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The Job Roles That Helped Improve My Mental Health

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When I was 14 years old, I decided to apply for a part-time job. I wanted to purchase a cell phone and my parents wanted me to save up money for university. I was hired as a cashier at a local grocery store and ended up working there throughout the entirety of my high school years.

My first week of training, I was shy and didn’t say much. I scanned items, learned how to pack groceries and tried not to look like a complete idiot. Eventually, I memorized a dozen codes, learned how to punch in bananas and iceberg lettuce, and how to tell the difference between the different types of apples.

Working part-time as a cashier became a constant in my life. I worked a few days after school, and usually in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday. It was fun because I was surrounded by a bunch of my friends, who also worked as cashiers. When customers left and things got quiet, we flipped through magazines and gossiped. The grocery store soon became my second home. It allowed me to form connections and gave me something to do after school and on the weekends. Basically, it got me out of bed.

Even though it was a highly distressing experience at times, I have fond memories of my time working as a cashier. The position taught me how to interact with strangers. It allowed me to save up money for school, and the routine provided part of the much-needed stability in my life. I was glad to see my “regular” customers every week, and in return, they boosted my confidence and showered me with compliments.

In our society, working a minimum wage position can be looked down upon, though I’d like to argue that they are quite respectable and a great opportunity to learn new skills. They are a stepping stone, and they allow young people with no previous experience to gain confidence. For me, working at the grocery store meant facing a lot of my anxiety. It taught me how to put my feelings aside when appropriate, and how to handle strangers raising their voices at me. I learned how to be assertive when asking my boss for time off, and overall, the experience made me a more empathetic person, especially towards people working in customer service. The bonus? As an adult, I know how to pack groceries so the eggs don’t get crushed!

Then, the summer after my first year at university, I was hired as a server and worked at a private golf and country club in Vancouver. Again, the position had advantages and disadvantages. The environment was highly stressful at times, and some customers displayed an aggressive attitude. The shifts were long, sometimes ending around midnight, and rush hours were certainly anxiety-provoking for me. Nevertheless, I pushed through, and more often than not ended up having a great time.

During my time there, I learned how to pour wine properly, gained a new appreciation for the food industry and made new friends. That particular summer, I happened to be increasingly suicidal; work provided a sort of weird escape, and allowed me to get “out of my head.” Dinner was also provided to staff members, which meant I ate at least one full meal a day. Even though I would not want to work there again, looking back, I’m grateful for the overall experience.

The reason I left my job at the golf course was due to my first hospitalization. After that, I had no other choice but to quit my job and remained unemployed for the next eight months, from September to April. When summer peeked around the corner, I was freshly out of hospital for the second time, and desperately needed a job for financial reasons. I applied to work at Indigo, and that decision really kick-started my recovery. Working in a bookstore was oddly therapeutic. I loved recommending books and felt honored when customers followed my suggestions, especially when parents asked me for recommendations for their kids who were beginner readers. I liked to imagine their children’s reactions and hoped the book I recommended encouraged them and played a small role in their falling in love with reading. I also found that telling people about my favorite books was a vulnerable process because what someone reads can tell you a lot about what kind of person they are.

Working at Indigo also gave me confidence. Not only was it good for me to socialize, but it was also good for my self-esteem. After spending so much time in the hospital, keeping a job was the one thing I wanted to be able to do. It was important I prove to myself I was strong enough and capable of handling such a responsibility. Not many of my co-workers knew about my illness, but I’d like to thank them anyway because they created a welcoming space and provided me with a fun work environment. They indirectly played a huge role in my recovery.

My psychiatrist once said that too much freedom and flexibility can be stressful in some way. Having a routine is good for emotional stability, and I definitely believe work provides structure and balance in my life. This year, I was lucky enough to work as a peer writing consultant at my university’s center for writing and scholarly communication. I’m also currently working as a tutor at a private learning center for the summer. Even though these jobs are considered more “grown-up,” pay more and require difficult tasks, I’ll always be grateful for my experiences working as customer service representatives because they shaped a huge part of who I am today.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Getty Images photo via Craft24

Originally published: May 14, 2018
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