Mental Health… I Choose You

I’ve actually been going back and forth with whether or not I’d make a post and a podcast episode on this topic but I feel that the time is now. I started at my current role 3 months after I graduated from college, simply because my mother sternly told me that I needed a job, even though I personally wanted to go back to college for one additional semester in order to be a teacher. This is because teaching was one of my career choices but I wanted to be a journalist more. The journalism field was evolving and it was near impossible to get a job in journalism by 2012. For me, someone who encountered several detours and roadblocks along the way, I did everything I was told to do by society and teachers. They told us all to graduate from high school, go to college, and boom, you’d have a good job. That is not the case for at least about 80% of the graduates I know from 2009-2013.

I started my job at this one company and I was promoted within four months from a regular employee on the dock, to a corporate office employee for the same company. From the minute I came into the office, the dynamic was weird. One of the first things one of the head managers said to me one morning out of the blue was, “Why didn’t you tell me how old you were? I thought you were older!” At the time, I was 21 years old. And as someone like me who was desperate to have a stable job in order to be autonomous from my family and as a single parent, I felt like he was saying that if he had done his due diligence and saw that I was young, I would not have gotten the position. Next, I found out that I would have to go to work at 5:30AM each morning, traveling about 45 minutes to work. The next blow was that the starting pay was about $13 and I was definitely surprised that it was so low but I did not argue.

Getting up very early and leaving my toddler, was difficult. Often times, I would try to sneak out but he’d wake up or already be up watching, Thomas the Train, making it even harder to get out the house. I definitely overslept and couldn’t find my keys because he’d thrown them in the trash during my first week and I was of course in trouble for that and informed that even if I was just one minute late, I’d be eligible for a write-up.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to go ahead and get my own apartment. I decided to get a 1-bedroom where the rent was about $760. It was a nice apartment in an area called Lithia Springs, GA. During my first three years, I never called in because in the position I was in, I saw how badly management hated someone calling in and I was continuously gaslit by the fact that my two office counterparts were unreliable and bad workers (more on that later). By that point, I had to drop my child off with my mother every morning and I really appreciate her for waking up and opening her door each morning at 5AM or earlier—it was hard. I couldn’t stand having to leave him like that. On top of that, any time the school was closed, I had to leave him with family, mostly my mother but also my brother, sister, aunt, and little cousin. My brother would watch him as I went to work for weeks at a time, along with my sister, and mother. Funny story with that, one of the first times my brother agreed to take time off of his job, watch his nephew during the day, and then I would get off and come in and take over so my brother could get rest or go do whatever he wanted, although he would mostly just hang out with us. One day I came in and he told me how he made my son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch but my son wouldn’t eat it unless the crust was cut off. I looked at my brother, a bit perplexed, and I told him that we never cut the edges off of his bread, we simply cut it into four squares. We both laughed at the fact that my brother had apparently been played by a toddler that day. Then, keep in mind that I only had about 2 weeks of vacation for the entire year and schools are closed much more than that.

Things really started to get tricky for me around 2014-2015. In April of 2014, there was an active shooter at the job. And while no one knows how they would act in that situation, the one thing that always resonated with me is the fact that I stayed that morning because I did not want to leave and not be paid for the day. I really thought that the police would go in, apprehend the suspect, then we would be back to work. Unlike most jobs, if you aren’t at work, the managers will not enter the time for you, you’ll have to basically beg someone to enter your time. After the shooting, we had to stand in the parking lot, the street, and a neighboring parking lot for hours, in the rain, until the police got a bus to transport us to a nearby business, Sparkles, the skating rink. While at Sparkles, we stood outside for what seemed like even more hours because the police would not let us get in the job parking lot to retrieve our vehicles. We were also harassed by local news reporters, whispering for us to come talk to them. But before that, we’d already been threatened by the job that if we spoke to news outlets, we would be fired.

The manager for Sparkles came and let us into the building and provided pizza and drinks. The funny thing is, there was so much pizza prepared but when I walked up to get a slice, just one single slice, one of the drivers who I didn’t even know started making like, “boom boom boom,” sounds. Then, a driver who was sitting next to him, who later became my coworkers boyfriend, motioned to him, like, “Nah, don’t do that.” But anyway, during that time when I realized we wouldn’t be let back into the building, my next concern as it was now about 5pm and I got to work around 5:30am I was now concerned about getting my car in time to go pick up my child before the day care closed because I needed the car seat. One of the managers who wasn’t even there that morning, showed up and I think she tried to use me to say that she did do something, because she asked me if I needed a ride to go get my child, but it was like, no—I can’t get him without the carseat. Later that night, I saw pictures of myself and coworkers on the news, looking worn down and puffy haired, due to the rain but of course we were all thankful to be okay. The next day when we went into work, there was blood on the ground, bullets, and dust from the investigation, I suppose. A few days later, as I was walking out to lunch, I saw the trailer where the suspect ended up being. There were calls for weeks to months about the packages on that trailer that had to be destroyed and we had to explain over and over what had occurred. That weekend, I just remember sleeping the whole day and not even going to my part-time job.

That same year, there was the infamous snow and ice storm that shut the city down for a few days. After that snow storm where we were compensated, this job made it clear that we couldn’t miss days. I went to work that morning and later took about 8 hours to get home when they finally agreed to let the employees leave after we all worked our hours. I had to walk a mile home when I drove in as far as I could, then couldn’t make it up a small hill. There was a lady who drove me some of the way as well, who I thank. Before I was offered a ride by this woman, who was a white woman and seemed very nice, I was offered a ride by a white man in a huge white truck but he was going the opposite direction and it did not feel right. The next day, we were snowed in and I think we did get paid for the first day. But, for the employees who stayed at the job, because our management team was basically telling everyone to stay and get stuck there because they wanted workers there and also because the said they had hot dogs from the day before that they’d barbecued. The main manager even went and warmed them up and brought the tray down, smh. So for those who stayed, one guy told me how he was shocked that the managers did not feed him after that and that he basically spent money at the vending machine to avoid hunger. I was not surprised at all, though. The next time it snowed and every year after that, it was a known fact that if you did not come to work, you would not get paid. The manager let everyone know that if he was at work, that meant we could make into work. And his solution for that was that any night that snow was forecasted, he would spend the night, because that meant he did not have to pay employees the next day who couldn’t drive in.

Office Dynamic:

From the moment I came into the office, I noticed that the dynamic was off. There were so many grown people who didn’t know basic people skills, such as: courtesy, personal space, or even simple multitasking skills. Over the years, if I demanded personal space—you know like that imaginary box we learned about in kindergarten, I was basically laughed at. All of the upper management, is white. Mid-level management, all white. The decision to keep management white was clearly, a decision because many black, brown, and qualified people applied. I was tasked with scanning in many forged interview guides, where the person chosen was selected well before interviews began. I also began to notice that any individuals who seemed sympathetic to black employees, like maybe if it was a white man with a black girlfriend or if the manager was a white man who was too friendly with black employees, his line to upper management would be delayed, if it happened at all. The main office manager, is a very outward NRA and Trump supporter. I started to wonder how the company blocked so many websites but I would walk past his office and see him purchasing guns on eBay. He would often times have very loud and ignorant verbiage about Trump. After Trump was voted in office, the assistant senior manager, actually came up to me smiling and said, “I voted for Trump but I didn’t think he’d actually win.” I feel like that was traumatic and a true example of cognitive dissonance. And in the office, my counterpart was a young girl(mentally) but older than me, who spent most days crying over some new guy she was dating and lying about things she didn’t have to lie about (an Aries) and then a white woman, we’ll call her, Tammy, who was tall with what others would describe as a beehive hairdo. But that’s not all, in our very small and often quiet office, the only thing you would hear constantly, was the sound of Tammy sniffing all day. After awhile, it was evident to me that she was on some type of drugs. I even caught her begging the vendor who filled the first aid kit for a certain pill that he told her he wasn’t allowed to put in the kit anymore. That vendor came back with a baggie of the pills and reluctantly gave them to her. Other pills from a manager’s office were stolen along with borrowed money, once she didn’t work at the company anymore. Working with them both was so stressful because both of them would take turns not coming to work and their tasks were put on me from temporarily to full-time.

When Tammy left, I was promoted to her former position but although Tammy only had a few tasks, her tasks, such as answering the phone and decorating the office boards. Those tasks, along with the tasks that I already had were put on me. The management team kept adding things on me until one day they overheard me talking about how I was completely overworked and finally stopped, temporarily. Their excuse was that I was just so good at everything and the only one in the office with a college degree, so they gave it to me. When they decided to make the 3-person office staff in the main office, two people, I was brought into the office and awarded a company pen (it was a nice pen) because I was so “special” to the company and allowed them to save money on personnel. That my friend, is gaslighting. On top of that, tasks like moving boxes of paper or something heavy that other women in the office said they were too fragile to touch, managers would just let me do it, because I was bigger in size than the other women. Needless to say, the burnout was happening fast.

Years went by and I decided to start trying to get promoted into a higher paying role because I was struggling to make ends meet at $13 an hour. The minute I began making $13 an hour and still couldn’t afford groceries, they cut off food stamps before I could even say a word. My rent was about $800 with utilities, my car note was about $350, gas, food, and I was eventually able to get the weekly day care bill from about $120 to $90, when I applied for their in house scholarship at the day care. But before we get into that, I have to mention that my car broke down one day because the transmission went out on my way home. I was able to park the car but I was about six miles from the house in my rural area with no phone because I didn’t get a new phone quite yet when I was first promoted inside of the office. I stopped at a local store to use the phone to call my sister and ask her to pick my child up from day care because I knew it would take me hours to walk from where I was, to his school. Once I made it to his school, they were closed, I knocked on a neighboring house door to use their phone but they didn’t answer. I then saw the church near the school was open, so I called her there, and they were at a nearby restaurant. I was of course crying by this time because I didn’t know if she was able to get him in time and I didn’t know where my child was or what. So with all of that, we made it in and I still got up with my feet and body hurting and went to work the next day. And just to mention, that day care he was at before the awesome one he went to that was $90, it was near my mother’s house but mostly white in demographics. One time, I went to pick him up a little early and he was probably about 2 or 3 years old. He was looking so sad as he walked in a line down the hallway—he didn’t even notice I was standing right next to him— he was just zoned out. But he said he was okay and seemed fine when we went home. Having that parental feeling, I popped up again one day and saw a white teacher, kind of man-handling a small mixed boy. I then went and asked the front office if they had cameras in the room and I was told that they do but if I wanted to see the camera, I’d have to purchase a tape. I went that day to purchase a tape, brought it in the next day, and the same office worker told me that now, the same week, the cameras no longer work. Just having to worry about that and all, I took my son out of that day care and found one closer to my job and my mother’s job. That kind of worry as a young mother, trying to work each day was stressful on top of everything else. Once we found his new day care though, called Sheltering Arms, near Cobb Pkwy in Marietta, GA, at least that was so much better. The staff there were a great group who really helped children and families.

By the time my child was in kindergarten, I decided that I needed to move because I wanted my son to go to a charter school that was about five minutes from my job but you had to live inside of a particular county to attend the school. And I thought that it would be good for a growing boy to have his own bedroom. We moved into an apartment in Austell, GA that came with so many problems but we stayed there for three years. I was still struggling financially so badly that I entered a depression, isolation, and panic attacks began. I couldn’t stand not being able to spend more time with my child due to work. I couldn’t stand working so hard every single day and not having enough food, clothing, or even any extra money to do anything for myself, such as getting my hair done.

Since jobs inside of my current company and out of my current company did not care about my bachelor’s degree, I decided to go ahead and get a masters degree because it seemed like many of the jobs that I was applying for outside of the company, wanted a graduate degree. After I completed my MBA program in 2017, I was talking to one of my coworkers who is friends with my manager outside of work, and she, being a white woman, had to keep hounding into my head that she went and told my manager that he needed to be sure to give me the higher end of the 3% yearly raise because I now had a master’s degree. While I appreciate that, it also made me angry, like… the only way I would get a promotion is if this white coworker went and advocated for me? That is weird. But it’s interesting because she’s the same white coworker who said she once had my current position before Tammy and that they would not give her any duties other than answering the phone and she was so bored that she went to them and told them that she needed more work or needed a new role. She is also the same white woman who teamed up against me with two other older white women and decided that even though my task list was unevenly full, I would have to stop what I was doing, to do one of the other white woman’s work on the dock, so that, that other white woman could help her with onboarding for drivers. This caused a big fight over that whole situation and I really should have left the company then and I’m sure that I tried but on top of all of that, I really do believe my name has been a hindrance from attaining other jobs as well. I later found out that companies definitely did not care about my bachelor’s degree and didn’t give a fawk about my MBA.

In my pursuit of trying to get promoted, I was told that I was not qualified for many positions that I knew I was qualified for but the people they hired for these roles would often come to me for help. I soon realized that for positions in the location where I was, the requirement was to be a white male or a white woman who was either done or would not have children. Outside of the office, I later found out that other managers would call my manager and inquire about my application and they would be told that they could not hire me for the position because I was too important in my current role. Meaning, they did not want to have to hire anyone else to replace me.

The last straw and complete disconnect from my mental capacity and the fact that I needed to zone out at all times at work, from them hiring people who could not figure out how to open an email to other things—from the time I started at my job, the application asks for your name and a preferred name. My preferred name was not only on my badge, but also my company email, and company directory. I’ve never been called anything other than my preferred name, the shortened version of my whole name because let’s face it, having to explain pronunciation, is exhausting. Additionally, I’ve never introduced myself to these people as my whole first name. So one day, the management team along with the aforementioned white woman got together during one of their weekly meetings, for clarification, that’s a group of all white individuals, got together and decided amongst themselves, that they would call me by my whole name. The one that has never been used and that is not in my public information for the company. They did not ask me if that was okay or anything. All of a sudden, without my permission, all of them are calling me this name that I have not introduced myself as. So one day, I asked why to one of the head managers and he was like, “Oh, we thought that would be easier.” Then, when I had to singlehandedly correct every last one of them every time they called me by my government name, I became the bad person. I became the angry black woman all of a sudden. Then, they would tell visiting management and those white managers would call me by this name, just to provoke a response. I think it’s important to say race, so that a visual is made and so that intention is displayed. And I believe oppression was the intention.

That, along with the constant fear they put in workers of being fired for this or that, for someone like I was, a struggling single mother. Someone who did all these things like graduated from college a year early, got a masters degree, doesn’t drink or smoke, and I still couldn’t get the high paying career that I needed. I was still living paycheck to paycheck with absolutely no money. And by this time, my son was noticing that we had family members traveling places and all of that but our traveling was limited. The issues, of low self-worth, imposter syndrome, panic attacks, and just overall depression started and I truly believe all of these issues were made so much worse because of this job, the one that I wish I never accepted over ten years ago.

I told the last guy I loved, on one of the last times I saw him—he asked me how much I made and I’m not sure but I honestly think he was at that time comparing me to this other woman he was talking to that he thought I didn’t know about. I think he was at the point of making his decision of which one he was going to choose, which depended on which one of us had our own place, popularity, size, low debt, and career worth. Well, I didn’t tell him how much I made but I did tell him something like I felt like or they made me feel like I should be thankful for them even giving me a job and he stopped in his tracks, legs criss-crossed and naked, on the bed that day, right there on the bed, and said to me, “Never say that. Never think like that and have a less-than mindset.” And that’s one of the things he said that will probably stick with me.

All in all, I feel that for people who do not have a specified career path, working multiple or a regular job all the time is not the answer because you will miss out on your life by trying to reach this imaginary finish line. Never get too comfortable or complacent to let ten years pass you by with nothing to show for it. Even if that means temporary unemployment.

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