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Dear Captain Awkward,

I was just fired after less than a year at a toxic job. I was vomiting from anxiety on a semi-regular basis… it was awful.

My team and peers were amazing, but my relationship with my manager was terrible. After months trying to fix it, I began seeing a new psychiatrist and taking new meds just to manage the anxiety that it caused.

The circumstances surrounding my firing are also extremely shady. I feel so traumatized by the experience that the thought of working again fills me with panic. It will be a while before I can rejoin the workforce.

Needless to say, I’m extremely distrustful of Former Manager and have no desire to ever see or interact with him again. I’d still feel that way even if I had quit.

I’ve blocked both him and his SO on LinkedIn/Facebook. However, I’d really like to see my former coworkers again when some of this blows over. They’re awesome and were devastated by my departure. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a get-together and they seem interested, which is exciting!

Hosting an event is perfect: I have control over the attendees, and Former Manager is NOT on the list. But I don’t have any control over events hosted by others, and this fills me with dread. Coworkers are already planning at least one summer event.

I don’t want to flake out on them, but I rampantly avoid confrontational situations and I’m terrified of seeing Former Manager. It’s not a big group, so I can’t fade into the crowd. They also like board games, so “just don’t interact with him!” isn’t an option.

I could try to determine if he’ll be there in advance, but it’s hard to ask without making things weird or divulging inappropriate information. He’s still their manager; if I say I can’t be around him it could sound unprofessional or even impact their work relationship.

So, let’s say I go to an event and he’s there – I can’t give him the cold shoulder. I’m also terrible at doing the “neutral, yet disinterested” treatment. I always think I can, but then my stupid politeness kicks in and I treat the person like an old friend or even smooth over their awkwardness. This happened even when I worked for him.

How can I navigate this situation, particularly since my anxiety here is so fresh and I’m feeling very avoidant? I don’t want to dodge the group completely – I’d like to maintain these relationships – but I’m so afraid that my manager will be there!

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

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Oh Captain, My Captain,

How do you handle being fired and the aftermath of said sacking? I’m not talking about a blameless “strategic redirection” layoff, where the grounds were purely organizational and budgetary, but a full-blown, “We know you did the best you knew how to do, but this clearly isn’t working out” firing.

Nobody talks about this sort of thing, so I’d like to know any insight you’d have.

Man, I’m sorry, that has to be a blow to the ego and the wallet.  Fortunately for both of us, Penelope Trunk talks about this sort of thing.  I suggest you read her whole post, but the part I’m most drawn to is this:

“Make a quick and essential mental shift. Tell yourself that you  weren’t forced out, you left. You must believe this in order to create a cogent, believable story about your life. And, it’s true. Because it doesn’t matter who decided first that you’re a bad fit. Just because you decide second that it’s time to move on doesn’t mean you didn’t decide it. So, you have control of your life. You have vision for your life. And you decided that it’s time to move on. The stories you tell yourself about your life are essential to your self-image.

I especially suggest you read the link within that quote, “Manage your image by telling good stories.”

“The way you talk about yourself is very powerful. Whether or not you are conscious of it, the way you tell stories of your life frames how people see you, and how you see yourself. So you may as well do this consciously, and also be conscious that people get the most tripped up in their storytelling when they are talking about uncertain moments in their career.”

So, make a mental shift and then tell a good story about what happened.

Part of the mental shift is owning your own mistakes or incompetence or whatever got you fired.  Even if you had a bad boss.  Even if you had bad coworkers.  Even if other people handled things badly.  If you can critique your own performance and own your own shortcomings in relation to doing that job, then you empower yourself to make changes.

By critiquing your performance, I don’t mean giving into the inner-depressive cycle.  “Oh god, what’s wrong with me that I can’t even do ( your job)?”  I mean listening to the feedback that you got from your company and applying the truthful parts of it to yourself honestly. Admit the ways that you messed up.  Admit the ways you contributed to whatever made it a bad fit. This can help you figure out what changes you need to make about how you perform (stuff like being more organized, being more proactive, being on time, dressing better, projecting more confidence, meeting deadlines).  It can help you give yourself permission to not beat yourself up for the things that weren’t your fault.   And it can  help you make the changes you need to make about what you do. Because probably you will end up doing something else entirely, and getting fired will turn out to be just an event that leads you to where you need to be. If the story you tell is about how you were perfect and it was everyone else’s fault, it’s going to take you longer to make those changes because you’ll be holding on to a job and a conflict that doesn’t exist anymore.

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