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Several years ago when I first started out at my work as a substitute, I was called to work at numerous places.  Most I thoroughly enjoyed and a couple I didn’t really like much, but only one I refused to return to after the initial assignment.  It didn’t have so much to do with the work involved as it did with a particular person who, maybe unknowingly but maybe not, tripped my PTSD trigger.  And she did it not just once but twice.  This person seemed to enjoy letting me know that I wasn’t up to her standards, and when she came up behind me and whispered in my ear “You’re nooot wooorrrkkkinng faassst ennnnooougghh” (I can still hear her), the hairs on the back of my neck raised up and with it, that old fight or flight feeling.

 There was also a piece of equipment that kept shifting out of place while I worked and she would slam it back into place with a smirk.  Finally, another kind employee actually took the piece completely out so I could work without dislodging it.  I told myself I would never go back there again and I never told my supervisor why I wouldn’t go back even when she asked. 

Eight years later, I was sent back to that location under a new training program and she was still there. I don’t think she remembered me but I remembered her and stayed as far away as possible until lunch time when it was unavoidable.  She noticed the sticker I had on my water bottle which was from my church and proceeded, unprovoked, to criticize the church I attend.  On and on she went.  I just said no one church is for everybody, which is true, and continued to eat my lunch.

So many lessons!

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First of all, always be kind.

We never know what another person has been through in their life, what triggers they may have, and how certain words and behaviors might negatively affect them.  Sometimes it’s not so much the actual words but the tone of voice and delivery.  If we are not sure, it’s best to remain silent or let the person in charge handle it. 

Second, be honest.

I regret not having told my supervisor the reason I didn’t want to work at that place.  Perhaps this person could have been retrained to be more sensitive to others.  There have been others who have shared about this problem and while I know it’s frustrating when staff is short and we have to teach each new helper over and over again, that doesn’t justify a communication style that is curt or could even be interpreted as menacing. 

Third, don’t forget to look at your own behavior.

A few years ago, I found myself in almost the same situation but the tables were turned.  I was the permanent employee, my manager was absent for several days, and my coworker was a sweet man in his mid 70’s who was meticulous but very slow.  I loved him, but the pressure made me less than professional and I was remorseful later.  The next day I apologized to him and asked for forgiveness and he smiled and said “Of course.  We all have bad days”.  The next year, Bill died of cancer and I wrote a tribute to him which detailed how we worked well together despite having some difficult moments. I try to remember his example as I continue to work as if God is watching, because He is. 

Finally, realize that we all have bad days but most can be corrected.

The important thing is to be responsible and accountable. Pick yourself up and make things right again. And if you are the victim of someone else’s bad day? If you feel safe, speak to them about it. If you have to, go to a person in charge. If there is another open door, walk through it. Just do your part and let God do the rest. He has your back.

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We are all in this together.

T.