The blog post title might be an odd one but it fits with the theme I was going for. I almost wrote “5 Failures” and changed it to “5 Fails” for a less harsh tone to reference the 5 things I feel I did not do well today at work.
And then there is the word “Focuses” because it’s not exactly the opposite word for Fails but it is a subtle acknowledgment from me of 5 things I felt left a particularly deep impression on me that weren’t exactly negative and was stuff I am okay living with and not mentally torturing myself by nitpicking for perceived flaws.
My latest posts have not exactly been ones with a happy joyful tone and I don’t know if they ever will be. But I’m here and moving along in life as best as I can.
My Sunday work partner Jules and I unexpectedly dealt with a stranger’s rude behavior at our worksite. The stranger mistook one of our storage bins for a trash bin and dropped a used paper cup in it. Jules called out the stranger for the mistake and in return, the stranger picked up one of the items we had in the storage bin and he snidely remarked, “This is not trash?” He took his cup and walked away a few feet away before tossing the cup itself on the curb. Jules was pissed after seeing the guy littering but did not confront the stranger any further.
The whole incident happened so quickly that I did not know how to react at the moment. Instead of apologizing or even asking where the nearest trash bin was, the guy gave an ugly comeback. Jules vented to me about the guy’s s**t attitude and I could see how upset he was, yet the worst part about my anxiety in these kinds of conflicts is how much I blamed myself for him being upset because I froze up when the stranger said what he said and I wasn’t able to react calmly.
My work supervisor Adam, who I have slowly but surely warmed up to over the months, dropped by during the work shift. The nature of his job position requires him to regularly check the job sites he is responsible for managing and see how the employees at each site are doing. What I have gotten used to is that sometimes these visits are impromptu, in the sense he is not obligated to formally let me and my work partner know in advance if he will be dropping by. At times Adam may be on his way to another worksite for a specific reason but choose to visit us first, like that time another employee got sick on the job, and Adam was headed to the location to cover for him but he chose to visit Jules and me along the way there.
Anyway, Adam showed up with Reese, another employee who I have never met before. I learned that Reese would be a new temporary supervisor who would be helping to oversee the worksites of another supervisor who was on leave to care for a relative. I was shocked on an emotional and mental level trying to process right then and there the adjustment of suddenly being in front of a new person and talking to said person. I attempted to ignore my own discomfort with Adam and Jules being present as I spoke to Reese and my wish to melt into the floor from that, plus Adam interjecting into the conversation from time to time to talk to me, and for Jules and Reese to be the ones listening as Adam and I spoke.
And my gosh, the number of times I dared myself to mention something during the joint group discussion and all eyes would land on me. The eye contact scared me. It seems like the most natural thing to look at someone when they’re speaking to show you are paying attention. Unfortunately, I am a 30-something woman-child who still sorely wishes during these short spans of intense and painful mental discomfort to have never left the confines of home and avoid people for forever.
I don’t truly wish for the fantasy to be real. But you know when that fight or flight mode kicks in, the body wants nothing more than to run the f*** away and any rationale goes out the f***ing window.
The next event was awkward timing as I continued to casually chat with Reese throughout the day. Partially I wanted to see how long I could keep up the semi-charade (a.k.a. fake it till you make it) of testing my social anxiety limits by talking and listening. Sometimes I said something and consciously clenched my hand into a fist and dug my nails into my palm hoping the physical pressure on my skin would lessen how visceral the anxiety was for me as if the anxiety had a physical form only I could see. The most major part of social anxiety is just how much I fear being judged negatively for what I do or don’t do, and/or what I say or don’t say. Everything comes through in that lens of constant worry and anticipation that the ball will finally drop and whatever reaction I get from the other person will be my nightmare come alive right before my eyes.
Reese and I briefly lapsed into a quiet silence, and as I was doing a mental tiptoe towards making a remark to start a new conversation, a loud and sharp thwack sound caught both of our attention. I turned to look and saw a woman sideways on the ground after she had fallen over onto the hard concrete. The expression in her eyes was one of disorientation as someone went to try to help her up. She had trouble standing with only one person holding onto her so Jules and Reese went to assist with leading her up and to a nearby bench. I was both awed and impressed that they all did this without exchanging one word with each other or the stranger.
It made me ashamed that my first instinct when I saw the woman on the ground was to stay back and not move because I couldn’t get over the number of people who were staring at the woman. I thought if I went to help the woman, then everyone would be staring at me, too, and that would have made me feel like a cornered animal. Even Reese was more helpful than me, as she inquired about where the paper towels were (presumably to give some to the woman who had bruised her cheek during the fall). I barely shook out of my stupor to point out where they were.
I feel so lame writing this bit. Just like with Adam, it has taken me ages to get somewhat comfortable around another coworker, Becca, who I usually see at the end of my Sunday work shift. In some ways, I identify with Becca. She has openly admitted to me before that she tends to overshare with people and is avoidant (of people), and most of her hobbies allow her to do stuff alone when she just wants to chill by herself. She accessorizes with purple rose earrings and a purple handkerchief around her neck, which I took notice of from the start since purple is one of my favorite colors (I have not told her this). She was also one of the coworkers to who I gifted a handmade tiger origami for the Lunar New Year.
I see her on Mondays on the urban farm where I volunteer my time caring for the farm’s chickens. She always says hi to me and asks me how I am on those days even if our exchanges are very brief. I do not know why I get nervous around her (is that a surprise, really, since I seem to never fully be at ease around anyone?) especially since there have been times the flow of the conversation feels nice and natural on my end and I am sharing things with her without feeling like I am just talking to fill up space. Then the other times, whether because I am distracted by other things or my mood is unstable from fatigue and puts me in a non-talky phase, I find it so hard to know what to say.
Usually Jules, Becca, and I have time together at the end of the work shift as we are packing up our work supplies. The rhythm of it can be familiar in the ways we have learned to work as a team. Sometimes Jules and Becca talk about adulting experiences that I have yet to experience so I just sort of do my job while half listening to what they’re saying. Less than half the time if I hear something that perks my interest, I chime in and nearly give myself a heart attack from the spike of anxiety that flourishes from me literally saying one sentence.
At the end of Sunday’s shift after everything was hauled back into the truck, Becca and I had a moment where we were one-on-one and Adam, Jules, and Reese were standing further away from us while they were talking amongst themselves. Becca thanked me for helping out and I said the same. When she said she’d see me on Monday at the farm, I awkwardly replied, “Yeah, maybe, or maybe not?” I don’t know why I said that. I think part of my vanishing and reappearing nervousness around her (and sometimes around Jules, too!) is due to how much I like them as people. And I get scared the feeling is not mutual and actually they’re just nice to me because we’re coworkers and they have to put up with me. Then there’s how inexperienced I feel in regard to some of their life experiences and how I can’t relate.
In response to my reply, she looked confused and asked if I’d be there for chicken care on the farm. I confirmed I would be. I ended it by wishing her a safe drive back and for a beat, I met her eyes (you know how much I hate eye contact) and then turned to walk back to where everyone else was. Then we all said bye and went our separate ways. UGH why am I so awkward.
Now for the less cringey moments of my day…
The day prior, my mother had gone blueberry picking somewhere in New Jersey on the farm of a friend’s friend. She chose the biggest and sweetest ones after sampling blueberries from various bushels in order to know which ones were best to pick from. I packaged a box of these blueberries to give to Jules. Unfortunately I got more worked up about it than necessary. For things like gift giving, I almost always save it for doing it right when I see the person or I do it at the end when we’re all about to split and go our separate ways. In both cases, I always hope the person puts the gift away as soon as possible so I can avoid my own bashfulness of seeing them open it and react to the gift. Well, this time I chickened out and couldn’t bring myself to give it to him right off the bat.
Jules went over to the bakery across the street as he usually does to find donuts during the work shift (he loves donuts). It’s actually funny to think about now but I got hungry then and started eating my donut peach. I didn’t realize it at the time but maybe things were supposed to be like this? It was a weird coincidence that I had a donut peach and he was hunting for donuts (which I didn’t even think about until now as I am typing all this!). When he came back empty-handed, it was like all the posterity and planning I had earlier melted away and none of that mattered anymore. My bag was still open from when I took out my peach and this time I pulled out the packaged blueberries and offered them to him. He declined but then got curious when I explained where the berries came from. He ended up trying a few and was pleasantly surprised that they were actually sweet, unlike the typical blueberries he has eaten before.
Ever since I started this job last year (after being hired on 11/27, which I recall only because it was the day after my birthday), I’ve shied away from revealing my age to any of my coworkers. One guy coworker did ask me once and I dodged by suggesting I was slightly older than him by a few years (he was 28) without revealing my age number.
One of the managers who works alongside me on Sundays, Adele, was talking to me about the demographics of the neighborhood. She moved here and has lived here for a number of years while I was born and raised here. Upon hearing me discuss how I noticed certain demographics in the neighborhood began shifting when I was in junior high school, she exclaimed, “Wait, how old are you?” I flustered but admitted I didn’t think I looked my age. And neither does she. I guessed her age to be 28 or 30 though she revealed herself to be 42. Only then I cracked and said I was 32. I guess we both have baby faces despite being old?
I never wanted to use my bilingual skills in this professional job setting because of the disaster experience I had at a previous job trying to adhere to most of the staff’s Chinese-only communication style. It was made worse by the fact I could not speak Cantonese and could only speak Mandarin, which was also not good as I was uncomfortable depending on a language that wasn’t my primary way of communication.
Unlike that job, this one is a job with an environmental cause I genuinely care about. And that being bilingual and utilizing the second language is not an all-day requirement. It’s more for the benefit of helping people if they cannot understand English. Jules can only speak Cantonese and yes, the neighborhood I live in does primarily have Chinese people who seem to use Cantonese as their go-to language instead of Mandarin.
However, that doesn’t mean there are no Mandarin speakers here. In the earlier days when I started out at this job, I had to translate when a Mandarin speaker needed help. This time, Adele called over Adam to assist a Chinese customer but when it was made obvious the customer only understood Mandarin, it was my turn to go over there. My mind instantly went into a panic but since I already had the experience of riding through the discomfort of talking to a stranger in Mandarin, that’s what I did this time too. Everything worked out fine and I was able to translate whatever Adele said. I didn’t have time to freeze out of anxiety and in a way, it helped to just focus on doing my job.
I felt overloaded with anxiety from juggling Adam and Reese being there. That was the main source of it. But I’m also proud of myself for the many times I verbally engaged with them and I never tried to cut a conversation short. It was like being of two minds, though. Half of me kept pushing through the fire and the other half just felt so afraid of going through it.
This last one is going to be very short because I just spent the last 3 hours writing this whole post to get my feelings out. I know I am going to be tired from not getting enough sleep. But this has been cathartic.
Featured Image by Clarissa Carbungco on Unsplash.
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