I haven’t posted on here in ages, mostly due to the combination of university coursework and exams, and the fact that I also now have a job. As usual, I have loads of posts that I’d like to write, but not enough time to write them all. Due to the amount of anxiety that it involves, work often leaves me feeling too exhausted to do much else. Thankfully, university is over until September, so I’ll try to post at least once a week over the summer. I apologise for the wall of text that follows.
I had spent months and months applying for jobs and was becoming increasingly discouraged, feeling that I would never be able to gain employment. I was spending hours each week filling out application forms, without ever even being invited to an interview by anyone. Back in February, I was finally given a telephone interview by a retail company (who will remain nameless) that I temporarily worked for before. I was caught off guard by this and the woman on the phone informed me immediately after the interview that they would not be taking my application any further, which I thought was a bit brutal. She really didn’t seem particularly nice anyway. One of my sisters currently works for that company, and the other worked for them in the past, and both of them have said that it’s not a nice place to work, and the managers are really unpleasant. It does not sound like a good place for an SA person to work (and it certainly wasn’t when I worked there for a couple of days before), so I suppose I was partly glad that I had failed the interview (and I’m DEFINITELY glad in hindsight) but it just made me feel even more depressed and useless at the time. I was also called for a face-to-face interview about a week after that, at the shop where my youngest sister currently works. I had only handed in my CV the day before being called, and this is also the only place I’ve ever handed in my CV (due to SA getting the better of me), so I was extremely lucky to have handed it in at the right time. Unfortunately, despite feeling that I did okay in the interview, I didn’t get the job. I suppose it might have been a bit awkward to work with my sister anyway…
A couple of weeks after the second interview, I was invited to a group interview for a job at a local supermarket. I had never had a group interview before and was utterly terrified at the prospect. My one strength when it comes to interviews is that I prepare for them very, very thoroughly, and I feel that this is probably what helped me the most. I took a small dose of propranolol before the interview as I felt that I couldn’t have managed the interview without it. I seem to tolerate the smaller doses without any worrying side effects, though I am still worried about propranolol not being good for my heart. Thankfully, the people doing the interview were friendly and it was quite informal. There were 5 of us in the interview group. Three of them were already there when I arrived, and I tried my best to make conversation with them.
The actual interview didn’t last as long as I thought it would. I think I was the oldest person in the interview group, which surprised me. We were asked some customer service related questions as a group – despite feeling very anxious, I tried my best to give an answer for every single question, and this is where a combination of thorough preparation and various employment-related workshops at university helped a lot – and then we were given a group work activity to do while one of the interviewers went to photocopy our passports and other documents. One of the girls in the group had forgotten her passport and was visibly upset by this, as tears were rolling down her face. I felt so, so sorry for her and thought about how mortified I’d feel if the same thing had happened to me. I obviously wasn’t able to take a leadership role during the group exercise, though I did contribute a few suggestions and tried to help other people out as much as possible. I went away from the interview feeling annoyed and like there was no way I had gotten the job. All the other people in the group seemed much more assertive and confident than I did. So you can imagine my surprise when one of the interviewers phoned me the next day to tell me that I was one of two people chosen from the interview to work there. I honestly thought that there was no way in hell that I’d gotten the job. Though obviously extremely nervous, I was also really excited and happy to have gotten the job, especially as I was sick to the back teeth of filling in job application forms.
I had to attend an induction day a few days later, along with 7 other new people. We did the usual ice breaker activities and also answered questions on good customer service as a group, which I found terrifying, especially as my mind kept going blank whenever I tried to think of an answer, though the manager leading us all through the induction day said that my responses were very good. It would seem that sometimes other people have more confidence in me than I do in myself. I can’t help but see myself as being completely useless and incompetent, and keep feeling that it’s only a matter of time until I lose this job because of that. Since getting the job, every time that someone has phoned me to ask if I can work additional hours, or a manager has asked to speak to me, I’ve always panicked, thinking that they’d tell me not to come back. I get very stressed out about the slightest things. I’ve told myself that if other people believe I am competent enough to employ me then I should start believing it too, but unfortunately that’s a lot easier said than done. Anyway, we spent most of the rest of the induction day going over the usual health and safety videos and answering questions on age-restricted sales and the like. Having to eat lunch in front of the others was difficult but I managed it. For the last hour or so of the induction day, we were working out on the shop floor. I found this very difficult because customers kept coming up to me to ask me where things were and I obviously had no idea. But I got through it without having a panic attack, even though I didn’t take any propranolol (and haven’t since the interview).
In a lot of ways, this job is perfect for me (except perhaps the 6am starts). It’s less social than most retail jobs as it involves going around the shop with a trolley, collecting all the items that customers have ordered online, but customers will frequently come up to you and ask where various items are. I’m amazed that I haven’t had a panic attack yet, as a couple of years ago, I couldn’t be in a supermarket for any longer than a few minutes without feeling like I was about to have a panic attack. I think I could do a full supermarket shop without any major issues now. It’s amazing as I would’ve struggled immensely with this even a few months ago. I am so, so lucky to have gotten this job and I really, really want to keep it. I’m so worried about losing it due to my anxiety getting the better of me or due to being incompetent. I have improved so much already since getting the job and have become significantly better at being in the city centre, shops, and other crowded areas. I think my social skills have improved as well, as I have really been trying to push myself to greet my colleagues and try to make conversation with them. I’ve even gradually become slightly less anxious when customers approach me as well.
Although I haven’t had any panic attacks, the job obviously very much takes its toll on me in terms of anxiety. My heart doesn’t race like it usually does when I’m in high anxiety situations, and I don’t shake that much when I’m at work. Instead, these symptoms have been replaced by a constant feeling of tightness in my chest and tension in my facial muscles. I really worry about the tension in my facial muscles, as it makes it very difficult for me to smile and I’m worried that my colleagues, and customers, will think that I’m unfriendly, rude or stuck up. One of my colleagues has already made a sarcastic comment about the fact that I hardly ever smile, and other colleagues keep asking if I’m all right, which is probably also due to my lack of smiles. I think I must have a bit of a “resting bitch face” (I hate that term but it’s probably the best way to describe what my face does when I’m anxious), which is definitely a defence mechanism that results from being bullied in high school. In old family photos, I’m smiling in each photo as a child but I’m not smiling in most of the photos from when I was about 12-13 years old. Smiling is definitely something that I need/ want to work on, as it would probably make me more approachable (which my anxiety doesn’t want, but it’s important if I want to be able to form friendships/ relationships with people). I’ve been trying to smile whenever I remember to do so but it’s difficult to tell if I’m doing it properly without a mirror, and I worry about looking stupid when there are other people around, which makes me more anxious and makes my face tense up, making the problem worse. I’m going to try smiling as much as I can when relaxed and not around other people, and then gradually try to smile more in front of other people. Even smiling when I’m on my own is difficult though, as strange as that may sound. I try to smile when I’m out walking the dog but have to check my face in the reflection of my phone screen almost every 30 seconds, as I usually have no idea what my facial expression is doing at any given time (which just leads to more anxiety when I’m around other people). I think the best way to genuinely smile is to think of funny things (for example, funny clips from programmes that I have watched), but it’s impossible to do that for a full shift at work. Judging from the forums, it seems that finding it difficult to smile is a common problem in people with social anxiety. Conversely, some people with social anxiety feel that they smile too much, as they smile when anxious. For a long time, I thought I was the only one who suffered with this particular problem, so it’s a relief to know that I’m not alone. It’s still incredibly frustrating though. The combination of the tension, anxiety, and getting up at 4:30 most mornings means that work leaves me feeling very worn out, even when I’m only there for 4 hours.
Most of my colleagues seem friendly enough, though I’m paranoid that they may make negative comments about me or make fun of me when I’m not there. Last week, some people were making some really horrible comments about another colleague – who is maybe my age or a couple of years older and (supposedly) also a virgin – which made me feel really annoyed. A couple of the people who were making the comments were in their late thirties. I honestly thought that no one was immature enough to make comments like that after their teenage years, but clearly I was wrong. I’m worried that they make similar comments about me when I’m not there. I feel like I’m constantly annoying my colleagues (for example, by asking them to check the stock level of an item that isn’t on the shelf). I find it really difficult to not take things personally so if one of my colleagues so much as sighs because they’re stressed out or fed up with work, I tend to assume it’s all my fault for annoying them and that they hate me. I hate the paranoia that comes with social anxiety. One other thing I found a bit difficult is that a lot of people I went to high school with also work in that shop. Again, this probably sounds ridiculous but I’d rather just forget about that part of my life altogether. Thankfully, none of them work in my department, so I don’t see much of them.
Something hilariously awkward (for an SA person) happened when I was collecting items for my first trolley of the day a couple of weeks ago. A customer had ordered a vibrator (bet you didn’t know the supermarkets sold those!), but one of my colleagues and a couple of customers were in the aisle at the time. I waited a while to see if they would leave so that things would be a bit less embarrassing. My colleague left but the two customers were still there so I decided that I was going to have to just go for it. The female customer saw me and gave me a shocked/ surprised look, and I’m not sure if she realised that I work there as I don’t have a uniform yet (and if she didn’t, she probably wondered why on earth I was buying a vibrator at 6 o’ clock in the morning). This would happen to the SA person, wouldn’t it? Still, I managed it without having a panic attack. I’m just glad that I haven’t had to collect condoms yet, as they need to be placed on the top of the trolley (where everyone else can see them) while you collect all of your other items, so that you remember to de-tag them. I’m also terrible at using the box de-tagger (which is in the delivery area, where all of the other colleagues can see you) so this would cause me a lot of anxiety. As for some of the more bizarre things that people have ordered, one customer last week ordered 30 cucumbers, while another ordered 40 packets of squeezable yogurt. And the weirdest one I’ve had so far is that someone ordered a single new potato (which are about the size of a golf ball). What’s that all about? Also, when someone orders The Sun or The Daily Mail, I put it in the same bag as their toilet paper because you’re supposed to put similar items together. 😛