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This is the Way

My mental health crisis resulted in increased creativity

By Jen SullivanPublished 7 months ago 9 min read
Photo taken by David Freed at the author’s wedding

To those who read my blog or follow me on Medium or Vocal, know that I did not abandon these websites. I have not posted much lately because of two main reasons: mental health and another ongoing writing project.

I have had varying levels of depression since April when I struggled to find another job. The constant rejection, ghosting after interviews, or just being outright ignored by hiring managers were a steady stream of attacks on my self-worth. I have always been a hard worker, and yet I found that I was not good enough for places that claimed to be “urgently hiring.”

That was why I started my blog. Writing has always been a stress release for me. A sort of way to drain the toxins that plague my head. But even writing could not help during my darkest times these past few months. I went from being the provider to being a housewife in a household that could not afford to pay the rent. Fortunately, my mother has been able to help us, paying more than her part of the bills when needed.

When I was hired for a job at the new Target in my area, I thought the depression would at least lessen, the future of our financial security more stable. It was not a job I ever would have wanted, but I needed income, and it was the only offer I had after months of searching, applying, interviewing, and just generally struggling to find anyone who would hire me. Then my elderly companion cat, Loki, took a turn for the worse and we had to make the decision to let him go. I could not contact Target — the only number I was given was no longer in use, but I did not know that.

Loki’s death was a hard one. Though he had seventeen wonderful years and his health had been declining rapidly, it still is a blow whenever a beloved pet dies. I knew I could not return to Target; it would always remind me of him. The day I sat watching videos on a portable device and reading endless policies while worrying about my elderly cat who was barely eating — that was a bad day.

I did not want the job from the beginning, having been turned down for tech sales in favor of a man with a food service background. I know tech, but they did not want to talk about that during the interview, wanting to put me in customer service instead because of my work experience. After Loki and the lack of communication, I knew I could not return to Target.

I was confident I would be hired at the seasonal job fair for Boscov’s, a regional department store headquartered in Reading, Pennsylvania. Once again, our financial future had a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Then my anxiety and previous work experiences started to mix, creating a bleak outlook of an outdated job. Boscov’s systems and procedures were extremely outdated — more so than I ever would have imagined. I was taken back to my days at Hills, the old department store that closed in 1999.Hills was my second job out of high school, paying a minimum wage of $4.75 back then, and I hated it. I was assigned to work in women’s clothing, which meant folding clothes repeatedly for infinity after shoppers would pick them up, then decide not to purchase them. I would often be called up as a cashier to use an ancient register that management did not know how to fix when it would go screwy, and that happened often. Their solution was to beat on the monitor, which is never a good sign. I only worked for Hills for two weeks, quitting after they decided to make me the only cashier one weekend morning. I hated being a cashier. I still do, but at least now technology is more advanced, making systems easier to use. Except for Boscov’s.

When your entry register training spans about twelve hours, you know the register system must be overly complicated. Just because something is a touch screen does not make it modern. The system reminded me of my old high school computer class that covered MSDOS — a class I abandoned due to headaches from ancient computer screens and complete boredom. I hate lines of code and basic commands. That was never my interest in computers. I have ADD and lose focus on tasks that are of no real interest to me, and both MSDOS and coding fall into the “absolutely do not care” category.

When register training went into layaway procedures, I knew I was done. Even before that point, my mind was already racing through other options. I had not expected so much phone usage as a sales associate, and yet phones were the only way they communicated between departments. In the days when other large retailers use two-way radios, Boscov’s was still stuck in the dark ages. Phones have always caused me excessive anxiety. I do not know why, though I suspect it’s the lack of visual cues from the person to whom you are speaking.

In training, we were told we would have to call the credit card company if a customer wanted to make a purchase that would take them over their limit. I was not aware any place still used this type of outdated sales procedure. If you have hit your limit, you are done spending, plain as that. Not at Boscov’s, and it was a practice I find to be borderline unethical. To encourage a customer to go over their limit where they will be hit with additional fees is not something with which I would ever feel comfortable.

Then there were phone calls from other stores that required charging a customer over the phone — an action that would get you fired at some other retail places because of the increased risk of fraud. Not to mention how old-fashioned this process is in the days of the internet. During my first day of training, another employee and I spent twenty minutes calling other stores to find a shirt for a woman in another size because she didn’t want to pay for shipping to buy it online. It was yet another part of the job with which I was uncomfortable, both the excessive phone usage and the risk of a customer claiming fraud and blaming the employee. What if the customer wanted to claim that the salesperson on the other end of the phone stole the credit card information as it was given? As is common when dealing with money, always cover your own ass.

I was pretty much done with the job after register training covered Traveler’s Checks. I briefly worked in a bank and did not have to deal with half of what a Boscov’s sales associate goes through. My decision to leave was then helped after a nasty remark from a woman I knew outside of the job, telling me that she thought my “intelligence was higher” after I commented that the register system was the most complicated one I have seen in my fifteen-plus years of retail. This same woman had insulted my work ethic when I was a student tutor at HACC, claiming that I was not doing my job because I was not doing it the way SHE wanted.

She also knew my mother, and so felt the need to friend request me on Facebook at one point. I reluctantly accepted only to later remove her after she commented on a post I shared about Halloween always getting a bad rep and being shunned by those thinking it was a Satanic holiday. I tolerate a lot of opinions from people, but do not attack my Halloween. She commented that Halloween was October 31st and to “get over it” that the holiday was often ignored or attacked. Another typical Lebanon County Christian who wants Halloween to disappear and be replaced by another Christmas. They have already done it with Thanksgiving, which only matters to me for one reason: turkey. Well, two reasons, because I do love pumpkin pie.

I left Boscov’s after my anxiety created a mental breakdown, keeping me in bed crying much of the day and making me feel that life was not worth living. My husband missed a day of work to stay with me, sitting with me and talking — a rare behavior for him. That was how deteriorated my mental state appeared to those around me, but it was far worse in my own head.

My mind started to recover as soon as I informed Human Resources that I would not be returning, citing my mental health, the overly complicated POS system, and the insult to my intelligence from the other employee as my reasons for departure. Since leaving that job, I have been looking for other work and writing. I felt the sudden urge to continue an old project, my mental health likely triggering my inspiration in the world of Pirate Ophelia.

Back in 2016, I wrote Pirate Ophelia as a way to release the post-traumatic stress from a severely toxic workplace. Perhaps my mind wanted to retreat into that world again, yearning to flush out the negativity that had been building up since before I left Michaels in March. I had started writing the sequel maybe a year or two after I published the book, but I never finished it. This past week, I have written more than I ever have in a week’s time. I spent so much time at my computer that my back and butt hurt from sitting. I still have several chapters to go, but I am over halfway through writing the story.

I had wanted to write a four-part piece about the life and death of Loki. I have the first part written, but my grief was still too fresh when I started writing. I needed a break and started working on another story — a suspense story that I planned to just write without plotting out how it would go. Then Ophelia’s world called to me and I just started writing. I will return to both Loki’s story and the suspense one, but I always go with my inspiration.

Taoism says you cannot go against “The Way,” so I embrace this direction and wish every day that I could make enough through writing to not have to take jobs that I hate. As long as the muse is with me, the story flows smoothly, feeling more like it is telling itself rather than me struggling with it, as was the case when I abandoned it years ago. I had always planned to finish the sequel, I just needed the story to come to me; to tell itself without forcing words on a page.

To quote the Mandalorian, “this is the Way.”

* * * * *

Originally published on the author’s blog:


About the Creator

Jen Sullivan

I am a gamer, a geek, a writer, an entrepreneur, and a gardener, among many things. I have a lot of knowledge and opinions to share with the world, along with creations from my chaotic mind.

Follow me on Facebook: @jensully17

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