Stand up to your bullies! – my dealings with irritability

I have a really big problem with people. Like massive! Like I’m all thumbs when it comes to people – that intricate, living piece of work. I also suffer from extreme irritability because of my ADHD – the one symptom that finally tipped my shrink off. But I try. It’s extremely tiresome. For a long time I shut up and kept it all in in fear I might explode – the occasions on which I could muster up the inner peace to talk it out with a “Workplace-bully” were very rare. I did this because I did explode once in a while – when I couldn’t keep it in. But my shrink, prescription drugs and lots of soul-searching, ADHD-literature reading and blog-chatting with fellow ADHDers has made me take amazing strides lately I wouldn’t have believed possible a few months ago. A huge one was today.

I’ve had a new job for 3 weeks now, which is always very tough for someone who is irritable – everyone trying to tell you what is what, many people assuming you might be some kind of retard when it comes to small stuff and then assuming you’ve been there your whole life when it comes to big stuff… the works. At my new workplace, although no one will get loud, there is a MASSIVE lack of respect for co-workers: quickly mixing something on your work bench and leaving an uncleaned mess, taking stuff and not returning, using all the butter up and not replacing it… There is one colleague, though – and I’ll call him Lenny – who is worst than all others.

Lenny is an old-fashioned man who is used to have it his way because he’s about 60 at a workplace where the average age is 25. He’s used to play the age card among kids and claim to be important because of the extra-time he makes – like no one else makes extra-time. Lenny likes to bring his old cartons to weigh stuff on our scale and wordlessly toss the cartons into [b]our[/b] pile of carton for recycling, without even flattening the boxes, instead of disposing of them himself. Lenny also insisted on telling me yesterday, when I was getting rid of our carton – our boxes neatly flattened and folded and his in original shape – that I’m supposed to flatten the cartons (insert ORly owl here). Lenny likes to come in our room and, while turned my back to pick up a shovel of sugar, wordlessly toss my container from the scale and put his own carton for weighing there. Lenny likes to come into our room and, when I turn my back to pick up something, spread his shit all over my work bench.

Lenny is an entitled asshole.

Today I had enough. When I left the room for a minute to pick something up and caught him mixing something my work bench, I called him on it: “No, Lenny. That’s my work bench and I need it, go work someplace else, plenty of tables around” (2 empty tables, to be exact, and several other surfaces suitable for what he was doing at the moment) and Lenny says “I’ll be done in a minute.”

I sighed. The nerve! “Lenny, I don’t need my bench in a minute I need it right now. I don’t care, I’m squeezing in, so scooch!” I picked up my trays and started carefully squeezing them between my setup and Lenny “Get away! I said I’ll be done in a minute!”. Jesus, seriously?

Since I didn’t want to fall in the ridicule of being brushed off of my workplace, I decided to start pulling jokes. I started playfully squeezing more and more and leaning into him – people who don’t like to be touched usually get the drill and move away, but although he only had one small item on his hands, he was still taking up all of my space and refusing to move or see the flaw in his behaviour. It was unnerving.

Since he had replied in a very snippy fashion, I moved away from him and walked around him to face him and told him “This is some nerve coming from you, Lenny! There are plenty of tables around here and you have to take my bench. This is not right! I don’t go to your workplace and get in your way!”. Ridiculously, as if anyone would believe it, he replied “Well, you can.” Well, I told him “No, that’s just not how it works. …….. Lenny, I’m gonna take your bowl away pretty soon.” and still that entitled asshole wouldn’t budge. So, instead of being agressive and snapping the bowl from under his hands – which I could, standing where I was – I resorted once again to playfulness, grabbed his bowl with both hands, and very gently as not to disrupt his work, I started slowly pulling his bowl “Lenny, enooooough, I need my bench…” big mistake. Oh, did he snap big time. He almost shouted at me to stop, not pester him, how rude of me, etc. I was flabbergasted. Really, I was. I didn’t even feel like smacking him, I was just so shocked at such an anti-social behaviour I had no words left in me.

But funny enough, he was either very upset or he really did finish his work and grumpily moved away from my work bench. I was, by then, feeling very jittery and shaky from the conflict, but I took a deep breath and started working. Lenny, however, would not let it go. He still had to use a machine in the other end of the room, and he mauled at me from there the whole time. Mostly stuff along the lines of me being rude, and the nerve on me to disrupt his work and that I needed to respect him. I replied from where I was “The same goes to you, mister!” that only agitated him more. I realized he wanted to have the last word and whenever he angrily mumbled I had to respect him, I said “right back at ya!” – I will not have someone this disrespectful get away with such comments about me – and he got even more rude and said “You just shut up! You be quiet right now! The nerve, trying to take my bowl away from me while I’m working…”. I said he was the one still talking and, after musing on giving in to my mean streak to provoke him unendlessly and deciding against it, I forced myself to let him have the last word.

But he wouldn’t stop. I realized he didn’t want the last word, he wanted the last 100 words. He kept on ranting and ranting to himself, and first I kept quiet, but eventually it became so tiresome I said “You’re the one still talking, I’ve been quiet for a while now.”. When I heard im again ranting about how disrespectful I was and he wouldn’t stand for it and he’d go to the boss if I didn’t show any manners, I suddenly snapped.

Truth be told, I would’ve LOVED to go to the boss. Because first of all, I can’t imagine the boss would take drastic measures and secondly, even if I got fired, I don’t want to work with disrespectful people who will get away with anything. But I did realize I had ruffled feathers up with no intention. I dropped what I was doing, and calmly walked to him.

That’s when I saw the man was red like a tomato. I could swear even his eyes and hair had turned red. He refused to look at me. Not in an arrogant way, but in a furious and beaten down way, like he couldn’t believe anyone had dared stand up to him. Because you see, no one does. He’s like a big child. People all around me will let people like him be disrespectful and will shrug it off with an “old dogs don’t learn new tricks”. They enable this. And I simply refuse to play along. Not when it’s this bad.

Although he kept telling me to shut up and go away, I said “Lenny, I think I unintendely offended you, it is not what I was going for. I simply wanted to get to my work and decided to make a joke out of it, I was obviously unsuccessful at that…” – “You’re damn right you were!” but still no eye contact. I kept looking at him straight in the face and went on “I realize that now. I didn’t mean to offend you and I’m sorry. I need you to know that I meant no disrespect and will try my best that it doesn’t happen again in the future. (where the hell was all this coming from?! I kept surprising myself) I do need, however, that you try not to interfere with my work”.

The rest is kind of history. He was obviously still very upset and kept ranting at how disrespectful I was and how he’ll always take my table if he feels like he needs it. But after I told him my mind, I went back to my work, still jittery and obviously distracted, but I did my best and he eventually had to leave the room. He was flustered, but quite on his toes for a while (“this filth here on the microwave wasn’t me, ok?! Just so you know! Before anyone tries to pin it on me!”).

There was, you might surprised, a 3rd person present in the room the whole time – another colleague who I’m still not very fond of and who made no attempt to mitigate the situation or help in any way. She just came to me after a while and said “Boy, I think you really struck a nerve with Lenny….” I said I noticed it too, but I’m very particular about my workplace and I simply cannot have it when someone not only takes my space, they refuse to apologize or even admit a fault on their side. She added “I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if he’s in a bad mood when he needs to come in here…” I told her “I picked up on that already. But  I already apologized and explained what’s up. From here on, I’ll just stay polite and things normally work themselves out. And if not, it’s certainly not MY problem.”

It was a great achievement for me, keeping my cool in a situation like this and still confronting someone. I just felt it was too bad I had to have a similar situation with my sister later on, but this post is long enough as it is.

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