Most university students have summer jobs. It's how we stay afloat; save all summer, just so we can spend all year studying our brains out. I have a summer job, and while I wish it was music full time, I also need to be realistic. So for three summers I have had the same summer job in Toronto: I work retail downtown. Retail in downtown Toronto is an equal mix of entertaining and frustrating. There are days where I love my job and days where I'm near slamming my hand in a fitting room door so I can have an excuse to go home. It's a fine line that I tread very carefully. However, no matter how frustrating or entertaining, it's always exhausting. You are always wearing your best face, meeting hundreds of people, and trying not to yell at somebody for trying on a jeans without underwear (true story).
But, unfortunately, I have an extra dash of special in my life that makes retail especially exhausting. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder; for anyone who needs a refresher course you can read my post from Bell Let's Talk Day,
Or if you're looking for a TLDR: social anxiety is a phobia of social situations because of being judged or negatively perceived. Meaning, I spend inordinate amounts of time and energy thinking and rethinking my social interactions throughout the day. Taking into account that for 40 hours a week, my job consists of thousands of social interactions, you can see where I might struggle a little bit.
Now, little disclaimer, I never told my bosses about my anxiety. I didn't think it was relevant for them to know, plus it's hard to rationalize hiring someone who has a fear of talking to people. So I did, and still do, keep my diagnosis to myself at work. And then, over time, it seemed less and less relevant to bring up. I would have been informing them for the sake of informing them, rather than contributing something meaningful to the relationship I had fostered over three years. Plus, it was nice working somewhere where nobody knew, nobody had seen me have a panic attack, and nobody felt the need to treat me with the "kid gloves" that can sometimes be associated with mental health.
But retail is often physically and mentally draining for me. I spend 8 hours a day on my feet doing one of the things that makes my skin crawl. I then go home and think over the conversations I had with customers, coworkers and bosses. I sit at the kitchen table reliving moments throughout the day, trying to figure out if I said the right thing to that women with the two kids and the dark hair. Or if the tall guy who tried on jeans smiled because he was being polite, or because I said something stupid and didn't notice.
And I have to rest, like anyone at any job, but I need time and space away from it all. There have been a couple times, after a 6 or 7 days of working that I've gotten so anxious I've been sent home because my bosses didn't know what was up, but they kept repeating "something is off with you today".
So why do I still work retail with social anxiety? Why do I keep mixing oil and water? Well, I love a challenge. I love pushing myself and finding my limits. In addition, it's good practice. My first summer in retail, I went home early quite a few times, had to have my parents pick me up from the store because I was on the brink of a panic attack, or just spent full days exhausted after long shifts. But now, I'm taking it all in stride. I'm learning to balance work and I'm becoming stronger for it. I'm learning to catch myself winding up for panic in the middle of a shift, and being able to settle my nerves and make it to the end of the day. Moreover, I go back for the people, who - without knowing - have been incredible rocks for me. And finally, I go back because I'm pretty decent at selling clothes.
And I publish this knowing that there is a good to fair chance that my bosses and coworkers will read it. But I trust that they have enough faith in me that I know what I'm doing, and I know I work in an environment where nobody will judge me for it. I'm just hoping that someone will read this and think "that thing I'm afraid of isn't so bad". Good luck <3.
From me, with love, to you,
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