I had a panic attack over a Halloween decoration at work — Ask a Manager

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day — there’s more to come today.

Remember the letter-writer who had a panic attack over a Halloween decoration at work? Here’s the update.

Thank you all so much for your support in the comments. It really helped to hear that others were able to sympathize. I felt very alone after it happened and it was so helpful to hear that I was not, either in my fear or in having an emotional moment at work.

I ended up taking a personal day the next day (very common at our company, we have generous PTO) and met with my therapist but worked at a work event that evening. When I arrived at the event, I did almost exactly what Alison (and my therapist) suggested. I arrived in a professional manner and handled my immediate tasks. Then when the group was gathered, I broke the tension by asking, “And has this (event space) been swept for evil dolls?” Everyone chuckled and was very nice about it.

I apologized directly to the coworkers who had overheard the panic attack and all of them said to not worry at all. One woman even kindly said she thought we were all “just laughing in my office” (probably a lie, but very sweet). Doll Dude and I checked in in person the next day at the office and we are good. At this point I don’t think anyone will be mentioning it anymore and I am so relieved!

A few things I can clear up for those who asked:

1. Doll Dude did not know that I was afraid of the doll. He was not there when I first got jump scared by it and word hadn’t reached him that I was uncomfortable. It was just bad luck that he happened to bring it with him to meet with me. He was intending to be playful and it backfired. He was instantly horrified by my reaction and brought me tissues while apologizing profusely and immediately taking the doll out to his car. Another coworker sat with me and calmed me down, even walking me to my car afterwards so I wouldn’t have to walk through the halls alone. They are good people.

2. Re: other dolls in the office, I would generally not enjoy them and attempt to avoid them, but I would not be triggered to nearly this degree by, say, a baby doll or the “George Costanza’s mother” doll (great example from the comments). It would not send me into a panic attack. This doll was intentionally designed to be scary as a Halloween decoration and others vocally expressed they found it “f****** creepy.”

3. I have been at this company for almost three years. Doll Dude has been here about a year, and those who witnessed my panic attack have also been here at least 18 months. So this was luckily not an early impression of me for them!

Thank you, Alison, for sharing my story, for your kind advice, and for the support of the commenters! I have been reading AAM for a decade now but this is my first time ever interacting with you all.

Update to the update

I ended up leaving that job just after the new year for unrelated reasons — I was head-hunted to fill a role with higher pay and a much better work/life balance (so hard to come by at nonprofits!) for a different organization, so I no longer have to worry about any potential longterm effects from the Halloween episode at my previous company. Hoping that this new workplace also remains free of creepy dolls!

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