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How Being a ‘Chronic Quitter’ May Have Saved Me From Getting COVID-19

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It was 2:10 p.m. on a sunny yet frigid Tuesday afternoon in January and it was my lunch break. But this was no usual lunch break. For, if it was my “normal” hour I would be sitting in my hatchback, lunchbox spread open on the passenger seat next to me, monitoring the drive-thru traffic across the parking lot of the bank where I worked. So, instead of finding curious pleasure in watching middle-aged housewives and retirees idle in the backed-up bank line, I was speeding toward my townhouse on the other side of the city. Instead of carefully devouring my sandwich and banana, my lips were dry, my hands gripping my steering wheel so tight that the knuckles were white. I was quitting. And it felt like crap.

Everyone has a bad habit. For some this habit may be smoking; for the more anxiety-prone it may be nail-biting, and still for others it may be indulging in more sugar than is considered healthy. But for me, as mature and against smoking as I am, my bad habit is a bit more complex. You see, I’m a chronic quitter. The problem with me is that I get just enough involved in something — whether it be baking, soccer, or in this case, a part-time teller job — that I can perform it proficiently, but then boom, something happens, and with my heart beating out of my chest and shame weighing down on me like a shackle, I turn my back and walk away. Some may assume that I quit many hobbies, jobs and pastimes because I grow disinterested, but this is almost never the case. I loved baking up until the last time I made a pound cake and wiped the pan dry. I loved being a teller for the short while I did it, even when it got busy and customers were less than polite. I loved my coworkers and bosses, and even the location of the bank was perfect, across the street from my husband’s work. I had dreams and goals working at the bank. I was going to get raises. I was going to get promoted. One day, with enough hard work and dedication, I was going to be the boss. But then, the idea of failure crept back into my brain, and instead of relaxing on a much-deserved break, I was resigned to never return to my place of work, no matter what.

My shameful habit of quitting seems so straightforward and easy to cure. And in fact, I thought it was already cured. For months now, thanks to the free time bestowed upon me by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been working hard at writing, sobriety, therapy, yoga, exercise and so on. I have so many healthy habits, and am so immersed in each one that my days are full of fun and self-improving activities. So, it seemed to me before this last dramatic incident, that my bad habit of quitting things I enjoyed was now a welcome part of the past. The self-reflection that came along with the start of the COVID-19 lockdown must have solved whatever was wrong in my head to begin with, right? Wrong!

I still can’t fully explain exactly what transpired in the weeks leading up to the abandonment of my part-time post, but what I can say is this: I made a simple rookie error while counting my drawer, and instead of asking for help, that shame and fear took over my brain. I was a failure the second the computer screen told me my totals didn’t match. I was the worst bank teller ever, according to my head, and I needed to hide my mistake immediately or be doomed forever. And you guessed it, that’s exactly what I did. And you, my lovely and intuitive reader, will probably be none too surprised to discover what happened next. I got caught! That’s right. Within 30 minutes, my boss was asking me questions; within an hour, I was digging myself deeper with lies; the next morning, I had been stripped of my keys, money and passcodes pending an internal audit of all my transactions and keystrokes. By listening to the voice inside of my head, a simple miscalculation that would have been easy to fix landed me on the hot seat, preparing to either be fired or damn-near close.

But, possibly the most important distinction here is that I wasn’t yet fired. I still had a job. They even paid me to answer phones, direct traffic and help clean up while I waited for the results from the HR investigation. So, as the weeks passed with no word from corporate on my demise, the shame grew heavier and heavier in my chest. When I went to the employee bathroom and met my gaze in the faded mirror, I could particularly read the word F-A-I-L-U-R-E stenciled to my forehead. My fear of failure had led me to the brink of actual failure. Termination from a job I started only a month before would have been a new low for me. So, one day, when another employee went home sick with what might have been COVID-19, and the prospect of answering one more phone call where I would have to tell the caller on the other end that, no, I can’t help you because I’m not actually a banker or a teller at the moment, made me want to vomit, I took a bow, and enacted my show-stopping, world-famous disappearing act.

Would I have been fired? Would we all have gotten COVID and lost our sense of smell? I couldn’t tell you. Because after a quick-worded text to my former boss the next day, I never asked any more questions. My impatience, perfectionism and aversion to anything that could possibly mean I was a failure saved me from getting COVID or getting canned, but left me without a job, once again. My inability to face the true cost of my misdeeds, admit when I make mistakes, and my knack for lying my way out of what fear tells me is the end of the world, plopped me right down once again at the end of the unemployment line. And from being in this position more times than I care to admit, it’s a dank, dark and just straight-up depressing place to be.

So where do I go from here? I’m not sure yet. I know I am back to scouring the internet for another entry-level job naïve and compassionate enough to hire me. I know I’m back to asking my dad for money. Which means I am also back to doing all the household chores and being the best little househusband I can be. But how will I — a 24-year-old online college student, former high school dropout, rehab abandoner and chronic quitter — fix myself? I embrace it, ergo in order to face my fear of being ashamed and of messing up, I have to be willing and able to clean the mirror, wash the letters off my forehead, and take a long hard look at myself. I have to learn to love myself fully and part of that is loving the parts of me I’m afraid to acknowledge. Nobody is perfect, and the imperfect acceptance of this simple-yet-thorough fact is the start of a journey in the right direction.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Originally published: March 17, 2021
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