Retrying College and Anxiety On The Job

After the low point I described at the end of the last post, I just treaded water for a while. I went back to school, but to a local college this time. I decided on a simpler major and a lighter course load. The fear and anxiety quickly returned at orientation. I had to wear sunglasses and a hat indoors as a shield just to have enough courage to enter the building on my first day. If it would have been socially acceptable to wear a mask, I would have. In fact, if I had a functional suit of Iron Man armor I might never be afraid to go anywhere again. That need dissipated for some time, but would come back even stronger at a later time. Most of the students in my program were much older than me, so I didn’t have the fear that came from the pressure of associating with young people.

Eventually, I became well enough to add a part-time job to my schedule. I got hired as a bank teller. It was mostly manageable, except there were times when fear enveloped me due to confrontations with rude, impatient, and pompous customers. I couldn’t please everyone, despite wanting very much to do so to keep the peace. Several bank transactions required assistance from a more senior teller to authorize. Unfortunately, the senior teller could not always drop whatever she was doing to help me immediately. So, the customer would have to wait a minute until I could be helped. Once in a while a customer would have no patience for this. As one customer got upset about waiting, I tried to placate her by saying I understood how she felt and that I totally felt the same way. I was afraid of the anger being taken out specifically on me, so my automatic response was to try and sound like I was on her side. On the inside I was screaming for help and wanted to run away and hide somewhere. I felt all the blood rush to my face, my hands shake, my heart rate spike, my breathing become shallow and quick, my face sweat, and I was losing my patience too. I wanted to disappear.

Another customer wanted to cash a check from another bank, but could not comprehend that identification was needed to protect against fraud. When asked, she said something along the lines of, “I don’t need to show you any ID! Do you know who I am?” She went on to say how she was from a powerful, upper class, and respected family. Her clothing, dental work, and overall appearance seemed to contradict that. She did not give the impression she had mob connections of any kind; just elitism. I had never heard of nor met this woman in my life, yet she felt so important she couldn’t bear the thought of another person not following her every command, no questions asked. That stoked both fear and anger in me. I was on the precipice of doing something that would surely have resulted in disciplinary action or worse. It took the intervention of a customer service representative who had opened the woman’s account to vouch for her. When I asked for ID of a different customer to cash his check, he said I was very rude and began to storm off. I was very stressed at that moment and could not completely bite my tongue. I simply replied, “No. I’m not.” Fortunately, he did not turn back around and start trouble. If he had, I could not have restrained myself from getting into a fight. Everyone who has worked in customer service has had to deal with difficult customers. But, when your mental state is such that every negative interaction with someone is internalized you will find your ability to maintain a professional demeanor greatly diminished. It’s like having someone flick your ear repeatedly or having a mosquito or gnat constantly flying around your head. If it goes on for long enough, you will break.

Sometimes when I felt very stressed and afraid, I would accidentally blurt things out loudly even though I didn’t mean to. And no, I don’t have Tourette’s syndrome. Thank heavens I didn’t say anything that was close to a fireable offense. It just made for some raised eyebrows. For example, maybe I emphasized the “you” in “thank you” way too much or yelled to a customer I was acquainted with just to say hello. I may have had responses that sounded odd like, “a good day to you good sir” or something. Eventually a quota was added for the number of bank products each employee had to sell per month. I was scared to death when I had to stand alone in the lobby and ask every customer who entered if they would like to try our new low interest loan. Every customer who passed by without even a “no thanks” or an “I’m good” felt like a personal rejection of me. Of course, I didn’t have the highest sales numbers because of my timidity. After adding an extra class to my course load it all became too much for me to handle. So, I resigned.

When I got my A.A. degree, I was inspired to keep going and get a Bachelor’s degree. But, I had no intention of moving away to do it. I was not willing to risk falling back into the deep abyss of depression and having to be hospitalized because of self-harm or a suicide attempt. So, I found a program online that let me do all my assignments from home. While I was doing that I worked for a while as a massage therapist, which I’d been certified in when working toward my A.A., and later raking leaves and mowing grass. After graduating, I found and began an online graduate program in animal behavior. But, by then I was burnt out on education and no longer had the motivation to keep going. But, I still wanted to help animals in some capacity. I had the idea to become a dog trainer, so I entered a program to learn. I have always loved dogs and wanted to help the ones that had behavior issues to change so they could stay in their homes or be adopted. I completed it right at the time my parents and I moved away from the home I had lived in from birth to age 26.

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