Anxiety, Depression, and Retail? Oh My! by Becca Smith

Becca Smith

Psychiatric disorders, the silent disability. No one talks about it, and certainly no one calls it a disability. When asked, most people just think depression is chronic sadness and anxiety is just shyness, but that is not the case. For many people who have multiple disorders, just living their daily life can be hellish, now include a customer service job? It becomes almost unbearable.

I myself have Social Anxiety and Bipolar disorder. As I’m sure you can imagine, having Social Anxiety in a job where you have to talk to angry customers and coworkers don’t care about anything is not fun. The BPD is the easy part. Which is to say, the less difficult one. Yes, you have no energy, and you’re on autopilot for most of the day. The hard days are the ones where you have no motivation to do anything, let alone your job.

So you go into work with a shirt that stinks from not being washed and old perfume. You hope your glasses cover the smeared eye makeup you still have on from last time you worked which was… three days ago? And it’s hard. People just think you don’t care, or that you’re lazy. You call in “sick” about once a week because you just can’t be at work, can’t be around people.

Now the anxiety? That’s the worst part. “I’m sorry, sir, that warranty is a one-year warranty and you bought that in 2006” and the inevitable backlash, and the always terrifying “I want to speak with a manager” So you call for a manager and they tell them what you told them and leave angrily anyway. I am a generally bubbly person. When I’m not swimming in depression I like talking to people and socializing… to an extent. But every day, watching people come and go like leaves in the wind, briefly for a moment judging me, seeing my failure, never knowing what I’m actually like, only knowing my fake smile and company policy, it enrages me. I hated so much that so many people only got a fleeting glimpse of me.

And Black Friday? Forget about it. Waves upon waves of people, flushing down the aisles of the store. No time for my spiel about credit cards, no time to make sure they were satisfied. No time. No one had time to have a decent conversation like I would normally have with a customer. Every moment more fleeting than the last, more desperate… It was agony.

But more so than just the regular anxiety, the panic attacks at work are disabling. Picture this: standing alone in the cash wrap, closing shift, Friday night. Someone comes in with a shopping cart full of clothes and a troop of screaming tired children just ten minutes before clothes. Normally, I could handle it, but I was tired too, I hadn’t eaten all day (because of the depression) She seemed to have a million questions to ask me and I couldn’t speak. It felt like I had a noose around my neck, and the overwhelming feeling that SOMETHING WAS WRONG. WRONG. Wrong… wrong? What’s wrong? It’s a normal night, all the drawers are counted except the one you’re using. You have a ride home, your keys, food in the fridge ready for dinner, but dammit, something’s WRONG and you have no clue what it is.

And it’s not like you can just leave. You don’t have another break this shift, and even if you did, no one can relieve you, and it’s almost closing time anyway. And everyone notices. They see you shake. The see the too tight smile and the darkness in your eyes. Your co-workers ask if you’re okay, like they care. They offer to go tell a manager that you need to be relieved, but it’s Christmas and they can’t let you go. So you sit and pretend everything is fine and you don’t talk about it.

Trying to work with an invisible disorder is hard, but the most challenging thing is admitting to yourself that your disability makes working near impossible. Admitting to yourself, not only that you need the help, but that you deserve it. Mental disorders such as severe depression and anxiety are both things that can make one qualify for a disability check from the government. But you think about all the people who deserve it more than you. The people who are fighting cancer, or AIDS or are missing limbs. I think about my mother, whose autoimmune disorder has been eating her body alive for the past three decades. I think about my best friend, playing guitar while missing a hand.

I think about how strong they are and about how they don’t need help sustaining themselves and I feel so weak. But it’s not about them. It’s not about how strong anyone else is. It’s about you, and if whatever you are struggling with keeps you from being able to make a living without hurting yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Government assistance and therapy are there because people need it, so utilize your resources, talk to people, and don’t forget that you are still alive, still moving, and still going forward. As long as you keep fighting, it’ll stay that way.


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