Life In These Pandemic States
Back in April, 2020, I made a post about being a street level essential worker. Here we are, nearing the end of January, 2022, and it seems like a good time, for posterity sake, for an update on life.
Of course, with my last post one of the first (and most distressing) things that happened when people started responding was that it turned into a 'whose grass is greener' pissing contest. So, before we get going, I just want to be 100% clear - this isn't about who has the greener grass. No one's grass is green right now. If someone has green grass, it's AstroTurf or they bought a can of spray paint. Everyone's grass is dead and brown, it's just some people's has a kinda funky texture that has to be seen to be believed.
And then there are the medical workers. Their grass keeps catching fire.
Seriously, though, between people in quarantine whose cabin fever has gone terminal and essential workers - at all levels - who just break, I don't want to know what the suicide rates have been through this thing. That has to be ugly.
And it just keeps going. Delta became Omicron became who knows what comes next. People keep talking about the polarization of America, that includes the split between the people who think there should be a maximum two people in a store at a time with the surfaces fully sanitized in between customers and the people who think if they just act like the pandemic is over, it will be. I work in a stupidly large warehouse store that can easily see ~5,000 people a day. Half of them want you to sanitize their entire cart, including the wheels; the other half fight you over wearing masks.
We're short staffed. People will nod and go 'Ah, yes, people have quit in the infamous Staffing Shortage', but no. On paper, we're fully staffed. In reality, between Covid and the flu, we have more people out at a time than I can count. A couple of people are out on bonding leave and things like that, but most of it is illness and most of the illness is Covid. The internet is railing against the CDC saying asymptomatic carriers and people waiting for their tests can come to work, but honestly, if they don't, we don't have enough staff to run the business. I saw a post on the staffing shortage pointing out that businesses are using it as an excuse to see how much they can do on how little that ended with the OP bemoaning 'it's like they're trying to make the customer experience as unpleasant as possible'. You think having to wait behind nine other people in a line is bad, try being the cashier at the head of that line, buddy. I used to say that 98% of our customers were at least inoffensive, if not straight up nice people, and it was the last 2% that would ruin your day. That's crept up to at least 5% and let me tell you, 5% of 5,000 is not a small number.
But yeah. The customers are the most important part of retail. Everyone knows that. What is this ‘essential worker’ garbage? We’re not essential, we’re lucky to be able to serve someone who’s had to wait in a ten person deep line to buy stuff from us. Thank you for giving us this honour.
And then problems that you think would go away....don't. The rules keep changing. It's not as bad as when the whole thing started, but they're still shifting around a bit. People keep coming into the store who haven't been here since the first wave of shopping panic and somehow they expect everything to work the same. Even the ones who don't fight you need to have things explained, so you're explaining a million times a day how the new system works. No, we don't wipe the sanitizer off the cart handles. It needs to dry there to be effective. Yes, you do still need to wear a mask. The store is big, but it's also crowded, and it's still an enclosed space, so no, the state mandate isn't null and void here. Then something will disrupt the supply chain and oops, there's a limit on water again and, no, sorry, you can only have one case. I'm sorry that your religious function requires three, you can only have one. Because your religious function does not make your more important than the other 49,000 people who walk through that door. It’s called ‘sharing’ - but we can’t actually say that, ‘cause it’s rude.
We still can’t talk back. Some of us are starting to kick at that. Some of us are fraying enough that we’re testing to see how much talking back we can do before we get written up. But 99% of the time we still have to just sit there and take whatever the customers dish out, because if we aren’t the whipping posts for someone else’s bad day, we could get in trouble.
Of course, we're required to wear masks if we want to have jobs. It's not only a state mandate, it's a store mandate. The anti-maskers, though, all assume you're one of them. They'll come in an start making commiserating comments about what a nuisance they are, how hard it is to breathe, what a loser our governor is for making us wear them, about how we're all going to vote for someone else next election so we can finally take our masks off. Meanwhile I'm sitting there breathing through two layers of cotton for eight hours a day, wishing more than anything that people who just do the bare damn minimum so that I can stop. But I'm on the clock, so I can't just scream at them for daring to joke when they are literally the ones making me do this! Seriously, there was a month in summer of 2021 where if you were vaccinated - which I am - you could take your mask off at work. I didn't, unless I was outside, but I could if I needed to. Then numbers spiked again and here we are, right back where we were, because people don't want to do the basics.
Restricted breathing raises anxiety levels. It's a proven fact. So our lines are long, our customers are getting more assholish by the day, the internet is making staff shortages about the customer, and while we can breathe through our masks, we can't do it well enough to avoid massive anxiety. Most of us have had at least one minor mental break down, and we're all waiting for someone to just have a complete nervous melt down in the middle of the store.
When work is over and the mobs are gone, the isolation sets in. That's the massive bugger, at least for me. I'm at least lucky enough that my parents are close, so I see Mum daily (we live a block apart and are basically a two campus household) and Dad comes for lunch once a week. That's it, though. I don't go out shopping, just buy everything at work. I don’t go to the movies. My next closest relatives are being hyper paranoid about the whole thing and since I'm around so many people a day, I'm not allowed in their house. It makes me feel like Typhoid Mary, honestly. My friends aren't close and have jobs, so there is exactly one who I see once a month, period, no more. It's winter so standing around outside chatting to the neighbor across the street doesn't even happen. And it’s not just that I don’t want to, it’s that I can’t. Even if I wanted to, I can’t.
So I spend all day absolutely surrounded by people - so many people - too many people - and then I come home and face cabin fever and isolation issues.
I need social interaction outside of work, and all I have is social media. Social media is not mentally healthy. So I come home from work, which is long even on the good days. I get on tumblr hoping that I can relax and enjoy some cat pictures and maybe some fandom conversation with like minded individuals, but there's a 50/50 chance that instead I'll just find something that hits off a raw nerve which, hey! Super easy because all seven trillion nerves are raw af. At least here I can fight back when people piss me off. Of course, I know I should try and keep my stressed out, utterly shot temper to myself, because I know that everyone else is probably doing just as badly, but they all seem so normal compared to what I'm going through and so comparatively calm. And I know part of that is an illusion and part of it is because the people in really terrible situations - the abuse victims stuck at home with a partner who's going mentally awol, for instance - aren't online talking about their shit. But all of the posts and conversations and everything just seem so normal, so much like they've always been, and no one else seems to be transforming into an overly touchy bitch, and I want to know how the hell everyone is so OK. And I want to know because I want to be OK again. I want to be happy and fun to be around and fun to talk with. I want to have conversations with people where none of us are complaining about anything. I want to fucking enjoy something every now and again, instead of just talking about what’s wrong with it.
And spending time on tumblr makes me stressed and anxious and not being on tumblr makes me stressed and anxious and so we have this lovely vicious cycle that just keeps going in a lovely downward spiral and at some point something has to give.
This can't go on forever.
Something, somewhere, has to give.
I just hope it's not me.