Writer's Life

Mind your mental health at work

When I come home from work in the evening, one of Pat’s first questions is always, “Was anyone mean to you today?” I think this started because, at a previous job, I used to come home and immediately start complaining about someone who yelled at me on the phone or in an email over something I wasn’t involved with. I didn’t like that I always came home in a bad mood with an angry rant locked and loaded. Talk about an obvious sign my mental health was suffering.

Nowadays, when he asks me if anyone was mean, I say no. I didn’t think much about it until the other day when he smiled and said, “You know, you used to say yes to that question almost every single day.”

Of course I did. I used to do customer service. At that other job, I was more often than not the only person in the office. I had at least six different email accounts to monitor and respond from. Not to mention 12 social media pages to manage. Even when I wasn’t alone in the office, answering the phone also fell to me most of the time.

Probably one of the biggest problems was how many people thought the magazine publisher I worked for was actually the chamber of commerce or a branch of the city government. The messages I received ranged from complaints about parking tickets, the cost of parking meters, the existence of homeless people, bills the governor supported, the weather, they can’t bring glass bottles on the beach without getting a fine, service at a restaurant, the personalities of toll booth attendants, that the azaleas in the parks weren’t blooming during their visit…

I sang a never-ending chorus of “I’m sorry to hear about your issue, but we’re a magazine publisher. We’re not responsible for [x problem or business].” After two and a half years, it really did a number on my mental health.

But that’s customer service for you: taking verbal abuse with a smile and doing your damndest to not let it get to you. It’s a sisyphean effort in pretending not to be human.

Even after finding out they’d been berating the wrong person, few people ever apologized for their mistake. Most would huff and threaten they and their friends would never visit the city again, which they assured me would be a financial blow to me and my employer.

Of course it wasn’t, but that didn’t stop them from lording their imaginary powers over me.

Sure. Whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

One of my favorites was a woman who demanded compensation for a poor experience she had with a plate of fish and chips… at a restaurant located in Ibiza. Despite a long chain of emails explaining that she had mistyped the email address and contacted a magazine in a completely different country, she continued to send me renewed complaints until I had to block her for my own well-being.

With this constant barrage of Karens, it’s no wonder I started to look for opportunities elsewhere. As much as I need a paycheck to survive, I needed a workplace where people don’t get a power trip by being assholes.

It took several months to find a new job. The whole time I was searching, my depression reared its ugly head. I couldn’t help focusing on how I couldn’t earn enough to make much headway with my student loans. Saving for retirement was laughable. And with no chance at advancement, how can I work my way up to a higher position that could pay more?

I was too mentally and emotionally exhausted to even work on my book, that thing I keep telling myself is the next big step toward the kind of writing career I really want. It took everything I had just to get out of bed and go to work. Meditation and yoga gave me 30 minutes here and there of deliberate peace of mind.

When I finally got an offer for something better, I gave myself two weeks of job-free self-care. But it wasn’t all face masks and bath bombs. It was changing the sheets. Vacuuming the stairs. Bathing the cats. Taking the dog on a longer walk. Cleaning out the fridge.

My self-care is setting aside time to do the little things that need doing, but feel too overwhelming when the majority of my day has to be spent on something that makes me feel worse about myself. And, when possible, giving up those things that make me feel worse.

More often, I see my friends and peers (especially my fellow SCAD writing grads) in the same boat. We have to take on a job because, right now, it’s the only way to eat and pay the bills. Too often at the expense of mental health and well-being. The job hunt never really ends and a career as we might have imagined it rarely seems to exist.

In this endless journey, we must pay attention to what our work is doing to our mental health and take care of ourselves. And when we see our friends on the same struggle bus, we need to offer them our love and support.

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