We all use to be something, use to be able to do something, and then it changed. Most of the times it is a gradual shift and you don’t recognize the exact moment it changed. And other times you know right down to the second. You can transport yourself to that event without even blinking your eyes.
I was 26 years old and a supervisor of 20 male truck drivers. I was young and naive, but stubborn and proud. I learned the DOT regulations, I memorized and understood the union contract, I spent time studying the specs of their trucks, the contracts for the equipment, the routes, the pricing, all of it – no stone left unturned as they say. I plunged head on into it because I never wanted to be in a situation where my lack of knowledge impacted others opinions of my capabilities. A promise to myself that I try to keep to this day.
One day an employee, who visibly could not stand me and made every possible attempt at letting me know, refused to run a route he was assigned. He hid behind his union seniority. He did not realize that I knew the rules of the contract and that he could not refuse. He filed a grievance against me and I was prepared like a Girl Scout for the meeting to discuss his behavior. It was myself, the employee, the HR Manager, and the Union President. All males, in a male dominated company, in the male run plant HR office and me.
I can remember the room perfectly – The HR Manager behind his large old school brown desk that gleamed with shellac, myself against the wall in a 1980 style wooden chair slightly angled towards the door. Just to my left, no more than 3 feet away, was the Union President dressed in his grey work t-shirt, scuffed up steel toed boots, and stained blue jeans, his wirey salt and pepper hair framing his hard worn face. Next to him was the employee; dressed in nice clean blue jeans and a short sleeve powder blue collared shirt buttoned up to the top button and pressed. His chair was blocking the door and was almost directly across from mine, giving us each a clear view of the other.
I presented my case and side of the issues, I highlighted the contractual agreement and so on. I would be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by the employee and the Union President. But I stuck to my wits. And then it happened – the moment that changed me. The instant that I went from calm and collected in group settings to near crippling panic attacks that has held me for the last 12 years.
The Union President jumped up from his seat and lunged towards me, his brow furrowed over his dark age worn eyes, spit sprewing from his mouth as he yelled at me. His arm outstretched in anger as he shouted his hatred. I held my spot in the chair, just staring at him shocked at what was unfolding. The HR Manager leaped from behind his desk, the employee sprang from his chair all the while I sat motionless. I was speechless. HR had grabbed him just in the knick of time from attacking me and pulled him outside. I continued to sit just watching it unfold. It was then that I felt the first assault of panic.
I struggled to maintain my composure, my breath was spastic, a stabbing pain wrapped it self around my chest like a hawk’s talon on its prey.
That was the exact moment that I broke.
I do not know why my mind snapped at that moment. Maybe it was a lifetime of compartmentalizing every single thing and the space just ran out. Maybe it was the stress of relocating to a new state, getting married in a totally different state, a strained parental relationship, and building a house. There are so many maybe’s that I will never know the answer. Most likely it is all of the above. It was a life of holding my breath in times of stress that has strangled my inner self.
My psyche was not going to take one more single thing hurled at it. My mind clamped down on that sunny warm August day in 2001, and has not released itself since.
I have a Panic Disorder and it totally fucking sucks.