With COVID, the safest place to be is at home away from people and chances of getting the virus. Many are working, going to school, having meetings, and so on from the comfort of their couch. I’ve been jealous of them. I hate being a cashier on the front lines.
My husband was laid off at the beginning when the United States was shut down, and I wanted to trade places with him. People came in groves to the grocery store buying cartloads of food. They stocked up on everything like they were going to be stuck in their homes for years.
Customers became grumpier and more argumentative. They complained about the longer waits, they complained that our registers were wet with sanitizer, and they complained because the debit machine was moved. They argued with us about social distancing, they argued it was against their rights to have to wear masks, and they argued about pulling the masks up over their nose. I was at my wits’ end. My anxiety was high.
I got my break from work when I had to take off before and during my back surgery. Before my surgery Denise and I walked many different places, and I lost forty-two pounds. Then I was laid up from my surgery and Netflix became my best friend. I also woodburned and sold Christmas ornaments to pass time. I was free from the front lines, from grumpy customers, from being out in public exposed to the potential of catching the virus, and free from the hoarding of food. I was home safe, but lonely.
In a way I enjoyed being home and, in a way, I missed work. I didn’t enjoy being laid up, but I liked being able to have time to do my hobby of woodburning and not dealing with the public. I did miss my regular customers who have become like friends over the years and some of my fellow employees. Being home my anxiety was under control and my stress was low. I was relaxed.
A week ago, I started back to work, and my stress and anxiety began to shoot up. I’m working three days a week for four hour shifts for a while, but the shifts feel endless.
Transitioning back to work has been rough. Because of complications, I couldn’t do physical therapy before returning. I didn’t have time to build up the muscles in my back and to become more active. Returning to work has been tiring and my body aches everywhere, especially my back. The pain in my back is not the shooting pain I felt before surgery. It’s muscle aching. My whole body aches.
The first day customers and employees welcomed me back. They missed me. Some customers feared I quit, and others were worried about me. Some new employees were nice and tried to get to know me. I was sore and tired, but I felt loved. That changed fast.
On the second day, I asked a customer nicely not to put her groceries down before I sanitize, and I asked her to please back up while the previous customer paid. When I kindly asked her if I could get pass her to sanitize the debt machine, she got mad. She said I was on her (swear word) since she got in my line and she also said other nasty words. I tried to be as polite as possible, but it wasn’t good enough. I apologized for offending her, but that only insulted her more.
The lady went to the service desk and complained to them that I was belittling her. When a lady from the service desk asked about it, the only thing I could think was, I didn’t miss this when I was off. I explained to the service desk my side of the story and they believed me, but my anxiety went crazy. I felt sick.
Customers frequently ignored the rule to stand back and wait for me to sanitize the register. Some were apologetic and some were nasty about my reminders for them to wait like the lady who swore at me. They also yelled at me for asking them to pull their masks up over their nose. I got so tired of being yelled at for doing my job that I gave up. I just let them do their thing. I bit my lip and struggled to hide my dry heaves. I felt like I was a punching bag. Instead of punching me with fist they were punching me with their words and attitudes. Boy, I did not miss that when I was off.
On the third day back, I was on big register for the whole day. A lady put six packs of pop on the register. When I tried to tell her to leave them in the cart, she requested I put each one in a bag. So, I lifted each one up, put it in a bag, then lifted the bag and placed it on the end of the reg ister. The muscles in my back screamed, “I’m sore! Stop this! Go back to being off!”
The woman smiled with her eyes. “Sorry for the extra work.”
In my mind I called her names, but I said, “It’s not a problem. I just returned from sick leave, so it’s a bit tiring.”
She continued to apologize and asked me a hundred questions about why I was off work. I gave her a short explanation and returned the smile with my eyes.
On the fourth day, a customer came with two cart loads of groceries. I scanned each item, bagged the groceries, and placed them in her cart. When I was finally done, she leaned up against a register, took her coat and mask off and said she was going to pass out. I got the manager. They moved me to the register behind her. She was sitting on a chair with her head between her legs and with no mask and I was closer to her. My automatic thought was, What if she has COVID? What if I end up out of work again because I got sick? I didn’t miss this either.
Along with work I also started physical therapy. Between work and therapy my stress level shot to the stars. One night my husband was complaining about something and I went off. I yelled at him and pushed him. He wrapped his arms around me and held me while I screamed and then cried. After I calmed down, we talked, and I apologized. My husband is amazing because he totally understood and forgave me.
Now on the days I don’t work I practice self-care and I do the things that make me happy like woodburning, writing, sleeping in, walking with Denise or my dog, and journaling. During work I remind myself to take deep breaths, I confided in my support system about my frustrations, and I try to mentally list positive things. Practicing coping techniques is making the transition of going back to work easier.
Returning to work has been a struggle, but in time I’m sure it will get easier. By practicing coping techniques, I go to work standing in the light of recovery.