A Day In The Life….
My eyes flick open, my heart rate accelerating from it’s resting rate of a deep sleep to 85+ beats per minute. A crushing panic washes over me that I’ve overslept, or turned off my alarm and that I’m late for work. Frantically I reach for my phone to check the time, impatiently waiting for my eyes to focus as the milliseconds tick by. Finally the glaring screen comes into focus. 2:43am. With a sigh I sink back into bed, willing my heart rate to drop back to a more comfortable pace. Thankful, yet again, my wife has chosen to sleep in the other bedroom. I close my eyes, and try to relax my body and mind. I need a bit more sleep – desperately hoping that I’ll get a bit more before my alarm goes off in under 2 hours. Minutes pass as I toss and turn, before I give up and again reach for my phone. Something to read – anything – to pass the time as I at allow myself to relax and rest as best as I can. Twitter. Facebook. News. Tech blogs. Back to Facebook. Twitter. Weather….
My eyes drift shut….
And snap open again to my alarm. 4:25am. Ready or not, I have to start the day. Today is tougher than most – I struggle with myself to sit up, and swing my legs out of bed. My head throbs and the room dips and spins slightly, my arms and legs feel unusually stiff and heavy – hangover symptoms without consuming any alcohol. In the dark room I reach for my thermal underwear, t-shirt, and put the rest of my uniform overtop. A hoodie for good measure, and then quietly shuffle off to the kitchen to fire up the Keurig and then use the washroom. A step outside for a cigarette and back inside to have a cup of coffee. As I sit down my stomach turns, and for a brief moment I consider skipping coffee this morning – rapidly weighing pros and cons. Upset stomach and caffeine? More settled stomach and no caffeine? Caffeine wins over, as usual – and again I browse Facebook (again), Twitter (again), and check the weather and the news (again) as I sip my morning java.
4:55am. Time to go. I grab my winter parka, warm gloves, neck warmer, thick toque, and lace up my boots. I grab my backpack and fish out my headphones, and select an artist to listen to on my way to work. As I step outside my brain settles into an unnerving but familiar split-screen. One half desperately trying to keep myself settled and calm as I think about the day ahead, the other half screaming for attention about all the possible difficulties ahead, and reminders of mistakes (real or imagined) of the day previous. As usual the 20 minutes or so walking to work is one half fighting the other half – today, thankfully the first half wins out. By the time I get to work, I’m fairly calm and relaxed – and have a game plan for the items on my to-do list. I settle into my routine of getting the store ready, getting things set up, laid out, unlocked, and turned on. I head to the back area of the store and step outside for another cigarette before the store opens.
6am and it’s go time. The lights in the store flick on, and I open the front doors. Already customers are arriving. 2 pull up almost simultaneously to the fuel pumps, and another customer is walking inside the store – presumably for coffee or other morning essentials. I head out to the pumps and fill both vehicles, making small talk with the customers. One makes a passing comment about the cold day ahead, and my anxiety spikes noticeably. I feel irritated almost instantly, and I feel like screaming “I SPENT 20 MINUTES WALKING HERE THIS MORNING ALREADY! I KNOW IT’S COLD!!!” but instead I make a comment about how each cold day is one day closer to the warmth of spring. Desperately trying to give my own ears something positive – even if it’s my own voice saying it. The customer chuckles and thanks me for my positive view on life. Inside I’m raging and seething – if only for a few moments.. If he only knew….. But I smile in what I hope is a genuine fashion. Anxiety level 4/10 and slowly dropping…
The first batch of customers come and go, and all eventually make their way out of the store. I stare out the window – solidifying my plans for the day, both at work and after as I wait for more customers. I pull out my phone to make a few reminder notes, and as I do it slips from my grasp – my heart rate again skyrocketing as I watch it rotate and fall in slow motion – bouncing once, twice, three times before skidding and stopping face down. My hands tremble – from coffee, spiking heart rate, or both, I can’t tell – as I reach to pick it up. It’s ok. The case saved it….again. But again my anxiety levels have spiked, and they hadn’t fully come down from the earlier incident. So as usual, my anxiety levels are slowly and steadily building almost before the work day has even started….Anxiety level was a 2, spiked to a 5, slowly dropping back to a 3
I take a moment and try to calculate how much sleep I’ve actually gotten the last week. 4+5+6+2. 17 hours over 4 nights. I vow myself no caffeine after lunch today, nothing but water after supper. Maybe, for once I’ll get a solid sleep tonight. My mind spins in circles as I wonder, then obsess about all the ways my depression and anxiety is taking it’s toll on my family. I wonder why they even want me, then bitterness takes over as I contemplate the hours and hours I work, and for little pay – and the only wage earner at that. I speculate that they just keep me as the income source so they don’t have to work – which feeds my bitterness and anxiety and depression even more. My mind spins faster and faster along this track, so that there are no longer cohesive thoughts – just a blur of negativity swirling around me, spinning around me, sapping my energy without me even realizing it. Anxiety level 4 and climbing.
…and I snap back to reality as I realize there’s another customer at the fuel pumps. I blink – briefly unsure if I’m imagining it, before heading outside. My mind is wondering how long they’ve been waiting. Seconds? Minutes? I don’t know – and the thought that I don’t know, and wasn’t aware of them unnerves me. Again, I feel my anxiety notch upwards a few marks, and my pulse bumps up slightly too. I take a deep breath, slap on my smile, and greet the customer. Anxiety level 6
Somehow, eventually, it’s time for my break – some 5 hours later. I realize my shirt is damp with sweat despite the cold weather. My socks too – perspiration no doubt due more to anxiety than anything else. I take a few minutes to grab fresh dry socks from my backpack and change them out, dropping the dirty ones back in the pocket, before heading to the back and the outdoor “smokers area” for a cigarette or 2, and welcome breather from people.
My phone rings, it’s my supervisor asking questions about something that had happened at the store the previous evening. Her questions come rapidly, pointedly – and in my mind, full of blame and suspicion. Anxiety and heart rate climb, my hands sweating in the cold air as I answer as best as I can before she abruptly interrupts, end the conversation, and hangs up. My mind is reeling, I had no control over the situation that happened, I wasn’t even at the store but yet I’m sure I’m going to be fired because of it. I notice I’m unconsciously holding my breath. My heart is pounding in my chest and I feel light-headed. I gasp for breath, sucking in oxygen as fast as I can before forcing myself into deeper breathing – again willing my heart rate back down to a somewhat normal pace….and with that, my break is suddenly over. I know when I get back into the store, the lunch rush will be starting in earnest and it’s going to be busier than usual. Anxiety level 7, and holding….for now.
Customers, rude and friendly are coming and going. Some want to stop and chit-chat while others are impatiently waiting for my time. I do my best to help them all with a smile but with each encounter the smile is more forced and less genuine. My temper is simmering, my palms are sweating, and I can feel my shirt stuck to my back again. I’m trying to be aware of my breathing patterns but the customers are begging for attention, and so is the staff to make a quick repair, and a manager is waiting off to the side, giving me lots of direct eye contact….I’m waiting for her to hand me a pink slip between customers. Anxiety level 8. I’m getting worried. I need to get myself collected and settled – but today it’s just not happening. I can’t get a few clear moments to breathe and focus and relax.
Finally the flow of customers ebbs and recedes slowly, like the tide going out from the shore. I pull off my toque, unzip my jacket, and step out into the frigid air – hoping the shock of the icy cold will settle me down mentally and cool me down physically. After a minute or 2 I take a deep breath, go inside and approach the manager…. My heart is in my throat, knowing and dreading what’s to come. Anxiety level 8.5, rising slowly. In the back of my mind I know a meltdown is imminent – and will happen if my anxiety pushes past 9.
“Andrew” she says, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I enquire – a glimmer of hope fighting against the anxiety.
“I was so abrupt on the phone with you. I had 2 phone calls waiting, and I needed to quickly touch base with you about what you knew about last night. I knew you weren’t working but just needed to verify the stuff I asked you. Just covering my bases. I’m sorry I took up some of your break time.”
My mind is skeptical and reeling- that’s it? No accusations? No pink slip? By my mouth blurts out “No worries, you’re just doing your job” before my brain has a chance to do or say anything else.
“Andrew, I love your positive attitude – it’s so easy to work with you!” She flashes a genuine smile and turns to head back to her office.
Crisis averted…but still I wonder how long I can keep this up. They know I’m struggling, but do they really know? Do they really understand? With the store almost empty of customers (and the few that are are lingering over soups and sandwiches) I can focus inward. Breathe. Relax. Breathe Relax. Breathe…..Anxiety level 7. Then 6.5. Now 6….and falling, A deep, settling sigh escapes. Followed by a deep breath.
Finally, the end of my shift comes and I punch out. I head outside again for a much needed cigarette…I check my phone to see 3 texts from my wife, wanting me to call her as soon as I’m done work. The tone of the texts seems to be urgent, impatient, maybe even angry…. My anxiety ratchets up to a 7 again, fingers trembling so much it takes 4 attempts to punch in her number….
And for nothing. The phone rings repeatedly and goes to voicemail. I hang up and redial. Same thing. Again and again, and repeatedly it rings and rings and eventually goes to voicemail. I give up after 5 attempts. Now I’m starting to panic. All sorts of unimaginable horrors have occurred. I picture an accident. A home invasion. A sudden health issue with the kids. ANYTHING, and each one more horrific than the last….Anxiety level 8
A tap on my shoulder and I spin, hands coming up in defense and panic, heart racing and threatening to burst out of my chest. It’s instinctive – I’m ready to fight to the death…
And there’s my wife, smiling…. Pleased she managed to scare me but suddenly guarded when she sees clenched fists….I drop my arms and hug her….taking a deep breath. I explain (or try to) as I stumble over my words. She laughs, brushes it off and worms out of the hug. “Just wanted to see if you needed a ride home after work!” she laughs “we were coming here anyway.” – and I’m not sure if it’s at my panicked reaction, or my mental state as a whole, or just that she managed to scare me badly and make me jump. Anxiety level 8 – but threatening to ratchet up even higher. At once I’m both thankful for the ride, but seething in anger that she’s so flippant, so oblivious to the agony that short encounter has caused me.
We ride home in silence. I’m just trying to get myself settled – and I’m not sure where her thoughts are. I know if I don’t’ get myself settled, I know – no doubt in my mind – that it’ll end in a conflict or argument with either her or one of her children. Anxiety level 7. Once at home I drop my pack in the bedroom, grab clean clothes and head for the shower – as much to get clean as for a few more moments of solitude so I can settle. I take a few minutes longer than normal, enjoying the warmth and the sound of the falling water. Anxiety level 5.5 and falling steadily.
I emerge from the washroom to find 2 family members impatiently waiting, both “badly” needing to use the facilities. My wife asks (not so subtly demanding) that I go to the convenience store to pick up a few things she forgot. Anxiety flicks up to 7.5, and my frustration with her along with it. Why didn’t she get those things when she was out before? Why can’t she send one of the kids to go get it? Why can’t she get it herself? I was already on my feet all day – and I just want to sit. But instead I mumble a “Yeah sure.” and again get ready to head outside. It’s not that it’s a far walk, nor that the items she wants are heavy or hard to carry – but the frustration with her inability (or laziness) to do things like this for herself eat away at whatever shreds of good mood I’ve got left. I hustle to the store, get the required items and head back home with anxiety threatening to push past a 7. I’m desperate for the solitude of the bedroom and a chance to get off my feet. Which is exactly where I head the moment I’m home – pausing only to take off my jacket and boots, and drop the shopping bag on the table.
Sounds of supper being made come from the kitchen, along with an argument starting between the kids. I want to scream and yell for them to shut up – but I instinctively know this won’t help anything and will just increase my anxiety. So I do my best to tune it out, and lose myself in social media, music, YouTube – anything to distract myself.
Before long, supper is ready – and I can tell there’s tension, frustration, anger between the kids and my wife – it only feeds my own anxiety. I can’t wait to finish supper and retreat to the bedroom again. I’m almost done my meal when my phone rings. I check the time on the stove clock as I answer the call – noting it’s the store phoning. It’s 6:42pm and I already know what the call is about before anything is said. Someone didn’t show up for their shift. They aren’t answering their phone. No one else is available. Can you take the shift…..it’s sadly predictable. Anxiety level 8. I acknowledge that I’ll try to contact them again, and if not I’ll head back to the store. I already know it’s a waste of time, but I call the missing employee -it just goes direct to voicemail, which is already full. I quickly get dressed for work again, grab one last bite of supper and head out the door. Anxiety level 7.5 – the walk will help me settle down, but I know by working the closing shift I’m cutting into my sleep time tonight – and I’m already running short on sleep. I already know tomorrow is going to be even more difficult than today, simply due to another short night. Anxiety level wavering around 7.
Thankfully the evening shift is a mere 4 hours, and because it’s early in the week, and relatively cold – there are few customers.The shift is uneventful, I manage to slowly work my anxiety levels down to a 4, then 3, then 2….
Eventually it’s time to close up, and with a surge of motivation, I rapidly close everything up, put things away, and lock the front doors. I quickly help the cashier finish her tasks and we exit the store in relatively short order. She even offers me a ride home since she lives in the same area – and I’m thankful. Anxiety level 2.
I arrive at home, quickly undress, and crawl into bed. 10:43pm. I know my alarm will sound in less than 6 hours, and it’s going to take me at least 1 of those hours to settle myself enough to fall asleep. Eventually, close to midnight, I eventually fall into an uneasy sleep filled with rapidly changing dreams and unsettling background noises.
And my eyes snap open again. No panic this time – but I’m wide awake in a moment. I reach for my phone to check the time. 3:48 am. I already know there’s no way I’m going to fall asleep again before my alarm goes off. Anxiety level 3…
Please note: while this is a work of fiction, it is based very closely on what I experience almost daily. Each of the events and situations have either happened as described or have been very slightly exaggerated – because on a particularly difficult day, everything negative feels blown out of proportion. Nothing written here is a wild exaggeration, nothing is a complete fabrication.