Oct 15, 2020, 05:27AM

When You're Running Low

Work responsibilities and everyday life now are draining enough to put us all into low power mode.

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My phone loses power quickly if it’s not constantly recharged. It started a few months ago when it’d suddenly die right in the middle of scrolling through Twitter. Now my phone is mostly plugged into either a wall outlet or laptop. At work I switch it to low power mode until I can charge it during breaks, but the battery still goes from 100 percent to 65 percent in just half an hour, even without using it.

I’m on low power mode, too. The managers have given me longer hours at work for the past month, along with more responsibilities. Even with more hours, though, there isn’t enough time to finish everything, so there are usually at least three things left undone by the end of my shift. Meanwhile, a nagging voice inside my head says, “Everyone hates you. You can’t do anything right.” Between the external and internal pressure, I crash easily.

It always starts with minor inconveniences—a toilet bowl caked in shit stains, a missing bottle of disinfectant—that soon lead to thoughts of how everyone expects me to do a million things at once. Then a manager will tell me to stop whatever I’m doing and stock milk—even though the dairy freezer is so disorganized that it’s impossible to get anything out—immediately followed by a co-worker saying there’s a broken glass jar of spaghetti sauce down one of the aisles. “Don’t fuck this up,” the voice in my head says. “If you make the slightest error, you’ve failed in life.” I hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes trying to calm down while gasping for air underneath a tight-fitting mask.

People used to say my generation—the Millennial generation—was entitled and lazy, but we’re just burned out. The economic crisis of 2008 debunked the myth that anybody could have any job they wanted right after college. After the crash, flipping burgers as an adult was no longer a failure, but an achievement. Because job security didn’t exist anymore, Millennials had to work extra hard to keep whatever employment we found. “We couldn’t just show up with a diploma and expect to get and keep a job that would allow us to retire at 55,” Anne Helen Peterson wrote last year for BuzzFeed News. “In a marked shift from the generations before, millennials needed to optimize ourselves to be the very best workers possible.”

As someone who’s been diagnosed with various mental disorders—dysthymia, anxiety, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and traumatic stress—I need to work extra hard to be the best worker possible. Every day is a struggle to find balance between working hard and staying stable. Therapy and medication help, but sometimes the workload exceeds the limits of both. Yet talking about mental health is still taboo. Critics say Millennials are snowflakes, so asking for special accommodations runs the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, even if I need those accommodations.

Society said I’d eventually outgrow all the early signs of autism—playing alone instead of with other children, bad fine motor skills, frequent meltdowns—but the symptoms have been exacerbated over time. When bullies provoked a meltdown, the teachers said, “Stop being a baby” instead of intervening. Therapy focused on ways for me to deal with situations without considering that maybe the situation itself needed changing. The overall message, as I interpreted it, was to toughen up because asking for the slightest bit of help was asking too much.

I wrote a HuffPost article a few years ago about the need for self-care, yet I keep forgetting. It’s easier to let internalized messages of worthlessness take control than to fact-check those messages. I let a never-ending tape loop of negative self-talk play in my head throughout the day, and then accuse everyone of saying the things I tell myself.

I talked to one of the managers, Matt, the other day about possibly working fewer hours to prevent more meltdowns. He said that wouldn’t be a problem, and that he’s always willing to work with me. My therapist and I are also talking about how to confront negative self-talk and recognize when I’m doing it. I hope this will help me recharge and not lose power as quickly.


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