All Aboard the Hot Mess Express

If you follow me on Twitter or read the September projects post, then you’ll know that the day job is no more.

It didn’t work out for various reasons. To be honest, the whole deal was a hot mess from the beginning.

The same day I got the job I was diagnosed with anemia, which I didn’t tell anybody about because, hey, it was just continuing to function with the extreme fatigue I’d been dealing with for months while I waited for the iron pills to do their thing, no big deal. My second shift I was offered a promotion because the store had been operating with only three people and they desperately needed anyone with experience to step up. I took it because even though it wasn’t what I really wanted for a day job, I wanted to help out and the responsibility didn’t sound too bad.

I was given maybe a week of training and then given my own shifts, call us if you need us, which probably would have worked out better if they answered their phones more often. Anyway, after about a week of being on my own and getting the hang of things, the tiniest Wal-Mart in the world, the one in my town, announced it was closing. Oh goodie. Now the small, two-register store I worked at was inundated with their business and complaints. The computer system was too old to keep up with the increase so it crashed at least once a shift, sometimes just needing the pinpad for the card readers reset and sometimes needing the entire register rebooted.

We were also still operating understaffed and the people we did have were new. I’d been there less than a month and was considered a vet. I was training the new cashiers. So, we had all of this new business and under-trained employees. When we had employees at all. I ended up working several of my shifts alone because nobody showed up or somebody called in. I also got called in early or on my days off pretty regularly.

There was also an increase in freight. Quite simply we were drowning in it. We couldn’t keep up with it because we didn’t have enough people to put it up and/or were too busy to put it up because of all the customers.

Meanwhile, I’m barely writing because I’m wiped out. The whole point of the day job was to supply me with a steady income because I wasn’t making enough by writing alone. This was supposed to take some pressure off of me. Instead, I was stressed and my anxiety was so bad I was having trouble sleeping.

There was a stretch when things were improving. First of all, my anemia got better so I wasn’t totally exhausted all of the time. We started getting two trucks a week, which made the freight easier to handle. The people we hired were getting better and showing up and sticking around. Business slowed some after the Wal-Mart finally closed in July because people stopped panicking about having to go out of town to get toilet paper. Someone that had hired in at the same time I did finally decided to become a key like me.

But then I found out that I was going to be training. From her. The night I was supposed to start training her. And I was given less than a week to do it. She called me on her first solo shifts because she couldn’t get a hold of either of the managers. One day included four phone calls, one text message, and two trips to the store to help her out.

And finally, we got a new district manager who wanted pretty much everyone, including yours truly, fired because we weren’t doing our jobs well enough.

That was all she wrote for me. I called it quits.

The thing is that I didn’t feel at all relieved about quitting. I felt like (and still feel like) a failure. If I had been better, I would have been able to make it work. I would have been able to handle that job and write. I wouldn’t have been tired and stressed and anxious all of the time. I let everyone down because I couldn’t hack it. I couldn’t do what everyone else does: go to work, do their job, go home and function there. I couldn’t fucking do it.

I expressed these sentiments on Twitter after I turned in my keys and made it official and everyone was very kind (because I follow some awesome folks there) and assured me that I wasn’t a failure, but if that were true…I wouldn’t have quit, would I?

Yeah.

Since my last day, I’ve been struggling to right my emotional ship as well as everything else. I finally got my sleep schedule adjusted closer to where I’d like it to be and I’m actually sleeping most of the night instead of fighting sleep for hours because I keep dreaming I’m at work and not really sleeping until dawn. I’m working on getting off the retail diet, too. And, of course, my writing is happening more like normal again. Yet, I’m still frustrated that I’m not doing all of this faster and better.

Because the feeling of failure lingers.

I can’t quit it. It won’t take my notice.

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The Retail Diet

When I worked at Wal-Mart for the last time, some ten years ago now, my diet was pretty terrible. I believe I once compared it to eating like a racoon raiding a dumpster. I drank a lot of soda, ate a lot of fast food, Hot Pockets and microwavable beef stew being the extent of my cooking. By the time I quit that gig, I had cut down on the soda drinking, but that was about it.

After I quit, I made some dietary improvements, mainly by actually cooking meals instead of microwaving whatever I could find and making soda and fast food a rarity. And I managed to continue with this for the next ten years or so, despite the different day jobs, even while holding three day jobs at once, and even while technically working in retail.

But doing floorset isn’t the same as working retail. I wasn’t dealing with customers on top of resetting an entire store; I was just doing a lot of folding, rearranging, and swearing. Working retail means dealing with customers while trying to put up freight, answer the phone, and keep the store in order. It means walking two to six miles during any given shift and never leaving the store. It means having registers crash during busy times, people calling in and leaving you to work a Saturday shift alone for several hours, listening to customers say the same things over and over again thinking they’re the first to be so clever. It means answering the same questions over and over again, listening to the same complaints over and over again, and holding your tongue during both.

In short, retail can be (and currently is for me) a high-stress, low-wage job.

And it kills my eating habits.

In the past few months of my new retail day job, I’ve drunk more soda and eaten more junk food than I have in years. I’ve craved soda and junk food more in the past few months than I have in the past ten years. Working retail triggers in me the need for a garbage diet that I might be able to get away with in my twenties, but not when I’m pushing forty. Yet, here I am, despite all wisdom, going right back to it.

I’m guessing the combination of stress and anxiety is the trigger for me here. I can’t say that I’m much of an emotional eater. However, I think that the stress/anxiety combo wears me out to the point that my willpower is gone and I’m too tired to care about what I’m ingesting. That’s definitely how it feels. It’s not a particularly healthy mindset, but it’s hard to maintain one when all of my energy is focused on getting through another shift. It leaves little energy for the effort of making good choices.

Right now I’m struggling with it. I can only hope that the stress recedes soon (the anxiety, I don’t think, ever will) and gives me a break that doesn’t come in the form of a Kit Kat Bar.

I Shoulda Been…

Do you ever think about what you could been? Or shoulda been?

Being a writer is a natural choice for me in many respects. I wrote my first story at six. I wrote and produced plays for the neighborhood kids in the summer. I wrote a radio play and we recorded it on a blank cassette tape using our old red radio. I’d make up stories for us to act out when we were playing pretend and then I’d try to write them down later. I was always starting stories that never got finished (that discipline came later). I read a lot and enjoyed living in those worlds, marveling at how those stories were created. Writing is something I’ve always done. I’m plagued with stories that demand to get out of my head even if I’m just telling them to myself.

However.

I probably shoulda been something else.

If I’m going to be honest, I shoulda been a bookkeeper or an accountant or a professional budget creator or something. Because I like money. And I like math when it relates to money. Since my mother first paid me to work in her daycare, I’ve tracked my money, estimated my paychecks, created budgets for myself, figured out payment plans for debt, figured out savings plans. I am annoyingly enthusiastic when it comes to finding new ways to manipulate and math my money. I’ll even math other people’s money.

Right now, I keep a monthly spreadsheet to track my income and spending. And I like it.

When people talk about making money by doing things they love, it’s usually said sort of wistfully, like what they love to do couldn’t easily be translated into a steady income. And here my love of crunching numbers is not only an actual job, but you can get a whole college degree in it.

I’m not exactly sure why I never thought about it as a viable career route, especially considering my limited college options at the time. My great-aunt had been a bookkeeper for years as well. It would have been an easy opportunity to explore. And yet…

It never came up. Never even crossed my mind as I budgeted the paychecks I collected from working in retail and worked in a credit union. Never thought much about it while I worked in the cash office of a store, calculating deposits worth thousands. It was right there in front of me and I never saw it.

If I had, maybe I’d be enjoying a day job of crunching numbers to pay my bills while I wrote.

Maybe I still can.

Change the Chant

Anyone who has anxiety will tell you that it’s very real and very dumb. Your brain decides everything is terrible and despite your logical assertions that everything is in fact fine, your brain disagrees. Endlessly.

I have several ways to cope with my anxiety because some days it’s worse than others. With the new day job in retail, learning the specifics of this job (a lot of retail is the same, but every store has their own style), and the drastically increased face-to-face interactions with humans, my anxiety has definitely been worse.

One of the consequences of my anxiety going on a rage is that I don’t sleep and/or don’t sleep well. Sleep is sort of important to my well-being, as it is for most people. Due to my recent health issues, it’s been very important.

One of the ways that I cope with my anxiety is through chanting mantras. It’s a quick and easy way to calm my mind and the anxiety in the moment. It’s also very helpful at slowing down the mental chatter before sleep. The rhythm of the words soothes me and the words themselves plant pleasantness in my brain.

The mantras have been getting a workout due to the new day job and the chaos therein. The Wal-Mart in town is closing, our business has dramatically increased, and it’s been slow going getting more help and more hours to compensate for it. My anxiety has been zinging.

So, it’s no wonder that the mantras I’ve always used have been recently overused and have stopped working.

It’s not ideal, for sure. There is no rest when I come home from a long, hectic shift, go to sleep, and my dreams put me right back at work. I don’t enjoy working the same shift twice.

After a few rough nights, I realized that maybe the solution wasn’t too far from my old tricks.

The old mantras didn’t seem to work anymore. Maybe a new one would? A mantra specifically geared towards releasing the anxiety associated with work. I tried it for a few nights and it…helped? I still dreamed about work, but instead of reliving my shift or fighting not to dream about work, I just let it roll. The dreams weren’t as intense and didn’t last very long before I moved on to my usual dream weirdness (I was involved in a heist that used plastic wrap and wasn’t nearly as clever as everyone thought it was; we all should have been caught). In short, the new mantra has helped me reclaim at least a somewhat more restful night.

Once things with the day job smooth out, it’ll go into the coping toolbox with the rest of the mantras.

But until then, I’ll chant away.

I Have to Admit That My Struggle Is Real

I’ve been trying to do at least one blog post a week this year and I almost went without doing one this week. I’ve been working on a Rerun Junkie post that’s just not coming together. I have the idea. I know what I want to say. But the words will not make it from my brain to the laptop.

This is the latest symptom of something that I’ve been trying to ignore for the last several weeks.

I’m struggling. And maybe I’m a little burnt out.

I don’t like to admit that. I don’t feel like I’ve earned the right to admit that. I don’t feel like I’ve worked hard enough to earn that struggle or that burnt out feeling.

What it boils down to is that between a minor health issue, a new day job, juggling three writing projects, and the every day requirements of living, I’m wiped out. I don’t have the energy or the focus to do everything I need to do and do it all at the level that I want to do it at.

I’m already in the process of accepting that I’m not going to meet my deadlines for the month. What I thought I’d get done, I won’t. I just can’t. And that’s disappointing as hell.

I operate under the delusion that I should be able to do anything. If I say I’m going to do something, then I will find a way to do it. If I set myself a deadline, then I meet it. As a result of this, I have a tendency to believe that there’s no excuse for me to not achieve what I’ve set out to do. Which is fine in theory. In reality, it ends up with me being gruesomely hard on myself when I don’t hit my mark, even if I’m operating in circumstances that would have required some kind of miracle to make it happen.

Right now, I’m in a period of adjustment.

Part of that adjustment is my new schedule and what I can realistically accomplish within it while recovering from a health setback.

The other adjustment, the much more difficult adjustment, is my expectations.

Experiment #1–100 Days of Exercise Done

Experiment #1 of my three experiments for 2018 was to exercise at least twenty minutes a day, every day, for 100 days.

I updated at the half-way point.

Yesterday (April 10th) was day number 100.

100 days of exercise in a row. Some days were better than others, but I didn’t miss a day. I slowly increased the difficulty of the workouts to help urge on the progress.

And the progress?

In many ways I’m feeling better physically. Though there are still mornings I have no urge to workout, it’s now so embedded in my routine that I do it anyway and I usually feel pretty good afterwards, even if I felt crappy at the start. I think my energy levels have improved some. I’m feeling a little stronger and I think my endurance is trending in the right direction.

I still have a lot of progress to make and I’m keen on making it. Though the experiment is over, I’m going to keep up the work. My routine will go from seven days a week to six, but there’s plenty of room in those days to increase the intensity of my workouts as I go along. Two days of yoga, two days of belly dance, and two days of cardio. Not only is it movement, but it’s movement that makes me feel good and movement that I enjoy. The workouts go quickly and I don’t loathe doing them. That’s been key to me making 100 days and it’ll be the key for me to continue successfully.

But, what about the other progress, you ask?

Ah, yes, you’re asking about the weight loss again.

Well, I’ll tell you. I didn’t obsess over the scale (I only weighed myself a few times during the 100 days) and to be honest, I forgot to weigh myself yesterday at the end of all things. But, what I can tell you is that there was no dramatic weight loss. I might have lost a few pounds, but nothing monumental. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m still fat.

But, I’m moving my fat much easier and with more grace and control and with less pain than I have been. And that’s pretty much a win for me.

Upon analysis of the data, I declare this experiment a success.

Halfway Through 100

As you may recall, I decided to do a few experiments this year. One of those experiments involved exercising at least 20 minutes a day, every day, for 100 days.

I’m now halfway through that goal.

The good news is that I’m not dead. I honestly thought by this point I’d be ready to quit, totally over the grind, constantly sore and tired. Well, I am constantly sore and tired, but I was before I started this little endeavor, so not much has changed there.

What has changed is how much easier it is for me to do my workouts in the morning. With this challenge in place, my stubborness wins out on the days that I’m not feeling like doing yoga or belly dance or cardio. I do it anyway. I feel like this stretch of consistency has set a good precedent for what happens after the 100 days is up.

I admit that I’m being careful with myself. The last thing I want to do is derail this experiment by doing myself an injury. And I acknowledge that my fitness level isn’t even close to where it used to be and where I’d like it to be.

But, it’s been fifty days, so I’m sure you’re wondering if I’ve noticed any progress.

Honestly, just a smidge. I was slow in introducing cardio into the routine because I knew how bad mine had gotten. So far, I’ve not died and I’ve noticed that the very basic, beginner routine I’m doing is slowly getting easier. I’m getting better at the yoga routines that I’ve been doing, though I haven’t mastered the half moon pose without falling over yet. And my belly dancing is getting stronger.

At least, this is what I’ve noticed on the good days. On the bad days, the days in which I’m tired and sore and cranky, it takes every bit of my energy to make it through half-way decently. I am noticing more good days than bad days, though.

Oh, when you ask about progress, you mean weight loss.

Well, I dunno. Maybe. The scale we have isn’t the most reliable thing. When I did my weigh-in (after four weeks), I either stayed the same, lost three pounds, or gained five. So, you know. Whatever.

Of course, weight loss isn’t my measure. I’m going by how I’m feeling. Am I feeling better?

Yeah, a little.

No, it’s not happening as fast as I’d like, definitely not as dramatically as I’d like, but it is trending in the right direction.

I’ll take it.