Corey Sorensen spent years trying to manage the constant ringing in her ears, the band of muscles that would tighten around her head so much that she could barely think, and the body aches that would leave her bedridden. After countless doctors’ appointments with no progress, hearing tests that showed nothing wrong, and sleepless nights due to nightmares that were hard to distinguish from reality, it was Corey’s own colleagues who sat her down and told her she needed help.
“It was the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) person who saved me that day because she was trying to get me out of the institution. She brought a psychiatrist into the office and they were talking like I wasn’t even there. It was like I was removed from myself or something. The psychiatrist said that I needed to be off work, and they hooked me up with a psychiatrist in the community immediately. I ended up going to see him and I am still with him today.”
What lead to that moment in the office were two difficult, though not uncommon, incidents involving female inmates at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon where Corey worked as a Correctional Manager. That particular unit was known for being difficult to manage, but Corey did everything she could to keep it running well.
Looking back on that day, she recalls feeling overwhelmed. She remembers the ringing in her ears. The band around her head. The aches. The racing heart. The scattered mind. She was being pulled in many different directions to report on what had happened, and was trying to focus on making sure the inmates were ok and that her officers were too. Turns out, it was Corey who needed help most of all, and it was the CISM person who came in to manage the situation after the incidents who noticed.
“I knew I wasn’t right leading up to that day. Something was off. I was always feeling ill. I was forgetting things I had known for years. I was starting to lose my cool with colleagues and inmates. I would close my office door sometimes just so I could lie down on the floor to collect myself. I was feeling like I could black out at any moment. But it was the CISM person who finally said ‘Corey, you’re not right,’ and it was like I knew I wasn’t right and I was so glad I had someone to say it. It opened a floodgate.”
Corey was diagnosed with major depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorder as a result of the pressures in her work. She now knows that these are chronic conditions that she will manage for the rest of her life. Her personal and financial life have also suffered, leading to a divorce and two homes that she had to give up as a result of not being able to work and pay her mortgage.
Although the two incidents that day are what ultimately lead to Corey seeking help, she says that looking back she can see her issues were created over years of working in a correctional environment. Prior to beginning her career with CSC in 1995 at Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, Corey didn’t suffer from any of the conditions she has today. Her dissociative disorder, which at the extreme end is split personality, is something that can just be sitting there, she says, and not transpire. But it can also be triggered by the environment you’re in or situations you experience.
“In corrections, it’s situation after situation after situation. I always had my guard up. I was always anticipating something. Always wondering what would come next. I could never relax at work, ever. I was always on. My then husband got tired of hearing my stories from work because no one wants to hear those stories. They are hard to hear. But that was my world. That was all I knew. I could relax some at home, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I was right back into it again. Add shift work to that, and it takes its toll on a person.”
After leaving the institution that day in 2009, Corey did not return to work until 2011 via a Return-to-Work process to her new role as a Project Officer in security at Prairie Regional Headquarters. She chose to leave the institution for good knowing that the environment wasn’t healthy for her. Since then she has been off from work several times on disability as per her doctor’s orders, as well as leave with income averaging, annual leave, and sick leave, which she has completely used up. She knows she is fortunate to have colleagues and a supervisor who support her and understand why she has to be away from work sometimes.
To this day, Corey still experiences the tightening band of muscles around her head, which she takes medication to manage. She also has the ringing in her ears from time to time, and is often overwhelmed by too much noise, due to bouts of overwhelming anxiety. There are lots of days when she’s had to leave work.
Corey still sees a therapist as well as her psychiatrist every three months, sometimes more often, depending on what is going on in her life. Corey’s physician has also been with her through all of this, though there have been times when she’s relapsed and won’t go see her because Corey knows that her doctor will take her off work and she can’t afford it - an indication of how difficult a struggle this has been.
One might assume that because of what she has gone through, Corey would want to leave her career with CSC. Not so. She doesn’t want to leave; in fact, she wishes she could still work in an institution. She loved her job, she loved her colleagues, and she loved helping offenders. But her condition has made it so that she can’t return to that environment.
This past December, Corey left work on Leave with Income Averaging for five weeks. She hoped the time would allow her to relax, but upon returning to work, her anxiety remained high. She was missing days, showing up late, and not performing as she would have liked. Once again her doctor recommended she leave work indefinitely, and Corey finally agreed. She has been off ever since on Leave Without Pay. She is currently navigating the process of applying for long-term disability and possibly a disability pension, which she would prefer not to pursue in the hopes she may one day return to work. It hasn’t been an easy process, particularly for her financial situation, but Corey knows this is what she needs right now.
“I have found that it’s better to feel good then to have the constant pain in my head. I’m finally taking care of myself and not masking things and pretending that I’m feeling good when I’m not. That’s the best I can do right now.”
Corey has decided to share her story to help her colleagues who may be struggling in silence. She encourages those who may be feeling the same way she did before she finally sought help to do the same.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. If you are suffering, know that you aren’t alone. If you need help, ask. Things can get better.”
Please visit the Workplace Mental Health Injuries infonet page for more information about this important topic as well as resources available to you.