanted to turn around and yell at him. Fortunately, in my second year, my best friend also started at my school, and Friend knew about me and told jerk classmate off very publicly without exposing me.

    I don’t know how to respond when I hear that sort of thing without my spouse or friend around, though, and I’m still kind of triggered by those jerk comments. Ideas?

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      For stuff like that I tend to default to “Really? This is what we’re laughing at now?”

      And then move on briskly, if it’s a venial sin, or move to the cold silent stare until they back down or off, if it’s a mortal sin.

    • Guava said:

      How about a very dry, “Don’t make me call 911* on you.” With raised eyebrows. So it kind of looks like you’re kidding, but maybe not.

      *substitute number for emergency services here, if not in the U.S.

      • I am not convinced that joking about suicide is a useful way to suggest people not joke about suicide.

    • mehting said:

      I cannot wait until those fitness committees stop that BS mental illness discrimination crap. It turns me into a giant rage-monster every time, thinking about how I have to come up with ways to get treatment that I won’t have to report to them, and how many other people may not have that option.

      • Nashira said:

        Plus if anyone spends two seconds thinking about it, it becomes clear that it’s all about ableism and not about fitness. If it were truly about fitness, they’d bend over backwards to help people access good care. Not kick you out if the club for being ill.

        Same freaking deal for US security clearances.

  31. Marna Nightingale said:

    I do want to suggest that LW can raise the issue with Linda – should they choose to – with no personal disclosure whatsoever, and that is what I would recommend.

    Partly because it’s a work environment, but mostly because it doesn’t have to be personal to be political.

    I don’t object to rape jokes because I’m a rape survivor: I object to them because they’re fucking rape jokes.

    Joking about suicide in an open office isn’t a problem because LW survived a suicide attempt. It’s a problem because people who have or have had suicidal thoughts or made attempts are everywhere, doing everything – I’m sure there’s at least one in this coffeeshop in small-town BC – and so a certain level of caution is wanted in public spaces.

    I don’t know whether it is worth it to LW to intervene in this case or not. I do know that they don’t need, and aren’t obligated, to disclose if they do decide to.

    “It’s a shared work space and casual joking can sound very serious to people who don’t have the context” is a valid argument on its own.

  32. Twitchy said:

    Hey, LW. Is there any chance you could move to a different desk? If you get along with everyone but Linda, it kind of sucks that you have to sit across from Linda, especially if she brings up triggers for you.

    • Guava said:

      THIS ^^^^

  33. gingerbread said:

    Nothing to add to the post except to say, Captain, you are on fire lately. I wish I had even 10% of the emotional intelligence, insight and the capability to put it down in writing as you.

    Please write a book.

    • Myrtle said:

      Second this. I can haz book, pls. ❤️

  34. Myrtle said:

    LW, you have so much strength! I admire how you are able to separate the experience from your self and what you need to survive. There was a time when this experience would have undone me in a pointless angry/weepy confrontation with Linda *and* made me ruin my relationship with my temp agency.

    I doubt it’s a coincidence that this particular cubicle is the one open at the time you started. Can you meet with the person who allocates the office space? With 30 people, perhaps there have been moves or changes in the time you’ve been there. Maybe they’re thinking, “Well, nobody wants to be next to Linda and LW hasn’t complained, so maybe that spot’s OK with her.”

    Consider asking your new work friends if anyone’s transferring/leaving or getting promoted out of the cube farm neighborhood. Give any reason for the “why” that could serve- “closer to the window, out of the draft” that you can use. If you get a knowing grin, grin back but don’t go there with talking about Linda outright. Using DBT, I’ve learned it’s OK for me to have any feeling that I do, but I own my response to all situations and can choose what I present. It’s still in a “feeling magical” phase, from my past turmoil. But darned if it hasn’t worked every time so far. Wishing you continued success and I hope you get a good Secret Santa! 😊

  35. RedinSC said:

    I am so happy you are doing well LW!

    And I am also happy that you wrote in. I have to say, I have honestly never thought about how a phrase like, “I could have killed myself” or “it made me want to die” might actually impact other people. They seem like these everyday catch phrases that get tossed out there so often, so thank you for making me think more deeply about the mindless things I might say at work or otherwise.

    I really appreciate your insight here, and I will work to be more mindful of the things that I might just blurt without thinking of a deeper impact those words might have on people.

    So, thank you LW. I wish you continued success and health!

  36. Commenter said:

    LW, I don’t want to claim I understand your feelings exactly, but my situation is and was very similar to yours and I don’t have any additional advice, but I do have internet hugs and massive reservoirs of respect for you. Thanks for still being here.

  37. Emma9 said:

    Something that occurred to me is that this might be one of the few instances in which Ye Olde Passive-Aggressive Note is the way to go. Anonymous note in Linda’s box mentioning that while you’re sure she meant no harm in using what is (however unfortunately) a common hyperbolic expression, there’s at least one person in the office who’s been affected by mental health issues to a degree that it upsets them to hear it.

    That’s about the only way I can see this behavior *might* stop with no chance of repercussions on the LW’s behalf. The only possibility of backfire that I can see is that if Linda is not, in fact, an innocent woman with bitchy resting face who just doesn’t click with LW, and is instead an actually horrible person, she might take this opportunity to make the suicide talk louder and more frequent.

    • JenniferP said:

      Passive aggressive notes are easily mocked and never work like people think they are going to.

      After reading so many lovely, well-intentioned solutions, I’m just going to keep repeating to the LW: You don’t have to ‘solve’ this. Put your efforts into taking care of yourself if and when it comes up. It will all get better! Headphones are awesome!

      • d said:

        LW here (literally my catchphrase now)- I just want to thank you for the initial awesome answer to my question, but also for how you’re watching out in the comments. I appreciate that “you don’t have to solve this, you just have to take care of yourself” is the main focus- and while I’ve read so many really awesome ideas from others that I am excited to put into use (this is probably the best part, getting your answer PLUS input from others!), I am also keeping in mind that the main goal is to keep myself steady and not take this on as a thing to “fix”, beyond just working on my own coping skills. I definitely am making this point- focus on your coping skills- the center of what I got from this letter/the replies, and along the way I’m also picking up useful little tips (slinky! pink noise!) that I simply wouldn’t have thought of on my own, and I am so grateful to everybody for taking the time.

        also, hearing from other attempt survivors- even if it’s mentioned just in passing, even if it’s just an “I’ve been there”- is always massively, massively huge for me. that was something I found really valuable about while in the psych ward, and in a weird way, the ward was very comfortable because of that. so getting little shout outs here is nice 🙂

  38. LW, I just wanted to say congratulations on all the work you have done, and on your job. I hope it becomes permanent soon rather than temp. I’m a survivor, too. That work, on ourselves, is so so difficult, and so necessary. You are brave and wonderful.

  39. Nashira said:

    LW, I also work in an office that is sometimes triggering. My therapist recently suggested I get something to fidget with to redirect my focus when people around me are being jerkfaces with their words. In my case, it’s a mini-slinky, because I liked the sensation of it, but she also had squishy balls, a hackysack, and other random fidgety things. Would something like that help you?

    For me, it’s an offshoot of needing physical sensations to “ground” myself when my mind is imitating a jellyfish and off in flashback land. Fidgeting with the slinky helps a great deal for those times when I can’t get up and go elsewhere for a while.

    • d said:

      LW here! this is an awesome idea that actually might be very useful to me! I have never thought to use fidget toys, but I do sometimes focus very intensely on something (very often, my nails/cuticles), as a way to bring awareness back to myself. I’ve even looked at fidget toy websites, but I might try the slinky for starters! thanks so much!

      • I keep Rubik’s Cubes (a 3×3 and a 4×4) on my desk partly because when people come to see me in my professional capacity it’s often kind of intense for them–the students especially are sometimes putting themselves in kind of an emotionally naked place, and moving a Rubik’s Cube around soothes them like nobody’s business even if they can’t solve one. When I was solving them a lot, it was a form of active meditation that I find immensely soothing. Other things I like for this are solitaire (sadly Not Okay at work) and, if you have enough space, a 3-d puzzle game called a Perplexus (possibly not okay for work but really great–I played with one to chill out during high-stress times while I was in grad school and it was awesome).

        • A Perplexus…is that one of those spherical things where you have to get a steel ball from point A to point B without dropping it? If so, I have one. It is absorbing and infuriating in equal measures and the noise of that ball rolling around would quickly piss off all your coworkers 🙂

          • Yup. I love them! I don’t remember the ball rolling around producing that much noise, but I haven’t had one in several years, so maybe not the best for an open-plan office! 🙂

          • My ball probably rolls around more than most, because I’m crap at it!

            I highly recommend these, because they are awesome. But not as an office relaxation thing for LW, because it would be very conspicuously Not Work, which isn’t the best idea for a temp!

  40. Chessie said:

    LW, I’m so, so glad that you survived and are doing such an ace job of living your life. That is so awesome. Yay!

    One idea for a way you might approach Linda: “Someone close to me was struggling with some suicidal thoughts recently, and it’s a topic that tends to really upset me.” It’s not a lie, but it invites her to assume that you’re speaking of someone else.

    Good luck! I really hope you can figure out how to work with Linda, even if you’re never going to like each other.

  41. Hi LW

    First off, you are awesome!

    I think the Captain’s response was great. This is a slightly different tack – could you maybe change desks?

    I was recovering from ptsd post a sexual assault and my desk was right near the corridor on the way to the bathroom, which meant that people would be walking by me on the way back from the loo and see me and think ‘oh I need to talk about her about a thing!’ and come up behind me quite suddenly and startle me. It was pretty hard for a while there (I lost a few cups of coffee from knocking them over, which made me feel like my ptsd was suuuuper obvious and I was cracking up, even though probably no one would really have noticed it), because I was literally startling at my own shadow (I had previously thought ‘jumping at shadows’ was just a phrase, but no!) — moving desks REALLY helped. I was in the fortunate position where I’d already told my boss what was going on with me in case my ptsd was affecting my work. I know lots of people wouldn’t feel comfortable disclosing ptsd / trauma / mental illness of any kind and don’t have the sort of boss you could talk to about sensitive matters, and I know you’re wanting to cement your position at work and that likely means keeping your head down.

    I know there are some triggers in ptsd recovery that can’t be avoided but just in case this is an option that was low-key enough and an opening came up. You don’t need to tell the truth about why you’d like to change desks. I had a couple of colleagues who were visibly confused about it and made a couple of quietly snarky remarks about getting away from them, and I didn’t bother correcting them — I just said I was enjoying the view out the window more than the corridor. Bonus if you do genuinely want to get exposure to a different project area or learn from a different staff member by sitting closer to them.

  42. gravau said:

    > You would be well within your rights to say, “Casual suicide jokes: tasteful AND hilarious. Do keep making them,” in your best Professor Snape disdain-voice when Linda says her thing next. See also: “Is that really appropriate at work?” or “Wow, sound really carries in these open offices. Let me give you some privacy”

    You want her to co-operate, I do not think the sarcastic route is a good way to go. Chances are she is not even aware that joking around suicide is a problem for some. If I was her, I would completely not understand “Is that really appropriate at work?”. If you beat around the bush with “sound really carries in these open offices. Let me give you some privacy” I would just think you were extremely noise sensitive and rather douchy about bringing it up. If you address it with her, do it totally straightforward, as the captain suggested:

    > “I’m sure you don’t mean to be insensitive, but your casual suicide comments really bum me out.”

  43. pink said:

    Hey LW, I am so glad you survived, and am so intensely and deeply impressed how you have turned things around and are finding joy and meaning in life again. That takes immense courage and integrity, and I wish you all joy going forward. The Captain’s response is great, and I agree that when we are traumatised we cannot always control what will trigger us, or when. I have C-PTSD and am a psychologist specialising in the treatment of trauma, and despite six years of therapy, lots of hard work on grounding and self-soothe techniques, a pretty solid understanding of the theory and a significant amount of exposure work I can still be triggered when I am caught off guard or already vulnerable. It is horrible, but I’ve learned I can’t control the world, and so I have to help myself with these reactions when they occur, and actually that this is part of my healing too, and expands my world a little every day. This website has really helped me both as a survivor and as a clinician: http://www.new-synapse.com/aps/wordpress/?p=1195 it has lots of really thoughtful articles and grounding strategies. Perhaps it might be worth a look? I hope it is useful to you. All best wishes going forward, Pink

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