Smile? Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t!

It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I most definitely couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.

Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold…

A Story About An Un-medicated, Undiagnosed Bipolar Cashier

I have been on mood stabilizing medication for several years now. Sometimes I think I am fine and wonder why I need any medication at all. Then I remember back to when I was not medicated. I remember the unbearable irritability, the profound anger and rage of a volatile and explosive mind. I was so irritable that I couldn’t even stand myself, I was literally getting in my own way and on my own nerves. I thank god often that I didn’t actually murder someone in a fit of rage. This kind of irritability and anger could result from just dropping a pencil or stubbing a toe. I’m not even going to talk about driving… Well… maybe just a little. The only way I could manage to not rip off my own head to relieve the anger was to imagine my car having undetectable go-go-gadget weapons that would just disintegrate any driver that would send me into a fit of road rage, which was almost any driver. I can’t even go into the things I imagined doing to people who honked their horns at me. Needless to say, after thinking back at how unstable my moods were I remember why I am on my medication and all is well with the world (for the most part anyway).

I am telling you this because I was thinking of an incident from back in the days of my unmedicated madness and thought I would share. At the time I am surprised that I did not spontaneously erupt into a ball of flame and combust from the heat of my own rage. It took place in a store where I worked customer service, which is quite possibly the worst job I could have in my unmedicated days, heck, even medicated.

It was around Christmas time…

I was working at a store that I would describe as a small version of Ikea. It wasn’t all that bad for the most part. I mostly worked organizing shelves and stocking merchandise, things I enjoy doing anyway. It is not that I am not a people person, but I do not do well with a large number of small, superficial interactions, especially if I am in the middle of doing something and am focused on it. I also hate being interrupted and having to drop what I am doing just because someone needs to ask me a question. If I am in the mood for it, I am great at it, but if not (and I am usually not) I loathe it. I’m pretty sure I did a terrible job hiding my complete and utter irritation with the customers. Especially when they were asking me how much something was when the price was plainly posted no more than 2 millimetres below the item on a bright yellow tag. Just like on every single other item in the store. Either way, I was completely out of line. It was never the customers fault, I just quite simply was not cut out for dealing with people and had a bad attitude and an un-medicated mood disorder. Some days I was fine but others, when my mood was off, I could be pretty bitchy. Typically I wasn’t put on as a cashier and worked as much as possible on the floor, left alone to organize and arrange just as I liked it. Besides, that was what I was really good at anyway. I didn’t mind just filling in on cash for someone to break or something like that, but I hated being assigned there for my shift. I would rather eat glass.

I will just give a little background note here: Around the time of the incident myself and some of the staff who had been there for years had recently found out that a girl who barely graduated high school, had no education, hadn’t worked in four years and had no experience was hired as a cashier for 75 cents more per hour than the rest of us. More than people with university degrees who ran their own sections, and had worked there for years. So there was a little bit on animosity brewing anyway…

So, on a busy day during the Christmas rush my manager decides I should spend my shift on cash. I requested that I please work the floor, but it wasn’t happening. A bitterness seed sprouts open in my gut, uh oh, that familiar feeling is brewing. So, swallowing my contempt I slowly moped to the cash. I kept up appearances but inside I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hide my absolute disdain for the hundreds of meaningless interactions I was about to endure. People started to enter, the store became more and more busy. It was the Christmas rush. I wasn’t even that experienced on the cash anyway so I’m not sure why he would put me there at the busiest time of the year. It was happening, it was one of those days, one of those moods. I began to get hot, things were ringing up as wrong prices, people were waiting while I tried to get things worked out, waiting for managers to fix the system. Customers getting impatient in line, staring at me work. I started to sweat, I was seething inside. I was not blatantly rude to anybody, but I certainly was not overly friendly, and I certainly couldn’t muster up a smile. It was taking all my energy not to flip the cash machine over, walk away and say “to hell with it!”.

Little did I know, a similar scene was soon to unfold.

I was barely holding myself together, but I was managing to keep things civil, ringing up the items and saying “have a nice day!”. You know, the basics at least. Then they came. The curtain guys. I will never forget those damn curtains. The first gentleman said hello, I responded the same and took the package of curtains to scan them. I didn’t engage in conversation and certainly didn’t give them a friendly smile, full of Christmas cheer, but I wasn’t directly rude to them either. Not good enough. The second man, with his smug face, his half smirk and is condescending attitude snidely remarked,”Uh, you could smile you know.”

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I’m not sure where it came from, but before I knew what was happening my mouth was moving and I could hear my voice say, “Not for 8 bucks an hour I won’t.”. (Maybe some lingering bitterness about the 8.75 the unskilled labour was getting at the cash next to me?)

 Oh shit, oops.

He glared at me and snottily said, “You’re a little bitch.” “I want to see your manager!”


 

Silence

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Much of what happened next is a blur. I froze. It was as though every negative emotion hit me at once not allowing any of them to break through. The silence was palpable. There was a line up extending to the back wall of the store and only two cashiers.  I glared at the men for a moment, then without a word I slid their curtains back to them without completing the transaction, left the cashier station, walked to the managers office and calmly said, “I need to speak with you right now.”

imagesI was regaining my voice, emotions were starting to emerge.

My poor, clueless manager.

Trying not to lose it completely I informed him , my voice quivering from restrained rage, “They are pissed and want to speak to my manager, I really pissd them off.” Then it burst through and I snarled “But you can tell them that you are not my manager any more and I’ll be waiting for them outside of the store!”

By now I was livid, all the anger about the unfair wages amongst other issues I had with the staffing, hours and all the bullshit at the job bubbled up and as I gathered my things I proceeded to inform him that we all know about the new girl’s wage and all the other things that pissed me off about the store. Finally I said, “I told you not to put me on cash today.” and I stormed out the back door in a blaze of glory. Then, as promised, I awaited the men outside of the store. I watched them walk to their car. They looked back several times in fear.

“What are you doing?” “Are you following us?” “We are going to call the police!” they shouted in worried voices.

“And tell them what?”, I yelled. “That a 20 year old girl is going to attack two 40 year old men?”

I’m really not sure what I was planning to do, but I finally backed off and watched them until they were out of site. I’m pretty sure they were terrified.

Needless to say, I never returned to that store again. I hated working customer service anyway and it was worth giving up 8 measly bucks an hour to steal any ounce of pleasure they would have had complaining to my manager. It mustn’t have been very satisfying complaining to a manager about an employee who no longer works at the store.

Long story short, I no longer work customer service and I continue to take my medication regularly.

I am not proud of my behavior, but at the same time the emotions were so strong and so unbearable and overwhelming I couldn’t control them. If only I had known that I had a mental illness that was causing these powerful episodes. It was so difficult to live with.

Since being diagnosed and treated I live a relatively normal life. Of course I have up and down episodes but I know how to recognize them in time and I understand what is happening and what to do about it. I am so grateful to haver been diagnosed and been given a chance at a more balanced life.

It has been so long since I have been in such an unstable state that I sometimes forget what it feels like and how detrimental it is to myself and those around me. That is why, when I start to wonder if I really need my mood stabilizing medications, I think back and remind myself of the alternative, then swallow the pills.

Misdiagnosis to Mania

When looking back at my younger self, I know now that I was suffering severe depression and social anxiety disorder (actually, I know now that I was suffering bipolar disorder, but until that time mania had not presented itself yet). I was always paranoid, though I could not identify what I was feeling at the time, but it was in the realm of psychotic. I was convinced that people, anybody, especially my “friends” only asked me to hang out so that they could laugh at me. They were pretending to like me but I was the joke in the room. They thought I didn’t know, but I was on to them. This is how I get when I am going through depression.

I experienced my first hypomanic/manic episode just after my first year of college. It didn’t last long. It did however last long enough for me to make the life changing decision to leave all my plans, my relationship, my life on a whim to move to the other side of the country by myself. Once there, the mania dissipated and the weight of my decision landed heavily on my shoulders. What had I done? Where was everybody? Where was I? I was alone and scared thousands of miles from home. Enter paranoid social anxiety closely followed by depression. My depression and anxiety worsened quickly and dramatically. I developed severe social anxiety to the point that I would not leave my apartment except to dodge to my classes and back. There were exactly two people that I trusted enough to communicate with, only sometimes, and as long as nobody else was around. I was sure that I was the world’s clown; they didn’t know I knew it, but I did. When around people, I would catch a glimpse, or a look from them and my stomach would sink and churn, the room would spin and everything sounded as a distant echo. I had to run, I had to get out! I was in a constant state of panic. I had no idea that this was something that a medical professional could help with, I thought that it was just how I was, but I walked into a doctor’s office and explained everything. The whole time I was thinking that the doctor must think I am crazy, but he didn’t even act surprised. That was where I heard about depression and social anxiety. I didn’t even know those were things, but I read the information I was given and was shocked that I was not alone! At that appointment I was misdiagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder and was prescribed Paxil. This started a life altering mania.

Within weeks I did not recognize the world. It was beautiful. I had no idea what people were laughing at until now. It certainly wasn’t me, I was awesome. I got it. I got why people smile and laugh! I was confident, I was happy, it never occurred to me that someone would make fun of me. I finally got it! It was such a relief from an existence of darkness, guilt, shame and blindness. I was genuinely happy.

Then I started to really get it. I was understanding things about life and the universe that I believed nobody else got. I tried to explain the missing link between relativity and quantum, I stayed up for days working on assignments. They were genius! I was alive! Why did nobody see the magic that I was seeing? Was everybody blind to the universe around us? I kept trying to explain. People stared at me as though I was a wonder to behold. I was such an amazing, special person! They stared! They could tell that I was brilliant and they were amazed. I could see it in their faces. Oh, the stares…

I remember those stares a little differently now.

During this mania I began to experiment with mind altering substances. I found some likeminded people who understood the wonders of the universe, or at least tried. They were at least as blown away by them as I was. We ate many mushrooms to get closer to the truth, acid, weed, anything to enhance my already awakening genius. I was flying! I was on cloud nine, or at least I thought it was cloud nine. I had hit the north pole and flown head first into a manic episode. I wish I could say that this is where I found help. That I was admitted or that I came crashing down. This mania was one of the worse that I have suffered and I believe that it was sparked and sustained by the treatment for my misdiagnosed unipolar depression. I believe that the mania was so severe, and lasted so long because I was on the Paxil for so long. I eventually decided that I felt so god-like that I didn’t need medication anymore and I weaned myself off. I did okay for a while, but it was only a matter of time before the same psychotic depression hit again. This rollercoaster of antidepressant treatment to mania, to depression, to mania went on for years.

Oh the stories I will tell. I have had some of the most amazing experiences while manic, but have also made negative decisions that I will deal with for the rest of my life. I will leave off here for now, but be sure to come back for more manic stories. You don’t want to miss the one about my life with the mountain man….

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Head In The Clouds

This post is the story of my first mania. It is a continuation of the post called “First Signs”

First Signs….I feel sad for my younger self. These were many years of turmoil both internally for me and externally in my home life. This life continued until just after I graduated from high school, then something unexpected happened. It was like an epiphany, a revelation! A freedom that I had never felt or experienced. It was what I know now to be my first Manic episode.

My first mania had a subtle onset. It lulled me into a feeling of something bigger. I come from an island off the east coast of Canada called Newfoundland. It is quite isolated and I had just returned back from a summer program in a university in Nova Scotia. I had left the island all on my own and survived!

I was 17. When I arrived at the university my depression became worse. I was alone amongst people that I had never met! I had no self confidence, I had no clue if anybody really wanted to have anything to do with me and in my state of social anxiety and paranoia I was pretty sure I was just a bother. I made it through though, finally, just like I trudge through all of life’s mud with my oversized boots. I always get to the other side. On the other side was my home on the island. So where does this mania come into play here? Well, like I said, it started with a whisper. A feeling of something bigger.

Even though I fell apart on my own, once I returned home I felt proud of having left. Proud of my experiences. I am sure that having left, I was suddenly struck by the reality of a larger world than I had ever known and I had barely left the east coast of Canada. My mind started to wander. I started to look into other places, other ideas. I began to enjoy smashing the shackles of time and the expectations that are attached to it. You know, around 8am we wake, breakfast, noon is lunch, it is a work day, or a weekend, it is getting late we should probably sleep. The shackles, the preconceptions about what we ought to do and when. I began to switch it up. I would stay at the 24hr coffee shop and eat my breakfast muffin at 3am, “What is time anyway?”, I wondered. “Nothing!” I loved being out when everyone was sleeping. It was like the world was a free place, where nobody was about to let you know what you ought to be doing. No one there to look at you strangely if you walked in the middle of the street instead of on a sidewalk. Those invisible lines that we dare not cross increasingly did not exist for me. I began to really think that I could do anything. Go anywhere. Right now. There are no rules or constraints, those are all illusions! I began to feel brilliant. I didn’t need to sleep, I could stay out musing philosophically in a moonlit graveyard until 4am then get back to the regular peoples’ world, the working world by 5am. Oh the things I understood. So why was I getting flack? Why were people looking at me strangely, questioning me? Don’t they see it? The freedom? That there is really nothing? I understood.

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During this time, I had been in a relationship for about 2 years. I suppose we were “in love”. I don’t know. High school sweethearts and all that. We were meant to return to the same university that I had just left. He would play hockey, I was on the volleyball team. I had already rented an apartment with some girls that  I knew there from the summer time. We had a plan, and it was good. It was stable. It was normal. It was in my best interest. It made sense. It made sense to a level headed, non-maniacal mind. At this point however, my mind had hit the north pole and I was struck with a wanderlust that sat me for hours in front of my computer researching places unknown, far away. How would I get there. What would make sense? I needed to go. University! That was my out!

University was the best plan. I researched and researched all the universities I could find. Both nationally and internationally. It was exhilarating, I was thinking quickly now, I had to. With only weeks left before the start of the school year I had to think quick. Ha! No problem there! There were a lot of questions about why I would just take off like that. What happened? I didn’t have an answer. But what about the boy? Right, a long distance relationship. Problem solved. For me, not for him. He broke up with me, he didn’t get it. It didn’t slow me down. My coach from university called me when he heard I wasn’t coming back. Not enough to stop me. My roommates called. It was too late. I was already gone. I just hadn’t left yet. Until I did….

I left for the other side of the country, leaving everybody I have ever known and loved behind, a decision that was made on a whim and changed my life’s direction forever. I will continue this story in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!