I started my new job as an usher for live performances on Halloween. I have seen the first half of the musical Wicked eight times since then. I can not get the songs out of my head. At my polling place this morning as I was waiting in line to vote, I was singing some of the songs to my husband and people around us started to laugh. I had to tell them what my job is and that the only music I have listened to in the past two weeks is from the production. Several of the people had seen the show and others want to.
Ushering is my second job outside of writing that I have held in eight years. I worked for a day at an Amazon Warehouse, but that turned out not to be a place I could keep my symptoms at a minimum. This new job is stressful only in that I have to learn two theater’s seating charts, and one of the theaters seats almost three thousand people.
I know that sounds easy, but it isn’t easy at first, it is complicated. Each shift gets better because for instance now I am confident that the right side of the house is all even seats and the left side of the house are all odd seats. It seems simple, doesn’t it? I don’t find it simple, at least not yet. There are eight different sections to the theater, and each section has its own set of numbering. UGH! After a month, I am sure it will be second nature. It is just this first month that has me stress sweating every time I go to work because I want to do everything right and fear to make a big mistake.
Of course, I love dealing with the public. Customer service is something I have always enjoyed and the more confident I feel about the location of seats, the better customer service I can provide. I like to greet people, and chit-chat with them. I know that sounds strange because only a few weeks ago, I was writing about isolating socially. Well, for years, I did isolate socially, but now I am in the middle of the crowd smiling, laughing and talking.
I have worked hard these past seven days. I even worked three days of double shifts. I didn’t realize what I was signing up for at first, so November is more difficult than any month going forward. It is hard, and I probably won’t get a lot of writing done, but by the end of November, I should be completely familiar with the larger of the two theaters (the only one I have worked in), and that should make the job so much easier and fun. Because let’s face it, working for a theater is a fun job!
Even though I have been writing for the past few years, that is not at all the same as having a job with supervisors, co-workers, customers, etc. I answer to editors when I have an article or essay due, but for me, that isn’t every day. Also, with writing everything is online by e-mail. At my new job, I have to wear a uniform (instead of pajamas), put on make-up, take a shower, talk to people, clock in, do what is expected of me, smile, be pleasant, take direction, work as a part of a team, handle situations as they arise. And learn new information every day and adjust to that information.
There is one other huge difference between working at home and working outside of the home, my symptoms (except anxiety) are less. Of course, my anxiety is high because I am new and I am a perfectionist when it comes to jobs and school, but beyond anxiety, my symptoms of schizophrenia are less.
It turns out challenging myself and trying to reverse the damage this illness causes to the brain is a good strategy. Lack of motivation? Find an environment where you are accountable and expected to accomplish things. Isolating socially? Force yourself to be in the midst of thousands of people where you are required to laugh, talk and engage.
I know that not everyone with schizophrenia could handle a job with so much customer contact, just like I can’t do equations like John Nash, or practice law and be a professor like Elyn Saks. We are not all capable of the same things even though we have the same disease. I will say that I wish I could start a program to get all people with schizophrenia working. The jobs would be different for everyone, but I believe the benefits would be the same: an increase in self-esteem, an increase in independence, and possibly the reversal of some of the symptoms of an illness that can take so much from you.
I did cry at work once this past week because I felt overwhelmed by not being able to answer everyone’s questions and being slow to figure out where people’s seats were, but it was only once and only a little (no tears rolled down my cheeks, they stayed in my eyes).
Despite the crying, the gains from this past week are huge. After a few more weeks, I think I am going to love my job, and I will most likely be stronger, more confident, more capable, more resilient, more productive, more cultured (from seeing so many shows), healthier and happier.
Whoever said an honest day’s work is good for the soul was on to something, possibly something significant regarding schizophrenia. I have needed time to heal, rest, and be in a stress-free environment, but now, working seems like medicine the doctors forgot to prescribe me.