“I was having panic attacks constantly”

30. November 2012: Angelia Swanson was a Customer Service Representative working on retentions at the T-Mobile call center in Nashville, Tennessee between June 2005 and June 2012. Stress and anxiety at work began to take a profound mental and physical toll on Angelia after she found it increasingly difficult to excel at her job.

“I was top notch for so many years, and then all of a sudden I’m on the bottom level. You’re still the same person, and you’re still doing your job; now you’re on the bottom level. ”

Angelia had consistently been a top employee. She had even won “power player” – a monthly honor given to workers who met or exceeded certain criteria – eleven months straight, a streak that was only interrupted by a bout of strep throat that forced her to miss several days from work.

Work changed for Angelia in 2009 when she began to slip from being one of the top-ranked representatives to being at the bottom. She describes her experience speaking with a coach about her performance: “I’m trying very hard to get back to being a number one representative, and no one could tell me why I wasn’t. One of the coaches and I would be listening to a call and I would hit every check point, and she would tell me that I got a three. And I’m thinking why not a four? And she would make statements like, ‘you could have put a little more oomph into your call.’ Or she would say that I didn’t try to sell the customer anything. And I’m thinking, why would I? This lady barely understands how to answer a phone. Why would I try to put something as detailed as Internet service on her line?

“Things got so bad that I was always stressed, always having anxiety attacks. I just kept pushing so I didn’t miss days out of work, and I didn’t have any FMLA (editor’s note: Family Medical Leave Act or unpaid, job-protected leave for personal or family illness). I had never applied for that until the last year of me being there. And I was having chest pains all the time, and it got so bad that I went to the emergency room. They said I’d had two small heart attacks, and I had two stents put in. And then I had to go back to work within three weeks – it was even worse.”

“I needed to get back to work. And once I got back, everything started going downhill. I started having one illness after another. I was having panic attacks constantly, and my doctor was saying that the panic attacks could affect my heart. And she was afraid that I would have another heart attack.”

“I tried to go back in December, but even when I walked into the building I felt physically ill.” Eventually, Angelia, with the help of her doctors, applied for and received disability pay from T-Mobile.

Angelia was fired in June because she had not returned to work. “It felt like the day that they sent me my separation papers I just got better all of a sudden even though I knew I wasn’t going back. I knew I wasn’t going back after my doctors had said that they didn’t want me going back; the stress of it was too bad and, with me having anxiety problems and having heart problems, that kind of stress was dangerous.”