my boss mimes shooting herself, asking our boss to stop “helping” so much, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to ask my boss not to mime shooting herself

I have a mostly great manager who has a habit that I am having a hard time with. Anytime she is frustrated or annoyed, she makes a finger gun to the head gesture, indicating in a joking way that the annoyance makes her want to shoot herself. Client being difficult, finger gun, bad traffic on the way to work, finger gun. I have a hard time with this because my father died by a gun suicide and I think about it every time she does this. Nobody that I currently work with knows this and I don’t want them to. I stayed at the job I was at when it happened for several years and nobody ever treated me normally again. I don’t want a repeat of that but I want her to stop with the finger gun. Is there anything I can say without giving my history away or even making her suspect?

Are you willing to share that you’ve been personally affected without sharing the details? Saying something like, “Would you mind not making that gun sign? I’ve had gun violence in my family and it shakes me every time” or “You couldn’t have known but I lost a family member to gun suicide” would likely get her to stop immediately without getting into details. Or if you don’t want to share that much, you could say, “You couldn’t have known, but that hand signal really rattles me — could I ask you not to use it around me?”

I’m sorry about your dad.

2. How to tell our boss to stop “helping” with our work

I work in the public sector in a department responsible for a task-based, volume-heavy body of work. We’ve been on mandatory work-from-home since April, with a skeleton crew of staff rotating through the office to handle the workload that can’t be done remotely. This has been super stressful and we’re nowhere near our normal turn-around times.

My supervisor, “Prue,” will sometimes take materials home to work on items from there (which is kind of problematic on its own). She’s pretty far removed from how we actually do things, which isn’t totally crazy since she’s a supervisor and her body of work differs significantly from us worker bees’. The problem is that Prue does a terrible job on this stuff. She’s sloppy, careless, and not at all methodical. Everything she does has to be cleaned up to some extent and there are occasions where we spend more time fixing her mistakes than we would have needed to do the work ourselves.

Our resources are stretched thin enough as it is and it’s very aggravating for someone to throw a monkey wrench in the mix with their brand of “help.” How can we say DON’T TOUCH THAT? I’m in good standing with all members of the management team but telling a supervisor they’re making things worse seems like a hard message to deliver.

How good is Prue at taking feedback or hearing things she doesn’t like? Ideally you’d explain that because she’s not immersed in the details every day like the rest of you, there’s context she doesn’t have about your systems and the stuff you have to check, and that it’ll be more efficient if she leaves it to your team. You could cite a recent example too — “when you took X home, we ended up having to change Y because of Z — which makes sense since you’re not doing this all the time. But it’s been more efficient to leave it with us since we’re so steeped in it.”

Also, is there anything you would welcome Prue’s help with? It might be useful if you can redirect her — “we’ve got X covered, but we could really use your help with Y if you’ve got time to help out!”

3. I’m burned out and inherited money — should I quit my great job?

Three years ago, I lucked into a truly amazing job — extremely generous pay, benefits so good that my friends get mad when I talk about them, truly flexible, supportive and understanding bosses, and a healthy, boundary-respecting culture. After multiple nightmare jobs (one previous boss had the record for most complaints filed about her and was given early retirement after an employee threatened to go to the local paper!) this felt like a godsend. I’m not especially interested in the work, but I’m good at it and I haven’t really had the energy to think about what other types of work I might enjoy more.

But I think about quitting almost every day. The last six years have been really tough and I feel burnt out. My dad died, my aunt died, my uncle died, my cat died, my dog died, I moved countries twice (both times to places where I knew no one and had to build up an entire life), I left a controlling and draining relationship and was stalked for a year, and earlier this year, my mom died.

I guess my dad left my mom pretty well off when he died, and she invested the money and left a frankly shocking amount to me and my brother. Enough that I could live (frugally) on it for six or seven years.

I desperately want to just sleep for a year. I can now easily afford to take a year or two off to grieve, rest, and try to cure this burnout. But where would that land me in two years? Is it crazy to take myself out of the workforce when I don’t actually need to? I have skills that are always in demand, and I have a strong resume and great references. How would I explain that I took a year off to soak in a tub? I realize this is the most privileged problem anyone can possibly have, but I could really use some perspective on whether this is just the exhaustion talking, or whether this could be a viable option.

Take a year off, and then see how you feel about a second year. You have skills that are always in demand, a strong resume, and great references. You have the money to support yourself during a break, and a huge buffer if it ends up taking longer to find a job afterwards than you anticipated.

People step out of the job market all the time and find their way back in (like many parents of little kids). It can make a job search harder, yes, but not insurmountable — and again, you have a big financial buffer it takes some extra time.

When you’re interviewing again, you’d say that you took some time away from work to deal with some family matters. if you’re comfortable with it, you can explain that both your parents died and you took some time to deal with their estates, etc. People will get it! It shouldn’t be a big deal.

But also, since you like your current employer so much: Have you considered talking to them about your plan and seeing if they’d welcome you back in a year? It may or may not be feasible for your role, but that’s something people sometimes do and it’s worth asking.

4. When should I tell candidates I’m pregnant?

I was recently promoted and am hiring to fill my old position (manager level). I’m also five months pregnant. Even if I hire someone tomorrow, realistically, I’ll train this person for three months and then I’ll be on maternity leave for 12 weeks. At what point during the interview process should I disclose that I’m pregnant? It would be obvious in-person, but we are doing everything remotely.

You can raise it as soon as you’d like! I’d probably raise it once you’re at the point in the process where interviews are getting into the deeper substance of the work, so not in a short initial phone screening but once you get into interviews that dig more into the meat of the job. At that point, you can explain it like any other logistics relevant to the job. For example: “I should mention that I’m pregnant and expect to be out from February to April. We’d work to get you trained before that, and then XYZ will be in place while I’m out.”

5. Old HR manager contacting me

I have recently connected with former coworkers on LinkedIn from a job that I quit almost a year ago and left on as best of terms that I could (two weeks notice, finished as many projects as I could, left a list of all unfinished work and where it stood, etc.). One of them was my old HR manager. We briefly chatted through LinkedIn and today she asked that I email her. Because of how awful my former employer was (super hostile work environment), I am not comfortable emailing her without any sort of reasonable explanation. She also still has my contact information on file from when I applied. My gut instinct is to just ignore it and not email her, but I also don’t want to be fully unprofessional and ghost her message. What should I do?

There’s not a a big difference between chatting with her on LinkedIn (which you’ve already been doing) and chatting with her via email. There shouldn’t be any harm in emailing her and saying, “You asked me to email you. What’s up?” Or you could reply to her message on LinkedIn with your email address, leave the ball in her court, and see what she says if she emails you.

Or you can ignore the request if you want! But my curiosity would get the better of me and there’s not much real danger in just seeing what she wants. You no longer work there and she has no power over you, so if it turns out she wants something you’re not interested in providing, you can cut it off at that point.

{ 363 comments… read them below }

  1. Catherine*

    OP #5, if they’ve still got your contact information on file, go ahead and email. It’s better to manage the interaction so that you have a written record of it, just in case, rather than give them a reason to phone you.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      And, should that not go well it’s usually only a couple of clicks to never see their emails again.

    2. MK*

      Possibly the HR manager doesn’t want to use the information on the company’s files for something that might be unrelated to her job. Some people would consider it off that a former coworker rug through the files for their contact info.

      1. Workfromhome*

        This is a very good point. I know I’ve been contacted by former work colleagues or contacts ..can we get in touch whats your email phone etc with no context and often when there is no context it was some kind of Pyramid scam. Since you were chatting via linked in I’d probably go with “You asked me to email you can I ask what its regarding?” If its something legit then they should be able to tell you. If they are non committal or evasive about the reason that’s your cue to ghost out. I cant think of any legit reason they would want to have an email exchange that could not at least allude to in a Linked in message> If they cant say “We have an open role , candidate, survey, legal issue or whatever” that I want to send you via email then I don’t think you owe them a response.

  2. Anon for this today*

    Hey OP1! I am not your boss, but I have been guilty of making hand gestures like this in the last. I’m going to work on stopping that – I’m sorry I didn’t think about how that might affect those who have lost someone this way. I hope your boss stops.

    (Does anyone else have any suggestions on replacement hand gestures that similarly convey “I am beyond frustrated and wish for an end to this situation”? I really talk with my hands and I feel like I will be most effective in stopping this if I have a replacement I can keep top of mind.)

    1. GratefulTeacher*

      Hi Anon! It’s awesome you’re being so thoughtful about this and receptive to change! I’m a big fan of throwing my hands in the air literally with an “ugh” expression, sometimes accompanied by shaking my hands or fists. It’s a little dramatic but gets the job done. Literally face-palming helps too! Just be sure not to replace it with anything that could also be triggering, like a motion signifying slitting the wrist or throat or hanging yourself. It’s taken me a while to get these gestures, or phrase like “just kill me” or “ugh, I want to die right now” out of my vocabulary, but I know they can be so hard for folks to hear, including those who struggle with suicidal ideation.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        On the old Muppet Show Kermit the Frog would rush around with both arms waving in the air while screaming. We used to do that without the screaming.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Thirded- I picked up the same habit as Anon, tried a bunch of things, and the Kermit Flail is the best one for me.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup – we actually have an emoji that does something like the Kermit Flail at my job – it gets used fairly frequently. Great conveyor of frustration at everything.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I shake my fist at the sky Grandpa Simpson style and say something like “Grrrrrr!! Enough already!”

        1. Zombeyonce*

          I love the closed fist shake at the sky! It’s my go to. I don’t even say anything, just have a look of exasperation.

      3. Birdie*

        I appreciate it, too! My boss occasionally mimes cutting her wrists, which I find…distasteful, to say the least. I’m lucky to not have personal experiences that make it triggering, but every time I see it, I’m conscious that those around us might, so I’m glad Anon is open to adapting. (To my boss’ credit, she seems to have noticed that I always give a very blank reaction and do not smile or laugh or joke back, and since my coworker who did do all those things retired this summer, my boss has largely stopped the gesture.)

        Personally, I mime pulling my hair, or occasionally shake my fist at the sky!

        1. hufflepuff hobbit*

          I *actually* pull my hair! I’m going to also try the Kermit flail as suggested above. This is totally in-character for me and my co-workers would love it and seeing me do it would likely improve their stress levels

          1. Maven*

            I struggle with Trichotillomania (chronic, obsessive hair-pulling) AND history of depression, so miming self-harm, or comments that a situation “makes me want to pull my hair out” always makes me wince internally. I generally haven’t found that people are very understanding of Trichotillomania, so I just try to ignore those comments as best I can (they don’t get why it’s a big deal or why you can’t *just stop doing it*)- but I will gently push back when self-harm comments are carelessly thrown around, and usually it’s fairly well received. I think most of the time it’s just a matter of habit, and never an intentional attempt to minimize another person’s experience. Once you point it out, people will *usually* try to avoid those gestures/comments.

        2. fluffy*

          I think a lot of people just don’t think through what these actions convey to people who have lived through trauma. I lost a partner to suicide and a few years later when a project manager mimed wrist-cutting in a meeting I had a panic attack and PTSD flashbacks. I privately communicated to him outside of the meeting and he apologized and never did it again (at least not in my presence), and I hope that he’s realized that maybe there are people affected by these things.

      4. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I had no idea how much I dramatically sighed and said “ugh” until my toddler started doing it too. Made me very aware of it. Also see: saying uh-ohh, which apparently I do a lot, and now so does he.

        1. TardyTardis*

          There are lots worse things to say that a toddler will pick up, trust me. :) Fortunately, I had ‘Shazbat” to fall back on when I found an earwig where no earwig should be.

      5. Miss Bee*

        I can recommend replicating the “flames on the side of my face” speech from the Clue movie (clips and gifs aplenty if you search the phrase).

    2. Pennyworth*

      I have seen someone use a gesture which involves making fingers and thumb like an open grab claw and pressing them against the temple, accompanied by a grimace. It conveyed the impression of something unpleasant messing with their head.

      1. MtnLaurel*

        I do a face palm as well as miming a smack on the forehead. Think Homer Simpson’s “D’Oh!”

    3. kellyu*

      I like the two open hands moving simultaneously away from your head – can work with just one hand when you’re on the phone. Occasionally accompanied by a sort of disgusted grunty complaint noise from the back of the throat.

        1. Tired of Covid-and People*

          I’m related to someone who suffered horrible facial burns as a child due to a house fire. Maybe adults can just train themselves not to make any gestures that might be triggering?

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I think that’s going to be tough for a lot of people simply because it’s impossible to know everything that might be upsetting to any particular person. Some of them are pretty straightforward – any sort of motion that indicates harm or death like what OP#1 describes is obvious, references to physical violence or sexual harassment/assault.

            But the quote above is from the movie Clue and it’s an expression of seething anger and hatred not about literal burning or fire. It’s a stretch to connect it to an actual fire or serious harm, and that particular quote is a common and well-known meme for when something so upsetting or angering happens that one cannot formulate more of a response. If any mention of fire, even in a metaphorical sense, is upsetting to you, it might be helpful to let people know that rather than expect others to assume what is/is not triggering. I would certainly want to know if I was causing someone emotional distress, particularly when using a fairly common (within my peer group) cultural reference to blinding rage.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I think that’s going to be tough for a lot of people simply because it’s impossible to know everything that might be upsetting to any particular person.

              That’s where I am at the moment. While I agree that pantomime suicide is over the line, where is that line? I’ve lost family to suicide by cigarettes and lost friends to suicide by motorcycle and by alcohol. Are those off limits now?

              1. GothicBee*

                I agree, it’s impossible to anticipate every possible trigger. Ideally both parties in a situation like this will handle it gracefully and respectfully, but especially the person being asked to make a (reasonable) change. It’s on the person who feels upset or hurt by something to communicate that to the other person, and it’s on the other person to respond respectfully even if they don’t fully understand the issue.

              2. Paperwhite*

                The question, “where is the line?” is a lot like the question, “so who CAN I use slurs for?” Maybe knowing one’s audience before making a joke or gesture is a better general rule than compiling a laundry list of whose triggers deserve to be respected and who can ‘legitimately’ be told to pound sand.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  Deo volente, I’ll never need to know whom I can refer to with a slur.

                2. Spencer Hastings*

                  It’s kinda different though, because there is a legitimate reason to use metaphors, unlike slurs.

              3. Renata Ricotta*

                I’m sorry for your losses, but I think it’s important not to conflate someone dying by suicide (particularly in a sudden, violent, or graphic way) with someone dying from a disease related to habits, addictions, or lifestyle choices. I understand why you see them as related, but they are not the same thing. See the comment below where someone who had a relative die by suicide found it hard to hear someone else claim their relative “ate themselves to death” so it’s all the same. Lifestyle choices are a series of independently small, ill-advised decisions that may or may not add up to an eventual cause of death (which all of us commit to some degree). If I someday get and succumb to skin cancer, it would be a huge overstatement to say I died from “suicide by failure to use sunscreen,” and rightfully offensive to anyone who knows anyone who died by suicide or made an attempt. The emotional valences at issue are miles apart, and the word has never been hypertechnically used in the English language to mean “a death somewhat related to the decedent’s own actions, no matter how remotely/tangentially/inadvertently.”

                If your friend who died via a motorcycle intentionally drove into a tree, off an edge, etc. as a specific attempt to end their own life, yes I’d call that suicide by motorcycle. If you’re saying they died by suicide because they were in a fatal motorcycle accident caused in whole or in part by their own negligence or recklessness, please stop.

            2. Tired of Covid-and People*

              I appreciate your reasoned and logical response. However, I did not say I would be upset by the gesture. But my niece who was burned might.

              I’m kind of in the minority here (well, I’m an actual minority as a black American woman), but I actually do not think the workplace has to bend to fit me. I’ve not responded to more microaggressions, and triggers than I could ever count. I was merely illustrating that in order to avoid one trigger, another trigger may be inadvertently substituted. That’s all. So avoid as many of them as you can.

              I find the confederate flag triggering, although it is a very common “cultural” reference to some, a culture that considers me inferior. So that’s no justification as far as I’m concerned.

              1. Observer*

                Well, the difference is that the Confederate flag is hardly something whose import is unknown to people. Yes, even the people who yap about the “cultural history” know about it. And it’s not something that *you* are especially sensitive to, or something that you would need to know someone’s history to realize is likely to be offensive.

                Conflating something like that with a gesture that no reasonable person could really be expected to know about and is really highly personal is just not reasonable.

                1. PVR*

                  I disagree that flames fall into the category that no reasonable person can be expected to know about—fists and fire and guns and pantomimed strangling are all related to actual violence and all seem like they could be quite obvious triggers for a lot of people. I think the point Tired of Covid- and People is making is that instead of choosing gestures that could indicate harm to others at all, it might be better to choose something completely different and harmless. I knew someone who used a hand gesture to indicate *breathe in/breathe out* when things were stressful. An eye roll or shrug or even just a bug eyed expression with a head shake can all serve the same purpose. So there are much more benign replacements.

              2. Littleloucc*

                This is nothing like slurs. No harm is intended here, and crucially the gestures are not directed at/about a person. OP has deliberately omitted telling her colleagues about a painful experience in her life, so “knowing your audience” wouldn’t help in this instance, and probably a lot of others (and so we’re clear, OP is doing nothing wrong by not disclosing this information, but it is understandable that her colleagues therefore don’t know something is triggering to her).

                1. Littleloucc*

                  Sorry – I messed up the commenting hierarchy – this was directed at the person a level up comparing gestures to slurs in terms of “where is the line”. Not aimed at Tired of Covid-and People.

                2. Paperwhite*

                  … so you’re disagreeing with the idea that the coworkers should stop using the gesture when asked by OP, and justifying this they don’t know about the “painful experience in her life”? Yet saying that OP is not wrong to disclose the information even though, by your estimation, her coworkers are perfectly entitled to refuse her request unless they know explicitly that the gesture triggers her and why?

                  Well, that’s an argument. For what, I’m not sure. Certainly not for workplace harmony.

                3. Natalie*


                  That’s not at all what Littlelouce said? This entire thread is about anticipating what gestures might be triggering to people, not refusing direct requests.

          2. Littorally*

            That’s exactly what people are brainstorming in this thread. Don’t make the presumption that everyone can inherently know every gesture that might awaken difficult memories for someone.

            1. Tabby*

              Hit enter too early!

              As an example, I don’t particularly like to be touched or hugged, though I tolerate it pretty well from people i know well and like, and might even return the gesture if I /really/ like you.

              However, I don’t expect people to know this, so the onus is on me to tell people not to try to touch or hug me, not to expect everyone to never ever ever reach out and tap my shoulder (although the hugging part? That would be the fault of the hugger if they got shoved. Or their chin slammed by the herl of my hand, as one idiotically persistent ‘Free Hugs’ lady found out when she tried to hug me anyway when told “No, thank you.”) if they need to catch my attention. Yes, it makes me tense, but you know what? Since I insist on wearing headphones, I have to be prepared for a tap if someone needs to get by me or whatever.

            2. Tired of Covid-and People*

              No reasonable person would make such a presumption, but it is often presumed that because you haven’t personally experienced something, no one you work with has. Personally, I never paid that much attention to what my coworkers did for it to awaken difficult memories.

              Gestures mean different things in different cultures, so using them can be problematic in a diverse workplace. That’s all I’m saying. it can’t hurt to be mindful of this.

              1. Tabby*

                That works both ways, Tired. A gesture that might be triggering to you might be something entirely different to someone else — which means that yes, the onus is on the one with the sensitivity to say something. And, of course, the one using the gesture should make an effort to not use it around the one so triggered, but the triggered party is also going to have to accept that the shift is not going to happen IMMEDIATELY AND FOREVER. Because a shift in one’s ‘natural’?(I really don’t know why mimicking shooting oneself is a natural thing to so many people; i agree it’s weird at best and downright obtuse at worst) gesturing language takes time.

          3. Observer*

            That’s just not realistic. There is not such thing as a gesture or word / phrase that won’t trigger ANYONE.

            Three ARE some gestures and phrases that are obvious and / or common enough that people should not use them. Miming suicide is one of them. And if you know that a particular gesture is likely to trigger someone, then definitely be decent about it. But that’s really all that’s realistic.

          4. Tabby*

            While I understand what you’re saying, Tired, on the other hand you’re going to have to allow some latitude to others to make gestures of frustration. We have to mitigate our own rriggers, not put the onus on others to babysit our feelings for us. And I say this as a highly and chronically anxious person who grew up un a very violent neighborhood, comeplete with all the not-lovely things one might expect from such a place.

            But I don’t get to make others manage my anxiety; i get to put my big girl pants on and manage it all by myself.

          5. MusicWithRocksIn*

            What about people who speak sign language? My husband is an interpreter and has always spoken with his hands, and now tends to sign as he speaks. Making light of suicide on the daily is one thing, but expecting people to not use their hands when they speak, especially when there are languages all over the world that only use gestures, is taking it too far.

            1. Tired of Covid-and People*

              OK, straw man here. Of course a person using sign language must use their hands! And in those cultures that rely on gestures, an outsider had better know what the gestures mean before using them. Not talking about these cultures anyway.

              For the literalists out there, unnecessary gestures that could be offensive or triggering should be kept to a minimum. Like Alison says, be kind.

      1. Amaranth*

        I’m not sure if that would maybe convey ‘head exploding’ which might still be triggering. Making any kind of gun gesture seems to be a bit tone-deaf in general if OP is in the U.S.

        1. Zelda*

          I do this one, and at least in the version I’m familiar with there’s kind of a sharp “flick” at the end– it’s more like flinging or shoving an irritation away from me, not so much “head exploding.”

        2. Sloan Kittering*

          I do hate the gun-gesture. It’s not at all my type of humor. I had a coworker who used to do it very dramatically and I really, really disliked it. I don’t have any triggering type of event, I just found it in poor taste and unnecessary.

      2. allathian*

        I usually pretend to pull my hair, although if things get really bad, I actually do pull my hair. But then, I rarely use any hair styling products, just shampoo and conditioner and a hairbrush. Usually my hair is a chin-length bob, but I haven’t cut it since February so it’s grown past my shoulders. Frustration is rarely worth ruining your hairstyle for…

        The Asterix “toc-toc” gesture, a sort of tapping on the temple with the index finger, could maybe be adapted from the “shot to the temple”. It’s not really a sign of frustration, more like a comment on someone’s crazy behavior or a generally crazy situation, but it might be easier to use if you find yourself doing the shooting gesture out of habit and catch yourself half-way there.

        I tend to do the facepalm not so much when I’m frustrated, but rather when I’m embarrassed on someone else’s behalf, a sort of “oh dear” type wordless comment.

        1. Beth*

          The toc-toc or head tap specifically indicates “That’s crazy” or “That person is crazy”. Trying to use it to mean something else isn’t going to change anyone else’s understanding of the already established meaning. But it would certainly be a handy way of covering up a “whoops, I really shouldn’t use the shooting gesture!” moment.

          1. Self Employed*

            Saying people are “crazy” is ableist and hurtful, so that’s not much of an improvement. You never know who in your workplace may have a mental illness they haven’t disclosed because of that kind of stigma, or who has a loved one with a mental illness.

    4. Tamer of dragonflies*

      I find the one finger salute directed at the source of frustration to be satisfying,but YMMV…

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I throw my hands in the air and flail them a bit, kinda like the Kermit the Frog flail gif but definitely keeping them in my personal bubble, and either mutter or exclaim (depending on where I am and who I’m talking to) “WHARGARBL!!” (Or sometimes I make World of Warcraft murloc noises.) Aside from expressing frustration, it also injects a little silliness which makes me feel better.

      1. Lucien Nova*

        Murloc noises! My god, that’s the perfect description for what I tend to do when frustrated. Thank you for the realisation. :D

        (And now I’ll be thinking “Mmmrrrggglll” and laughing all evening.)

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      New Yorker hand talker here. So many seem to involve touching the face! Face palm, squeezing the bridge of my nose, rubbing my temples.
      One I stopped using for a similar reason was claw hands shaking away from my head, because after a movie it looked too much like the villain shaking the main character who was trying to escape. Eep.

    7. Katherine*

      Neither of these really use hand gestures, but I threaten to run away and go live the bachelor life with my father or I say “That’s it!” in the same accent as that pigeon from The Animaniacs cartoon. A former coworker would jokingly threaten to quit her job, but I think you’d really need to know your workplace for that type of comment. My current supervisor has a stuffed monster toy that makes noises kind of like the Tasmanian Devil from the Looney Tunes cartoon and she bumps it so it makes the crazy noises when she’s frustrated.

      1. ursula*

        Big fan of rubbing the temples with my index and middle fingers, slightly melodramatically, with an “I’m done” facial expression.

        1. Emi*

          Hahaha I had to google this because I only know Calgon as a laundry additive people use for cloth diapers.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            In the UK, it’s an anti-limescale laundry additive. “Washing machines live longer with Calgon.”

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse uses this one all the time and, despite the fact that we’re close to the same age, I was not familiar with it. Thanks to YouTube, now the entire family has seen the commercial and uses it on occasion. Pretty sure the elementary-schooler’s friends have no idea what they means by it. :)

    8. I Herd the Cats*

      Yes, I’ve done this gesture too in frustration. OP1, thank you for your letter, and I’m going to do my level best to delete it from my repertoire, it never occurred to me how upsetting it might be. I love these alternate suggestions.

    9. CupcakeCounter*

      I stopped due to similar reasons as the OP (not my father but a extended family member who we were fairly close to and still are in very frequent contact with her now-adult children). It took time and I still catch myself sometimes – luckily not around my cousins – and unfortunately I don’t really have a replacement gesture that I use consistently but one that works pretty well is a hair tug. My hands got to the same general location so its an easy transition from the finger gun to “pulling my hair out”.

    10. PNW*

      Tell your supervisor right away that this gesture is hurtful and triggering for you. I would feel horrible if I was unknowingly hurting one of my team with my actions and I would definitely stop right away. Even if you don’t want to give details, just let her know that you find it hurtful.

    11. yala*

      I’m a fan of Madeline Khan’s “Flames. F-Flames. On the side of my face.” gesture. It does perfectly convey frustration beyond words.

    12. Jay*

      I cover my eyes with my hands, which pushes my glasses up over my forehead and makes it very clear that I’m frustrated. When I’m trying not to touch my face, I throw my hands up in the air and flip my hands backward as if I’m tossing a ball behind me. I didn’t consciously decide to do that – it’s more that I start to put my hands on my face, realize I can’t, and just keep going until my arms are in the air.

      I’ve always hated the mimed gunshot no matter what direction it’s aimed at – I have seen people mime shooting others as a way of closing a conversation – sort of like “I’ve got it!” I HATE that. Whenever I see it and have standing to intervene I speak up. I say something like “I’m really uncomfortable with even pretend gun violence. Could you please stop?” I’ve never had anyone argue with me.

    13. DC*

      I also have this habit, and I realize it’s bad. Especially because I lost a friend to suicide years ago. He jumped off the bridge and I actually worked in an office that overlooked the bridge it happened on, and one guy in my office always “joked” about “jumpers” and I yelled at him. One thing that I do as a replacement, and one I will be working harder on doing more since I KNOW the finger gun is awful, is I just put my hands on either side of my head and pretend to crush my own head in rage/try to hold my head on/keep it from exploding, if that makes sense?

    14. Firecat*

      Head down and grip the top of your nose where a pair of glasses would sit. It not only conveys your utter exhaustion with the situation, there is also a physiological response that makes you instantly feel a bit better and calmer.

    15. Rachel in NYC*

      My supervisor and I don’t have a gesture but instead we talk about a metaphysical hatchet…well now it’s a foam hatchet because workplace. And when a store near me started closing recently (not covid related), I picked up a foam axe for $.50- he and I will get a kick out of it (as will my coworkers I expect).

      And it will help us when we get frustrated…

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        That may be fine in NYC, but here in South Dakota? Wildly racist. We get real twitchy about Tomahawks and the chopping thereof.

          1. Not playing your game anymore*

            Ax murderer? That’s not a lot better.

            In our environment an axe would read very similarly to a noose, and no one wants to be that person.

          2. Paperwhite*

            I’m a little disappointed that a fan of Terry Pratchett would be so dismissive of a real issue.

    16. juliebulie*

      I lost a cousin to a self-inflicted gunshot. That gesture no longer amuses me.

      When I’m beyond frustrated, I grimace and tense up my hands like claws. (Not holding them up and brandishing them, just showing the tension in my hands.) I guess I’m banking on the odds that I don’t work with anyone who lost a family member to a lion attack.

      Or, sometimes instead of doing claws, I stretch my hands out to show the tension. Maybe that’s better.

    17. TootsNYC*

      there’s always smacking your forehead. or flicking your temple with your finger, almost as if you’re resetting something.

      One thing about the finger-gun gesture is that it’s very punitive. That’s a hard attitude to be around, the idea that you should be punished for a mistake.

      the other two could come off as punishment, but they might also come off as “resetting the machinery” or something.

    18. Frustrated in Sicily*

      When I’m frustrated, I use the Sicilian hand gesture of pressing your thumb together with the other 4 fingers (turning your hand into a sort of tear-drop shape) and shaking your wrist back and forth. It’s definitely less theatrical but it does get the point across!

    19. Nesprin*

      I use the italian version which is like miming trying to hold up a bowling ball in each hand in front of your stomach.

    20. Sylvan*

      I throw up my hands in a general frustration gesture. If you get one hand in the air before you stop yourself, you can make a fist and bring it down like you’re gesturing that you want to hit the table. If you get halfway through the gesture, stop yourself; if anyone saw, say sorry and move on. If you touch your hair when you’re frustrated or distracted, you can switch gears into that instead (I mess with my hair anyway, so it doesn’t look unusual). I stopped making this gesture and I’ve done all of these things.

      (If anyone wants to know why: There’s some issues in my family, including losing two relatives to suicide and having others who live with intrusive thoughts of suicide, and a lot of problematic humor about it – we’re all in it together. But I realized suicide and mental illness jokes were upsetting to other people at best and triggering at worst. Stopped making suicide jokes and saved the mental illness jokes for family and therapy.)

    21. MissMaple*

      I often do the “Grr. Arg.” and claw hands per the Mutant Enemy Production Company logo at the end of Firefly, but that’s just me.

    22. In my shell*

      I was cringing while reading this post because I’ve been known to mime stabbing myself in the chest. Being a boss is so hard. I suck at finding balance between being a boss and still being human/having shortcomings/having a moment now and then.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Do you recite ‘Receive, O Bosom, this noble blade?’ (from A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM). I realize that not everyone is going to get that reference, and that it could be triggering.

    23. All the cats 4 me*

      We joke about making a wall poster that has an arrow and the instructions “Bang head here”, but in reality, my cube wall (wow, my cube is 25% made from real wall!), already has a permanent mark from my work buddy passing by and relieving her stress there. Sometimes she is too tired to bang her head against the wall and simply slumps face against the wall.

    24. lazy intellectual*

      Face palm is my go-to. Also shaking my fist in the air to represent frustration. (NOT punching, just that thing cartoons do when their angry.)

    25. It's all too much*

      My five year old once made yoga hands, took a deep breath, and then screamed “CAAAAAALLLMMMMM!!” at the top of her lungs. It’s become my go-to.

    26. JSPA*

      1. hands on sides of head, pointing up, roll eyes up.

      2. double head bonk (both lower palms to temples). As opposed to the single, which is a “duh,” or “I’m an idiot” or “someone’s an idiot,” the double tends to register as a sort of portable head-desk.

      3. the head-desk.

      4. cover eyes, take a slow, deep breath. This is also calming, which is as important as signaling the frustration, in terms of letting it go, and getting on with solving the problem.

    27. name nerd*

      I’m in the habit of doing an “up to here!” gesture where I gesture to my eyebrows with a flattened hand, as if tracking the “level” of frustration/workload. As in a physical version of “I’ve had it up to HERE with this!” That’s a safer gesture that would fit into the muscle memory you already have, so it might be easy to get into the habit of.

    28. Sleepytime Tea*

      I do a… “forehead” palm, rather than face palm, I guess lol. Bop myself on the forehead, it’s got that same little head bob kind of motion to go with it which for some reason is satisfying.

      1. name nerd*

        Like “could’ve had a V8”? I do that too—I wear glasses, so it’s sort of a displaced facepalm. Seems to work. (Sometimes I actually say “could’ve had a V8”!)

    29. Alice's Rabbit*

      I mime strangling whatever has me so upset. The phone, the computer, this gosh darn file that is illegible, etc.

  3. LinesInTheSand*

    OP3: To add to what Alison said, I know lots of people who would kill for a year off if they could take it. Don’t feel like you should deny yourself just because not everyone is in your position. Heck, maybe you’ll write a best seller about it.

    Also, you don’t have to commit to a whole year. Maybe in 3 a job will seem like a good idea. Maybe not. You’ve got options. Take advantage of them.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Yeah! As someone who’s been unemployed for about a year now, let me add that a bit of structure has helped me kind of reboot and refresh: occasionally volunteering keeps me social and my professional skills sharp. Occasionally I would fill in part-time at a former employer for a day or two when needed (on a freelance basis). I’d also fill in for my mom’s assistant and her real estate office for a week or two and the variety I doing these different things was really healthy and fun. And I’m able to list those activities on my resume as well. At one point I was doing hobby baking full time for a farmer’s market booth and didn’t realize it because I was having so much fun. You don’t have to be looking for a job to be open to really fulfilling activities.

    2. orangecup*

      OP3 but for a small few details being different I could have written this letter myself. Condolences on your losses and kudos for keeping your head up throughout. My timeline is a little different in that I had quit a job to care for my parents until they both passed and then returned to work around six months after they had died…and I landed in a good job that pays well and for the most part I’m ok with, though like you I don’t ‘love’ it. But I’m good at it and my colleagues are nice and the work is okay and there’s good flexibility so here I am. I too think about quitting every day, though mostly because losing both my parents in the way that I did has given me a tremendous ‘life is too short’ vigour around things, and also there are days when I just want to retreat into myself and sleep. My financial situation is similar to yours in that there’s a sizeable inheritance so for the first time in years there’s a lot of freedom around things I ‘could’ do because I can afford it…like quitting my job and taking off to do whatever for a while. The tyranny of choice!

      I think whatever you do will be fine, I don’t mean that in a flippant way but honestly if you’re employable now you’ll be employable a year from now – maybe in slightly less or slightly more favourable conditions – nobody knows. If your job offers career breaks or sabbaticals those could be an option, or even part-time working to give you days during the week where you do whatever you like (this is what I do, 3 day working week). How I explained my long absence on my resume was something along the lines of ‘gaps between 2015 and 2017 were due to caring responsibilities that have now been dispensed with’ – nobody ever asked me anything about it, or drilled down for detail. Whether I was caring for someone else or myself was never questioned. I have a therapist I see occasionally as my circumstances are so different from friends they can’t relate when I talk about decisions (also there’s the ‘first world problem’ nature of the issues I come up against) and through that and taking some time out while still keeping my job, I’ve cleared a path for the next couple of years. In my case I’m not going to quit (yet!) but will be revising career breaks with my boss once the world is a little more balanced. Whatever decision you make you’ll be fine. Life is short.

      1. Anonym*

        Not sure if this is relevant for you or OP (I might well be projecting), but I think you also don’t have to characterize yourself or your situation as lucky. I had trouble with this after my dad passed (quick on the heels of aunt and grandfather). I inherited enough to make a down payment on a modest home, and actually had a conversation in which a friend said I was lucky… I was dumbfounded. I’d give up literally everything, house included, to have my dad back. That moment shook me out of “gotta be grateful, could be worse, feeling a little guilty about buying a house while single when few of my friends can afford it” into a more balanced view. You’re clearly not gonna lord your finances over anyone, but you’ve been through a lot of loss – if you’re like me, good fortune would be still having your loved ones. Missing them and having some money is a gray area. Dark gray. Could be worse, but could be a hell of a lot better.

        Anyway, wishing OP a year (or more) of peace and recovery!

        1. OP #3*

          Thank you saying this, you’re 100% right. I think I’ve been preempting people by acknowledging my “lucky” position because it is so painful when others say things like that to me. Money is a shitty replacement for parents. Thank you for the kind words!

          1. Anonym*

            Big hugs, OP!! By the way, if it’s of interest to you, I had a really good experience with The Dinner Party, an org which connects you with people who’ve been through similar losses. It was honestly great to be able to talk about loss or just other stuff with people who understood. It’s targeted towards under-40-ish, and I’m getting the sense that you’re not at an age where loss of parents is common in your peer group, so it might suit you, too. Could be worth checking out. Wishing you so much goodness!

        2. orangecup*

          This is true, people really don’t think before they speak. Because I work part-time I used to travel a lot pre-COVID, lots of long weekends in other cities and countries (I’m in Europe) and the amount of remarks I got about it and how much it must cost and wasn’t I a very lucky girl and everyone else wished they were as lucky as me….honestly. Just like you I’d give it all back for just moments more with my parents.

        3. Le Sigh*

          I wish people would think before speaking. A different situation, but I was able to get really solid financial aid, which allowed me to go to college with minimal debt. But I was eligible for that help due to my parents’ awful financial situation — which caused a lot of stress and trauma over the years. So I found it really frustrating when my then-boyfriend told me I was “lucky” (almost in a tone of it being unfair, mind you, his parents had enough money to pay for all four years) — I told him I do feel *fortunate* to have access to financial aid and a good public school, but I didn’t feel lucky when our house was foreclosed on in middle school, among other things. To his credit, I think he realized he hadn’t thought that statement through, but yeah.

      2. OP #3*

        The life is short vigor is a great way to put it! Thank you for the kind words. I’m sorry you’re in a similar shitty boat. And I’m glad it sounds like you found a way to navigate it that works for you.

      3. Brookfield*

        I wanted to reply to you and to OP#3 here – I’m in a great new job after being voluntarily unemployed for over a year, and it was SO WORTH IT. Though it’s not possible/practical for everyone to build up an emergency fund of 6-12 months worth of living expenses, I had been laid off in 2017 and started aggressively saving up in case I was ever laid off again, and that made my time off possible. (I’m 50, so I need to be extra cautious.)

        After my Dad died at the end of 2018, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that my job was meaningless, and what was I even doing with my life? I felt so burned out and exhausted. The company was about to be acquired, and I decided to just quit and take about six months off to rest, grieve, and figure out what to do next. That was in June 2019, and I focused entirely on self care for the rest of the year – long walks with my husband, visiting family, regular gym workouts, psych meds, community volunteering, SLEEP.

        I started (halfheartedly) looking for a new job in February 2020… just as COVID shut down my area (and US Presidential Primaries were on). My mental health took a hit, and I decided to put off job hunting for a while longer while I focused on political campaign volunteering and, uh, making sourdough bread. :-) In August, I started to feel like I *wanted* to dig into work again, and a consulting firm found me through LinkedIn. Long story short, I consulted on a short project for them, and they hired me full time in September. My year unemployed was not an issue for them at all – I was totally matter-of-fact about being out of work, and my new boss is glad that I’m “rested and ready” now, and able to give my full attention at work.

        Wishing you all the best, and my sympathies for your losses. I hope you get the respite you need.

        1. OP #3*

          It’s so comforting to hear of someone else who did it, thank you for sharing. Long walks and sourdough sound like a dream!

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Some businesses have sabbatical policies similar to academia. It’s not usually discussed because not a lot of people want a long stretch unpaid. It’s worth asking about!

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Came here to say this as well. A friend of mine was in management consulting a number of years ago and completely burned out on the travel (living out of a suitcase for months at a time and flying back “home” on the weekends was a brutal schedule). He saved his money and approached his employer about taking an unpaid leave (which turned out to be 7-9 months, I believe). He used the time to do things he did not have time for otherwise: paint, go to a museum on a random tuesday, travel when and where HE wanted, see friends and family, put down roots in the city he ostensibly had lived in for four years (but not really–see “suitcase living” above). It allowed him to go back refreshed and with a different mentality about the lifestyle. He ultimately left that company and hung out his own shingle a few years later. Not saying that OP 3 has to go into business for herself, but framing things as a sabbatical may be useful in whatever she decides to do later.

        1. Jay*

          I did this just recently, although only for a month. In addition to COVID stress, I’d been through a very difficult time personally and, typically for me, got through the crisis and then fell apart. One Sunday evening in August I was literally sobbing on the couch at the idea of going back to work. My husband said “What do you need?” I said “I need a month off work.” He said “So take a month off. We can afford it.” I said “I can’t do that.” He said “Why not?” I had no answer for that. Calling my boss to ask for the month was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because I knew it would make things harder for other people on my team. He assured me they would figure it out. My therapist filled out the FMLA paperwork. I took off the entire month of September and it was GLORIOUS. I slept, exercised, read a ton of books, took a brief (safe) trip to do some hiking, explored a lot of the outdoors around here, recognized that having the house set up and looking the way I want it to is an essential part of my self-care, and had long conversations with friends. At the beginning, I felt guilty for taking a whole month of for a glorified vacation but I got over that (with the help of my therapist). I’ve been back at work for nearly six weeks and it’s SO much more sustainable now. Taking that month was the best thing I ever did, and I’m only sorry it took my until this late in my career to figure out that I could and should do something like that. If there’s a next time, I will not wait until I’m sobbing on the couch.

        2. OP #3*

          I hadn’t even thought of that! Thanks to both of you for the suggestion. I think I know at least one person at my company who did a sabbatical, I’m going to try to find out the circumstances.

          1. Autumnheart*

            A coworker of mine went on a FMLA leave of absence for somewhat similar reasons. One of their kids had health problems and there was general personal argh happening in their lives, so my coworker took 4 months of leave. We hired a contractor to fill in for that time.

            I feel like this is a better first option over just quitting, since it might do the trick but keep you your amazing compensation long-term.

      2. vampire physicist*

        seconding/thirding this. I have a friend who had something of a similar situation (both parents died within a couple years of each other, he was totally overwhelmed but worked for a great company and thought he may want to return after extended time off, between inheritance and savings he was in a decent financial place) and he was able to get a sabbatical – it can’t hurt to ask.

    4. Gemma*

      OP3, I similarly took time off (a notional 6 months turned into 2 years backpacking around the world, and 1 year living in another country) and I have never regretted it for a minute. My (financially conservative) family and friends thought I was nuts to leave a well-paying, secure, job but once they saw how happy I was they understood. Being drained, exhausted and stressed had become the norm. I knew I was run down and miserable, but no one (myself included) realized how bad it had become until I was in a better place and could look back and see the change. I suspect you’ll experience something similar. Some things to consider, YMMV: 1.) as Alison said, perhaps see if your work will offer a sabbatical. My company isn’t known for their inflexibility and even they offered a year leave (without me asking). I declined because I didn’t want to feel like I had a time limit because the whole point for me was to disconnect, but it was comforting to know the option was there. The universe works in mysterious ways though, and almost three years to the day I ended up back at the same company. 2.) your references from this company will be extra important in your next job hunt, so leave on excellent terms and keep in touch. 3.) consider the timing of leaving, if you want to travel I’d wait a year or so for things to hopefully improve, I found the time between making the decision and leaving passed quickly because I was focused on planning / downsizing / saving money. 4.) I spent a lot of time talking to my therapist about If leaving was the right decision for me. I’d seen friends try to run away from their problems and it never works so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing that; I didn’t want to wake up in a far flung place with the exact same issues. For me it came down to “the idea of doing X (for me it was travel) is the only time I’ve felt truly happy in years so I have to try.” Sounds like you’ve done a lot of that soul searching already, and the plan is to use the time to grieve, not escape grief, just thought I’d mention it.

      Sorry this is so long. I hope whatever you do works out for you.

      1. OP #3*

        Thank you for sharing! Yes, I think you’re right about grieving vs escaping grief. It’s an easy trap to fall into in a society that’s uncomfortable with grief.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I’d like to add be deliberate about how you use that year, OP. How do you recharge? Sleep is one way, but it is not the total answer. Think about what you have always wanted to get for yourself and have not taken the time. This could be finding a good massage therapist who you will keep even once you return to work. See, my point isn’t about something that is hard, it’s about finding what activities are restorative for you. And hopefully, activities that you will be able to keep in your life once you return to work. Use the time wisely to build up your personal life in ways that you would not bother if you had to work full time.

    6. Ali G*

      I took a year off after being ousted from a horrible work situation back in 2017. When I started looking again, I was surprised at how much of a non-issue it was – mostly because I had a really strong work history (17 years at only 2 places with significant accomplishments).
      Your reason is valid and sound: “I took some time to finally deal with some personal issues, including the loss of both my parents. I was lucky to be in a position where I could afford to take some time off, and now I am looking at picking up the next step in my career…”
      But also definitely look into options with you current employer if you’d want to go back! Where I work a handful of people have taken significant leave of absence, with a combo of paid and unpaid leave. Your employer sounds like they would at least be open to discussing it.

    7. Tired of Covid-and People*

      The OP should look into taking a leave of absence from their present job. I know someone who just returned to work after a year long LOA.

      1. Frustrated*

        OP 3 could go talk with their employer about going part time while they’re thinking about taking time off.

      2. Lynn*

        I had the same thought! An employer with truly great benefits may very well have an option for this. Even if they don’t normal, during the COVID times, they may see it as an opportunity to have voluntary furloughs and save some money.

      3. Kes*

        This is what I was thinking too. First of all, if benefits are that great I presume OP has vacation, which I hope they’re actually taking. I would take a week or two of vacation to detach from work and rest a bit and make a plan during that time of what you would actually want to do, and then talk to work about the fact that you’re burned out and the possibility of taking a leave of absence. If they’re such a great place and OP is good at their job, they may well be willing to work with OP on this. Even if it turns out not to be possible, hopefully OP will be able to leave on good terms with work and as such, be potentially able to come back later.

    8. Harvey 6'3.5"*

      Depending on your actual situation and finances, you might fit the “FIRE” model of becoming financially independent and retiring early. They seem to think of retirement once your savings equal 30 times your yearly expenses (I don’t know if that is feasible for you, but if you are close, that would give you even more freedom).

      1. Observer*

        That’s a totally inappropriate suggestion. The OP is suffering now – the idea that they should not take care of themselves NOW so that they can retire early is just not reasonable.

        1. HMM*

          I interpreted Harvey’s comment as not “deny yourself now” but rather that the sum the OP inherited IS actually enough to retire on if you handle it wisely. The FIRE movement can also teach you how to maximize the money you do have to make it last 30 years.

      2. OP #3*

        Thank you for the suggestion! I’m familiar with FIRE but I definitely don’t have the constitution for it. I’m too paranoid about unforeseen disasters to stop working for good.

    9. WhatAMaroon*

      OP#3 some companies offer future leave which can be similar to LOA but sometimes comes with options to maintain benefits etc. I also hope if you not already you do consider grief counseling. You have been through so much and I’m guessing you might be experiencing different layers of grief about the collective of it. It is the one regret I had after my own parent’s passing that I did not go to grief counseling. I think it would have made a difference to have a space to unpack it all. I wish you serenity and hopefully eventually joy as you take this time for yourself.

      1. OP #3*

        Thank you, that is such a kind suggestion! I went to therapy after my dad died a couple years back but it does seem like grief counseling might be overdue.

    10. beanie gee*

      re: the best seller – it interestingly sounds a lot like the premise of “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” (which admittedly, I have not read).

  4. Anne*

    The finger gun gesture is inappropriate, period. I don’t think it’s necessary for OP#1 to bring personal experience into it – just point out to boss that she may have employees who have attempted suicide or lost loved ones that way, who are unlikely to speak up but would nonetheless be rattled by the gesture. Miming suicide is disturbing in any context. It shouldn’t be a tough sell. I’m sorry they’re dealing with this.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In theory, absolutely true. In practice, I think “I’m bothered by this” is often more persuasive than “someone might be bothered by this.”

      1. Wehaf*

        I agree, but think she can make the connection a bit more distant. “I know people who have been affected by gun violence.” or “I lost someone I knew to suicide by gun.” preserve the personal connection but don’t imply the kind of close link that I think OP is worried about affecting the way people think of her.

      2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        When possible, directness is better, but I think OP was trying to find a way to stop the behavior without asking themselves, as it might be emotionally triggering for them and they don’t want to risk being labeled in this job. I was thinking of an anonymous note left on a desk or in HR’s box.

    2. Czhorat*

      Agreed. This should serve as a reminder that we all need to be careful with words and gestures related to violence; one never knows who had been personally touched by such violence and would be harmed by the reminder.

    3. NoName*

      Yeah, I had the OP‘s problem with a coworker. I very impatiently asked him if he ever tried these handguestures in front of people with traumatic personal experiences and it did not go over well. He started questioning me and telling me he is entitled to use the gesture because of his own experiences and then sulked for a week because I embarrassed him with my question by asking it in front of another coworker… well. In any case I find it absolutely inappropriate but not everyone will understand sadly.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I cannot stand that behavior, when someone says, “I’m entitled to do what I want because of my experience with…”. It’s the most deflective, unempathetic garbage.

        1. Mami21*

          I once asked a customer if he wanted to buy a raffle ticket in support of a cancer charity and he barked ‘no! I’m a SURVIVOR!’ in return.

          Like… how could I have possibly known that? And also… wouldn’t it make you MORE likely to want to support those charities, not less?

          1. pancakes*

            As a person who had cancer relatively young and has occasionally participated in charity events with friends who did too, I want to add that it can be oddly fatiguing when the people selling tickets, handing out t-shirts, etc., presume that you’re there to support an older relative rather than on account of your own experience. We had that happen 4 or 5 times in one day at a walk we participated in, and it didn’t encourage me to do more of that sort of thing. Even if that wasn’t the particular scenario here, you may have been one of several people who tried to sell that guy tickets that day. Also, you shouldn’t assume that everyone who’s had cancer agrees that these type of fundraisers are the ideal way to organize / do activism. Some of us are focused on other things.

            1. Not playing your game anymore*

              Yeah I’ve already lost $50,000+ in the cancer lottery. Not interested in throwing more money that way. I did win the lottery (10 year survivor) tho. I’ll support cancer research in my own way and ask that you not judge.

              1. pancakes*

                That too! My savings have never recovered, and treatment for the lymphedema I developed as result of my cancer treatment (and will have the rest of my life) is mostly not covered by my insurance. It can be very, very expensive to get cancer in the US even if you have “good” insurance.

                1. Not playing your game anymore*

                  Exactly my experience. Cancer took my money, my fertility, my overall good health… I just don’t have any interest in throwing good money after bad. And so many of the cancer fun-raisers do very little other than generating $$$ and good publicity for the organizers. So I try to decline, politely, but …

            2. King Friday XIII*

              Been there, done that and I finally donated the t-shirt. It was emotionally exhausting in ways I did not expect.

            3. Alice's Rabbit*

              I’ve lost lived ones to cancer. I refuse to participate in these sorts of fundraisers, where a shocking amount of the money goes to the fundraiser itself and only a small portion makes it to the actual cause.
              I now choose my charities very carefully, and donate as directly as possible.

        2. NoName*

          Yep… was not really a logical argument either, but I must have somehow touched a nerve. I also did not word it as constructive as Alison would suggest:-)

      2. 'Tis Me*

        He tried to kill himself with a gun? In that case, is his miming this and indicating he is thinking about another attempt a call for help? Does your work have an EAP program/mental first aiders?

        Or he was affected by the loss of somebody who did so, and is minimising the loss in this way? That’s not a healthy coping mechanism, further indicated by his reaction to being called on it. Does your work have an EAP program/mental first aiders?

        Sometimes refusing to let people minimise something they are trying to pass off as funny can bring home the seriousness of the situation.

        1. Littorally*

          On the other hand, “you’re not coping in the way I think you ought to be coping” coming from someone who is not a therapist, doctor, or very close friend is profoundly intrusive and unwelcome pretty much all the time.

        2. Observer*

          Please, this is as bad as the guy’s reaction. He needs to be a decent person and stop making that gesture. And no one gets to tell him how to cope with whatever his experience is.

        3. NoName*

          Your last paragraph sounds very wise to me… thank you. I tend to take things seriously, so was taking his gesture also seriously. I also wondered if this can be interpreted as a cry for help but then decided i am just his colleague and not his therapist wife or mother… I‘ve often mentioned counselling services which are free and great (not related to his situation just in general).
          Anyway what he argued in terms of his ‚experience‘ were acquaintances or his general bohemian Environment or whatever.

    4. 10Isee*

      I’ve had a surprising amount of success by simply saying, “Please don’t joke about suicide.” Sometimes people don’t quite realize thats what they’re doing until they hear it out loud. Obviously there are still boorish people who will push back, but they’re going to be an issue no matter what tack you take.

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        This is my approach too, sometimes accompanied by, “I’ve lost too many people to suicide to see it as lighthearted.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I love this approach.

          I have also gone with, “Ya know, I used to make that gesture myself. But I got to thinking about all the news headlines with gun violence. And I realized that I don’t know anyone’s FULL life story. I might be thinking that I am gesturing to another person that I am a dummy or a twit but the other person sees a whole different message because of things that have happened in their lives.”

          If this flies over their heads then I go back in with, “I have lost too many people out of my life. Thinking of you, or anyone else here for that matter, as being dead isn’t funny to me. Please stop.”

          Notice the addition of other people. You aren’t just talking about the boss being dead, you are talking about anyone you know being dead. So your not really saying “Boss, stop it.” There’s a sense that you would say this to anyone who repeatedly made this gesture.

          Whatever you decide to go with, OP, practice at home in front of the mirror. I think sometimes the hardest part of these types of conversations is hearing our own voices say these words. Practice at home, get used to hearing yourself asking them to stop. You will probably find that tone of voice matters. If you use a softer, quieter tone than usual people might better understand that you are absolutely serious.

        2. Alice's Rabbit*

          That’s perfect! Because it emphasizes that you have deep, personal reasons for disliking this, while not having to get too deep into who exactly you lost.
          I’ve lost a few to their battle with depression. I’ll keep this phrasing in mind.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I agree with Alison’s comment that citing personal experience may well be more likely to get the change you want, but I don’t think you need to be explicit.

      I think something like “I’ve had personal experience of losing someone to gun violence / gun suicide, so it’s very distressing, and there may well be others who have lost a friend or family member that way and would also be distressed” which doesn’t mean you have to say it was your dad, or even a member of your family. Or even “That kind of gesture trivializes suicide, and it’s upsetting to those of us who have been affected by suicide or gin violence” which doesn’t give any detail of how it it has personally affected you.

      I’m sorry about your Dad.

    6. memyselfandi*

      I agree. I work in an environment that closely examines the language we use for implied violence (ex. target population) because the people we work with have experienced violence in a variety of forms. Many things we say and do have a history that is unsavoury but has been forgotten. I think it is worthwhile to raise the issue of the implied violence without revealing anything personal.

    7. Drifter*

      You don’t have to mention a connection at all. People will fill in the blank, but a serious, “When you do that, I am deeply bothered and can’t focus for a while afterward. It makes me less productive, please stop.”

      I did a less mature, but effective version with an Angry Man boss who would stomp around and slam his office door. I asked him to stop, he argued that since he wasn’t angry with me, it shouldn’t matter. “Every time you slam your door, I am non productive for the rest of the day. If that’s what you want to spend my productive time on, its your choice.”

      We didn’t discuss my reasons for why Angry Man Slamming Door would be that disruptive, or whether that was a “good” reason, just that he chose what his team spent time on, and if he chose to slam his door, he was choosing to assign me to dealing with that over other work. He stopped.

    8. Totally Minnie*

      I agree with you that you should just be able to say it’s inappropriate and it should stop. But I’ve tried that with several people in my own orbit, and in a lot of cases, they have interpreted it as me being the “morality police” trying to boss them around for no good reason, and it didn’t solve the problem.

      Did it suck having to tell these people that I’m a survivor of gun violence and that gun metaphors and hand gestures are deeply harmful to me? Yes, it very much did. But it was also substantially more effective at getting them to stop than just saying “that’s not appropriate.”

    9. Tired of Covid-and People*

      I have had recent gun violence devastate my family, with a child being shot in the head because a random bullet came through the wall of their home. This child is dead. However phrased, this manager need to be advised to stop this gesture, as should anybody else who uses it.

      1. Paperwhite*

        I had been meaning to tell you how much I agreed with your comments above, and now I must absolutely tell you how very sorry I am that you and your family have had to endure such a horriffic loss.

    10. Sylvan*

      While I agree, I also think it’s inappropriate enough that “Please stop that” or “What are you doing?” without explanation could work. Like you said, it shouldn’t be a tough sell. She might just need it brought to her attention.

  5. GratefulTeacher*

    OP 1, I am so sorry for your loss. That is such an incredibly hard way to lose a loved one and you shouldn’t have to be reminded of it regularly. How would this sound, “Hey, I’m sure you don’t realize this, but that hand signal can bring up a lot of bad memories for folks exposed to gun violence or other forms of violence/death. Would you mind not making it around me?” That might make it more vague since you’re talking about the effect on people in general and not just you? Another way you could do this that would be a bit more subtle (only you could know she is a thoughtful person and these conversations wouldn’t be out of place in your office) would be to bring up being more sensitive to trauma survivors and survivors of loss in casual conversation, maybe with other coworkers around, one day. You could say something like, “Hey, I was reading this thought provoking article about how everyday phrases and hand gestures that casually reference violence can be really hard on folks going through all sorts of things, be it loss, mental illness, or exposure to violence. I never thought about how (give two other examples, then mention the hand gesture) could make it hard for others. I’m going to work on that!” Maybe she would pick it up on her own then without you having to out yourself. Plus, it would be mostly true since you did read a thoughtful article-your own contribution to this site!

    1. Amaranth*

      Unfortunately, I think if its *too* academic, it might possible make Manager think twice but also might result in ‘oh, glad we don’t have that problem here’ since nobody had said anything.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I have even started saying something in my personal life with friends. Here, I can say something a bit more personalized, such as, “I don’t need another person missing from my life right now. Losing you is not funny to me.”
      I think that if we are saying similar things in private life it makes it easier at work to carry the message onward.

      Sadly, I had one friend who needed to hear me say that a few times before it dawned on them, “Hey, NSNR is serious here…..”

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Honestly, I would tell the truth but lie about who the victim was, a friend instead of a relative. A lot of teens and young adults have lost a classmate to suicide, so people will get it without it being as intimately connected to the LW as a first degree relative.

  6. Dan*


    COVID being COVID, I would advise someone to think really long and really hard about whether stepping out of the workforce is the right choice to make. When the economy is humming, sure, those “in demand” jobs may very well still be in demand. But with COVID? Who really knows how long this is going to drag on, and what its long term effects are?

    My company gets an unusual amount of people who quit and later return, but being able to hire them back is primarily based on whether there is funding to support them. And since our funding changes year to year, there’s no telling what next year’s funding is going to be like. We’re loathe to lay people off, but we do when budgets get really tight. When that happens, management is always happy for voluntary separations, but there’s just no telling if/when there will be funding to return to.

    What I *would* do is take AAM’s last piece of advice a step further. Before trying to negotiate a true separation with an “easy return”, can you determine whether an extended leave without pay is a better option? Six months with a guaranteed job to return to would be worth strongly considering. Given what you describe as a generally good job overall, I would think long and hard before quitting it. While it may not be terribly difficult to find a job when you want to return, 1) You never really know, and 2) It may not be as good as what you currently have.

    1. Skittles*

      Depending on what country the OP is in a ‘career break’ might be an option. I’ve worked for a couple of companies now that have that option.

    2. Part-timer*

      Another option could be to ask to go part time for a while. Having 3 or 4 day weekends can be tremendously restorative.

    3. MK*

      I agree. The OP has nothing to lose by sounding off their employer on this, and if at the end of six months they still aren’t ready to return to work, they can deal with it then. And, personally speaking, I would be able to take advantage of the time off to recuperate much better if it is framed as a leave of absence, than if I had to deal with the stress of worrying whether I had ruined my career prospects. (And with all respect to Alison’s perspective, many women’s careers never recovered after they took time off to raise their children and many people of my generation in my country who delayed their career starts found themselves at the height of the post-2007 recession)

      1. neyla*

        It can be harder for women to recover professionally after many years away to raise kids but just 1 year? Not from what I’ve seen.

        1. MK*

          The one year in those cases is usually parental leave, which is a different dynamic, I think. In any case, one year is Alison’s suggestion the OP, not how long the OP plans to take, or long people who step out of the workforce always take.

          And while logic would suggest that the longer you stay away the harder it is to step back, there are other factors at play. Sometimes one year at the wrong time can be worse.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah. Of course, things being what they are in the US, even a “guaranteed job” is there only for as long as the employer says so. Since most people work without a contract, I can’t imagine it would be easy to negotiate a deal where the person leaving gets severance if they’re laid off during their absence.

      1. MK*

        Eh, even in countries with much stronger labour protections, guaranteed jobs and/or severance apply to people leaving for parental leave or because of an illness, or possibly education leave.And even that can fall through in some cases. You are unlikely to be able to negotiate a contract where they have to give you your job back after a year of leave after burnout.

    5. Amanda*

      Yeah, I think OP3 needs to consider how they’d feel of the only jobs they could return to after a year are more like their former crappy jobs than their current awesome ones. Which is more common in their field? Do they want a career change or just a break?

      Also, what supports have you set up for yourself? OP sounds like they’ve dealt with a lot of trauma, and time off can give them time/space to heal but my experience is that time/space is only part of the equation. This is beyond the scope of work, but I’d make sure you have therapy and some other supports lined up before you leave your job. (And obviously make sure you’re accounting for the cost of health insurance if you’re on the US so you maintain access to those). Otherwise, it would be easy to sink into a deep depression with that much trauma and none of the structure that work provides to keep you going.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        I second the concern about the OP3’s support system. After losing her family and pets and moving countries, does she have people close by that can be with her if she needs it? She may now feel she’ll sleep for a year, but what if she “wakes up” after 3-4 months and needs a more social environment. Pandemic is not a great backdrop for this scenario. Coming back to a good (her current) job may be an option for this social component, if she manages to arrange a sabbatical/leave of absence.

    6. Malika*

      While she has a huge buffer and would in theory be able to look for a job for years on end, I would definitely underline requesting extended leave. A job is never guaranteed and there are always loopholes, but if after a years rest she is ready to retutn to work, she is going back to the known quantity of her old employer.

      OP3, I have been in your shoes. The big difference was not an inheritance, but a very generous payout. I had the first proper rest of my whole life, processed a mountain of childhood trauma, severed old patterns that had kept me back in life, and am now in the best relationship I have ever had because of it. Job-wise it has been rougher and I am now looking for a job after another bout of unemployment, due to corona. Yet even in these rough times of 2020 I stopped smoking, drinking, and finally got the diagnosis of ADHD which will turn my working life around. Sabbaticals brings a lot of perspective and transformation, if anyone gets the chance, they should take it.

    7. Pink Dahlia*

      1000% agree with this. If the LW is old enough to have lost both parents to old age, then age discrimination in hiring is possibly going to be an issue (in tech, it became a problem for me by age 35), and a pandemic on top of that is a major obstacle.

      I’d ask for an unpaid leave, and see what they’re willing to do. Even a couple of months off, while retaining the mental security of a job to return to, could help enough to clear your thoughts and illuminate a path forward.

      1. OP #3*

        That’s a good point, thank you for thinking of it! I’m 32, but there is definitely a little bit of “hot new thing” syndrome in my line of work. I think I’m at the point where I have a big enough portfolio of successful work that I’m not as worried about being upstaged by new talent as I was a couple years ago.

        1. TooTiredToThink*

          When you do take your time off – whether its a LoA or resigning from the job; is there any sort of certifications you can work on to help a) give your mind a low stakes goal to focus on* and b) help keep you “relevant”?

          (*I know not everyone is the same, but I know me – I’d have to have some very minor goal to be working on after a few weeks of total rest/screaming out into the void/sleeping so that I don’t slip into a bad place)

          I hope your current company does give you a LoA. I think that would be ideal.

    8. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

      I agree. See if you can take care of yourself some other way, but do not quit your job!

    9. Alice's Rabbit*

      Not sure I entirely agree. If anything, ducking out now gives him the excuse of “Well, covid… you know how crazy things were for a while there” when explaining their resume gap in the future.

  7. kellyu*

    OP3, definitely ask your current employer! I work for a law firm and we’ve had people leave for a year to go travel, to study full time for a postgraduate degree, everything. Call it a sabbatical. A lot of employers are recognizant that they don’t want to lose the person permanently, so losing them temporarily is a great trade off.

    1. Liz*

      I was going to suggest the same thing. People take prolonged periods of time off for various reasons, and temporary replacements are hired on secondment. Speak to them about your options. Time off doesn’t have to mean quitting.

    2. Yoz*

      +1 to this! I’ve had colleagues take 6-month and 12-month career breaks from our firm, and we find a way to make it work.

    3. 'Tis Me*

      Another person who was going to suggest a sabbatical! Supportive, healthy workplaces will most definitely understand that you need to grieve, and if this is something they can facilitate, then will be happy to do so.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Same. We have had people take extended leaves of absence (6 mos to 2 years) for a variety of reasons (e.g. caretaking, kids, health issues, volunteer work). We either hire in someone temporary (if over 1 year) or split the tasks same as we would for any long leave. Since we all know that we can also do it if needed, there isn’t any resentment.

  8. Cynthia*

    My dad also died as a result of suicide using a gun. It was unexpected and exceptionally traumatic for my mom and I. With time (in my case 10 years now), we have become much less sensitive. It will always hurt but you learn to live in world where people unintentionally trigger emotions.

    1. Skittles*

      It’s been 18 years since my dad died by suicide now and I’m also less sensitive than I once was but have recently found myself triggered by a few movies and TV shows to the extent that I have had to ask my partner to watch horror movies and TV shows without me and he will then tell me if they are ‘safe’ for me to watch or not. Unfortunately the manner in which my dad died is a popular trope in the horror genre as well as drama and even some cartoons.

      1. Funny Cide*

        The website “Does the Dog Die?” started as quite literally just a website where you could look up a movie and see if there was a dog in it that might not survive the movie, but it has evolved into a much more robust place with TV content as well and a lot of options to check for other triggers being present before viewing something, which is contributed to by many folks (and IIRC it uses an algorithm based on the answers as to whether or not something is in the movie, so that it’s not a single review that could mess up for someone). Without more detail, I’m unfortunately not sure if what you’re thinking of specifically trying to avoid is one of the things listed on there, but if your arrangement of having your partner preview things for you doesn’t always work out, you might give that site a try – or consider having your partner become a contributor to the site to help provide that service for others since they’re already doing so for you!

          1. Not playing your game anymore*

            Oh yes it existed when I am Legend came out. It helped me avoid what would surely have been a traumatic experience.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’m going to have to start following this site. I hate it when movies do stuff like that.

  9. Fancy Owl*

    If you think your boss would react well to general arguments like “some people might be bothered by that gesture” I think that would be the way to go to protect your privacy. But if you think it won’t stick unless she knows it personally affects you, I might actually pretend that it was your friend’s dad to your boss. In my experience at least, two degrees of separation from loss is enough to make people sympathetic but not enough to cause them to pity you. Whatever you decide to do, I hope she stops!

    1. Totally Minnie*

      I don’t think OP needs to go so far as to lie or imply that their lost loved one was in fact someone else. In a lot of cases a vague “I lost a loved one” will get the listener’s attention without having to specify exactly who it was.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      Ot even just “I lost someone to gun suicide. I know for some people, that gesture isn’t a big deal, but for me… well, I don’t even want to think about losing such a great boss in such a horrific manner. So would you mind trying to stop that? Thanks. Really.”

  10. Squidhead*

    Re: #1 I have an otherwise sensitive and empathetic co-worker who also does this. And does it over similar, seemingly minor or routine hassles (heavy traffic, dentist appointment after work). In their case, I will probably address the hyperbole of it rather than the mental health/triggering angle. Like, ‘really, you’re gonna shoot yourself because of a red light?’ I do think the gesture is inappropriate and this person would be very understanding of the potentially triggering aspect without any additional context needed. But I also think it makes them look really immature, which this person also struggles with in some other areas. So (I’m hoping that) pointing out that the gesture seems overblown will serve both purposes. (This person is younger than I am and also junior to me, and seems to take my feedback to heart, so I don’t think I’ll get an eye-roll of ‘it’s sarcasm, lighten up.)

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. If the company has such good benefits, then it may very well offer a sabbatical option. I know of somebody who took a year off from a senior managerial position.

    1. Ads*

      Yes! If OP has a good working relationship with their boss, now’s the time to look into creative options. Even if the company only allows (say) a 6-month sabbatical, that might be satisfying and refreshing enough

      That aside, I know for me, if I were in that boat, I’d wait until after COVID to be able to do some long-term traveling. Maybe that’s also a good question for OP to consider – is the world “experience” right now a good time to take a year off, or is work actually being a good distraction from the world? Before taking the plunge, maybe take some PTO first to “reset” a bit and decide if you still want to take more time.

      1. WellRed*

        OP says, though, she’d like to sleep for a year. Obviously that’s not literal, but sometimes people need to recharge by just being in their daily life more fully without the overhang if Work. No travel necessary.

        1. C M*

          Yes, some time sleeping, playing mobile games, watching Netflix, and eating junk food can be very restorative. Due to a generous policy of vacation time and paid holidays, I sometimes take a straight 3 weeks off at the end of December. I usually visit family over actual Christmas (maybe not this year), but that still leaves me with 2 weeks of nothing. I don’t try to fill my days with any specific plans. Then when I start work again in January I feel renewed.

          Two weeks is really my limit and I usually start to get bored and antsy right before I go back. But I’m just recovering from standard life stress, not everything that LW had gone through.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I was going to ask this – an unpaid sabbatical might look very appealing to the employer right now if it means they get to retain a good employee but make a financial saving.

      Another option might be to ask about going part time for a bit, which may give you time to recharge while keeping your eye in, professionally speaking, and perhaps then take time off in another year or 6 months when the current health crisis is better controlled and travel etc. more of an option.

    3. NerdyPrettyThings*

      I came here to say this too. My employer calls it a leave of absence. Check your handbook, if you have one, then talk to your boss. Best wishes for healing and peace! It sounds like you’ve been through a lot.

  12. Batgirl*

    OP1, the word “upsetting” can be powerful without any other details: “You couldnt know this, but I find mention of guns really upsetting, especially that shooting gesture. It really affects me.”
    People are way less defensive if you put the focus on your feelings rather than on their mistake, or on sensitivities they should have. If shes a good person she’ll understand and fill in that blank herself that there are many reasons its a not a good idea going forward; that it’s not something people advertise.

  13. Matt*

    Why would someone ask one to “email them” and not give any information what it’s about? That’s even worse than the good old “please call me back asap”, because one writes requesting that one should write …

    1. The Other Dawn*

      It reminds me of a friend who will basically say, “I want to talk to you so YOU make that happen.” Um, YOU want to talk to ME, so YOU can call/email/text ME.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      If there was a LI conversation going, then adjourning to email could make sense, especially for someone who isn’t always logged on to LI.

      But I agree, the “call me/email me” with no topic/urgency etc is extremely irritating. Those messages tend to drop out of my head because I can’t gauge whether I need to drop everything in order to respond, or can wait until i’m at a stopping point.

    3. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I do it sometimes with phone calls, because I want them to call me at their convenience when it’s a good time to talk. Email, on the other hand, makes absolutely no sense.

  14. Bazza635*

    #3 Go ahead and take it, have the break. I would say that regardless of COVID or not.

    I came into some money this year through a relative dying. I was unemployed before this and that was due to deaths in the family and taking on additional responsibilities. My nephew has now left school, so I am in a good position to go back to work.

    But I will be taking a good year away from job searching and what goes along with it. I have hobbies and things I want do and get fitter, etc. Its nice not to have to worry about surviving on unemployment benefits. It will allow me to get into a better headspace.

  15. babblemouth*

    OP3: Take the break!
    But if you are very concerned about re-entering the workforce later on, how about approaching this as an unpaid sabbatical? Of the people I know who took sabbaticals, many spent the first month or two doing nothing and just getting their strength back, and then moved on to a passion project. You could do something similar – and the passion project doesn’t have to be related to your actual work! So take a breather and then focus on your house plants, or favorite crafts, or classic Hollywood movies on the 1950s, or estate management, etc. This way if you are asked later on, you can point to something specific you did – even if that something wasn’t actually work.

  16. anon for this*

    I also lost my father to a gun suicide, which is not publicly known, and have otherwise kind and lovely people in my life who make that gesture. I don’t know how to ask them to stop without breaking down. It’s been years but it’s still raw.

    OP1, I’m with you in this shitty club.

    1. Vanellope*

      Anon and OP1 I’m so sorry. I am also in the same boat.

      I did not want to share specifics at work and had a boss who would make that gesture. I started abruptly ending the conversation when she would do it – I wasn’t interested in gently correcting her nor did I have the emotional bandwidth to explain why it personally affected me, so I would just leave. Bad traffic finger gun? We’re done here. Work screw up finger gun? I’m walking away now. I once did it when she was in my office and I was at my desk – I just resumed what I was doing and started looking at my screen instead of her. Not the most direct method but like I said – my heart breaks every time and I’m not interested in sharing specifics at work. It seemed to work – I haven’t seen her do that in a while. Good luck navigating all that.

      1. Tiny Kong*

        I’m so sorry for your loss.

        I wonder if it might have been more effective to be direct with your boss at a time when you had more emotional bandwidth. “I’m not comfortable with that gesture, please stop” rather than trying to train your boss and hoping she picks up the message. It’s good that she eventually did, but it’s not always possible to walk away/turn away/ignore your boss without repercussions, or without the boss asking about it.

    2. OP #1*

      Hugs. It is a terrible club to be in, isn’t it? I am in tears at the kindness of all of the comments here.

  17. Roeslein*

    OP #3, from a career standpoint you’re probably better off taking a leave of absence / sabbatical from your current role if that’s an option, keep your options open, and then think about it once you’ve had a couple of months to rest and gain some perspective. The urge to “sleep for a year” may get old pretty fast, or it may not. Travel is not option, but you could say you’re working on a book or whatever. I know people who just quit and took a year off to travel (not an option right now, obviously), and even though they felt highly in demand before quitting (multiple recruiters calling each week, etc.) in some cases they really struggled to get back in the field once they had that one-year gap on their CV (of course this may vary from field to field). Those who didn’t struggle were typically heavily engaged in volunteering during their time off so had “something to show for it”. For those who took a 6-months leave of absence, even in their 30s, the only consequence I’m aware of was that their next promotion was delayed accordingly.

  18. crunchyhair*

    Removed because derailing and not useful for the OP. We know our maternity leave sucks in the U.S. but it’s exhausting and not constructive to hear it every time maternity leave comes up. – Alison

  19. LGC*

    1 and 2 kind of depend on the boss.

    1 is more clear-cut – I don’t think you owe it to your boss to specify your trauma, but I think you really should say something like what Alison said – that gesture bothers you. (And honestly, even if you didn’t go through what you went through, you’d still be right to ask her to stop.) I think the one thing I’ve learned – especially this week – is that people (Americans especially *cough*) don’t deal as well with abstracts as they do with concrete issues.

    2 is somewhat less high-stakes. (Like, it has a larger impact on work, but also…it’s not reawakening anyone’s trauma.) You might want to pair any requests with an offer to help Prue because she’s obviously interested in doing things, and she’d definitely want to do them right.

    I’m sorry you have to babysit your boss.

    LW3, I mean this without judgment, but this sounds similar to the plot of “My Year Of Rest And Relaxation.” (Which I still need to finish!) But…honestly, I’m a little hesitant to tell you not to take a year sabbatical.

    I’m also hesitant to tell you to take a year sabbatical, because – apologies – my urge to just sleep for a year flares up when I get more depressed. It’s not obvious from your letter if you’ve sought professional help, and post-industrial society (American society especially *cough*) puts way too much emphasis on productivity, but the premise of this letter is a bit of a warning sign. Whatever you do, please don’t go to a quack psychiatrist who’ll prescribe you horse tranquilizers just because you want to sleep.

    Sorry for the life advice instead of the career advice, but…yeah, your letter did raise some concerns. Definitely take some time off, but I’d also suggest getting help dealing with the mountain of issues you’re dealing with – that’s a lot for any one person to handle.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      “please don’t go to a quack psychiatrist who’ll prescribe you horse tranquilizers”

      Can we not do the “medication is bad and you are a bad person for taking it” thing? I’ve taken psych meds, some awful and some which may have saved my life. The *right* medication, IF that’s what you need, will absolutely not turn you into a drugged-out zombie.

      1. ThatGirl*

        all of this. psychs don’t go around prescribing “horse tranquilizers” – antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds should help you cope and take the edge off, not make you sleep for days.

      2. LGC*

        …I was referencing the book I mentioned, where the protagonist does shop for a doctor that will prescribe her the medications she wants.

        (Incidentally, it was a book Alison recommended a year or two ago.)

        But yeah, that’s a valid point. Medications can be useful, and I can see how it came across like saying it wasn’t. I’m sorry I was a bit sloppy in what I wrote.

      3. Dancing Otter*

        I don’t believe that LGC was saying all medication is bad.

        There are people practicing psychiatry who leap to prescribe too much too quickly, or without due consideration of what the right medication for this particular patient really is. Every profession has some who are better at it and some who are not.

        Hence the word “quack”.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          And in this case, sleeping pills would likely be a bad idea. But if all the doc was told was “trouble sleeping,” that could easily be the prescribed medication, instead of counseling, lifestyle changes, and possible antidepressants to actually help.

  20. Lemon it's Wednesday*

    #1- I was in a safety training where the EHS person was going over active shooter information. He kept casually referring to “crazy people” with guns and kind of assuming only those with serious mental health issues would come to work and shoot people.
    It was around the anniversary of my friend’s suicide and the way he kept using the term “crazy” really bothered me (I also deal with mental health issues so someone casually telling folks that crazy people are dangerous also upset me).

    After the training I asked if he had time to chat and just very calmly and simply said “I don’t think you intended to upset or bother anyone, but referring to crazy people during an active shooter training can be stigmatizing and upsetting to folks who have dealt with mental health issues”.
    He took it very well and was glad I mentioned it so he could check his language in future trainings. He also mentioned that he’d lost someone to suicide and didn’t think when he was speaking and how it could affect others.

    Not sure what your boss is like, but wanted to give an example of that type.of conversation going well.

    Sorry about your loss.

    1. Observer*

      Thanks for speaking up. Three is another good reason for him to change his language – Violence and mental health issues are not as linked as we tend to think. It’s a very bad idea to allow “looks crazy” to be a warning sign while “looks not crazy” provides a FALSE sense of security.

  21. Night Vale Seems Good By Comparison*

    OP3, as someone who only has one living relative left (small family, but still), TAKE THE TIME. Certainly talk to your employer about a leave of absence if you wish, but take the time and don’t feel guilty. None of us can individually fix all that is wrong with this world, including the inadequate leave options for most people. I never got more than a few days after each loss but that means I recognize how vital a chance to mourn is, not that I think it’s right that we are all forced to our breaking points by necessity.

    Also I haven’t seen anyone mention this so please, once you have enough spoons, research and hire a reputable, fee-based financial advisor. (If there’s no upfront fee they make money off what they sell you, not what’s best for you). A good advisor will help you understand what to do with the money, how long you can realistically be out of work, etc. You might be pleasantly surprised how far the money can be stretched with proper investing.

    I’m sorry for all you’ve been through. Please take time to recover and then decide your next move once the brain fog has lifted.

    1. Phoebe*

      This is great advice. If the inheritance is enough for you to live on for 6-7 years, I would bet that investing it wisely could easily provide you with a modest income for even longer. Maybe even allow you to plan for a small supplemental income when you return to work.

    2. OP #3*

      This is great advice, thank you! I have a wonderful financial advisor and my next step is going to her with my calculations to see if there’s anything I’ve missed with my pie in the sky planning.

  22. Becky S*

    #3, what a tough time you’ve had! If you haven’t already done so, please consider meeting with a financial planner to make sure that money will last as long as you hope….

  23. agnes*

    LW #3 just a thought–would you considering exploring other options at your current job? Some organizations allow you to take an unpaid leave of absence for up to a year, or to drop to part time for a while. Would any of these options provide you with the space you need to recharge yourself? The reason I ask is because you speak so highly of your current job circumstances that it would be a shame if you took a year or two off and wound up in a different job that created new stress. If you could maintain a foothold at your current employer it would give the option to return there full time.

    I commend you for taking care of yourself and hope things work out well for you.

  24. Night Vale Seems Good By Comparison*

    Also, OP3, whatever you decide to do, be very careful about who you share your plans with. Your personal life is zero percent anyone else’s business. Just because someone asks a question (Why are you off work? Did you inherit money? You are selfish unless you give me some!), they are not entitled to an honest answer.

    One reason positive change is so difficult today is a lot of people seem to subscribe to the Crabs in a Bucket philosophy. Rather than working together to ensure a better life for us all, their only goal is to ensure that no one, anywhere, has even one positive thing that they themselves never had access to. Don’t give the Misery Gatekeepers a toehold to comment on your life. Just be as vague and uninteresting as possible.

    1. I edit everything*

      Just commenting to say I love your screen name. I’ve been thinking of binging some “Welcome to Night Vale” over the last couple days, just for a relief from the horror show that is reality right now.

      1. Night Vale Seems Good By Comparison*

        Ha ha thanks! Escapism horror really is preferable to reality right now…

    2. Firecat*

      I agree with this.

      For starters – you may not be able to decompress if you are worried about your employability past your time of. A leave of absence of 6 months would be relaxing and you’d have that return to work guareentee.

      And while yes, a year or more off won’t make you unemployable (assuming you have at least 5 years experience*), if you have the type of job with benefits so good that you can’t talk about it without friends feeling like you are bragging at them, then you may not be able to get that level of benefits back.

      *I speak from my spouses experience. He had in demand skills, grant writing, but was laid off from his non profit after 3 years of work experience. It was during a recession, like now, and it was a couple of years before roles like that opened up again. Then he started apply to these entry level roles and was consistently turned down for new graduates. He was turned down for the roles that wanted 5-7 years experience for not being experienced enough. After a couple of years of consistent applying and only landing retail jobs he decided to become a SAHS.

  25. Policy Wonk*

    LW #1 – I am very sorry for your loss. I lost a friend to a gun suicide and it is painful, even many years later. I had a similar situation with someone who, when frustrated, would say something like that rather than use the gesture. It hurt every time he said it and I finally told him I had a friend who did that and would he please stop saying it! He was very taken aback.
    He still says it sometimes – it’s an ingrained habit – but my blunt ask seemed to make him aware of how insensitive and offensive that is, and occurrences are less frequent. You don’t need to say it’s a family member, but I do think you need to say something.

    You may also want to call on the professionals for help. NAMI is a good resource (; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also has support group for survivors.

  26. Persephone Mongoose*

    I had to do a double take at Letter 1. Alison answered a similar question from me earlier this year. In my case I had success in speaking with the person privately and saying “I have a favour to ask. Sometimes when you’re frustrated you mime shooting yourself. Would you mind not doing that?” The person immediately agreed, and didn’t press for an explanation why. This was a peer, rather than a boss. I’m not sure how that dynamic might affect things.

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

  27. Mel_05*

    OP3: A break is a lovely thing and you can afford it. I’d go for it.

    I’ve had two forced breaks in the past two years. Five months because I was fired, 4 months because of covid lay-offs.
    Those aren’t the most stress free circumstances and I definitely did not have the financial cushion you do.

    It was glorious.

    I wish I could gift everyone a nice 6-12 month break from work 15 years in. It really recharged me in a way I didn’t even know I needed.

  28. OP #5*

    Hi all, background and update from my question (#5).

    The reason I was so suspicious of my old HR manager is because of the general environment of that particular job. If someone wasn’t yelled at by the owner until the point of threatening to quit or crying each week it was unusual. HR would privately side with an employee but publicly side with the owner. She had also previously tried to contact me after I quit for petty office drama and I did not want to get dragged back into it.

    I asked her why I needed to email her, and she admitted what it was over: someone left the company a bad review and she was having issues hiring people once they read this particularly harsh review. She accused me of writing it and demanded that I take it down. She thought it was me because the job title stated in the review was similar to what my title was when I worked there. I heard from another former coworker that HR was going around accusing the person who filled my position of writing it and harassing that individual, as well as reaching out to other people who have quit or were fired asking if they wrote it and demanding it be taken down.

    I didn’t write the review, so I told her this, and she left me alone after that. But I started getting more and more former coworkers asking me if I did, so uh…that’s where that ended up. HR hasn’t bugged me since but I still got dragged back into old workplace drama.

    1. I edit everything*

      Thanks for the update! I think you can safely block her now. And consider writing your own review, honestly. It sounds like an awful place to work, and applicants deserve a heads up.

    2. BlueBelle*

      I would go write a review! HA! People should be warned and if they aren’t active dealing with these issues, that is their issue. Who cares if they know you wrote it, it is all true and they can petition Glassdoor to have it removed or they can respond. They can’t do anything to you. I am glad you got out of there!

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Now, if it was me in your shoes, I’d go in and write a bad review. At this point it could be any of the current and former employees she has harassed.

    4. pancakes*

      The idea that someone who wrote a negative review would take it down upon request from the subject of the review is bizarre and child-like. It makes no more sense than asking Santa to bring a good review for Christmas.

      1. Mel_05*

        It is, but so many companies do it. Not just to former employees, but displeased customers as well.

        I’ve worked at companies where they’re just baffled that someone who had a negative experience would respond by writing a negative review. It’s honestly kind of comical how confused they are by it. So then when they respond, its never in a way that would make the situation better.

        1. Happy Pineapple*

          I was left a 3 out of 5 star review for a food truck on Yelp and was harassed and stalked by the owner who wanted me to delete it. It was terrifying.

          1. Rainy*

            I left an honest but not traceable to me (for reasons which will become clear) yelp review once on a property management company from a prior apartment of mine. I waited 18 months to do so, and I created a burner email for it and used a fake name.

            35 minutes after it went up, there was a response from the business manager accusing me of lying. He said that he had gone through his files and no one with my (fictitious!) name or anything like it had ever rented a property through his company. He demanded that I get in touch with him personally and that I also take the review down.

    5. Observer*

      Well, this just validates that you left for a VERRRRY good reason! But also, it’s not true that she “sided with the employee” – She was playing good cop / bad cop and trying to play mind games. Because otherwise this exchange would not have happened.

      I mean think about it – she demanded that you email her so that she could make demands of you. And she made a stupid and ridiculous demand. That’s not the action of a person who recognizes that their boss is nuts.

    6. juliebulie*

      Spectacular. She practically guaranteed that you WILL write a negative review now.

      Seriously, someone needs to tell them, “THIS is why people write negative reviews about your company.”

    7. Sloan Kittering*

      Ugh, your instincts were so right about this email. I’ve worked in offices that do the ‘who wrote this review’ game and it’s so frustrating. I’ve been blamed for reviews I did NOT write also. I do like to leave reviews but actually I write mine while still employed to make sure suspicion doesn’t fall on me, and I’m careful to put in details that throw people off. Then they whine about “fake reviews” because they can’t figure out what employee would have that combination of fact patterns and try to complain to the site!!

      People who keep getting terrible reviews should focus on improving their culture, not figuring out which employee was “disloyal”!!

    8. Weekend Please*

      Is there a benefit to staying connected to her on LinkedIn? I would seriously consider blocking her if able.

    9. Kella*

      I’m glad you trusted your instincts on this one! It felt off to me that she specifically asked *you* to email *her* rather than just emailing you herself or saying what she needed to say in the chat you were already in. I don’t know what she would’ve gained by doing it that way but when someone does something illogical like that without providing an explanation, and there’s a history of dysfunction in the office, that would make me wary too.

    10. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Wowww. Good riddance. I initially thought maybe this person was collecting evidence of the toxic workplace/individuals to make some sort of action, but it’s clear they are part of the toxicity. Block away!

    11. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      Woww. Initially I thought this person was reaching out to collect evidence to take action against a toxic individual, but it’s clear they ARE a toxic individual. Good riddance!

    12. Jessica Fletcher*

      Oh my gosh! I thought she just didn’t want to keep opening LinkedIn to reply! Wow, glad you’re not in that drama all day.

      I kind of hope if the author is still there, that they add a note about the witch hunt.

  29. IDK*

    OP 1, I sympathize. I have been affected by a similar situation. I cringe every time I read FML or something similar. It pulls me back in time. I know the people mean it in jest, but I always want to scream at them that whatever the situation is (since it’s usually something stupid), is only an inconvenience.

    Thank you for the question. I look forward to taking the advice myself.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Neither have I, but I tried it out in a group text with close friends once and it felt icky to be complaining about something fairly mundane with a phrase that ended up evoking really strong feelings in myself. I haven’t used it since and I use SMH occasionally which has the added bonus of being SFW. :)

  30. Bear*

    Regarding the inheritance, a shocking amount can go shockingly quickly.

    In the investment world we use a standard expectation of 4% returns over a lifetime time horizon, on average.

    So, for example, if you had $1 Million Dollars invested in something like VFIFX or VTWAX or a similar total market portfolio with some bonds mixed in, you’d have up years and down years but over the longterm most would tell you to expect to draw $40,000 from that amount annually in retirement without sacrificing your principle investment.

    I think taking a year off sounds like a great idea. But when you do, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to reflect on what you want to be doing, who you want to be doing it with, and how this type of money can help you reach your life goals now and in future years based on some conservative investment.

    1. Jennifer*

      Wow… clicked submit too soon

      What I wanted to say is that I hope one of Alison’s suggestions works for the OP. At work this is totally inappropriate.

  31. Grey*

    #1: When talking to her I wouldn’t phrase it as “gun sign”, I’d call it “suicide gesture”, or “mimicking suicide”. I think that would make her insensitivity clearer and wouldn’t require you to share personal details. She’s being insensitive to anyone who has dealt with suicide, not just those that involved a gun.

    Instead of stopping it around you, she might stop it around everyone (as she should).

    1. cubone*

      Yes! I’ve also had colleagues do other hand motions that gesture suicide (I don’t think it’s necessary for descriptions in what is an already heavy thread) and I think it would be incredibly valuable to frame this as “mimicking suicide”, versus gun specific.

      Also, while I don’t want to imply OP should take this on, but if you have a good HR team and notice these kinds of comments and behaviours in the workplace, consider reaching out to your HR (or training team, if you have one) to ask about all staff mental health or suicide alertness training. I recognize a one off training session isn’t a cultural/systemic change, but as someone who delivers these programs, I find suicide alertness and intervention training for “regular folk” (eg. not service providers or frontline workers) can really open someone’s eyes to their comments and behaviours. There’s ALWAYS someone in my sessions who afterwards tells me they never once thought about the stigmatizing language of “committed suicide”.

    2. Weekend Please*

      Yep. I do think that the OP can tell her boss that suicide is a serious issue and joking about it to express frustration is jarring and upsetting. If the OP is comfortable, she could even say that she knew someone who committed suicide and it makes her think of it every time she sees the gesture (and not necessarily reveal that it was someone close to her).

  32. I edit everything*

    OP1: I wonder if you could simply say, “Hey, I read Ask A Manager, and saw this question about the finger-gun gesture. Did you realize it’s triggering for a lot of people? Joking about suicide is always a little uncomfortable for people.” Then depending on your relationship with your manager, finishing with something like, “Maybe you should find something else to do with your hands when you’re frustrated,” or “The comments had several suggestions for different gestures you could use to replace that one,” or similar.

    1. pancakes*

      That needlessly gives the manager space to say, “no one here has complained, so lighten up,” or somesuch.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        To which you reply that nobody complaining doesn’t mean everyone’s happy, just that nobody’s said anything. Then you ask, “could you tell me who in this company has dead parents and what they died of?” just to underline your point.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s following up being indirect with being needlessly personal and getting into the weeds. I don’t see an advantage to handling it that way rather than using the more direct language Alison & others have suggested.

  33. Kaiko*

    Anyone else noticing an uptick in questions relating to burnout and taking time away from work? Or is that just my wish-fulfillment brain saying “Ooh, wouldn’t a break be SO NICE”? Maybe AAM readers are the canaries in the coal mine with regards to burnout….and managers and companies need to get proactive on how to deal with it in their workforce.

    (And yes, I know I’m young, but I remember the 80s and how much burnout was a *thing* back then as well – we didn’t invent it in 2020.)

    1. Emi*

      We didn’t invent it but I think we’re definitley in a second wave (ha) of, if not burnout, burnout discourse.

    2. juliebulie*

      I think it’s because it’s not just work. There are other stressors, such as covid, and all the stuff around covid. Including the intersection of work and covid! I feel like I’m just stretched too thin to juggle it all, emotionally.

  34. B Wayne*

    should I quit my great job? I have a better idea, downgrade! Just make a living. Go work in a bookstore or do something less stressful that does not include international relocations and no doubt living on either coast of the US. Just do something else. Make a lot less money, live less expensively, move somewhere that is slower in pace. Supplement very mildly with the inherited money and enjoy life for goodness sake. You know it is too short, why stress?

    1. Alex*

      Some people(myself among them) find working retail (like a bookstore) to be more stressful than an office job! Either way, it sounds like OP needs a true break, but maybe your suggestion would be a nice way to ramp back in?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I have to second that one. A warehouse job with minimal interpersonal interaction? Possibly. But retail? That windfall better be enough to generate a living stipend indefinitely…

      2. Mel_05*

        Seriously. I worked retail and low level office jobs before I got into my profession and it’s amazing how much less stressful my “more difficult” job is.

        Granted, I did hit a point where I thought maybe I wanted to quit and just do less skilled work, but that’s because I worked for an awful employer and had started to doubt my ability to do my work and thought, “At least I know how to do this other work.” Now that I work somewhere good again, the idea of retail is hideous to me.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah sadly my experience with minimum wage jobs is exactly this. Their super strict about start times, they’re always nickel and dime-ing employees, and the managers tend to be less exposed to professional norms (in my experience). Office life may actually be the least stressful occupation if you get the right workplace. It’s easy for us white collar workers to forget that.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Also, customers seem to feel freer to be jerks when you work retail, fast food, etc. Not all of them, of course, but some. I think it’s some kind of status/snob thing.

        2. Pennalynn Lott*

          I worked in a “big box” home improvement retailer for a couple of years in between professional jobs while I was dealing with some family stuff.

          Holy wow, it was a *horrible* experience. I hadn’t had to ask an authority figure if I could go to the bathroom since high school. And soooooo much dysfunction. Plus the random hours and schedule changes. And being expected to be at work even if I had a temperature over 100F. I don’t miss it one bit.

          If I had the luxury to take a step-down job, it would be the same thing I’m doing now but part-time.

      3. lazy intellectual*

        Yep. I don’t miss my customer service job days – they gave me so much anxiety. In addition to being difficult, the work cultures were super toxic. White collar jobs are much more comfortable.

    2. Beth*

      OP described their job as having great benefits, supportive people, and a wonderful culture. “Downsizing” to a lower-paying job is likely to mean less money, worse benefits, and a downgrade in work environment.

      And in the US, moving away from the coast usually means relocating to a less diverse and more depressed area. I would not regard that as a stress reduction.

      1. Alex*

        That my first though. Having worked retail, it’s amazing how many customers thing you are just reading books all day instead of you know….providing customer service, managing returns/new inventory/events etc etc

      2. Tabby*

        Lol this! I’d love to work at a bookstore or as a librarian, but only if I never had to talk to the public. People stress me out too much for that to be pleasant.

    3. Weekend Please*

      Moving is a huge stress. Maybe looking into going part time at her current place of employment would be an option, but it sounds like the OP needs to unplug completely. Quitting a great job for a crappy one probably won’t help.

    4. GothicBee*

      It seems pretty clear from the question that the burnout OP is experiencing is not directly due to their job but rather largely due to the circumstances in their life. And as someone who worked in a bookstore (and a number of other retail/customer service jobs), that’s going to be just as much if not more stress but for minimum wage.

      And “enjoy life”?? They’ve lost their parents and other members of their family. It’s not weird that they’re grieving and stressed right now.

    5. Beth*

      You’re making some major assumptions here and probably should read better instead of bringing your own biases to the table. OP does not say they’re on a coast. OP does not say their job is stressing them out; in fact, they say the opposite, that their job is great but life has thrown some very difficult things at them that have left them in need of time to recuperate. OP does not say their lifestyle is expensive (are you assuming this because of the international moves? the cost of that would vary tremendously depending on where they moved, whether it was for work and therefore covered by an employer, etc). OP does not say that their lifestyle or the area around them is overall too fast-paced; anyone would be thrown by several family deaths AND a stalker AND an abusive workplace all back-to-back with each other.

      Small town living, retail work, etc. is also not necessarily less stressful, even if they had said some of these things you’re assuming. To take your example, working in a bookstore is retail/customer service–which is generally high stress for low pay, as anyone who’s done it would tell you. OP’s employer sounds way nicer than anything I’ve heard or experienced about retail–why are you assuming that their job is the problem, when everything in their actual letter points to the opposite?

    6. LutherstadtWittenberg*

      You think working in a bookstore isn’t stressful? Life *is* too short, and she’s stressed from losing too many family members too soon. She doesn’t need to waste any of it dealing with customers.

  35. BlueBelle*

    LW3 , please take some time off. I can’t imagine how you are still standing after all you have been through in such a short time, let alone doing well at work! It goes to show just how strong and resilient you are, but everyone has a limit. Fairly early on in my career, I had also moved countries a couple of times and experienced a few significant losses. I was working in a contract position and lived well below my means for a year to save as much as I could and then I took 18 months off. It was glorious! I camped, I hiked, I traveled, I saw friends, I volunteered with organizations that left me feeling like I was doing some good, overall I took care of myself.
    That 18 months off did nothing to prevent me from getting a job when I was ready. When asked about the gap I said “I was very fortunate to be able to take some time off to travel and volunteer.” No one batted an eye and were very interested in how I spent that time. Interviewers loved hearing about the volunteer work I did and why I chose the organizations I did, they could see my dedication and passion for things I love. That became a benefit and helped me connect to interviewers at a more meaningful level.
    Go take care of yourself, you need it. Good luck!

    1. Freelance Fur de Lance*

      I’m so sad, for the last three years I did everything to prepare to go freelance – this year. In February. What a fricking disaster. Now I have all this free time but there’s nowhere to go, and the economy is in the pits. I would never tell OP not to go for it though.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’ve been freelancing for three years, and with covid my highly successful business has just evaporated, so…

  36. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – I’m so sorry for your many losses. No wonder you’re struggling right now.

    It might be a good idea – before quitting your job (which you seem to be pretty positive about) – to look into some counselling. There’s a fairly good chance that you have situational depression, after so much upheaval and grief. If you do, you might need some help and guidance from someone who can provide a better perspective on whether taking a year or more off is actually good for you or not. For some people, a structured environment supports their recovery, and unlimited time off doesn’t.

    Other good ideas would be to look into a leave of absence from work – it’s worth exploring before you quit entirely.

    All the best with your decision and recovery.

  37. anonymous for this*

    Letter writer #3 – I had a similar experience. I moved four times between three different countries when I was on a career fast track, lost my mother and my cat. This was a couple of decades ago when the concept of burnout and self-care were not as prevalent and I had a hard time getting doctors to understand what I was experiencing. I ended up crashing and the results were far more damaging than a year off. Listen to your body. I support the other commenters that have suggested you talk to your employer about a leave of absence. These are stressful times and my employer has been as flexible as possible in supporting employees. My guess is that they would be willing to negotiate. Also, having the financial resources is great, but having a meaningful life is better, so use the time to explore what is meaningful to you.

  38. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*


    Hi OP,

    Fellow suicide survivor here. My mother died exactly the same way and even though I’ve worked very hard to move on from that (i.e., therapy), it still stings when I see people do this. It’s even worse when people do the version where they open their mouth and pretend to shoot themselves through the mouth (that’s how my mother did it). It’s just shockingly graphic.
    Fortunately, I’ve not had anyone in my daily life that does this regularly, so I don’t have any great advice for you beyond what Alison has already stated. I’m just writing to empathize and lend a little support from someone who has been through the exact same thing.
    I would hope that anyone reading this comment would start to think twice before they make similar hand gestures in the future. As the OP indicated, suicide survivors generally don’t talk about this at work, and often, not even in social settings. You probably have a number of people in your circles that have experienced this and you don’t even know it.
    OP, I feel for you. Hang in there and stay strong.

    1. OP #1*

      Oh God, I am so glad that I have never had anyone do that in front of me. That is actually how my dad did it too. I felt sick just reading your description, I can’t imagine seeing someone do it. It is so much worse than what my manager does. I’m so sorry you have had to see that and I am sorry for your loss.

  39. InfoSec SemiPro*

    OP 4 – At the deeper interview stage, when you’re talking about training/onboarding plans and the actual work involved in the role.

    For a story of how this can work out well – I hired someone as one of my team’s first fully remote hires, basically as I was walking out on family leave. The role was a sensitive one, the team had never done onboarding with a remote hire, the in person interview was on a day full of funny-only-in-hindsight happenstances for both of us. I was Very Pregnant and ill, they were traveling between two work trips for their current role and injured on the way. The interview was us attempting a ‘normal’ question and answer and failing together. I think we downgraded to “lets drink cool water and quietly talk about our hopes for the new position, and what problems we can solve for it today.”

    I don’t remember if they started before I went out on leave, but if they did, it was days at best – their employment anniversary with the company is essentially my child’s birthday. They’re wonderful, still here years later, a very successful hire.

  40. Emi*

    OP3, I strongly encourage you to take a leave of absence if you can and just quit for time off otherwise, but I also want to encourage you to be intentional about your time off so that it’s actually restorative to you. This does NOT mean “write a novel” or “take on a new stressful hobby” but think about what you need, besides sleep, to recharge, especially things that grief and work may have driven out of your life — do you have old friends you miss? Do you need some time by a lake? That sort of thing.

  41. Doctor is In*

    OP #3, don’t forget to factor in the cost of paying for your own health insurance for a year or more. COBRA would be an option perhaps?

  42. OliveJuice90*

    Hi OP 1,

    My partner’s father committed suicide and although he didn’t use a gun, my partner still feels uncomfortable when people use this gesture. Their previous boss actually used to do this gesture as well and when my partner finally told her to please stop because of their own history with suicide she did say she knew she shouldn’t do that (she did not apologize), but then proceeded to claim that her father had also effectively committed suicide because he “ate himself to death.” Unfortunately, some people are either just truly too oblivious to understand or are just callous. Fortunately my partner is currently working at a place with a much more thoughtful supervisor. I hope your boss will react more positively though!

  43. blink14*

    OP#1 – I can relate and empathize with you. A grandparent committed suicide in the same way, and the situation was further complicated by the person having a volatile relationship with pretty much everyone in the family, including me. While my grieving process was mostly processing my anger on the how, why, and the abuse they gave (still processing, to be honest), I became so incredibly aware of gestures and comments in everyday culture that relate back to the act.

    One of the things I really cringe at is when people say “I’ll just kill myself if X happens” – I even made a few comments like that when I was younger. The gun gesture I see less and less, but it seems to almost just be a not totally conscious movement, it’s just engrained in many people. There are times when I let those comments and gestures go, but depending on the situation I will say “please don’t say that” or “please don’t do that”.

    I’ve always been highly sensitive to the topic of suicide and have very strong opinions about it, but actually experiencing what it is like to be a “suicide survivor” – I hate that term – has made me realize that as a culture, at least in the US, we don’t address what it’s like to lose someone to suicide, and even less so the act itself. To deal with the aftermath, the shame many of us feel, the feeling that you are carrying this stain around, even though you had nothing to do with it. Analyzing the why and how and when. So in my own life, what I have tried to do is be open about how destructive and devastating it is, and hope that sharing my experience – whether that be in detail or on a more general scale – will make people think twice before using figures of speech or gestures that are in relation to the topic.

  44. Bookworm*

    LW3: I don’t have advice but do want to say I’m really sorry you’ve gone through that. I’d say it sounds like taking a year off might not be a bad idea but at the same time only you know what’s best.

    Only wishing you the best in whatever you decide. Take care.

  45. GigglyPuff*

    I’m so sorry OP #1.

    While I’ve never had that experience, I absolutely hate the gesture. My dad did it growing up, and mimed shooting people too when telling stories. When I was little, you laughed along because that’s what kids do even when they don’t get the joke. As I got older it was a more uncomfortable laugh, and when I hit my teens I finally realized I didn’t have to respond to his inappropriate jokes. So I would just stare at him, which he’s very charismatic, and on in those situations, and looking for the response. So when I stopped responding, it made him uncomfortable, and I think I said a few times, “that’s not funny”. He finally stopped when I was in my early 20s, at least around me. It was such a relief, because it was so uncomfortable.

    So you’re not alone, and even someone who hasn’t been touched by gun violence finds it very inappropriate and wildly uncomfortable, so I don’t think you necessarily have to open up about why you find it horrible. I like what another comment said, “Joking about suicide isn’t funny, can you please not do that.” Good luck, I hope it gets better.

  46. Lizzo*

    OP3: Your employer sounds awesome. Please consider asking for a one year sabbatical before you outright quit. Employers like this don’t come along frequently.

    Also, depending on what your role is there and what direction the organization is headed in, maybe there is something you can do on a sabbatical that will prepare you to be an even more valuable team member when you return. Note that I am not suggesting that you go on sabbatical and immediately pick up graduate school classes or start learning a new language or become a full-time volunteer somewhere. You need to rest. But maybe after a couple of months you’d welcome the structure and stimulation of something that is decidedly *not work* but is also professionally beneficial…?

  47. Beth*

    Years ago, when anyone said “Shoot!”, I used to respond with “Bang!” I stopped doing it in grad school, and instead started saying “Twang, swish, thunk” — as in shooting a bow and arrow. It kept the exchange silly.

  48. Samicus*

    OP #3 – I have a good friend who took a leave of absence for a year from her job – she spoke to her boss, and got approval. She was burned-out and took that much-needed rest to gain some perspective. That may be the route to go if you are uncertain about your future – and a lot can happen in a year! But take that break, sounds like you need it.

  49. SJJ*

    As others have stated, check into Sabbaticals or leaves of absences. Might only be a smaller period of time (say 3-6 months) but it might be a viable an option.

    I also wonder, since this is mainly due to mental health reasons, if this could fall into medical leave. I am not a medical professional, HR specialist, or anything, but more and more people are realizing mental health IS a part of living a healthy life.

    Also – don’t apologize for how you’re feeling. You’ve been through dumpster fire after dumpster fire.

  50. Free Meerkats*

    For OP #2.

    Since you’re government, I bet you’re also union. Is your supervisor in your bargaining unit? Assuming they are not classified, after you try Alison’s advice and they don’t stop “helping” ask once again with the threat of a grievance. If that doesn’t do it, file one.

    Yeah, it’s going a bit nuclear, but it may be the only way to get them to stop.

  51. lazy intellectual*

    While I’m fortunate to not have personally known people who died by suicide, I frackin’ HATE people miming shooting or stabbing themselves. Why TF people think this is humorous I will never know. There is no better way to demonstrate a lack of empathy for other people’s suffering.

    1. Jennifer*

      I think sometimes people use dark humor as a coping strategy, even those who have dealt with depression and even suicide. It’s never appropriate at work, don’t get me wrong, but outside of work it’s more of a know your audience thing. A good friend of mine have a similar history when it comes to mental health and we laugh about all kinds of stuff that I’m sure some would find strange or even morbid, but it makes us feel better.

      1. lazy intellectual*

        Right – I think it’s fine for internal conversations that people have opted into, but when people do this kind of stuff at work without considering other people’s experiences, it’s super insensitive.

  52. OP #3*

    That’s a good point, thank you for thinking of it! I’m 32, but there is definitely a little bit of “hot new thing” syndrome in my line of work. I think I’m at the point where I have a big enough portfolio of successful work that I’m not as worried about being upstaged by new talent as I was a couple years ago.

  53. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3 – taking an extended hiatus? It depends on what field you’re in. If you work in IS/IT, the technology turns over every two-three years or so, so if you take a long time off, you may never get back into the field again.

    But if you’re, say, a schoolteacher, or an accountant, that’s different.

    Others have suggested taking a leave of absence. I’d consider that first.

  54. WFH_WTF*

    OP#1: My dad died by suicide by jumping from his 17-story balcony. Every time someone says “I’m gonna jump out a window” or “that puts me over the edge” it’s painful. Even “hanging by a thread” – people don’t realize how many idioms are based on death. I admire you for finding a way to say something to take care of yourself. I haven’t yet had that courage.

    1. Bear*

      I don’t associate hanging by a thread to be a suicide completion reference.
      I know it implies precariousness.
      I always thought of it like a loose suit button. Or a broken yoyo.
      I’m not challenging your reference, I just never understood it to be a trigger.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s supposedly a death reference…but specifically, to the sword of Damocles, which hung by a single hair. So the threat is to anyone near / under whatever or whoever’s hanging by a thread.

        That could still be evocative in a bad way for anyone whose life was disrupted by the falling of another. But it’s not, per se, a death-by-falling-from-a-height reference.

  55. Beth*

    OP3: Have you considered taking a couple months’ leave of absence and seeing how you feel at that point? If your employer would agree to it (which, they sound fantastically supportive, so it seems like a good chance at least), you might be surprised how much 3 solid months can do for burnout. This isn’t the same as your situation, of course, but I’m in academia (grad student in a humanities field ideally hoping for an academic career, so classes and TAing and my own research are all happening simultaneously). My routine annual work schedule involves roughly 9 months of all-out breakneck work, and then ~3 months in summer where I do some of my own reading and research but mostly I just sleep and see loved ones and recuperate. Every year, at the end of May I’m wondering how much longer I can possibly hold out doing this, by mid-July I’m feeling sane and stable again, and by the time the new term starts in the fall I’m restless and wishing for the structure it brings to my time.

    It sounds like you really need a break but don’t necessarily want to permanently leave your excellent employer. If you could get a leave of absence, I think there’s a real chance that you’d experience something like what I do–you might find yourself feeling refreshed and ready to pick at least some things back up after 3 months. Of course, if you’re approaching the end of that leave and dreading returning to work, you can always hand in your resignation at that point! But it might be worth considering as a way to try and both get your break and keep your job, if both are things you’d like to do.

  56. Marie*

    This is so timely. My spouse has suggested taking sabbatical and while I think it’s a fine idea in theory, there are a few concerns: he hasn’t identified what he would do with the time and how that would fulfill his spirit; its a pandemic so traveling is a lot harder; we have a toddler so he can’t go spend a month at a lake anyway; his parents are elderly and at some point a year off to spend with them and/or handling their estate and grief would be invaluable.

    Taking a sabbatical now would probably make it a lot harder to take another in 3-5 years when it would be much more valuable. I don’t know how 2 years off in 5 would look on a resume but it doesn’t sound good…

  57. JSPA*


    If your name is the same as your father and is unusual enough that any search for it, and “suicide” will turn up his name and yours, you probably have to be ready for people to connect the dots, if you make it a personal-issue “ask.”

    However, even if that happens, they are unlikely to be anywhere near as weird about it. The people who knew you when it happened, knew they should somehow express sympathy, and had no words. Something like that can poison the interaction permanently. In contrast, “I googled and found out that something bad happened to you in the past, so now, despite there being no expectation I’d know about it, let alone say anything, I’m going to be all anxious and odd around you” is not a similar or similarly intense poisoner of interactions.

    Another option is to make it a “good idea” ask.

    You could quote her gun death stats, or say that you support groups who are trying to de-normalize the gesture, so that small children won’t copy it, if heaven forbid, they get hold of a gun. And because kids get suspended (or even, well, mistaken for people with a gun, and thus shot at) while making finger-gun motions. If you say it’s important to you for those reasons, people are less likely to google for why else you might care. They may roll their eyes, but caring about wearing seatbelts or not driving drunk also used to occasion some eye rolling. You’re in good company.

    Alternatively, as a stop-gap (or if she tries to change, and doesn’t always catch herself; might it help if you redefine her gesture into something else, mentally? Tell yourself that the finger is a hypodermic, and your boss is sedating herself. Or go bizarre and offbeat (It’s a brain sucking finger alien? She’s downloading her brain to a thumb drive, before it fries completely? It’s a comforting temple nibble from her pet parrot Humphrey? It’s an external charger for her brain battery, which just shorted out? Spend some time crafting a lovely, detailed backstory, and see if you can go there, instead of to the bad place, next time).

    It would of course be better if she just didn’t do that thing.

    But as some people are extremely hard-wired in their gestures (raising my own hand here) or react physically much faster than they think consciously (raising my hand and whacking someone’s glasses off, here), even with all the good will in the world, she may not always catch herself in time. Or you may have to lean deeper into the request than makes you comfortable, to get her to prioritize.

  58. JSPA*

    “having money” doesn’t provide health insurance. Your county, of course, may make this point moot.

    But (depending where you are), you can be bankrupted by a single major health event, if you don’t have insurance. Doesn’t have to be Covid.

    Burnout, fully explained by life-events, can also mask a growing health issue, that becomes obvious once you’re not at work, should be recovering, but somehow you’re not improving.

    Six months of stress or medical or unpaid leave, if your employer can accommodate (and your have funds to COBRA, if that’s relevant, or can find something to cover you), followed by six months of half time at reduced pay but full benefits, might do what you need, and put you in a place where you can deal.

    Also, make 100% sure you’re not still going to get hit up for additional taxes. My sib misconstrued this (despite direct directives from the lawyer, sigh) and ended up, temporarily, in an… awkward… situation.

  59. Des*

    OP#3, I would strongly urge you to first consider taking an unpaid vacation. A long one, if you have to. If your employer is as good as you say, they will rather that then lose a good employee. I think if you find yourself still needing a break after a month or several of getting away from it all, you could still proceed with your plan. I based this on how you describe your current workplace, which you seem to enjoy, and thus makes sense to try to keep.

  60. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

    OP4 – I was the candidate in this situation a little over a year ago and I think it can be navigated very well. I had a phone interview with HR and was asked a number of questions about “a time when” I was a self starter/had to learn or adapt quickly/etc. At the time they didn’t feel out of the ordinary for generic interview questions but I’m sure it gave them some insight to how I would do with a boss going out on leave soon after I was hired. When I went in for the in-person interview, she addressed the elephant in the room (literally said that and gestured to her belly) and let me know that there were plans in place AND GAVE SPECIFICS (she would try and train me on X, Y, and Z, but if there wasn’t time then Person A could take over this task and/or training…). So I think the best advice is document everything, plan to delegate as if there won’t be a new hire (bonus if that person can train the new hire), and make sure there are people the new hire can reach out to with questions (and make sure those people are enthusiastically willing! There will be a lot of questions lol).

  61. Liz*

    OP #1 – Tell. Tell your boss to stop making that gesture, immediately, and every single time it’s made. If you don’t want to share your own experience, maybe something like “It’s not okay to mime shooting yourself in the head or to joke about suicide. Ever.” If your boss is a decent human being, that’ll be all it takes.
    I’m sorry and I thank you for sharing your experience here.

  62. Melfina the Blue*

    Okay, OP1, I have feelings on this topic, mostly because I do use miming suicide gestures, have severe clinical depression, have tried to kill myself multiple times, and have been told to not use said gestures twice.

    The first time, well, the other person was polite, it was phrased as a “hey, that bothers me, would you mind not doing that” and I stopped. While I was vaguely curious as to why, I was perfectly happy to stop doing something that upset someone else, no matter why it was upsetting. In fact, I stopped using that gesture entirely because it made me think about how while it might not upset me to mime an action I had used to try to die, it might upset others.

    The second time I got a 10 minute lecture on how insensitive I was and what a horrible person I was for miming hanging as a bit of a dark joke/stronger version of rolling eyes. If the person had just gone the same route as the first one, it would have been fine, but the lecture did not end well. I got very hurt and defensive (partly because in my brain hanging=execution, partly because I use humor as a coping skill, and partly because I feel overly sensitive all the time), and this person ripped into me. I may have pulled up my sleeves to display some of my scars from one suicide attempt and started shouting about how no one whose brain isn’t trying to kill them gets to judge me. It was not my finest moment. At least it, unlike the first time, wasn’t at my job. Granted, I did get labeled as the crazy chick in that social circle, but I label myself as that as I’m trying to combat the clinical depression stereotype (I would try combating the ADD stereotype as well, but I’m way too typically ADD for that).

    Anyway, all the jedi hugs OP1, my deepest sympathies about your dad, and good luck with your boss. Go with Alison’s script, and you’ve got this!

      1. Melfina the Blue*

        Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would be upsetting. I’ve tried to kill myself eight times and the gestures don’t bother me. Yes, total empathy fail on my part and that’s bad. I do feel the lecture was way over the top and a very inappropriate way to handle the situation, which is why I told the story. I don’t always think before I act or speak; it’s something I’m working on, and I did not think before I mimed hanging myself. Intellectually I understand their significant upsetting impact and thus am doing my best to never use any of those gestures again, emotionally they have no significant meaning to me other than sarcastic frustration.

  63. LogicalOne*

    1. Yeah it’s pretty unprofessional to mimic shooting yourself, even if it’s with co-workers you’re comfortable with. That and it really shows how mature and emotionally intelligent you are not. It almost undermines your authority in that it makes it seem like you can’t keep your composure and your cool. We all have our frustrating and difficult moments but when you’re in a management position, you set the tone and you set what’s acceptable around the office and doing that action is not acceptable. I wonder how your boss would react if others started miming shooting themselves when she gives them a project to work on. You never know what other have been through and have struggled with.

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