It was another standard Sunday in retail when a customer complained rather aggressively to me about being refused a refund. I’ve worked in retail for four years- I know the drill “I’m sorry, sir, but we cannot give you a refund after 30 days etc. etc. etc.” Despite Sunday being a holy day where everyone should go about their business in peace and bloody quiet, this guy was not backing down.

Any other day and I would have told this guy what’s what, what’s where and where to stick it or at least got a manager to do this for me because you know, I need this job. Instead, I excused myself, locked myself in the bathroom and cried my little-overworked heart out. It was in that employee toilet, deprived of a working soap dispenser and graced with an overflowing bin, I realised what my friends and family had been warning me of all this time- I had officially burnt out.

Burn-out, both noun and adjective- there’s probably a haphazard urban dictionary definition somewhere, but for now, all I’ve got is how I feel.

Your life is like an oblong shape, running backwards and forwards to try and keep the dots connected. You’ll work Monday to Friday, only to prepare to work Friday to Sunday. Night shifts make you forget what the night sky looks like, and under a full moon you’re scared to stand still.

You meet people in a blur and forget their names. You use a pen as a knife to cut the ties with all of the ones who loved you through everything. You forget to ring your Grandma back and ask how your brother’s day at school was. They worry about you and you scream at them through your own insecurities.

Eventually, working becomes its own refuge, an old habit that will kill you faster than smoking or drinking. And when you do go out and drink, you punish yourself for even pretending to have fun. You miss your best friend so much your eyes and ears hurt, but you can’t just ring them up to make them suck up the poison of your own mind.

You feel like you have to be employee, student and person of the month. It never occurred to you that you can’t be everything to everyone. Everyone stares at you and you know it’s because you look like shit today, as you did yesterday and the day before that. You haven’t been eating, and when you do eat, you eat good old fashioned I-don’t-have-time-to-cook crap, so your skin breaks out and your jeans feel tight. You treat your body like a disposable robot, not something you have to live inside for the rest of your life.

The world becomes something you are fighting against rather than finding content in your existence within it. You can’t give people a piece of your mind and expect to find your peace of mind. You can’t sprint past the finish line and expect the prize to be any more significant. You have done enough, and you are enough.

 

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