Bouncing back after signing an NDA


I sued a prominent tech company for reasons I can't say anymore. I won, but I signed an NDA. It was a really difficult and heartbreaking process. They did not hold punches and went after my mental health via my Twitter account. The company claims to support mental health and it felt a lot like gaslighting during that process.

I took a year's sabbatical to recover and I'm starting to look for new roles in tech. I have lost all my confidence. I was a software engineer with a really successful career but behind the scenes, I was really struggling with --. I can't talk about it anymore and I don't know what to do. I feel really alone since most people who have signed NDA also can't talk about it.

Lately, opening the terminal feels like running a marathon. I know what I'm doing, it's just the act of doing it that has really become a trigger. I used to love to code. It was one of my favorite feelings to see my features deployed or finally solve a hard problem. After taking a year, I feel out of touch with what's the new thing or updated coding standards. I don't know how to explain my break to interviewers and it's all contributing to my feeling like I don't belong. I have to start interviewing for financial reasons and can't hold off any longer.

If you have any advice or words of support I would really appreciate it. Thank you for reading!

I am so sorry to hear this. What a horrifying and traumatic experience to go through. I completely understand how and why this could impact your ability to do the work that you love. Have you had a chance to speak with a therapist? I think that might be the most impactful step in beginning to recover from trauma, especially since you can't talk about this experience with anyone else. Talking about it and working through all of your thoughts and feelings is necessary, and a therapist may be able to give you tools to help you cope. Second, can you start a passion project before jumping into interviews? Building something for yourself instead of for a job might not only help you get back up to date on new technologies, but also help you rediscover your love for coding again. The project doesn't have to be big; it just needs to be something that you find exciting. If your project ends up becoming something you feel proud of, you may also be able to use it to your advantage in interviews with potential new employers (this should not be the focus of the project, though; your entire goal should be finding a way to love coding again). Finally, I wouldn't worry about trying to explain the gap to potential employers. You can say that you needed to take some personal time and leave it at that. If you feel pressured to say more, you can say that you took time off to focus on your health. In this post 2020 era, we're seeing a lot of people with big gaps on their resumes, and many employers don't care as much as they used to. My wish for you (and all of us, to be honest) is that the next several years are filled with ease and joy. May you never have to go through something this horrific with another employer ever again.
So sorry to hear this. Seconding @glojdallas 1) I would do something on the side while preparing to start interviewing. Even starting something small might help. 2) Since there's an NDA there, therapy should be a safe way to disclose and find some healing. 3) For the gap, I wouldn't worry too much, can say I was focusing on health, family etc. I am seeing long gap periods on peoples's resume now, just recently someone had a gap of 8 months to try a new career! Good luck and hope your next job is start of something amazing for you.
I've had to sign an NDA, and it really does kill you when you treasured your work and your employer abandons you after giving all you have to them. I had a nervous breakdown and took a few months off, and I pivoted a bit in my role so I would be minimally triggered. I'd suggest looking into engineering adjacent roles, or polishing your skills to better suit a similar if not directly compatible role so you can continue to heal. Litigation is traumatic and they attacked you personally. Don't think you're weak or that you've lost your spark for your calling. Kindness for yourself is key, and building your confidence back up should help. I'm so sorry. As much as we can, we support you.
I am so sorry to hear that you are experiencing this. It's way more common than you'd think to have to sign an NDA. I had to sign one as well. What helped me was extremely flexible part time work with people who knew and appreciated me. I felt even basic tasks were really hard when I returned to work and I thought everything I produced was bad. I soon realized with the support of my team that I have a lot to offer. It took me about a year in total to recover and I turned down other more ambitious and lucrative offers in order to join a company with an excellent culture. It's been a wonderful, healing journey. I would ease back into working and just see how it feels. If you need to take more time, or some two week vacations to travel or just take a break take it! Good luck!
Did winning involve receiving a life-changing amount of money such that you wouldn’t need to work ever again? If so, there would be nothing wrong with shifting your energy to other passions.Were there people at your former company (or from other companies from earlier in your career) that you liked who you believe weren’t involved in any way with the lawsuit? I’d second @justinedesmond’s advice to lean into those relationships. (And maybe it helps that people are getting laid off and changing jobs a lot these days?)
I’m going through a similar litigation experience right now. I feel completely drained (emotionally, physically, financially) and it feels impossible for me to rebuild. You’re not alone. Therapy often doesn’t feel like progress but ultimately I can see how I’m rebuilding my foundation. I’m learning it’s okay to ask for help in various forms. Thank you for taking the personal sacrifice to hold tech leadership accountable.
I am sorry to hear about your ordeal. Therapy and gradually getting back to coding and re-establishing your love for it on your terms again sounds like what you need. I saw others mention a passion project or something like that. I think until you are able to do it for yourself, you will do yourself more harm doing it for a corporation. Maybe try consulting first?I wish you the best on your road to recovering the thing you loved to do.
Can you reach out to me? I'm a grief counselor and have a great project about mental health that you would love.
Also seconding the therapy rec. In addition to talk therapy, there are therapists who specialize in trauma/PTSD and can give you actual mental/physical exercises to practice that can break the trigger/reaction cycle. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and has PTSD (and has had the NDA shitty employer experience), I can say it really helps.
@leanora155 This is so hard and please know you are not alone. Feeling silenced on top of enduring a traumatic experience is hard to deal with. One of my clients recently shared this new ruling with me about NDA's - in case it's helpful in your situation to give you the power of owning your voice and story again. terms of talking with recruiters you can be honest but brief. "Hey, I've taken the last year off to rest, reset and regain clarity about my career moving forward". If they push you could share that you needed time away after a tough work situation but really it's about taking them to the future - "Now that I've had the past year to reflect I am really looking for a role and company that offers XYZ and that I can deliver on XYZ". Sending you support and feel free to reach out if you want to chat more. You've got this
I am very sorry to read about your experience. Seconding one of the comments below about the recent ruling on NDAs in severance agreements: in the US, where I assume you're based, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) very recently ruled broad NDAs (non-competes AND non-disparagement clauses) in separation agreements VOID, and made their ruling retroactive (see additional references below). Speak with your attorney to see if your agreement qualifies.NLRB, March 23, 2023: March 27, 2023: I 100% understand how devastating both professionally and personally these far-reaching, broad agreements can be, how much power they gave employers, and how powerLESS it can feel if you've signed one. I had to do A LOT of work to get my confidence back, understand what an unhealthy environment I was working in, and realize that my separation had nothing to do with my capabilities to lead a successful, happy and fulfilling professional and personal life. Some things that worked for me:1. Start a workout routine. Anything. Take a walk every day. Start yoga. Pickelball. Tennis. Whatever resonates! Was there a sport you enjoyed as a kid that you could revisit now as an adult? Find a physical activity that you enjoy and create a regular schedule that prioritizes getting those good hormones flowing.2. Second/third all the therapy recommendations. Ask friends for recommendations if you're comfortable. Finding a good therapist can feel a little bit like dating, if you don't like the first, second or third one, it's ok, keep going - you'll find them! And it can be a real relief speaking with someone outside your circle who can be objective and give you coping tools. Apps out there can also make this more affordable.3. Consider starting a meditation practice. Tons of apps out there and free stuff on YouTube. Start with a 2 minute meditation every morning and ramp up from there. It can feel uncomfortable at first but ultimately can be very beneficial! Headspace, Calm are apps that make it accessible through guided meditation.4. Keep a gratitude journal. Every morning write down 3 things you're grateful for and it will help reframe your thoughts away from what you're missing to focus on what's good in your life. It's remarkable how powerful this small habit can be on positively impacting your overall wellbeing. Research backs the benefits: Start an affirmation practice. I filled multiple notebooks with positive statements I found online or in books and thought if anyone ever found them they'd think I was completely nuts (!) but it helped reframe my thoughts. 6. Is there a way to incorporate coding into something positive like - teaching kids, coaching, tutoring, something that gets you back into it but in a completely different context that could ultimately bring the joy of the practice back to you? Maybe something like that could re-energize your love for coding and pivot the experience into something positive while helping people (and yourself) while you're looking for a full-time job.7. Practice answering tough interview questions with a coach or a friend. You mentioned that you don't like answering questions about your year sabbatical, and role play answering that and any other question about your former job can help you get to a point where your answer is automatic and devoid of any emotion attached to the experience. It works! I did this with a coach and it helped me get comfortable and confident around "trigger" questions.Bottom line - find the activities, people and places in the world that make you feel good in a healthy way and prioritize them. It will help shift your mindset away from the harrowing experience you just went through and position you for the incredibly bright future you have ahead. I sincerely wish you the very best and hope that you'll update us on how things are going in your journey.
I'm so sorry that they did this to you. It's unacceptable that we as a society still allow both the original bad behaviors and the re-traumatization of reporting it and asking for compensation for the harm. I invite you to connect with me and/or to join my event tomorrow on how to navigate work culture with confidence. I will talk about my own experience reporting harassment and how it led me out of the tech industry: I was lucky enough to be in a position to turn down a separation agreement that was insultingly low. It came with an incredibly restrictive NDA and no-rehire section. I echo the recommendation to check with a lawyer to see if/how your NDA still applies given the recent NLRB decision. For those of you who haven't experienced the trauma of attempting to get a company compensate you for the harm their culture caused, check out my "The more complete story of NDAs" podcast episode:
You are not alone. I also signed an NDA some time ago. This experience was one of the reasons that I thought I wanted to switch roles... Feel free to drop me a PN, and I'll gladly share my story with you.
I had this happen to me several years ago, but at least I did not have to go to trial. I only heard the personal attacks via my attorney, which was bad enough. You must have been in agony, because that trial sounds horrible. The money I got was enough to take a year off, but even that was not long enough to really get over it all. I did get a new job without talking about the end of my last role; I just said, truthfully, that I left because the role did not offer a growth path for me.Tips: Do not follow the old company on Blind or reach out to people still there for gossip. This has prolonged my healing time. You need a clean break and try to block any notifications that might trigger rumination. Do go to therapy and seek out medical help. A month of anti anxiety medication as I got on antidepressants was really helpful. When you begin applying to jobs, really listen to your interviewers as they appraise your resume or qualifications. I realized I was hearing the negative self talk I had sunk into because of the ordeal, but when I really listened to the recruiters or HMs, they were actually giving me positive feedback - I just couldn’t hear it bc I was stuck in the trauma. Try to craft your life story in your own head as positively overcoming the horrible work situation: you stood up for yourself; you took care of yourself; the company behaved so badly that the courts agreed… this is all true and you did the right thing. Some people let a bad work situation go on forever and just get more miserable. You didn’t!
Hi! Thank you all for your kind advice. I took it all in. This was the first step for me in getting back into the tech community fwiw. Elpha made it a safe place to ask for advice and I'm grateful for that. I pushed a lot of my friends in tech away. I felt like a fraud because I was working for "one of the best companies in tech" and they were having much better experiences than me. I don't understand what was wrong with me since the harder I worked the harder the door was to open. You all have shown me that there are kind people who get it.After reading the comments, it makes me sad how many of us have had to sign an NDA. Something I learned is that companies have insurance adjusters in lawsuits so it never shows a payout on the company's ledger. Keeps investors and employees with stocks clueless and happy. It continues to perpetuate silent corporate abuse.I have been in therapy for a large portion of my life and speak out against the domestic and other types of abuse I experienced on Twitter. That's what they went after. They even pulled a tweet where I offered a group therapy resource for children who have been abused. It was heartbreaking to see the other part of my life's work and my story ripped apart to fill some narrative. Our mediator was disgusted with their brief and she was a former corporate defense attorney for context.My next hurdle is rejoining Twitter to begin networking. I stopped tweeting which was one of my major networking avenues and where I received a lot of support. I can't bring myself to reach out there again or share my story (because I can't anymore). It's a huge stumbling block for me at the moment. I will start on a side project and see if I can get through this writer's block. Thank yall again. I'm really grateful to not feel alone anymore
I am in the exact same situation. I had to sign one as I was completely broken after less than a year. The trauma that I had to go through at the hands of the C-suite put me in therapy with the stage pre PTSD. I left with an NDA as I wouldn't have health wise survived taking it further. I had to do the NDA as otherwise I would have left with nothing. Considering I had worked in some pretty 'interesting' places globally and been in male dominated industries and risen, shows how bad what I went through in those few months was. It left me having to take time out -6 months for therapy, taking vacation and just decompressing and doing a hobby full time. I am in the process of looking for a job in an absolutely brutal market at a senior level and having to semi lie as to why I left, it's so bad that NDA's are used to cover up toxic behaviour and the perps survive as the NDA silences the victim.Whilst you are looking, even if it's tough financially, make sure you make yourself eat well, sleep and do some form of exercise; these are what my therapist and doctors advised me to do. Don't let other people's actions destroy what you enjoy doing as a career, if anything it should make you more determined to succeed! you will be ok, even though it's tough, you will.Spend time with loved ones as they are the ones who matter, in my case if i didn't have my support network, I may not be here today x