managing social anxiety on the job
There is this picture of me in kindergarten. It was our class photo where we each sat in rows with our teachers standing beside us. I was sitting criss-cross in the front row. Each face beside my own has a smile, some sort of expression, but nothing like mine. I am easy to spot in this photograph. My hair is in 2 braids, I am wearing a light blue dress with black buttons down the front. I am not looking at the camera. My chubby cheeks are bright red, and drooping down, and my eyes are swollen with tears.
This wasn't just picture day. This was every morning I was dropped off at school. Yes, I was 5, but I always felt that way. I was scared to be alone, "dropped off", to count on myself. I was scared of the unexpected, the unfamiliar.
Starting from middle school, I could not stop talking about college. I couldn't wait, I was just too excited. One day during my early high school years, I was in the car with my mom when she stopped at a gas station. She asked me if I could run in for her and pay. Immediately I panicked.
What? Me? I can't- how do I-?
"Haley all you have to do is hand them the money and say $25 on pump 5 please.."
I started fighting with her. Stubborn, attitude, assuring her I was not getting out of the car. Tears filled my eyes. My mom gave me 'the look', and I felt guilty knowing I was making things difficult, but I was just too scared to get out of the car. Annoyed with my behavior, she grabbed her purse and left me to wait in the car.
I sat and waited feeling absolutely ashamed of myself. When she came back she gave me a talk. I remember her saying,
"You're the one who can't wait to go to college, but Haley, I worry about you. How will you be ready if you can't do something like this I ask of you? What about when you get your license?"
omehow she found words around, "You need to suck it up."
Of course, now I am in college and I have no trouble paying for gas or other things. At the time, however, her words pained me because they were the words I had feared to believe myself. I had all of these dreams and wishes, but the fear:
hat if I can't? Am I crazy to think I can?
About a month ago I got a job here in Boston. And when I say "in Boston" I mean smack dab right downtown where people from all over come to experience this city. I got the job on a bit of an impulse. My cousin told me they were hiring, and I applied for the heck of it. One month later, here I am, taking the T each week to be a hostess in Faneuil Hall.
My confession, that I have honestly been embarrassed about, is that I have not had a job since I was newly seventeen. It is no secret why. 2015 and 2016- I was not in the place to focus on a job. I had 2 things to focus on. First, my mental health, then school. But I had been feeling guilty, being raised in a family that strongly stands for "you earn what you work for."
With time I have grown so much, but I still have been hiding away from taking certain risks. I have developed this fear of getting a job. If you have been caught up with my newsletter, you know that I was so nervous about this job because I was petrified of having anxiety attacks like I had with my old job. In the same newsletter, I recognized that I needed to view each new opportunity as a clean slate. That is not me anymore. I didn't have the tools then to take care of myself and communicate my needs. I do now. And thisjob, is not my old job. There will be new challenges, but this is also a new me.
Leading up to the interview, I hardly slept and my stomach was in knots. And as usual, afterwards
recognized I had no reason to be anxious in the first place. Two days later, I got the call that I was on board.
But what if - oh..yeah, THAT-
My first day of training was exactly what I was afraid of. I believe this was karma telling me that if I was going to have anxiety over the unknown, karma was going to give me a reason to worry. I had a bad cold, on the start of bronchitis. I assume that my stress prior to the interview contributed to that. I needed sleep, but I thought it would look poorly to call out on my first day. I took DayQuil and left my campus with emergency cough drops and tissues overflowing my pockets. When I got there, though, I wished I had called out. I showed up for my first day of training expecting to be following someone for the day. (As they told me I would be) Instead, I showed up on a Friday (busy) and the main hostess who was going to train me had gone home sick. The assistant manager greeted me in a rush.
"Have you ever hosted before?"
"Have you worked at a restaurant before?"
"Have you ever used *name of software* ?"
"OK well, we are short staffed today, so..looks like today we are going to throw you into the fire."
I was left alone at the host stand. Not only did I have no idea what I was doing as far as working the computer, I also was dressed in work attire so the general public would just assume I had been working there for a long time. I was asked questions I did not know the answers to. About the menu, directions to places in Boston, making a reservation, and oh god if that phone rings- I panicked and locked myself in a bathroom stall. I texted my mom in all caps and she gave me the most "mom" advice.
no shit .. lol
Luckily my cousin would be coming in later for her shift, but until then it would be me alone for almost 2 hours, and the assistant manager didn't check in on me once.
One of the servers approached me first. He asked if it was my first day (like, can ya tell?) and shook my hand, and told me if I needed anything he would be around to help me out. Thank god for nice people. After him, about 2 or 3 other servers, a bartender, kitchen staff also came by to say hello and check in. Though I was tense and worried, that made me feel so much better. I knew they weren't told to do that, I was just working with adults who just genuinely were willing to help and noticed I was a new face in their work space.
When my cousin showed up she saved me from the 'fire.' I am so lucky to have had her there with me. It was such a comfort. Even she, had been stressed FOR me!
She vented to the others, "They left my cousin alone on her first day!!" One of the servers looked at me and said, "And you stayed?" And you know, it never really registered to me that it was an option to walk out lol. I just bit my lip and pushed through it. I realized that it was just a rough day, and that if I survived that, it would only get easier from here.
My cousin, Lydia was the one to continue training me. Those next 3 days I had a familiar face to ask even the stupid questions to. I could observe, and learn from her, as I've done all my life. I knew she would have my back, and I got really lucky in that way.
The more I work, the more comfortable and confident I become.
I can tell by my smile, my tone of voice, and my improved posture when dealing with people. Some customers bring out my sense of humor, and I can tell I bring it out in them as well. I even handle the lunch or dinner "rushes" quickly, but smoothly, realizing after how I didn't choke, I just did it.
I was walking back to the T station one night after work and I had to call my mom because I was just so god damn proud of myself. I started to think that inside me is that 5 year old girl on school picture day.
If someone were to tell her she would be working at a city restaurant years later she never would have believed it to be possible. It is crazy to me now, to remember where I was. Now, I deal with customers straight off tour buses, language barriers often, difficult customers, and work in the most populated area of the city. Still, I jump right in, I carry a smile, and live through kindness over any stressor. At the end of the day, I head back to campus full of pride. That's me. The girl who once feared paying for gas in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut.
"How will you handle college if-" said the voice.
"With time I will get there." I should have replied.