On Anxiety, Stress, and Worrying

I have always been a worrier. Sometimes I say this to people and they think I’m saying ‘warrior’ (though with the amount of stress I face, really I should get to say that as well), but this is to clarify that I mean the less fun version. I’ve always been a worrier, and so faced a lot of stress – but the main issue is that because I worry about everything, most of the stress is just completely unnecessary. I swear if I had a Superpower, I’d be one of those lame Superheroes who had the power of extreme worrying. “But what if the villain has a gun? What if they have a hostage? What if this is all a trap? What if they’re actually good? Are we doing the right thing? How can anyone know for sure? Did I leave the oven on?”

Who would my arch nemesis be? Super-Chilled-Man?

Anyway, I digress.

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Whenever I get these emotions of pure terror, I’ve always called it worrying – but ‘worry’ just doesn’t feel like a strong enough word sometimes. If you say to someone ‘oh I’ve been worrying about it’, the response is normally a ‘aw don’t worry, it’s all fine!’ (And fyi, that isn’t helpful – I’ll still worry until I have physical proof everything is fine thank you – and then probably panic that it will all go downhill). It’s only over the last few years that people are openly discussing issues related to depression and anxiety, and whilst I by no means believe that I suffer from depression, I do tend to think that – like I’m sure most people do – have a heck ton of anxiety. Then again, I wouldn’t go as far to say that I suffer from anxiety, as it feels like taking it away from people who genuinely have the illness. So once more, I’m left with calling it worrying – but is it worrying when you constantly struggle to sleep because you over-analyse every possible scenario, that you always arrive at least 30 minutes (if not more) early because you worried 10 minutes early would not give you enough leeway? Is it worrying that when you go out with friends, as soon as it hits 9pm you start to panic about it getting dark and thinking that you risk of being attacked is increasing, and if you don’t get back soon something awful is going to happen? Or is all of this just culture. Is it the media that have taught me this, that have ingrained this panic?

Unfortunately for everyone reading this, I have no answers.

(Just so you’re aware).

I feel like everyone feels stress, so there’s almost no point in complaining about stress – there’s always going to be someone who one-ups you – and is it really ‘beating’ you if the ‘winner’ is the one who is more stressed out? Every time I’m stressed about something – be it work, university, getting rejected, unable to find a place to live, waiting for results – there is always someone right there to say that they are more stressed, and so insinuating that I do not have the right to be stressed. My brother is a perfect example of this. Without fail, whenever I claim to be stressed or tired or have a lot going on, he’ll immediately say that he is more stressed. He’s currently a first year Junior Doctor, and to be fair to him he probably is more stressed, but through his whole degree (and mine), it does not matter what is happening. If I’ve had a week of work and he’s had a week off and I say I’m tired, he’ll say ‘you don’t even know what tired is’.

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And that’s the problem with conversations about things like stress and anxiety. Everyone has at least one example of when they’ve felt stressed, and so everyone can simultaneously understand what you’re going through but also feel that their stress is that much worse. Some people will refuse to think that anyone can possibly understand what ‘real’ stress is, and look down their noses with superiority at anyone they deem unworthy. But that simply doesn’t work. Just because someone is in business whereas the other does manual labour does not mean that one is entitled to claim to get more stressed than the other. Everyone feels stress in relation to what they’re doing, and unless you have done every single job in the world, you have no idea what the other person is feeling. Because it’s not even just the work or the job, it’s the person. Do you know their mental well-being? Sure, you have a stressful job, but do you have their lifestyle? Do you have that white privilege that has allowed you to be stressed about generic things like work instead of things like race and discrimination? Do you come from a family that supports you, whereas someone else might have no family whatsoever to back them up?

Mental well-being is still such a new topic to a lot of people, and the biggest dilemma we face is that we cannot physically gage a person’s mental health from just looking at them. From my limited knowledge, the best indicator is what the actual person says they’re feeling – and everyone is so distrustful, that you can never truly know. An acquaintance can be nasty and blame it on depression, and there should be no reason for you to distrust that – but of course you do. Sure, they’re horrible and then out of nowhere they bring in depression. You want to immediately trust they’re being honest, because only someone awful would lie about a thing like that, but the case of the matter is that they could lie. There is no way to look at someone and be able to say ‘yup, they suffer from ___, I can see that with my own eyes’.

So once more, I’m left unable to say anything concrete on my actual mental health and just leave it with ‘I’m a worrier, as in I worry, not that I’m a warrior, though I feel like one’. My only hope is that people remember to be empathetic, and show compassion instead of wariness. I hope that when someone says “I’m stressed” or “I’m tired”, people don’t jump to “Not as stressed/tired as me” and instead just offer sympathy, and invite an open discussion.

Wouldn’t that be grand.

Guide to University: The Dissertation

So you’ve finally made it to (what is most likely) your final year of university. You’re struck with a mixture of excitement, panic, awe, fear, anxiety, pure terror, and just a general feeling of being overwhelmed. If you’re in a career-guided degree, like Medicine or Engineering, then you won’t have to deal with one of the more larger pressures that everyone else goes through (aka what the hell am I going to do when I get out of here, how do I find jobs, how do I get interviews, someone please just help me etc), so enjoy that. However, what most people will have to suffer through, most of the time out of choice, is The Dissertation.

No one really knows what The Dissertation actually is – even halfway through writing it some people still don’t understand what it is – but essentially, or rather ‘for the most part’, it is a large essay which is seen as the main project of your final year. Although for most of us The Dissertation counts for just as much as some of our other modules, employers often ask about your mark for The Dissertation as it’s one of the only essays you’ll write which is entirely dependent on your own work. Sure, no one writes your essays for you (unless you are a cheat in which case you’re not welcome here), but there is a lot of work done for you and usually other people writing on the same thing. When it comes to The Dissertation, not only do you have to think of your own niche subject to write about (no vague or broad titles allowed), you have to do 100% of the research. Your title will likely change two, three, or even five times over the whole course of The Dissertation – sometimes just a few mere weeks before the deadline.

As someone who has only just handed in their Dissertation, I think I can safely say, now that it’s over, I’m glad I ended up writing one. A Dissertation allows you to write about what you find interesting, and sometimes is more enjoyable than your other subjects as you choose which bits to focus on, again, because it’s all your choice and preference. However, that does not mean that it’s not one giant ball of stress that weighs you down over the whole course of your year. So here are a few tips from one student to another on how to survive The Dissertation.

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First of all, once your penultimate year is over, you’ll have the whole Summer free ahead of you, and you’ll probably be planning a nice long break – and you deserve it. However, make Future You grateful by doing some reading in this break. I know, I know, it sucks, but just do a bit. Even if it’s just one or two books, or a few articles, that’s one or two books/articles less that Future You will have to do later. What truly helped me was actually figuring out exactly what I wanted to write about over the summer. I did my Dissertation on the presentation of Ancient Heroes by Modern Female Writers, and it was over the course of the Summer that I found out which books I did, and most definitely did not, want to focus on. A lot of people entered their final year having no clue what to write about, so it’s helpful to get that out of the way. And, above all, make sure you pick something that you like. Yeah, maybe you’ll lose some love for it over the course of the year, but you don’t want to be stuck working on something that bores you out of your mind.

Secondly, organise your time. Yeah, sounds simple, but do people always do it? Nope. If I could go back, I would definitely do things differently. At the start of the year, the April/May deadline seems like a long, long way away, so it’s easy to not think about The Dissertation that much. And then you start working and doing other essays, so it takes a backseat. I had the general plan of writing three chapters overall with an introduction and conclusion, so the first chapter was aimed to be finished by Christmas, the second after February Reading Week/Half Term, and the third by the end of term (which was two or three weeks before the deadline). However, what you don’t take into account is the simple fact that the first draft will not be your final draft. Sure, if you’re like me, you can finish a chapter by Christmas, but not actually finish it. I lucked out with a great supervisor, and when he sent back my first draft with a gazillion annotations and corrections, I came to the realisation that – even though I felt organised – I was already behind. In February I was still trying to redo the first chapter whilst doing the second, and when the second was sent back to me I was rewriting two chapters whilst trying to start my initial research for the third. So please, to save yourself, think ahead and organise your time. This is why employers like The Dissertation – it’s physical proof of your own proactivity and self-motivation.

Third, and I think three tips will probably be enough for you to start digesting, try not to forget about everything else. To the outside world, The Dissertation, although sounding scary, is just that – a dissertation. But in actuality, you’re not only writing a Dissertation, but are also working for several different modules, juggling various essays, and trying to keep on top of revision for your upcoming exams – not to mention trying to have a social life. So, do yourself a favour, and try to manage your time – basically a reputation of point two. Make sure you don’t let The Dissertation take over, and it will try to on multiple occasions. Set aside some time each week to work at it, and if you’ve done the first thing right and actually picked something you enjoy working on, you won’t mind researching your Dissertation instead of something else. You just have to keep chipping away at it, and sooner or later it will be a week before your deadline and, if you’ve done as I’ve recommended, you can sit back and relax whilst sipping a martini whilst everyone arounds you panics.

Then I recommend dropping that martini because, final point to make, even though your Dissertation is over, that doesn’t always mark the end of your university career. If you’re like me, you’ll still have other essays to deal with and exams to think about. So go forth, conquer your fears of The Dissertation, and good luck my friends (you’re gonna need it).

And enjoy the unending hunt for jobs, those of you who aren’t in career-focused degrees. The fun just never ends.

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Here’s some advice

I’m at the stage where the end of my university career is within sight, and so the job hunt is beginning. Suddenly it’s like I’m eighteen again, trying to decide what I’m going to do for the rest of my life – except then I ended up continuing on in the bubble of education, and now it’s like someone is going to take a sledgehammer to said bubble, hitting me with taxes, even more bills, and no student loan.

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The past few months I’ve been attending various talks, panels, and discussions about the field of work I want to go into along with general job advice, so I thought now would be a good time to tell you (and remind myself) three of the best pieces of advice I’ve had so far. Let’s hope it works.

  1. If you come to me with a problem, have a solution

Ok, so at face value this doesn’t really look like advice for getting a job, but I still adore it. I was at a talk with some publishers and one of them said that this is what one of her past employers told her. I like it even more when I think of how to apply it to everyday scenarios, that when there is a problem you need to vent about or run around panicking, tot think of a solution first. It’ll certainly be helpful in the work place, and look good to any employers if you go to them with an issue but also suggest a possible solution.

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2. People love being asked for advice

Ok, again, I know I promised advice and saying one of my pieces of advice is to ask for advice doesn’t sound so helpful, but just hear me out. I really worry about bothering people, especially when I’m stuck, and so emailing all the contacts I have to ask for help isn’t something that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. But then at a panel last week, one of the speakers told us that people love being asked for advice. You forget that although you’re looking for help and a favour, it’s a huge compliment to have someone ask you for advice. It shows that they value your judgement and opinion and, let’s face it, if someone can help you bridge the gap between you and your dream job, an ego boost always goes down well.

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3. Act Like You’re One

And by ‘one’, I mean act like you’re already an *insert job title here*. At a talk I went to, one woman said that she wanted to move up the ladder from something like a senior editor to associate, and so at her next job she just started acting like an associate editor would, calling shots and making those decisions. Soon enough, she claimed, everyone – including herself – believed her to be an associate editor, and she hasn’t looked back since. Having that deeper sense of confidence is definitely beneficial, whether you’re in an interview or on your first day, and the only word of warning is to ensure that that confidence doesn’t come across as arrogance. There is always a step to far, and one example I have is of someone who started off at my part-time job but was so ‘confident’, that she started telling other people what to do and how things should be done – this was on her third day, addressing those who had been working there for months. Always good to have a dash of humbleness mixed in there.

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And those are my three favourite pieces of advice. I hope in the coming months I can put them to action and see what happens, fingers crossed that it works out. And good luck to anyone out there job hunting as well – let me know if you have any other great tips, I’m going to need them.

 

Moving on to 2017 [Part 1]

2017 marks as a fresh start for a lot of people, and not just because it’s a new year. 2016 for most of us was an awful year, filled with bad memories, bad politics, and bad people. Deaths, terrorist attacks, and fear have made 2016 an awful year in almost every way, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping into 2017 with hope for some grand miracle. At first I was in full agreement, thinking that my 2016 has been particularly difficult not just because of Brexit and Trump, but also losing my Grandma last July. Mourning never really ends; it acts more like a wound, that slowly heals and can be reopened, but eventually scars over and fades over time, but still does not disappear.

But there was one thing that I’m sure she’d want me to remember – the reason why she called me ‘sunshine girl’ every time I saw her – and that’s to find the positivity and light that exists. And so instead of posting a blog post about my hopes for 2017 along with deciding if I succeeded all those goals and wishes I had for the past year, I’m going to talk about my favourite moments of 2016. (And I’m not just doing this because I’ve left my diary in London which is where I write down all my goals…)

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First off, 2016 was the year in which I got my best results so far in university. It was the first time that I’d received results and had a response that wasn’t equivalent to a shrug. I think I was used to doing well in school, so doing really well of course made me extremely happy, but only for a very short period of time. University of course is a completely different experience, and everyone you study with is just as good as you, if not better. I had pretty average grades through first year and for the start of second year, so it wasn’t until I had my final exam results that I really saw an improvement. It finally felt like my hard work was rewarded, and it has continued to spur me on today – even as I sit here with unfinished essays and an unread Paradise Lost.

2016 was the year when I re-evaluated what I wanted to do in my life, and decided that the realm of journalism isn’t quite ready for me yet. It’s where I thought about what I loved (dogs, books, chocolate), what I could probably make into a job (dogs, books), and what I could actually live off (books). After a year and a half of being a bookseller, the world of publishing seemed like the perfect fit – and getting that summer internship only heightened my excitement.

On that note, 2016 was the year in which I was promoted at my part-time job as a bookseller. It’s become my favourite job of all time, surrounded by books and brilliant people every weekend who have become friends. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, where I’ve discovered new books and authors I would normally not choose, and where I’ve seriously made use of my discount.

And 2016 was the year I went to New York with one of my best friends and saw a musical that I also first heard in 2016, which changed my life (in small, not insignificant ways). Travelling is something that I love and wish I could do more of, but constraints like money (and time off university that isn’t filled with work) hold me back. Being able to go to a place like New York was a marvel in itself, filled with awe and wonder at every turn. And to see the musical Hamilton? Just incredible. The music, the messages, and the sheer majesty of the performance made it the best musical I’ve ever seen, and I salute Lin Manuel Miranda for such an incredible piece of art.

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It’s important to find the light in the darkness, and not look back (in anger) with regret. 2016 may have been a year of bad things and terrible experiences, but there were also good things and brilliant moments that shouldn’t be swept aside with the rest of the rubbish. No, 2016 was not the best year, but it also wasn’t an insignificant, unsalvageable one.

Retail Rambles

There is nothing I can talk more about, or even complain about, than annoying customers at work. I’ve talked previously about how everyone should be forced to work in retail at some point, simply because it would hopefully eradicate the vast majority of rudeness customers seem to possess. Today, however, I want to just ramble about a few things in the day of a life of working in retail. Luckily I just work weekends, so I have a solid five days in between each couple of days where I have to deal with people that think that I’m there to serve them (which, technically, I am, but that in no means makes them my superior).

I’ve worked in a bookshop for almost a year and a half now, and I worked as a hostess and in a pub before this. Without doubt working at the bookshop is by far my favourite, and if there were only nice customers I’d have so little to complain about that I’d probably have to shut down this blog. However, there are always awful customers – people who don’t seem to realise that they will be the subject of conversation in the staff room, and every time they come back we will warn each other and most likely not be that helpful. It gets even better if the customer thinks that they’re so in the right, that they’ll demand to talk to a ‘manager’, thinking that we’ll get a telling off, when actually we’ll get our manager who will be more concerned about whether we, the employees, are alright. I had one incident where a customer gave me their surname in order for me to find a book they had ordered in, and when I couldn’t find it they said “Are you really that incompetent?”. It turned out that they had a combined surname, something like Dean-Smith, so of course it was shelved under ‘D’ and not ‘S’, as they had told me their surname was Smith. Overhearing, my manager grew so angry that, once I had found this lady’s books, he took over the transaction and told her off, not letting someone treat me badly.

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Some customers also have this strange thought that they could do my job so much better, that they are above me in intelligence as well as status. (Seriously, whoever came up with ‘the customer is always right’ clearly never worked a day in retail in their life). I had a man last Sunday knock over a huge Christmas display of all the packs of Christmas cards. I went over to see what had happened, only to see this chap just standing there among the carnage. Sighing, I bent down and started to pick everything up, and he didn’t speak until I was literally on my knees trying to gather everything around his feet (he didn’t move out of the way or even try to help). Instead of apologising, he said “Well what do you expect to happen when you display them like that?”. I then went to put everything back the way it was, to which he started telling me how I should stack them – a way in which meant you couldn’t actually see the product. I told him this, and the fact that we hadn’t had anyone have any problems with it so far, to which he continued to tell me how the proper way to do it was. I’ve had someone tell me that I rolled wrapping paper the wrong way, only to have the person buying said paper tell me that they didn’t care. This lady then told me ‘she was only trying to help’, which is so insulting I don’t even want to get into it. Never, I repeat never should you tell someone who is working how to do something if you are the customer. Just let them get on with it, and if they are doing a certain job wrong it’s down to their managers or co-workers to point it out, not you.

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It’s gotten to a point where I can sense exactly what a customer is going to complain about. An easy one is on a Sunday, where the Sunday Trading Hours law means that we can only sell for 6 hours – and we state very clearly that we open at 12 for half an hour browsing time, then start selling at 12.30. We even have signs on the door and every single till point, but still you will have customers get enraged at you -even when you say ‘it’s the law, I can’t sell it’. Responses to this have included: “stop being stupid you little girl and get on the till”, “that’s just ridiculous I’m just buying ___”, and more. A lot of people have this habit of mumbling insults and profanities, but mumbling not in a ‘to-self’ way, but loud enough that you can hear every single thing. Why people think it’s ok to be rude to an employee at a shop in this way I’ll never know.

A favourite phrase of mine that customers use is ‘can you check in the back’. Honestly, it’s just fantastic and you get to just play along. Customers think ‘the back’ is this huge, cavernous space filled with all the products you have out in display, whereas really it’s a small cupboard in which we have some Christmas stock and mothers/fathers day, valentines, and easter cards. Still, you say “of course I’ll go check in the back” and you toddle off into the cupboard and have a bit of a sit down for a couple of minutes.

But really, the reason for this ranting is not just to get it off my chest. It’s because it’s gotten to the point where I expect rudeness, and any customers who are actually nice are very unexpected surprises. We have to take on this mindset of pre-empting how a conversation can go and what a customer will complain about, going through various scenarios and trying to figure out what phrases to use which will cause the least amount of problems. For example I only say ‘yes, we should have that in stock’ rather than say how many we have in stock, because more often than not if we only find 2 out of 3 copies, the customer will demand to see the other one and complain incessantly that we can’t find it.

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But let’s end on a nice note. There are several reasons why I love my job – the copious amount of books, the odd broken chocolate item I get to eat, the cafe where I can get free tea and hot chocolate – but the thing that makes me love my job, the reason why I feel sad whenever I think of the day I’ll finally leave my job, are the people I work with. Having great work colleagues makes any job ten times better, from having someone positive to motivate you, to having someone you can rant with about customers. Nothing is better than going to work and having your colleagues ask you about your week and certain events you mentioned in passing a month ago, or having someone leave you a note so when you start your shift you have a ridiculous drawing of a reindeer wishing you good luck.

So, yes, a lot of customers can be arseholes, and there are very few customers who are kind and respectful to you. But what makes it all worthwhile are the people you meet and befriend at work, who are there ready to support you and keep your spirits high – especially in the Christmas season, where jolly goes out the window and enraged unprepared shoppers storm in looking for a book ‘with a blue cover’.

 

Guide to University: stress

Let’s talk stress.

The education system these days is built to be stressful, and my particularly secondary school excelled at creating the most stressful environment – and that was just for the end of year exams when we were 12, let along the actual GCSEs or A levels when we were 16-18. You could say that I’ve experienced a lot of stress, just as most people have, but when it comes to university it’s very different – at least, that’s what I’ve found.

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In secondary school, a lot of pressure was put on – and although I am talking from my own personal experience, from talking with people I’ve met it’s usually a guarantee that there is pressure. It was all about getting those GCSEs to get into a good sixth form, then getting good AS results to get university offers, then getting your actual A levels to get into university. There was a lot of pressure, talks about what you should be doing, and over-the-top comments about futures working at McDonalds if we didn’t revise trigonometry.

In university, I’ve found it to be very different. Instead of constant talks about exams and essays, they’re mentioned almost in passing. Oh yeah, you guys have an essay due soon, the essay titles are up online. Boom, that’s it, no more, move along, get to it. The stress isn’t put into you by others – no, instead, you are the one who will get stressed on your own. Personally, I worry about everything. Literally everything. I’m early, even when I’m late, and over-plan everything, double checking with friends about times and places and what’s happened and dress code and – god, it’s a stress just waking up sometimes (especially when I have 9ams). When it comes to exams and essays, I worry slightly in the run-up but the actual fear and anxiety doesn’t start to choke me until a month or so beforehand. It can be overwhelming, especially if you deal with anxiety on a daily basis. There isn’t any hand-holding at university, and dealing with everything on your own can be daunting. There’s no point lying and saying that really it’s all ok and you’ll be fine, because the truth is you need to work your arse off to even do average – at least, that’s how I am.

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The trick? Well, there isn’t one – and if there is a trick, then it’s different to everyone. Maybe you work better being in the library from dawn until dusk every day, or maybe you’re better at doing only half an hour every day for months upon end. I hate the library with a vengeance – even when I don’t have exams or essays coming up, just walking through the silent halls and creeping past people scribbling on paper or typing furiously at a computer freaks me out. I feel stressed whenever I try to work there, so normally I avoid it until I have to go to find books for said essays and exams.

My trick to combat stress? Take it one day at a time. I can’t work with timetables that map out my work for the next few weeks, it just makes me more stressed when I get behind schedule – and, trust me, I get behind schedule. I like to make a few lists of what I need to do for each subjects, and then each day I break them down. I pick one or two things to focus on each day. And if I don’t finish them? Not a problem, just finish it off the next day.

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Also use reward system – trust me, it’s a beautiful thing. You need restraint, yes, but if you set yourself achievable – let me just stress that again, achievable – goals that aren’t stupid like ‘write down the title’, then reward yourself at certain points. For example you could do so much as to say get halfway through an essay, or just write the introduction, yet for me I do it at the very end goal of finishing the essay. For exams it’s a more gradual process, so I of course celebrate when they’re over, but I also set mini goals throughout. Such as work through a set amount of lectures, or make all the notecards, or plan out as many practice questions as possible. Again, it’s taking one thing at a time.

I suppose university is only good for a certain mindset. If you need someone to tell you exactly what to do and when to do it, university probably isn’t for you. Hell, I’m at the end of my second year and I still haven’t been told how to write an essay. I’ve just been told not to write an ‘A level’ one, whatever that means.

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I’m not sure how helpful this guide can be, as really it’s just advice for a younger version of me as these are the tricks that work for me, but trust me when I say I can understand stress. I know how, well, stressful it is. It’s tiring just being stressed, and most days I just want to stay in bed and call in a sick day. But there’s no stopping time, no matter how hard you wish for the hands on the clock to just pause for a moment, so you just need to take it one step at a time. What’s that cliche phrase about how every marathon starts with a single step? You know the one. Think of that cliche whenever you’re stressed, and then laugh at yourself for being so cliche. Cheer yourself up with whatever cheers you up – whether that’s seeing your friends, eating copious amounts of chocolate, watching an episode of your favourite show, playing with your dog – and then tell yourself to just work a bit longer for that day. That’s all it takes. It’s a long haul, but in the end it’s worth it.

At least, I think it is. I’ll let you know next year.

Shit. Next year I finish university. Now I’m stressed. Again. Luckily I’ve just booked a trip home so I can play with my dog and take it one day at a time.

 

My time at ‘The Pub’

As promised, my tale of woe which was my time at ‘The Pub’.

At this moment in time, I have a job as a hostess at a football stadium and when I first started working this second job, it wasn’t out of necessity. My parents and I decided to go to one of the many pubs in the village that I live in for dinner – seriously, the village isn’t all that big yet we have 3 pubs and 3 churches (priorities sorted here) – but found that the main pub we use was fully booked. So we decided to walk down the road to the smaller, less commercial pub. It has one of those typical pub names, like ‘Red Lions’, ‘Rose and Crown’ or ‘Kings Head’, but for today I’m just going to call it The Pub – original, I know. We walk in and find it more or less empty, only to be greeted by an eccentric man with glasses that seem too big for his face who declares he has no room. My Dad uses a few charming words and he relents, saying that we’d have to wait a while. We sit down to order, and surprisingly it comes reasonably quickly. The customers seem friendly, all locals, and I overhear the landlady saying that they really need some help so, without thinking about it, I offer to help out. I write down my name and number on a piece of paper and that was that.

I did not see what was coming. 

My first shift, I discovered that ‘eccentric’ doesn’t even cover the landlord – who we’re going to call Frank. He doesn’t run or walk, but does this strange leaping, shuffle glide all over the place whilst wearing a discoloured netted hat. My first job was essentially a dishwasher, but I’d wash up everything and then put it into an actual dishwasher. Wait until it was done, unpack and put away – rinse, repeat. I’d be in the kitchen with at least one other, sometimes it was Frank and sometimes it was someone else. They would cook and I’d go out to deliver – also having to wear one of those checkered aprons and scratchy hats. Unfortunately Frank decided that I needed to be introduced – loudly – to every table, where he would declare ‘This is Eleanor Rigby – she’s new here!’. I swear, there is nothing worse than people actually knowing you’re new. Sure, if you mess up I’m the first to say ‘I’m so sorry, I’m new’ but when they know, they’re ready to criticise every movement you do. Not to mention that they were having Frank sing Eleanor Rigby whenever I entered the room. I’ve never wanted to hide from the world more than in those moments.

Luckily that sort of died down after a couple of weeks, but the crazy didn’t exactly end. Frank was as friendly as could be, everyone loved him, but he did every job there – waiter, bartender, cook, landlord and entertainment. For me he was like marmite, some days I loved him and the next I hated him. One day he’d tell me that I was doing really well, and the next his breath stank of gravy and his fingers were blacker than usual – on that note, one of my biggest issues with working in the pub was the food. It didn’t really click how pub food was actually made, but let me tell you that the main appliances used are the fryers and the microwaves. Fish and chips? Take them out the freezer, throw them in the fryer, put them on the plate and go. And the gravy? I get a jug, pour in a few tablespoons of instant and fill with boiling water – all which Frank insisted on taste testing, so his breath always stank of old instant gravy. When someone ordered a cappuccino, I wanted to cry as that too was instant.

Still, I kind of liked working at The Pub. My colleagues were fun and always ready to crack a joke or have a laugh. Frank wasn’t always so bad, apart from the time that there was a mouse in the kitchen and he told us to just leave it (luckily the mouse got out after a minute, but still). The only sort of sour note was the landlady, who would come down to complain to customers, yell at Frank, tell me that a strand of my hair was loose and then claim that she could leave for Scotland at any time. Unfortunately, it all went downhill pretty quickly.

It all started when I turned 18. All of a sudden, I was no longer just a dishwasher-waitress, but a dishwasher-waitress-and-legal-to-sell-alcohol. Frank announced that I was going to be put on the bar and to come for my next shift at 6.30pm to be bar trained. I was actually pretty excited, along with incredibly nervous, about finally being on the bar but I figured that it wouldn’t be too bad. Again, you can all guess that I was horrendously wrong.

It turned out that the only thing I actually knew how to use was the till, which was broken when I showed up for my shift. Frank also told me that if I needed anything he’d be in the kitchen, and so he left. Me. Alone. On. The. Bar. With no training. No clue. Not to mention that I’m a serial worrier through many years of practice and panic. There were two typical local blokes standing at the bar who had finished a day working as builders and were finishing their first pint of the night. The local alcoholic was also sat on one side of the bar, quietly drinking his beer. I was behind the bar, quietly panicking.

The two blokes then told me that they wanted a pint each, so I told them that I’d have to go get Frank to show me which of course set them off to loudly complaining and being insulting. Frank arrived, pulled a pint, and then left again. I tried to pull the second pint but ended up with a bit too much head. The bloke complained and told me that I had to redo the whole thing. Unaware that I didn’t need to completely redo the drink, I was soon met with laughter and more comments on how stupid I was being for a ‘blonde little girl’. Eventually, I sorted the drink, but by then a couple was up to the bar wanted their drinks. Frank was leaping-shuffle-gliding around the kitchen, too busy to help me. I managed to pull another pint for the man, but the woman wanted a drink I’d never heard of. I apologised and she told me, if somewhat reluctantly irritated, but I had no clue where anything was. Ready to almost burst into tears, the town alcoholic caught my attention and silently pointed to the fridge. I found the components of the drink and was ready to pour them one by one into the glass, but he stopped me with a hand up and made a motion to pour them simultaneously. I thanked him profusely and gave the couple their drinks, only for the man to tell me that I was pretty useless and that I took too long for two simple drinks.

I ended up being dismissed by Frank after thirty minutes. He stood next to the two blokes who’d been nasty to me earlier and seemed to be telling them a funny story whilst telling me to go home. ‘Look, you’re a girl who knows nothing, can’t pour a drink and I have customers – because of that I have no choice but to close the kitchen and I will have to do the bar’. He shrugged at the blokes in a ‘what am I to do’ gesture, chuckling as they laughed and drank their beers.

I don’t really care if it makes me a ‘wuss’, but I walked home with tears in my eyes and burst into tears when I got there. I worked at The Pub for the rest of the summer, but never called back again. Frank apologised after being told to by one of the cooks that had worked there for years, but I dreaded every shift that I was told to be on the bar for. My last shift was a week or so before I needed to start university, and I haven’t been back since. My word of advice? If you ever get asked to be a bartender, get proper training. Also, keep your hands and fingernails clean if you’re around food, that’s just basic hygiene.