updates from letter-writers (the anxiety, the trash-talking recruiter, the unreliable contractor, and the shared desk)

Here are updates from four letter-writers whose questions were answered here recently.

1. My anxiety caused a work problem (#2 at the link)

I just wanted to thank you for responding in such a non-judgmental way. I wanted to send in an update for what happened.

The coworker was not a friend outside of work but the place I work is a friendly place where people get along with each other. People always say “good morning” and “goodbye” to everyone. I know it was my aniexty that caused me to think she didn’t like me because she forgot to say goodbye one time. She had never been unfriendly to me before and logically nothing happened to make her upset with me that she would not be speaking to me. I know it was my aniexty which caused me to think otherwise. It caused the interaction at her home to be a bad one with yelling and crying on my end and her nearly calling 911.

My coworker knows I have anxiety and it was the cause of my actions but she said it does not matter. I had asked HR to pass along a message to her and they said no and told me to leave it alone. There was also a police investigation of my theft of her pay stub regarding identity theft. Nothing came of it but between that and the stress of what happened with my coworker my aniexty went into overdrive. I was terminated after I kept asking HR and my old manager to give a message of apology to my coworker, even though I had been told to stop.

I have switched medications and have a new therapist. This whole thing has shown me I need to better manage my issue to get it under control. I realize and understand why it was a problem. I’m also looking for a less busy and stressful job. I have been reading through the archives for resume advice.

2. Recruiter is trash-talking the company I just accepted a job with (#2 at the link)

I wrote you back in mid January regarding a recruiter who sent me a warning email after I accepted a new position.

I just wanted to share the resolution. She was right and I am now finding myself close to being out of a job.

My job is threatened during every daily meeting and is really pulling a punch to my self confidence during my stealth job search.

It seems that the disgruntled employee wasn’t disgruntled, just realized the environment was extremely toxic.

3. I’m supposed to babysit an unreliable contractor (#4 at the link)

I’m writing to update you on my letter about being required to babysit an unreliable contractor. When the contract was awarded to a new company, they decided not to renew the unreliable contractor’s contract for reasons unbeknownst to me.

While this was an improvement on our team for a short time, there was a bigger problem on the horizon. Our team rid itself of an unreliable contractor, and a few months later the new overbearing micromanaging government program manager managed to chase off one of our senior instructors, and create a toxic culture on the team that still exists. In a stroke of luck (misfortune?) I was shifted off that contract due to issues far above my paygrade, and I now do work five minutes down the road. While I miss my team, I enjoy wearing jeans on Fridays and coming in at 10 a.m.

4. I share a desk set-up with an engaged couple (first update is here)

I have a final update I think you and the commentariat will be pleased about! I have a job again, and at a company I’ve wanted to work for since I realized I have no future in academia (it’s not a dream company, because every company in my field is problematic in its own way, but it’s a hazard of the industry). It’s on the other side of the country and therefore closer to my family. My contract is limited to a bit under a year, but that doesn’t mean my time with them will necessarily end then, so for me that was worth the risk of it looking odd on my resume. I’ve been with them for a couple of weeks now and it’s the kind of environment I’ve always wished for, even though it’s higher stakes and higher volume than I might have wished for.

Overall I’m very happy with the decision, and that I turned down other offers that might have been longer. The significant raise that came with it is only an added bonus and has me now not existing at the bottom of the food chain anymore (quite literally).

{ 182 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    OP #1, I’ve been worrying about you. It sounds like you’ve taken some really good steps to improve your situation, which isn’t easy when you’re struggling–good work, and good luck in finding the right new position.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Yes! I hope that the switch in medications and therapist will lead to a much better situation for OP#1 both personally and in her career.

    2. Myrin*

      Yes! This is one of of the very few letters that really stayed with me and that I randomly think about sometimes (I usually remember letters if others mention them but I generally forget about them as soon as a day or two has passed).
      I’m so sorry things turned out that way, OP, and I join fposte in wishing you all the best for the future.

    3. Jaguar*

      Yup. OP1, your anxiety sounds really difficult and I hope you can find a solution to managing it.

    4. So Very Sympathetic*

      OP #1, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I personally know how incredibly hard it is to have anxiety. For me, I can be very much aware that my anxiety over a social moment is irrational, but the feelings persist. Fortunately I’m able to control my behavior, so I’m just stuck with a really painful loop of irrational thoughts until it fades on its own. It’s so awful to experience, and it’s so hard on one’s self-esteem to be like this.

      I hope you’re not being too hard on yourself. It is great, and it is essential, that you do everything you can to get your symptoms under your control. But it’s not your fault that you have a mental health problem, and you can’t guarantee that even with a lot of hard work and medication trials that you’ll be symptom free. I guess there’s just something about your language around managing your illness that sounds like self-blame. So I hope you can be relentless about taking steps towards better mental health, whether that’s therapy or medication or lifestyle changes or all this and more, but I hope you can also recognize that you didn’t choose to be dealt these mental health cards.

      FWIW, I was anxious my whole life (had a ton of coping skills I used as a kid to deal with the emotional pain) and it wasn’t until I was nearly 50 that I was diagnosed with ADHD and winter depression. I was amazed to find that Adderall and Wellbutrin addressed the symptoms of those two problems but also the severe anxiety I experienced with both. I am now anxiety free, and I never thought it would be possible. So I hold out hope for you that you will find a combination of diagnosis and treatment that serve you just as well.

      1. blackcat*

        I suffered from moderate anxiety for years (trying therapy and all sorts of stuff, blaming myself like the OP) and discovered that it was due to a severe vitamin D deficiency along with with my birth control pills. Some vitamin D pills & a copper IUD later, and I had made more progress in 6 months than in the previous 6 years.

        Please don’t blame yourself OP. As long as you are doing what you can to treat your anxiety, you are doing the right thing. Your behavior is still your responsibility, but anxiety is very, very often a medical condition that you don’t have full control over. I never blamed myself for my asthma, but I did blame myself for my anxiety.

        1. Daffodil*

          It’s amazing how much anxiety can be a biological issue. Therapy and coping methods help lots, but IME it’s like taking a winter driving course to deal with the fact that your car has bald tires and zero traction. For me, one particular supplement changed a bunch of stuff for me overnight, including going from flinching every time I tried to catch a baseball to just catching it. I didn’t even realize that was an anxiety-related thing. It’s one of the strangest experiences of my life.

          All that to say, OP, from over here I see someone whose brain is malfunctioning and who is doing a valiant job of figuring out how to cope with it and fix it. I’m proud of you.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I read where anxiety can be connected to lack of mothering, for any number of reasons Mom was not available. The rebuttal in instances like this would be to be a good parent to one’s self. Take care of you, OP.
            I know from my own health issues tension and worry depleted vitamins and minerals in my body which further fed the worry because I felt like overcooked spaghetti on the inside and that caused more depletion. I firmly believe that our physical health follows our thinking.

            My wise friend said to reduce risky behavior. Well, to that I say, “Define risky behavior.” For me, I lived in terror of passing cars while driving, even though I was in a passing zone and it was safe to pass. So I quit passing cars period and just left earlier for work. If I got behind a slow car then so be it.
            I do understand this is a really simple/stupid example. What I want to point out is that we need to think about all the different ways we add to our own terror. I quit with Steven King books, I watched less news, I went to bed earlier and made myself lay there. If I was worried about my taxes then I started earlier collecting up information and pouring over the numbers. What I learned was that I could qualify as a professional worrier.
            Again, back to the same answer: take care of the basics that worry you. Get your basic self-care in place and see where that puts you.

            1. Lilo*

              I want to pipe.up the blaming mental disorders on maternal coldness was the fad mid 20th century but is discredited. It was a very common “cause” of autism and ultimately was extremely cruel to many loving parents who did nothing whatsoever to create their children’s anxiety or issues.

              The brain is extremely complex. We have some idea about the chemical processes that can create issues, but ultimately it is extremely complex and cannot be attributed solely to one thing or another.

              1. Observer*

                Thanks for mentioning it. It was a terrible thing – not just cruel to the parents, but seriously damaging to the children who had whatever condition.

              2. Temperance*

                This is actually not totally correct. There are studies showing a link between adults with OCD and neglectful mothers.

                1. Observer*

                  Correlation is not causation, though, even when the studies are well done. And in this type of issue that’s EXTREMELY important to remember.

                2. Lilo*

                  There is strong evidence of genetic links in mental health issues. Often parental behavior may have more to do with the parent expressing the same or a similar issue themselves.

                3. cee gee*

                  there are also studies which show that strict, overinvolved parenting has been reported in people with obsessive / compulsive disorders, including eating disorders.

                4. Candi*

                  This seems to me to be one of those nature (genetics) vs nurture (parental behavior) arguments.

                  Humans are complicated. Things that one human mind has level 10 armor against will completely flatten the person next to them.

                  Add to that, studies usually look at a strict range of factors. But our personal worlds are not so strict. They vary in width, breath, and depth, and have varying levels of complexity.

                  There’s exactly one* blanket statement I have never been able to poke holes in with logic or research. Everything else has enough qualifiers and exceptions to make a blanket into Swiss cheese.

                  * (For anyone interested: “Prejudice, bigotry, and all their children harm the entire human race.”)

          2. So Very Sympathetic*

            Daffodil I totally hear you on the traction and that’s a term I use too. Feels like all my life people offered helpful advice for coping with anxiety, and I’d do it, and it didn’t work. And then I started medication and I suddenly have traction—I try it, and it works. I tell myself something isn’t worth being anxious about and I stop freaking out. It’s a similar sense of finally gaining traction with my ADHD symptoms. Now when I try to do an assignment…the assignment gets done. Ah, sweet relief!

          3. Wintermute*

            I believe I know the supplement in question, if it happens to be a non-competitive partial GABA agonist available legally online which Amazon stopped selling not too long ago.

            It’s changed my entire life. I’ve always avoided traditional treatments for my anxiety because the side effects can be stark, and the fact that just as many people regret ever starting benzodiazapine treatment (such as Valium or Ativan) as regret waiting so long. When 70s rock stars like Stevie Nicks are saying they wish their doctor had never prescribed it for them because it’s the most addictive drug they’ve tried, and she had her nose wide open for most of the 70s… you know it’s nothing to fool with, in my opinion.

            But it was clear that cognitive therapy and self management weren’t working, especially due to layoffs at work and other factors that lead to fairly regular panic attacks. And thanks to said supplement, I still feel anxiety (in my experience, unlike something like versed or klonopin, you can still feel anxiety, it’s just not as severe) but it’s not interfering with my life.

            1. cee gee*

              not everyone is easily addicted to benzodiazepines…though the people who struggle the most trying to quit them, VERY much have my sympathy. the side effects of long term use and physical withdrawals even after a fairly short course of frequent use are particularly nasty and dangerous. it sounds like stevie nicks was genetically predisposed to pretty much never be put on this class of drug but (being the 70’s) of course they could never have known back then. now there are genetic tests such as the cyp450 designed to figure out how best not to accidentally hurt people by prescribing them the wrong drug :(

              personally, i can take em or leave em. there have been a time or two in my life though, where after taking them for a couple weeks and then not needing them anymore, i’ve STILL had to wean myself off slowly over a week or two because the physical withdrawals were so painful (migraines, incredible neck pain, jaw tension). so i can’t imagine what it’d be like to throw ratcheted-up rebound anxiety and psychological on top of it. that actually sounds pretty terrifying.

              1. Northstar*

                Any reason why you cannot just name the supplement? Some of us struggling with symptoms like this want to know! Thanks!

            2. cee gee*

              but wow, you were given versed to actually take home? that’s…wow. i’ll just say i’m sorry it ever got that bad. (it’s normally used to induce amnesia of traumatic medical procedures where general anesthesia is not necessary or recommended.)

            3. Northstar*

              Any reason why you cannot just name the supplement? Some of us struggling with symptoms like this want to know! Thanks!

      2. NorthernSoutherner*

        This struck a chord with me, too, as I’m prone to see slights where there aren’t any. I know that now, after a lot of hard work with therapy supplemented by medication. I also have to remind myself it goes both ways. For example, I’m pretty bad at answering personal emails. I do, but I’m slow. Last week, my stepmother said, “I thought you were mad at me,” because she hadn’t heard from me. OMG, did that hit like a ton of bricks.

    5. Thlayli*

      I was also worried. I’m really glad you recognised the really important issue (that your illness was not well controlled) and are taking steps to rectify that. In the grander scheme that is so much more important than one specific job.

      I wish you the absolute best of luck and remember there is a whole community here rooting for you. I hope you find a new position soon and that your new treatment regime works well. Internet hugs.

  2. Fake old Converse shoes*

    OP No. 2: I’m so sorry for you. I hope it sorts itself out in the best way possible for you. Please stay strong and job search to get out of there ASAP.

  3. MuseumChick*

    OP #1: I’m so glad to hear that you are taking steps to better manage your anxiety. I think you understand why your actions were very much not OK. I hope that things go well for you in the future.

  4. Health Insurance Nerd*

    OP#1, I am so sorry that things turned out the way they did, but it sounds like you recognize that your actions are what led to the unfortunate outcome and, more importantly, you’re now doing what you need to do to get healthy and avoid a situation like this reoccurring. Best of luck!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      +1 to all of this.

      Also, I’d suggest that you practice with a trusted friend how you’re going to answer the “why did you leave” question before you have any interviews.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Also, I’d suggest preparing an answer if your prospective new employer wants to contact your previous employer.

      2. TooCloseHome*

        You can also have a friend or family member call your old employer to see how they will verify your employment.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’m hope the OP found a great counselor that will be able to manage the symptoms better and will get the OP ready for an awesome job. It’s better to make mistakes at an okay job rather than at the best job. It’s sad that everything happened they way that it did, but if the OP ends up with better support and in a better situation, it may be worth it in the end.

  5. Bend & Snap*

    OP #1, I just want to give you a hug. I know what it’s like to need constant reassurance just to keep the anxiety in line. I’m sorry your situation turned out the way it did, but am glad you’ve found some new help. Best of luck to you.

  6. Terey*

    LW #4, I only wanted to say – I don’t know if ” commentariat” was a word before, but I love it!

      1. Small but Fierce*

        Not relevant – just wanted to compliment your awesome icon and avatar. #dangerzone

  7. Kyrielle*

    OP #1, I just want to say I’m very impressed. You are owning your issues and working on them, and I hope that in the long term this sees you in a better place with regards to a new job and your life in general.

  8. Anon for this*

    I like it that OP#1 is consciously looking for a less busy and stressful job. I have very low-key anxiety (never gotten professional help for it, but I’ve had anxiety attacks before and know that I need to be careful). Whenever I’m in a stressful situation, my anxiety goes from “hardly noticeable” to “being a hindrance in my life”. I’m talking things like lying in bed at night without sleep for hours worrying about what if I accidentally drop a heavy dumbbell on my dog when I work out sometime? Not being able to fall asleep for hours losing my mind about things like that. When I lower my stress levels, these incidents go away. Really hope it works for OP1, combined with the changes in therapist and medication. It’s a rough thing to live with! Hugs and best wishes!

    1. Mayati*

      Completely agreed. Anxiety feeds stress feeds anxiety, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in needing a less stressful workplace. Our culture lionizes certain high-stress jobs, but people who thrive in those kinds of jobs aren’t any stronger, smarter, better, or more valuable than the vast majority of people who don’t.

      Good luck with the new treatment, OP #1!

      1. Temperance*

        I have anxiety, and I love having a high-stress job. It works really well for me. When I’m nchallenged or bored, my brain goes into overdrive.

        1. CMDRBNA*

          Same! I had a mental breakdown a few years ago because I was working in an office where I had literally nothing to do for days on end (hello, federal government). My brain cannot handle that. For some reason being overworked or stressed feeds into the reward system of my brain, and I thrive on working in a busy environment. It’s as though “work-stress” is compartmentalized totally differently than “other-stress” in my brain’s weird wiring.

          My brain was happiest in college and grad school, because it’s such an effort-in, obvious-reward-out system. I really struggled when I got out of academia and into the professional world because it never felt like I was accomplishing anything!

          1. Manders*

            Same here! I think a lot of well-meaning people who haven’t experienced anxiety themselves think that people with anxiety can’t handle stress at work. The trick is finding the right environment–it’s good to be busy, but not good to be in a position where you have to worry about your boss’s mood or the possibility of a mistake you made 5 months ago causing massive issues. And having an obvious connection between the effort you put in and the reward–whether that’s money, praise, or just seeing the results of your work–you get out is so, so important.

            1. CMDRBNA*

              Yup. I jokingly tell people that I’m like a collie – if I’m not busy, I get destructive. What I really mean is “I need to be in a role where there is 8 hours OR MORE of work a day, otherwise I will sink into a depression and may end up hospitalized again”.

              I frankly think it is bizarre that in almost every job I’ve had, the biggest issue is not having enough work to do. I would kill to have one of the jobs that I read about on here where people are struggling to get all their work done. I work in events and I’ve kicked around the idea of going to work for a hotel, even though I don’t want to, just so I can be “overworked.”

              My anxiety spikes when I’m not busy at work. I don’t know why. I think it has something to do with channeling all that anxious energy into doing something productive.

              1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                I so get this. I have to be overloaded to function mostly normal. All that anxious energy gives me the ability to keep on top of a million tiny details.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Just my opinion, but I think that one of the most obnoxious things we can say to a fellow human being is “There is nothing for you to do here”. This makes us question our purpose on planet earth. With this in mind, telling or showing a person that there is nothing for them to contribute is WORSE than saying “FU”. It’s an attack at our very core. Everyone wants to be needed, everyone wants to contribute.
            Some of the saddest stories I have heard involve stories of people who have been told repeatedly they are not needed and they cannot contribute.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              This is way off base. “There is nothing for you to do” is a statement of fact, not an attack. It is not an assessment of someone’s value as a human.
              No one owes you a job assignment on their project.

            2. LBK*

              I’m super confused by this comment…CMDRBNA was saying that she herself had no work to do, not that anyone was telling her that or vice versa. Where are you getting this from?

          3. Engineer Girl*

            It sounds like you were relying on someone’s external goal setting Vs your own internal goal setting.
            I’ve found I’m much happier if I set my own goals. They line up better with my desired career path. Of course, that needs to be discussed with ones manager to make sure they line up.

        2. LBK*

          I’m right there with you. My brain is going to come up with a million things that I need to be thinking about/worrying about at any moment anyway, it’s better when I can fill up that list with things that I really do need to be thinking about/worrying about.

        3. zora*

          I’ve found that there is a difference between being stressful as in “busy” and being stressful as in “high stakes” and that’s what has made the difference for me. I was having daily panic attacks when I was in a very high stakes position and one mistake could tank my entire job for the year. But now I am in a job where I am sometimes very busy, but I’m handling mostly admin tasks, so I have much less anxiety because I know I can handle it, and also that if I mess something up, it will not ruin anyone’s year, just require some scrambling.

          Or maybe it’s just that I’m doing things I’m naturally good at, versus a stressful job with where most of my work was writing and I’m not confident in my writing ability at that level? Either way I think it’s more nuanced than “stressful” vs. “boring”

        4. Corvid*


          I’m an anxious person, particularly in social contexts, but if you overload me with stress I’m suddenly thriving in my environment. I go from being extremely awkward to having a warm and gregarious personality. Suddenly I’m the kind of person who likes to stop for a chat and banters with others instead of fretting over how I’m perceived! It’s funny, really. My brain needs to be busy with PROBLEMS so it doesn’t create any of its own. I wouldn’t say it’s a healthy mode of operation, but it makes we well suited for stressful jobs.

        5. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Oh, hi, soul sister.

          On the flip side, I find that when the brain weasels get out of control, focusing on something tedious like entering data on a spreadsheet will help calm them down.

        6. annejumps*

          Recently, we had to work from home because our office was found to have mold. We ended up working from home for over three months. I’m introverted and have mild anxiety but I couldn’t wait to get back into the structure of an office environment and actually going in to work every day. Staying at home all the time, often with little to do, was driving me bonkers and actually affecting my acid reflux.

        7. Traveling Teacher*

          This is exactly what my therapist questioned me about a few months ago when I was talking about work. I kept saying, “I’m so busy! I hardly have time to think about anything besides work when I’m working!” but with this gigantic smile on my face. We talked through it, and since then, I’ve joined a bunch of volunteering groups to also keep my busy outside of work and have hardly ever been happier! It seems completely counterintuitive, but it works really well for my anxiety.

    2. Temperance*

      Very gently, I might suggest that this is worth mentioning to your doctor. I was very, very resistant for a long time to any sort of psychiatric medication or care, and honestly I regret waiting so long. My life is so much better now that I’m not waking up 10 times each night remembering random unimportant shit I forgot to do at work.

      1. Anon for this*

        Ah yes, I know, I need to. Thank you!

        This was a very old example though. The dog died two years ago (of a heart disease! not a dumbbell.) But each time I’m in a stressful situation, I find myself going off the rails with worry; or starting to have anxiety attacks. I’ve learned to cope over the years, but you’re right, it is worth mentioning. Thank you, and glad to hear you’re doing better!

        PS. yes this is the #1 reason why I try to wrap up whatever I’m in the middle of doing at work before I leave for the day/weekend. I won’t have a good night’s sleep or a good weekend otherwise! Can totally relate.

        1. Lissa*

          Oh, wow, I have a really similar thing about dumbbells, where I “envision” somehow the dumbbell I am using hitting someone else at the gym, or doing some other weird and highly unlikely thing. I had never directly related it to my anxiety, but it totally makes sense….

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I hope you came up with a plan to prevent that dumbbell accident. This is how I handled my 1 AM worries. I made a plan to prevent Thing from happening.

          I will say, though. I got married and it seemed like FOREVER before we could get ourselves settled to get a dog. Some people want kids so bad, with me it was a dog. We finally got the dog only to lose her. (Accident.) The next dog we got I worried about him like crazy, I was awake nights. Some of it was grief/shock over losing the previous dog and some of it was other things totally unrelated to either dog. A tired mind is a funny/odd thing it will lock in one random thing when there are dozens of other more pressing problems. (Hence, heart disease IS connected to dumbbells in a tired mind. This is typical of tired mind logic.) I ended up telling myself at 1AM to “Stop worrying about Current Dog, this is a tired mind symptom not a pressing matter.” In my waking hours, I stepped up my care of my dog. I had him for just over 14 years. Now I have another dog and my worry levels have adjusted to normal stuff.

  9. Observer*

    #1 I am SO glad that you are with a new therapist. I hope this one is a better match for you.

    One thing to think about. Perhaps the framing of “my anxiety cause something to happen” is not so useful. It implies that anxiety is something outside of you that does things by itself, and that you have no agency. Perhaps a framing of “anxiety lead me to do feel a,b or c and in response I did x, y and z” might be more useful.

  10. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

    OP 1: I am so sorry to hear you’ve been struggling like this. This may be cold comfort, but perhaps it’s not such a terrible thing that you can focus full time on getting this under control. I’m saying this from a place of extreme optimism and of course I don’t know anything else about your circumstances, but I really hope you’re able to use this time to devote entirely on getting better.

    AMA will still be here if you need to do something like an intensive therapy for a few weeks. If you can afford it and/or can get some kind of financial help/ medical intervention in the short term, try not to add extra stress with job searching for a bit. The point: don’t be afraid, guilty, or embarrassed to take the time and do the things that will get you better.

    Wishing you the best of luck!

  11. Chriama*

    Ouch, I’m feeling sorry for #1 but really horrified on behalf of the coworker. Someone showing up at my house, yelling and crying, would traumatize me for sure. I’m not sure if you mentioned the coworker saying your anxiety “didn’t matter” as an offhand comment or if you feel it warranted more sympathy, but in case it was the latter I want to point out that from the coworker’s perspective you were willing to violate her privacy and a bunch of social norms. The fact that it was due to anxiety wouldn’t make me feel any safer. If your anxiety can drive you to such irrational behaviour I don’t want to be around you. I don’t know if next time you’ll attack me due to that same anxiety.

    Anyway, this isn’t to imply that you are a danger to others or to yourself. But I just want to emphasize that impact matters a lot more than intent in many cases. As you work through things with your therapist I hope you find ways to regulate your reactions so that even if you’re feeling at your wit’s end it doesn’t get expressed so uncontrollably.

    1. fposte*

      This got said pretty thoroughly in response to the original post, though, so I don’t know that we need to take the OP down that road again.

      1. Kate 2*

        A lot of people, about half as I remember, were saying the Coworker overreacted though. And a few people even said they wouldn’t care at all if a coworker randomly showed up at their house asking to know why they hadn’t said hello that morning, having never given out their address.

        There are some new details too, about the screaming and crying, which were not mentioned in the original letter, and led a lot of commenters I think to imagine a calm or calmer scene.

        I agree it isn’t productive to go over it too much, but I do think, as a person with anxiety and depression, that it is important to protect the community of people with mental illnesses by proactively stamping out signs of the “illness excuse” whenever we see them.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Yeah, there was a good percentage of people who said the coworker was overreacting or who said OP should definitely apologize to the coworker via HR, so it’s interesting to see this laid out in the OP’s update. I think, if anything, OP’s update also shows why apologies aren’t always a solution to a problem, and as I mentioned in a comment to the original letter, why they sometimes make things way worse, especially in the case of OP trying repeatedly to apologize and coworker wanting nothing to do with it (and really, I don’t blame the coworker in this situation).

          1. esra*

            There were people who said the coworker who got her arm broken was overreacting. It’s definitely interesting when more details come with the update, because sometimes people come up with pretty weird explanations themselves.

          2. JD*

            If someone so much as asked me while in the break room why I hadn’t said hello that would be enough for me to run far far away from that person. I really cannot agree that coworker over reacted. I would have a restraining order against her if it were me. I had not read the original letter until just now and my jaw is just on the floor.

        2. blackcat*

          This is one of those examples where I really like the “get off my foot” analogy (google that phrase in quotes and you will find it). I can have compassion both for the person with the foot-stepping disease and for the person whose foot is stepped on.

          1. blackcat*

            “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.
            If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.
            If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.
            If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.
            If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.
            If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.”

            I gather than OP is working something out so that they no longer “step on feet.” I do think that they can take some time away from work and focus on their health.

        3. Stardust*

          There were like two or three people who said the coworker might have overreacted, not half of all commenters! (I actually remember only one, and that person later said that they’d worded that comment really badly and apologized)

          I also don’t think anyone said “they wouldn’t care at all”, just that they wouldn’t be afraid, only weirded out. Which I can understand precisely because of what you talk about in your second paragraph–I personally didn’t imagine yelling and crying either when i read the other letter, i just imagined LW turning up there and speaking strange things.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I felt that way, still do. Creeped out, sure, started a whole thing, no. It sounds like the coworker escalated the situation. She could have responded differently. Of course, she didn’t have ANY obligation to respond in a certain way, but probably some people are familiar enough with anxiety or mental illness and would have been able to de-escalate. I’m not saying that I blame coworker for the incident, at all, I’m just pointing out that in the entire universe of possible scenarios, there are some where you don’t react like she did.

            1. Elle*

              When you say the coworker “escalated” the situation yes indeed you are blaming her. If you would honestly have no problem with a coworker opening your pay stub to get your address, showing up to your home where your family/maybe children reside while you are on vacation, yelling and crying on your front porch to the point where you feel scared enough to threaten to call the police and you still want to interact with her on a daily basis congratulations, you are a much better person than everyone else who would be alarmed/afraid in that situation.

              Is asking for no contact at work really unreasonable anyway? Doesn’t seem like coworker was even asking for her to get fired, just to stay away.

              1. DArcy*

                Really, OP escalated the situation by *going to the coworker’s home* and then escalated it even further by creating a big scene where she was *yelling and crying* to the point where the coworker felt threatened almost to the point of calling 911. She then pretty much *kept* the situation escalated by refusing to leave the coworker alone and constantly trying to contact her through HR and manager, despite it having been made clear to her that this was not only unnecessary but unacceptable.

                The entire sequence of events was an absolutely enormous boundary violation, and the OP’s made it clear that they have now come to the understanding that that what they did was totally not okay and that they need to get their anxiety under control so that it doesn’t happen again. That is a huge, important, step forward for them, and it’s very inappropriate to try to encourage them to regress towards thinking that was okay “because anxiety!”.

              2. Lissa*

                Eh, I don’t think “better person” comes into it – everyone has things that freak them out more than others, and some people would be able to cope with this type of thing but completely lose it at something else. I have friend who can’t handle the slightest hint of a raised voice but are fine with sobbing, and people who are the opposite, etc. I think we can agree getting upset at what is described here would be most people, with some outliers not caring at all…not sure we can say most people would insist on no contact afterwards, but for sure many would. I actually like hearing how people would respond in both directions, because often you only get people answering about situations they’d have a really strong reaction to. So it can be kind of useful to hear from people who feel differently.

              3. Mina*

                If someone opened my paystub, used it to find out where I lived, and then cried and yelled at me over not saying goodbye to them? That sort of thing would leave me badly shaken and crying myself. Asking for no contact at work would be the *bare minimum* I’d expect from HR.

                Having said that, I’m really glad OP has learned from this and is taking active steps to better manage her anxiety

            2. Lilo*

              My father is a doctor in a mental health heavy field, and even he has had to call security or police on patients sometimes. De-escalating is not always as easy as you would think. There is nothing to suggest the coworker did anything wrong whatsoever.

            3. Observer*

              Seriously?! Look, I don’t think that the OP is a terrible person, but what she did was legitimately way over the top. Blaming the co-worker for not “De-escalating” a situation where someone shows up unexpectedly to her house to demand an EXPLANATION FOR HATING ME is just ridiculous. Even a trained mental health professional might not have managed it, much less a layperson who was essentially ambushed. Going to HR about is NOT “escalation” – it’s self protection. And, based on what the OP writes here, it was necessary. Had she NOT gone to HR, the OP would not have been able to back off and would have basically been all over the co-worker.

              The coworker is a victim here. Please don’t engage in victim blaming.

            4. Kate 2*

              I have, as I have said anxiety and depression and neither that nor a job in the mental health field means you can descalate everybody. I had a mentally ill neighbor come to my door yelling and pounding on it, trying to get me to open it because she was in the midst of a delusion that I had something she wanted. If you haven’t been there I don’t know what to tell you.

        4. Chriama*

          Yeah I didn’t see the yelling and crying in the original letter but I might have skimmed it. That’s what turned it from a “ooh, that was awkward” to “that was downright terrifying” in my perception of events. Like, in the original one I felt like maybe the coworker could have been a little kinder but in the second one I was imaging myself running away screaming.

          Anyway, this sucks all around. I’m sorry the OP got fired and I hope she find a treatment plan that doesn’t just stop those behaviours but also decreases the *feelings* of anxiety she has. Because I’m sure it’s not fun to feel anxious all the time for irrational reasons.

          1. zsuzsanna*

            Yes – and that she continued to badger HR and her manager about getting an apology to co-worker, which sounds like it was the final straw.
            I think the important thing here is that the LW was NOT acting out of malice at all – and that needs to be noted. But it also doesn’t mean the behavior was acceptable, especially since it sort of continued (with the insistence on making the unwanted apology). Again, I feel truly awful for the LW – that must be a terrible thing to live with. But she can’t be working in that office if she behaves that way, no matter what the source.

          2. Mina*

            Yeah, I didn’t get that yelling and crying detail either. With that included I could see myself considering calling the cops.

            I hope OP’s new treatment is effective for her and she feels better soon.

      2. Lilo*

        I am slightly worried that OP1 got bad advice from this board. Some people suggested telling coworker about the anxiety or passing a message and other rightfully predicted that this would get OP1 fired. I do feel bad for that, but I do think OP1 was warned by her employer.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Yeah, I’m worried about that as well. There was a lot of “send an apology via HR” or “justify your actions with an explanation” in the original post, and I don’t always think that’s the right move. But I wonder if this type of advice is subjective depending on the people and situation.

          1. fposte*

            There was also a lot of advice (possibly more?) not to, though. I don’t think you can have the varied opinions of a comment section and still ensure that there is a single takeaway for every post; people writing in hopefully listen mostly to Alison and then think through what, if anything, they want to take from the comments.

            1. Myrin*

              Exactly. Also, the problem in OP’s case wasn’t that she explained what had happened to HR and allowed them to pass that explanation on if the coworker was interested in that (which, if I recall at all correctly, was what basically all commenters on the “yes apology” side suggested).

              She did that, HR said no and told her to leave it alone, so I’d guess that nothing further would’ve happened if she’d just not done anything after that.

              She was terminated because, after being told No, she repeatedly asked HR about it again and also looped her manager in, even after she’d been told to stop (probably multiple times). Even if her idea to contact HR because of an apology was something she got from the comments, that was not what got her fired.

          2. Lissa*

            *Very very subjective*, in my experience. Some people get really offended at not receiving an apology, and others get equally upset at receiving one. I don’t think either course of action is always the right move, and it can be very difficult to “guess” which will be appropriate, especially when dealing with your own emotional fallout from whatever the situation was. “Don’t make apologizing/not apologizing about you” is great advice often given here, but figuring out what that looks like is not so easy.

            I don’t think we should blame ourselves for giving advice on this that didn’t work out well, especially because there were just as many/more people telling the OP to absolutely not try to pass on a message at all, so in either case she was going to be listening to some commenters and not others!

          3. Andie Elizabeth*

            There’s a huge difference between “ask HR to pass along an explanation and/or apology” and “I kept asking HR and my old manager to give a message of apology to my coworker, even though I had been told to stop”.

            An apology passed along through HR may or may not be the correct move with any particular coworker (as was discussed at length in the comments, it would help for some people and really hurt for other people), but it’s not universally bad advice.

            HR made the judgement call that passing along an apology would make the situation worse – where OP1 went wrong was not dropping it when told to drop it.

            That being said, I am so glad OP1 is getting treatment for their anxiety, and hope that things are looking up for them.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              In the original letter, OP wrote, She said she would call the police if I didn’t keep away from her.. To me that indicates even an apology from HR is considered contact and that’s why I was a bit wary of people saying she should contact the coworker through HR because it went against the coworker’s wishes. So in this case, I do think it was bad advice.

              1. Andie Elizabeth*

                “She said she would call the police if I didn’t keep away from her” indicates to *you* that an apology from HR would be considered unwanted contact, but it does not indicate the same to *me*, so I maintain that it isn’t universally bad advice.

                HR made a judgement call that passing along that apology would hurt more than help, and I think that was the correct call for them (they know OP1’s coworker and therefore have more context than we do as internet randos). But the advice to OP1 was to ask HR to pass along an apology/explanation. OP1 asked, was told no, and then continued to ask. If anyone here was advocating for that, I would agree with you that that was absolutely, universally bad advice. But there’s a difference between that and the actual advice commenters offered.

                1. Dot Warner*

                  I’m sorry, but I really don’t see how being told “stay away from me or I’ll call the police” means that it would be OK to have contact through 3rd parties. There’s really no ambiguity in that statement.

        2. Amy*

          I don’t know that I would consider this bad advice. I think the thing that got OP1 fired was where they KEPT trying to pass on those messages even after they were told to stop. Offering an explanation/apology once and then dropping it after being told to stop may have been a different story, and I think that would have been more in line with the advice given here.

          Not that I’m not sympathetic to OP1’s desire to apologize and explain, because I am. Most decent people want to apologize when we hurt others, and most people period want others to understand our motivations and intentions; those are really relatable feelings. I also have personal experience with how anxiety can intensify things and give you pretty focused tunnel vision on what to do next, so I can see how once OP1 tried to apologize, they’d have trouble stopping when they knew the apology hadn’t been received. It’s just that our intentions don’t excuse our behavior, and OP1’s behavior was inappropriate both in the initial incident and in their follow-up.

          OP1, I hope your new therapist helps you learn to process your anxiety without necessarily letting it control your actions. Learning to sit with the discomfort of extreme anxiety without letting it control my reactions was really huge for me, and I hope you get to that point as well. (I also hope you find ways to reduce how anxious you’re feeling, but ‘functioning through it’ is also a really useful goal.)

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          Well, trying to apologize didn’t get them fired. Trying to apologize repeatedly after having been told many times to drop it did.

        4. Observer*

          There was a LOT of pushback on the “apologize through HR”, though. And HR clearly did tell her to leave it, which even the people who said to go to HR agreed meant that she needs to leave it. So, I don’t think that the advice here played any role in what happened. The OP’s clearly not-well-managed anxiety seems to have been the key issue. And, fortunately, she is working on that.

          1. Lilo*

            I am concerned that it put an idea in the head of the OP or suggested it would be okay, and given OP’s history of repetitive or obsessive behavior, that was a bad idea. Ultimately I do not think the forum was at fault, but I do think it is something we need to consider and think about.

            1. sunny-dee*

              This is well put. This whole situation started because the OP became obsessed about the coworker’s feelings toward her and went into a spiral that led to calls to the police. Telling her to apologize and let her know the reasons why … kind of encouraged the OP to focus on the coworker’s feelings / perceptions of her, which was not a good headspace. (And let me just second, if I were the coworker, I would not feel comforted by the OP trying to get me messages through intermediaries. I would be angry at the messengers and still creeped out.)

            2. Stellaaaaa*

              I agree with you. If one person validated OP’s impulse to contact her coworker, it wouldn’t matter if 1,000 people objected to that suggestion. It’s injecting ambiguity into a situation that wasn’t ambiguous. Coworker didn’t want to hear from OP, end of story.

        5. Falling Diphthong*

          The advice “you need a different therapist and treatment, because what you’re doing now isn’t controlling your anxiety well enough for you to function” was dead-on, though.

          1. Observer*

            Oh, yes!

            That’s the first thing that jumped out at me. Fortunately, the OP seems to have acted on that.

        6. Temperance*

          I think that most of the commenters, as well as Alison, advised her to drop it and not try to go that route. She was told not to go that route by her managers and HR, and she wasn’t able to stop herself. That’s the bigger issue, I think, than potentially taking crap advice.

      3. cee gee*

        it really wasn’t addressed in the response, though — let alone “thoroughly”. what was addressed was how she should tell her work that she has an anxiety disorder and is working on it, and to tell her therapist going forward that her anxiety treatment isn’t working for her and is affecting HER life and job.

        i’m only about 40% through all the comments between the two threads so far though, so perhaps i’m missing something. but so far there is definitely a piece missing. namely, that instead of just telling her therapist that it affected HER life and job, she should also admit that it caused terror to another person and affected THEIR work environment as well. people aren’t really addressing this at all.

        in fact, people are urging her to continue on in her pursuit of apologizing. this is terrible advice.

        i know the point of therapy is to deal with your own issues, but if you are not forthcoming about the damage you are doing to other people, you and your therapist are just going to go in circles. speaking from experience, so i’m not saying i’m innocent.

        one of the biggest reality checks i’ve ever had in therapy is realizing that my anxiety does not dictate the world around me; further, as bad and consuming as my anxiety feels to me, a lot of people have anxiety, and there is a pretty high chance that the things i seek from others to alleviate my anxiety is actually highly triggering to other people. it doesn’t sound whatsoever that OP is aware of this.

        put it this way.
        presume her coworker has an anxiety disorder or PTSD of her own. maybe she was stalked. maybe she was assaulted. maybe she has her own set of triggers for anxiety and boundary-crossing. imagine that all of this is very upsetting to coworker. yet people are coddling OP with very little thought as to what has happened in coworker’s life.

        i find that incredibly sad.

        1. Observer*

          She didn’t need to tell the therapist about the problems she was causing the co-worker. That’s not the therapist’s problem. What IS the therapist’s problem is that the patient (the OP) was behaving in totally inappropriate ways because of the anxiety. Of course, the therapist may need specifics, but the fundamental issue for the therapist is the her patient is NOT functioning at work.

          Very few people urged her to pursue an apology. In fact MOST of the commenters pushed back on it quite strongly. The “she should try apologizing” people were very vocal about it, but it really was only a very small contingent. And lots of people here are worrying that even that small contingent might have given her a push in the wrong direction.

          A fundamental assumption of a lot of the advice here is that “your disability doesn’t give you the right to mistreat people.”

          1. cee gee*

            well like I said at that time, I had only read about 40% down the comments on both threads. and in that 40% space, the VAST majority was super sympathetic to the poster, her situation, what she was dealing with, how it affected her, how sorry they were, without mentioning the coworker, and the few people who mentioned the coworker were essentially told they were being insensitive or shut down.

            I didn’t take stock of specific usernames, so I apologize I don’t have stats on a small minority projecting this versus a majority.

            it definitely felt in the later comments and threads that people were starting to show concern for the coworker / be a little tougher on the OP.

            I am aware that and agree with that it’s not a therapist’s job to be concerned for the coworker #1 and make that a focal point of therapy, as opposed to working with the OP as the #1 goal. however. as I said before, if the OP is downplaying their actions in the world, and the things they are inflicting on others, and the real world affects their actions cause, the therapist is offering limited advice at best based on hypotheticals..

            it is ABSOLUTELY relevant to tell your therapist that you, and your condition, and your lack of control over said condition due to treatment that isn’t working, well….isn’t working. you HAVE to be able to tell your therapist if your medications and therapies aren’t working, and what it has caused. if you’re glossing over your symptoms and behaviors, is it really the therapist’s fault for not intuiting that they have failed to help their patient? these relationships are supposed to be beneficial because they are based on truth.

            so I’m REALLY confused when you say that she didn’t need to tell her therapist what she caused to happen in the real world while blaming her “anxiety”, the condition she therapist was supposedly treating…while somehow simultaneously being the therapist’s concern that the OP behaved “in totally inappropriate ways because of the anxiety” without being informed of the events. that makes no sense. it further makes even less sense to then admit that the therapist needs specifics to make that judgment. what????

            …and then on top of that, wrap it up with OP’s “functioning at work” is not the point of therapy. sooooo…. no one was talking about OP’s functioning at work. this was always about OP’s functioning as a PERSON with other people. the backdrop may have been an office, but this went far outside the office setting. she barely mentioned her work performance or how her work was affected. this was all personal.

          2. cee gee*

            tl’dr/ to reiterate:

            “if you are not forthcoming about the damage you are doing to other people, you and your therapist are just going to go in circles”

    1. OP4*

      I have my own desk! I have only ONE more person in my office. No one in the department is married to, engaged to or in a relationship with anyone else in the department. No children are allowed on campus (industry campus, not university). I almost wept with joy. (I have a job that requires a lot of concentration, my previous office always had phones ringing.)

  12. Anonforpot*

    OP #1, outside of the employment consequences, I hope you are able to get a better treatment plan in place to reduce your risk of having the police involved when you are acting on your anxiety. When I read that the coworker nearly called 911 because you were yelling and crying I immediately thought of all the police encounters with disabled folks that have not ended well. Continuing to try to harass this person when you were under police investigation also could have really escalated your situation. Saying “I understand it was a problem” seems to be a bit of an understatement here, and I’m not seeing any statement of remorse for how upsetting this must have been for your coworker, but I hope that’s something you will work on in treatment.

      1. Anonforpot*

        In the original post they state:

        ” I am mortified at myself. I’m not allowed to talk to my coworker or I would apologize for my behavior. She said she would call the police if I didn’t keep away from her.”

        It seems that after that post, including presumably reading the comments, OP continued to ask HR to let them apologize, leading to their termination. As Kate 2 said in the comment thread above:

        “is important to protect the community of people with mental illnesses by proactively stamping out signs of the ‘illness excuse’ whenever we see them.”

        1. fposte*

          And I understand why Kate 2 feels that way, but I think she’s going down a bad road there. It is worse to require that somebody has to state how wrong and sorry they are every time they mention a mistake you already have been informed about and to tell them that they’re wrong if they don’t.

          If you know somebody who, say, wrecked a car and broke somebody’s mailbox, you don’t require them to say “I’m ashamed and it was a horrible thing” every time they update friends on the car repairs. This is just an update on the car repairs.

          1. Blue Anne*

            Yes. The only person I can think of who continues to expect grovelling apologies every time a past mistake is mentioned is my emotionally abusive ex-husband.

          2. Kate 2*

            I never said that you had to apologize over and over again. Never.

            What I wrote was that I think it is a good idea to stamp out the “illness excuse” wherever we see it. The “illness excuse” is the idea that a person with a mental illness can blame their behavior on their illness. Unfortunately it perpetuates a stereotype that mentally ill people can be expected to be badly behaved.

            Blue Anne please don’t compare me to your emotionally abusive ex-husband based on the words falsely put in my mouth.

            1. Kate 2*

              I am a person and I do have feelings, even if I am not right in front of you. If you have questions because you don’t understand what I wrote, ask them, if you disagree please do it civilly, without name-calling, implied or otherwise.

            2. fposte*

              But it seems to mean that, because you can’t wait until anybody offers the excuse–you’re intending to bring it up proactively before anybody does, just like in this comments section, right? And unless you’re discussing the issue entirely in the abstract, which we’re not here, I disagree, because I don’t think it’s more valuable than kindness to the people involved, and I think it’s an approach at high risk of being both hurtful and harmful.

              That doesn’t mean you can’t say somebody did something wrong and that health issues don’t excuse them–people said it many times and at great length already. But I think there’s a lot of risk in a policy of proactively “stamping out.” If you’re getting there before anybody’s made the excuse, you end up bringing excuses into it when people weren’t even thinking that; for another, it risks shutting down people who are suffering in ways that are legitimately contributory even if not exculpatory.

            3. cee gee*

              “What I wrote was that I think it is a good idea to stamp out the “illness excuse” wherever we see it. The “illness excuse” is the idea that a person with a mental illness can blame their behavior on their illness. Unfortunately it perpetuates a stereotype that mentally ill people can be expected to be badly behaved.”

              THIS. thank you.

              I understood what you meant the first time you posted it, but I feel that reiterating this is necessary given the people in this thread who read it completely, horribly wrong, and got the opposite impression. thank you again.

    1. KR*

      OP didn’t show up at our house and upset us. I don’t think she has to show us a statement of remorse???

  13. Granny K*

    OP #1: I also have chronic anxiety and also in therapy for a while. I’ve also been in the workforce for a while and some of the things I’ve learned (both in therapy and in work) that may help you are:
    1. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings. If you are generally polite/professional but someone at work get’s angry, it’s not your fault. You can ask them ‘hey what’s up’ and they’ll probably mention something totally un-work related (my cat is sick and the prognosis is bad.)
    2. Most people’s (negative) reactions are not about you. For example: I walked into a meeting for a new project and the content lead instantly disliked me, so much so that when I left, the tech lead turned to me and said “Oh…she don’t like you…!” The truth is: she didn’t know me, so whoever I reminded her of, wasn’t there and wasn’t relevant to getting the project done.
    3. You don’t have to be friends with your coworkers. You are there to do a job (and so are they), and outside of normal pleasantries (good morning, good evening, I’m sorry about your cat), your lives only intersect at work…. which leads to…
    4. Separate your work life from your personal life. This lesson took me a long time to learn, but when I really kept my personal life personal, that semi-hard boundary helped me to feel less anxious. I don’t have to worry about people judging me because they don’t get to know me. Yes, I keep in touch with certain people I’ve worked with, and one former coworker morphed into a dear friend…but from my experience, it’s rare. Your friends are your friends and your coworkers are sometimes ships passing in the night.
    5. It’s not your job to take care of other people’s feelings/curiosity. For example: if you have a dr.’s appointment for a full physical (which means you’ll be out longer than a regular dr’s appointment, you’ll have to take more time off for blood work earlier that week, etc.), you don’t have to explain yourself to work. Once you say ‘appointment’ or ‘dr.’, that’s all they need to know.
    Hope this helps. Good for you for continuing to take care of yourself.

  14. Girl in the Windy City*

    #4 – “The significant raise that came with it is only an added bonus and has me now not existing at the bottom of the food chain anymore (quite literally).”

    I’m dying to know what “quite literally” means here!

    1. Boötes*

      Bets on whether she’s a photosynthesizer or a saprophage?

      I suppose she may be subsisting on leftover doughnuts and snacks from meetings with higher-ups and scavenging the trash for food tossed from the fridge.

      On that note, I once walked into the office of someone in academia (at the previously agreed-upon time) and the experience felt rather like I had surprised her whilst she was crouched in the corner, gnawing on a prized piece of gristle.

    2. OP4*

      Well, for one I’m not the one who has to bring in all the snacks (my boss had a candy dish). For two, I think I mentioned the couple in question has a kid? That kid once bit me. And then grinned. (I wish I was making it up.)

      1. PB*

        I’m sorry that happened, but I admit, this post made me laugh. Bottom of the food chain, indeed.

  15. Beth*

    #2 – Whoa! I remember your original post and read through the comments and.. well, hindsight is 20/20, but it’s surprising to me that no one played devil’s advocate and suggested that perhaps the recruiter could be right. I think what struck me is that you mentioned she was “young” which could mean that she just doesn’t know about work norms. And the fact that it’s a small company, too — you can only do so much research, and I’m hesitant to work with start-ups for this reason. I’m not saying “You should have seen the warning signs!!” because even AAM didn’t! Wow. How crazy. Best of luck to you on your job search.

    1. Kathleen Adams*

      I also assumed the recruiter was some sort of bitter, disgruntled person with a giGANtic ax to grind. For the OP’s sake, I wish my assumptions had been right.

    2. LBK*

      I think it was the lack of self-awareness in the letter that made it really hard to believe originally – I’d have taken it more seriously if it started with something like a caveat about knowing how it would sound to get a letter like this from someone who just left the company but that she felt like she had a duty to tell the OP. As it read, it definitely sounded like someone who was just bitter.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        Of course what we heard was filtered through the OP – who may or may not have had a bias. Had I accepted a job, I would probably be biased in favor of my new employer, but that’s not to say the OP was.

    3. stej*

      You never really know, but there are other ways to find out. When I worked in a hellhole and was trying to get out, there were too few Glassdoor reviews for me to write one for that particular site without incriminating myself. But goodness! If someone had stealth-contacted me on LinkedIn and seemed like a rational, good person I would have warned them with everything I had and consider it their own loss if they didn’t listen.

    4. Chaordic One*

      It’s so easy to dismiss the complaints that come from former “disgruntled” workers. But every once in a while the former workers do have legitimate reasons for being disgruntled. I guess the lesson is that we shouldn’t just dismiss these kinds of complaints out-of-hand, but take them with a grain of salt.

  16. MissGirl*

    OP2: I’m curious if there were any other warning signs other than the recruiter that are apparent in retrospect.

    You were certainly between a rock and a hard space having already accepted the offer.

  17. August*

    In regards to letter #1, I’m just curious: how would people recommend addressing the incident/subsequent firing in future interviews? Should OP come right out and say that it was a result of severe anxiety, or should she just vaguely mention “an incident involving a coworker” before elaborating on how she’s worked past it since then?

    1. LizB*

      I think she could accurately say “I had some health issues flare up that impacted my work and led to me needing to leave that role. Those problems have now been resolved, and I’m ready to move back into the workforce.”

      1. Lilo*

        I do worry that upon references, that would be seen as deliberately misleading. That makes it sound like she had carpal tunnel or a back issue.

        1. Temperance*

          Part of the issue relating to mental health problems is the stigma. While yes, her behavior and symptoms were the cause, it’s actually not misleading to tag this as a health issue.

    2. AnonAcademic*

      “A health issue which affected job performance, that has now been fully resolved” would probably be the best answer. The question to me is more, what kind of reference is the previous job going to give? Best case scenario is they only agree to confirm OP worked there and not discuss reasons why they separated. Hopefully the OP has positive references from previous positions.

      1. OOF*

        I understand that our need to support ourselves is primary, but it doesn’t seem that the OP can honestly say that the issue has been fully resolved.

        1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

          I think that’s fair, but it’s also possible that by the time they begin interviewing again, the condition will be fully resolved, at least as far as anyone is able to predict about their own health. They could just stick with saying it has been resolved, since in the case of that specific situation, it has been.

          LW#1, I’m glad you’re trying new options to get your anxiety under control and I wish you the best of luck!

    3. Stellaaaaa*

      I would say that health issues came up. I wouldn’t give permission for interviewers to contact that employer for references. Hopefully OP’s other references are solid.

  18. RTA*

    Re OP#1, wondering how the ADA could have come
    into play here, if he or she had raised the point? Much like the bird phobia guy, it seems like even really disruptive behaviors may have to be accommodated.

    1. Chriama*

      What sort of accommodation would have been reasonable though? Apologizing to the coworker, after she’s made it clear she wants no further contact, is not something the OP would be entitled to. And they let OP keep her job by transferring from the coworker after the first incident so they were obviously trying to work with both sides. The only thing I can see here would have been allowing OP time off to pursue more intensive treatment but she didn’t even ask for it.

      And speaking of the bird phobia guy, I feel like this company handled this a lot better. At least they protected the injured party to the best of their ability (not the firing, which was a reaction to OP’s own escalation, but the stuff they did before that).

      1. paul*


        It really does suck for the OP, and I do feel for her, but if she was continuing to hound HR and management about it, I’m not sure what they could have done?

        I’m hopeful their treatment helps and they can get their working life back on track.

        1. DArcy*

          Well, one can imagine a bird-phobia-horrible level company deciding that accommodation means HR should be helping the OP bug the coworker to accept her apology.

      2. Lilo*

        I agree. The company here did the right thing. Not that I am not sympathetic to OP but accommodation ends at other people’s safety.

    2. Observer*

      Actually, no. The bird phobia thing really doesn’t mean much – the company mishandled things so badly, that I would not take anything they did as guidance.

      You do NOT have to allow people to harass others, or in any way implicate the safety on other staff. Transferring the OP is one thing – that may have been legally required, as it could be seen as a reasonable accommodation. But the co-worker had a legitimate reason to feel unsafe, and the company had legitimate reason to believe that the coworker was paranoid.

    3. Temperance*

      I see a significant difference between this letter and the bird phobia letter. To start, no one was actually physically injured. The wronged party was actually treated appropriately in this situation, too. In the bird letter, they basically treated the victim like crap and wrongfully took benefits from her and she wasn’t even compensated for her injuries or potential lifelong disfigurement and disability.

      1. Cat*

        Wait a minute, we were told the victim chose not to file in the bird letter; not that benefits were taken away from her. I think we can all agree that would be horrible.

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      I doubt ADA accommodations apply to interactions outside of the workplace or to situations where the police have already been involved. If the coworker had gotten an official no-contact order, there’s no accommodation that would allow OP to ignore the order.

  19. RVA Cat*

    OP2 – “My job is threatened during every daily meeting and is really pulling a punch to my self confidence during my stealth job search.”

    This line made my jaw hit the floor. Daily meetings to threaten and demean you? That sounds like sheer torture. Just remember THIS IS NOT YOU. You happen to be the punching bag of the moment, but the minute you move on, they’ll just pick on someone else.
    Also, don’t be so afraid of losing your job, because a small company that’s this batsh** disfunctional is almost guaranteed to fail.

  20. Elizabeth West*

    OP#2, I’m sorry to hear this. It’s hard to know sometimes why a person is complaining/warning you about a situation, whether it’s a problem with them or the situation itself. I hope you find something better soon.

    *HUG* for OP#1. Thought my job changed to one I couldn’t do, it was anxiety that got me fired. Mine tends to manifest as irritability and anger (leading to panic if it’s not checked), and it came across as a poor attitude. I wasn’t angry at the changes in my job; I was terrified by them. I sought out mindfulness meditation to help me with it and it’s somewhat better. I’m wishing you good health and I hope you find a good job soon. Don’t worry–people get fired all the time, even for really big mistakes, and they nearly always find something.

  21. Guitar Lady*

    It’s unfortunate that OP1 stayed in that job long enough to get fired. Even with better anxiety management, I can’t see a workplace where everyone is talking about her and thinks she is a crazy person (and had a police investigation!) could possibly be a healthy place. Being in that environment would only fuel her anxiety further. I would have advised job searching immediately and possibly taking FMLA to get her anxiety better under control in the meantime. Now she will have a firing and a bad reference on her record. I really hope she is able to find a good job and continue in her career without these events causing a spiral. Hopefully her former manager can vouch for her being a good worker at least.

    1. Courageous cat*

      This isn’t super helpful as it’s just a lot of hand-wringing over the past at this point. She can’t change what happened, so I think it’s better to focus on what can happen moving forward and how to best do that.

  22. Narise*

    My guess is even if they had passed in your apology you would not have been able to let it go. It’s probably a good idea that you don’t work there anymore.

    1. Chriama*

      That’s actually a good point. Had they passed on an apology, she might have wanted to hear how the coworker responded. Then she would have been fretting over the response and wanting to think of some way to make amends. It was never about the specific situation, just an unfortunate mental fixation that needed a target.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        And really, going to the coworker’s house is sort of the same thing, just in person. It clearly didn’t work out the way OP wanted it to. I would have worried that OP would continue to reenact the same scenario in the hopes of eventually getting a different outcome.

  23. Anxiety*

    OP1: Thank you for the update. My son has been diagnosed with OCD and one of his compulsions was saying goodbye to people. If he couldn’t say goodbye, he would get extremely distressed, sometimes for hours, beyond any rational level of upset. When I read your letter my heart went out for you because I could imagine my son responding in a similar way with his compulsions and anxiety. I understand why you reacted the way you did. My son has received therapy from an amazing clinical psychologist and no longer struggles with this issue. I truly hope you also get the support and appropriate treatment you deserve. Shop around for different therapists if you don’t click with the one you have. Mental illness is like any physical illness – we don’t berate amputees for using a wheelchair, so all the stigma around mental health issues needs to stop now. Kudos to you for acknowledging your own mental health issues and taking proactive steps to address it. Hugs to you and I hope for another update in the future.

  24. bohtie*

    While I’m still not sure OP #1 grasps the severity of what they did (there’s a lot of wiggly language and stuff there that I recognize as someone with severe anxiety and PTSD, and who has done some really not so smart things as a result), which in itself is probably a coping mechanism, I am SO PROUD OF THEM for realizing that their treatment was not working AND leaving it to try something new. That is honestly so freakin’ difficult – “breaking up with” your therapist or your treatment program is outrageously hard, even when you know it’s what needs to be done. I had to break up with a therapist for repeatedly misgendering my trans partner and I ended up having to do it via email because I felt so guilty and anxious even though I knew it was the right thing to do – she was okay to talk to about my family issues but did not have even the faintest grasp on how to be understanding and supportive of LGBTQ folks.

    High hopes for you, OP. I think you have it in you to get there.

  25. Roker Moose*

    Re:#1 If you can take some more time off, please do so. I have OCD myself and managing anxiety takes up a huge portion of my day. It sounds as though you are making progress, but honestly, if you can afford to take a few months out of work to focus on you, do it. It’ll help in the long run.

    All the best!

  26. cee gee*

    whooops! in first paragraph i meant to type “….and b) was the one caught completely unaware?
    you need to understand that other people don’t owe you **mutual understanding

  27. cee gee*

    i am completely dismayed by not only the advice given here by the blog but also the people commenting.

    assume OP is a male who did this to a female coworker. but the male OP “has anxiety”.

    that excuse would never fly. please, don’t be hypocritical about creepy and scary female behavior towards other women just because they are women.

    i completely understand the need for people with anxiety to commiserate. however, this is not a support group for dysfunctional behaviors being coddled (or so i thought) by people who “relate” to the line-crossing OP as opposed to the victim.

    1. Observer*

      You must be reading a different set of comments than everyone else. Most of the commenters have been very clear that the OP needs to make some significant changes AND that her behavior was totally and completely unacceptable. They understand that she’s not a monster and is pretty miserable, but outside of ONE person on this thread, no one has said or even implied that what the OP was ok or “understandable” in the sense of possibly getting a pass.

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