the witching hour
This year I had my first panic attack, triggered by a single work email read too late at night. 3am I’m shaking and sweating, eyeballing my own mortality. One. Single. Work. Email. Terrifying and silly at exactly the same time.
Despite knowing everything I know about surviving work and grown up attitudes towards the tinternet, I read the email at 10pm on a Friday from the one person that I knew could freeze my soul like a Vampire. I did this because she represents a character from a fairy story I have half known my entire life, feared and loathed in equal measure.
Thing about the witching-hour-of-work is that it’s never just about what is in front of you. An anxiety disorder is a disorder precisely because we’re afraid of something that isn’t quite happening right now. It’s an event that evokes a deeper feeling and experience of not being able to protect our boundaries. From the fear of poisoned apples to being expelled from humanity a la Frankenstein, there’s a gothic novel in all of us waiting to be squeezed out by someone we work with.
Although the profound state of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric reality, all of us by the nature of being fragile human beings have experiences where our boundaries were broken. The psychic reality is that we all do fear.
No matter what occupational health might say, none of us are the office Bambi. Hoppetyskipping through the forest without a care until the precise moment when we’re caught in the headlights and become corporate roadkill. We all have murky dealings with death and destruction along the way and this is why trauma is, well, complicated.
Bruno Bettelheim’s beautiful book, The Uses of Enchantment, codified the symbolism of fairy stories. In doing so he takes stories seriously – understanding our profound and early need to wrestle with the powerful human experiences of love, hate, envy, rejection and anxiety. This is human, to attempt to understand the grim reality of the human condition and start to have authorship over these gruesome themes.
One of the most frustrating things about having therapy is that our experiences of fear are relentlessly related back to an earlier time, a therapeutic space where nothing is just about the here and now. Freud loved a good story, from Oedipus to Narcissus, trying to acknowledge and control these primal experiences denied by workplace wellbeing. For people who have experienced the real stuff of trauma, this can feel like a pull-yourself-together. A study of real live trauma, hard stuff to swallow when you’re in the dry-throat-clutch of the witching hour.
Thing about trauma is that it’s so disturbing it compels us to pick the psychic scab. A repetitive compulsive tick going over and over the trauma as a way of trying to conquer it. “Surely THIS TIME she’ll love me??!!??”.
Sum result, 3am I am animal.
What happens in a recessionary workplace cuts to the quick because it can evoke the gods and daemons of early infancy. Although this doesn’t mean that we’re all heading for a PICU ward, most of us have a complexity which sometimes makes the simple stuff of a badly phrased work email turn us into Hansel or Gretel.
Real life ghouls and vampires exist in the workplace. But they have one redeeming feature in that they offer us a way of telling and understanding our own stories. It is by understanding the narratives about the blood and guts of work, that we learn to decipher the difference between witches and just the people we should mark as psychic spam.
This week I will mainly not be reading emails and I’d put money on my monsters staying firmly under the bed.
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