By. Elena Pruett-Fiederlein
The first thing I did when I got home from my 9-5 office assistant job today was open my mini fridge (the booze fridge) and pop open a bottle of IPA. I then sank into my bed as my cat howled at me for ignoring her. This has become pretty much a daily routine in the month since graduation, as my brain and body have relentlessly fought against the suggestion that they were ever going to learn to accept sitting all day in front of a Dell desktop, entering thousands of email addresses of history teachers around the country Brown University will harass into buying its Watson-endorsed textbooks. This is what you’re doing with your Ivy League degree. I make minimum wage, rarely getting in the full 40 hours I am expected to work, because the first thought through my head every morning is usually a draft of an email to send to my boss justifying my late arrival. I roll over and hit snooze repeatedly for two consecutive hours. Would they notice if I killed myself and stopped showing up to work? Sometimes I’m able to get myself out of bed in time to make the 8:20am bus, but usually this is only because there is a new true crime podcast out that will make my working in solitude more bearable (and then, when I return home, I will lose hours of sleep imagining how a serial killer will break into my apartment to rape me with a Swiffer handle, murder me with a kitchen knife, and hide my mangled body in the washing machine in my basement).
Long story short, 9-5 office jobs are not made for mentally ill people like me.
Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered through my first five or so years as a “working woman” (read, broke-ass college student on financial aid with thousands of dollars of student debt), nor are a whole lot of other jobs. Anything that does not give me both structure and emotional fulfillment seems to be a sure route to emotional breakdown, leaving me terrified as I stare into the gaping abyss of “finding a career” postgrad life. And this is before I even get to attendance/tardiness policies and discriminatory hiring practices, which can make it impossible for me to even hold some jobs at all.
As shitty as my current job may seem to me now, it’s not nearly as miserable as some of the other part time jobs I’ve had since I graduated high school. For the sake of comparison, I’ve made a list, from least shitty to shittiest. Buckle up, kids.
1. Elementary School Summer Camp Teacher
This was probably the best it’s ever been for me. Looking past the fact that I was stuck in an unairconditioned school with broken windows and peeling lead paint for 8 hours a day throughout the summer, at least this job was fun. I got to chase a bunch of rowdy 6 year olds around all day, trying to learn how to discipline 15 kids at once, and using every last ounce of my energy to get them excited about learning something when they’d all rather be at the beach. I questioned my long-held disapproval of corporal punishment and began to understand why so many parents of young kids have drinking problems. But this was rewarding work, especially when the end of the summer came around and one of my kids gave me a huge hug and told me I was her favorite part of the program. I still have all their cards up on my wall.
2. College Bookstore Textbook Packer
College bookstore textbook packer. Not so different from what I’m doing now, except that I was seventeen and a fucking emotionally stunted and socially awkward child who had no idea how to interact with my “cool” college kid coworkers who mostly just talked about sex and drinking (I had only the vaguest idea about both). Not terrible, but not great for strengthening my fragile high school self-esteem. I was terrified for a while after this job that I would never find anyone I could relate to in college. This was also before I had ever been diagnosed with anything, so I spent most of my time wondering why the hell I was so perpetually sad and waiting to get out of my tiny hometown.
3. BuDS (Brown Undergraduate Dining Services) worker and supervisor
Not particularly emotionally fulfilling, but at least I got free food. The worst part about this job was dealing with some true asshole customers. Sometimes my rapist would come into the Blue Room and I would have to hide behind the bags of spinach in the walk-in refrigerator to avoid having to interact with him. Sometimes this would cause panic attacks and I’d have to leave early, citing “stomach problems”. Sometimes I would have to miss work for mental health reasons, and receive official warnings because I wasn’t able to provide a “doctor’s note” to prove I was actually sick (which, we can all agree, is ableist as fuck). Sometimes the possibility of free food (especially those goddamn Blue Room muffins) would cause me to obsess over calories and exercise, triggering food anxiety that had been held at bay for months. By the end of senior year, when I was dealing with probably the worst mental health crisis of my life, I was super over this job.
4. Concessions stand worker at the public pool in my hometown
This was my first-ever job, during the spring and summer of my senior year of high school. I made somewhere around 6 dollars an hour. I worked alone most of the time, frying tater tots and such until my face was coated in a layer of grease that violently enraged my adolescent acne. I obsessed over the food, terrified to let myself eat any of it, lest I gain any weight. I also spent a surprising amount of time swatting away the clammy hands of the summer camp kids who would try to steal things from the window, and fawned over the college-aged lifeguards who, I was convinced, would never look at me with my too-large baseball hat and sweaty pizza face. Sometimes, “cool” kids from high school would come by and I would have to make them food, trying to hide my embarrassment.
5. And the winner (loser?): barista at the local D-grade waterpark.
This was truly nighmarish. I had a half-hour commute to and from my house each day, and made 8 dollars an hour (slightly over minimum wage for Virginia) for shifts that never had a definitive end-time (they were supposed to be 8 hours each, but sometimes if we were busy I would be there for upwards of 10 hours a day without notice). I wore a giant red polo shirt and non-stick shoes they made me buy from Walmart, and collected a nice array of burns on my arms from taking things in and out of the oven. I had to pay for my break meals, and split the tips evenly with all the workers, many of whom didn’t work at the counter. My bosses were all men, and peppered us with sexist comments on a regular basis. I often had to serve ice cream and coffee to large white men with Confederate flag tattoos on their bare chests (this is Virginia we’re talking about), who loved calling me “honey” and commenting on my appearance. I also had to bake bread and pastries, which sounds delightful, unless you are in the throes of bulimia like I was at the time and incapable of controlling what I snacked on (and later threw up). I was also in a terrible long-distance relationship and fighting nearly every day with my parents, so I would spend my entire work day ruminating over how shitty I felt and how much I just wanted to get the fuck out. This was the summer I had my first suicide attempt, after my freshman year at Brown. I haven’t been back to that goddamn waterpark to this day.
I hope to God my job in the fall, which will take me back to France for a year, will make all of this worth it. Meanwhile, I’ll be here binge-listening to podcasts and taking my existential frustration out on the copier.
Image Credit: Lucia S. (Rookie Mag)