Coping at the Grocery Store Method 1: Disassociation

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL AQUÍ

Originally Published January 4, 2018

I wrote this post on my old blog about my anxiety at work. By the title (“Method 1”) I can only assume I meant for this to be a series, though I never wrote another post like this on my old blog. Also, at the end are notes I had written for my original audience. I keep them, because they are relevant in future posts from my old blog. …And I find them somewhat amusing. I still agree with what I wrote, so enjoy learning about grocery store cashier struggles!

I’ve been hung up on something. Like I mentioned in a prior blog, I have a seasonal job in a grocery store as a cashier. As much as the work heightens my anxiety and exacerbates my depression, I continue to work there. My first summer there was such a culture shock. I had just completed my freshman year in college and a three week “maymester” statistics course when I got the job. In fact, I remember having to miss a couple days of class just to go to the interview and training. Look forward to my interview story ’cause that one is a doozy.

Either way, when I began the job I was a new and innocent soul. A new and innocent soul who had no idea what she had just signed herself up for. On top of 40 hour weeks at work, I had also decided it wise to take two courses during the first summer term. I’d go to class in the morning for a couple of hours, go to work for 8 hours during the day, and work on my online class at night. I’d sleep then get up and do it all over again five times a week.

On my days off, if I didn’t have an exam the next day, (and sometimes even if I did) all I could do was sit, catatonic, on the couch watching television mindlessly or play video games for hours at a time. It was as if my body couldn’t bear the sudden plug from the stream of work and school. It was if as it refused to do anything but work and school. That was the beginning of my descension into work-aholism. (More on that in future posts.)

I was like a robot. On top of that, I was nervous and shy. Going into work felt like going into a torture chamber. Instead of water logging and whips though, I arrived to conversation and innocent inquires. Sprinkled throughout were legitimately rude and otherwise unjust situations, but for the most part many of the causes of my intense anxiety were harmless.

We cashiers did a small number of jobs. If we weren’t working on a big register (the kind you typically think of in a grocery store) we worked in the 15 items or less area called express or by the prepared food in the 10 items or less trio of registers called mobiles. Additionally, we occasionally worked bagging people’s groceries on the main lines or doing odd jobs like sweeping or filling bags of ice to offer people with frozen or refrigerated items and a long trip home.

My favorite job, of course, was bagging groceries. Few people would say more to me than “hello” (if they even said that) when I was bagging their groceries. My first year, this bothered me. The fact that hundreds of people would actively avoid talking or otherwise acknowledging my existence made me feel insignificant. Once I got trained to be on a register though, those sparse moments bagging groceries became a safe haven. With the exception of a few obnoxious customers insisting I smile, no one really cared what I had to say. I was hardly meant to be seen, let alone heard.

On a register however, I was expected to smile off the bat and converse in a light and natural way. A way that I was not versed in. I took my parents’ warnings about talking to strangers as law growing up and thus had absolutely no idea how to make small talk. Thinking back it’s almost comical, if it wasn’t so tragic. Someone would comment about the weather and I’d just give them a twitchy, nervous smile and a shaky “yeahh”.

Then the rest of the transaction would go on with me staring pointedly at each item I would scan and the customer awkwardly waiting for the prison-type sentence to end. All the while, the unfortunate bagger at the end of my register would begin to drown in produce, milk, and other items as I sent them down as fast as I possibly could to save myself a few seconds of agony. I was uncomfortable to say the least.

That was then. Nowadays I’m mostly neutral or convincingly natural and fake happy. Let’s take a second to talk about that as I think that was one of the keys to maintaining my sanity while working this job. At first I refused to put on a mask and pretend to be happy to see the hoards of people I had to serve that day. I wanted to be real. Being real caused me various panic attacks and reinforced my depression. People can be nasty. On purpose or not.

By giving myself a role to act everything felt less personal. So what if someone shouted at me for using the wrong type of bags for their groceries (as if I could read their minds!). So what if a person looked at me with contempt or superiority? They aren’t looking at me. So my alter ego would smile, apologize, and offer to call a manager. She tries to be as helpful as possible. I don’t like her. But I couldn’t go on. My actual self was breaking, so I used a hologram.

In a strange way, taking things less personal was my first method of coping. After all, the customers who have been snippy with me probably would have reacted the same way to any other cashier. It’s their actions, not my provocation, that have caused conflict. As long as I do my job, being professional and polite, it doesn’t matter what the customer does. They can throw a punch at me for all I care. It’s on them and not me. Keeping up this persona by no means prevents people from being offensive or leud, but it helps my conscience and at the end of the day I should matter more to myself than some random people who were jerks to me.

*~*~*~*

If you’ve made it this far in the story/prose/or whatever this self glorifying text is, thank you. I don’t want this to be a stream of consciousness blog. While I don’t know what I want it to be yet, I know I don’t want it to be that. I’d like it to be personal and entertaining while remaining insightful. Who knows when I’ll find a balance between those three, but I’m hopeful I’ll get there and then go over these early posts with a figurative red pen and x everything out while laughing over a cup of hot chocolate and some popcorn.

This post was supposed to be about my co-worker Alison (pseudo name, of course) and her negative interactions with customers and my hypothesis regarding that. But! Like my fourth grade writing teacher constantly told me, I lack direction in my writing. ~Lucky for you guys, you’re along for the ride while I try to find it!~* Thanks again for getting this far and do not wait with baited breath for my next rant-y post about the life and struggles of a grocery store cashier. I’m sure you are all lovely people with much more exciting things to do than that.

* The “~” encasing words or sentences detonates sarcasm.

One thought on “Coping at the Grocery Store Method 1: Disassociation

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