In August of last year, I finally got a new job after nearly a year of looking. I was hired as a cashier at a local Goodwill store. I’ve never been a retail cashier, but I have worked at Goodwill and I think that helped me get the job. Not surprisingly, this was a stressful position for me. Having lots of people waiting in line, staring at me and sometimes getting frustrated with the wait, on top of having to be friendly and social while stressed, was difficult. Goodwill gets very busy at times, and it was made worse by the fact that we were short several cashiers due to firings and transfers to another store.
To add to the stress, the staff shortage meant I was being scheduled for too many hours, which resulted in me earning too much money. I can only make a certain amount each month and still retain my disability benefits. When I am job hunting, it is always a dilemma for me in terms of whether to disclose this issue during the interview process. While Goodwill is very supportive of hiring people with disabilities, the stigma still exists and I’m hesitant to broadcast that I’m mentally ill before people get to know me. In this case, I had followed this strategy. So, the managers did not know I could only work a certain number of hours. They just thought I preferred part-time work, and that scheduling me for more hours temporarily wouldn’t be an issue. Worrying about losing my disability benefits just added to the already intolerable stress of being a cashier.
I was at a point where I was clear I couldn’t continue in this situation. I was quite relieved when, three months after starting the job, an opening came up for a “store clerk” in the same store. I told my manager about my disability, and that I was making too much money. I used this to justify my need to change jobs, rather than saying I couldn’t handle the stress. The store clerk position pays fifty cents an hour less than the cashiers earn. She was supportive, made it clear she didn’t want to lose me as an employee, and agreed to give me this position and limit my hours to twenty-six per week.
The role of store clerk is to stock the clothing on the racks, assist customers at the jewelry counter, clear the clothing from the fitting rooms, and keep the store looking nice (I spend a lot of time picking clothing off the floor and re-hanging it). It’s an active job. I’m constantly moving around. I used to wear my Fitbit activity tracker to work, and it was common for me to walk five miles on the concrete floors during my shift. Early on, when I left work I could barely walk because my feet hurt so badly. I’ve gotten used to it since then and my feet only hurt a little when I leave work.
So, about a year and a half after our big move to Florida, I finally felt settled into a job that works for me. It was a long haul, but I am relieved and glad to not have to worry about this anymore. It is helpful to have structure, social contact, and most importantly more income.
Soon after I began working at Goodwill, in September 2017, we had our first major hurricane since we had moved to central Florida. The weather people start following potential storms way early, so we had plenty of time to prepare. About six days before the actual hurricane was supposed to hit, all the stores in town were out of bottled water and other supplies. Hurricane Irma was predicted to hit our town sometime on Sunday, so my mom and I spent Saturday moving her plants from the yard to the carport area, under a roof. That afternoon we packed some clothes and our dog, Otis, and went to our friend Betty’s house.
We added Otis to our family in December 2017. He’s a young Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier mix. He’s very cute and energetic. Anyway, we went to stay at Betty’s house because her home is more secure in the event of tornadoes. Betty has a dog also, a year older than Otis, named Jojo. Jojo and Otis did well together while we were there, considering Otis is very playful with other dogs and Jojo is, not so much.
We started following Hurricane Irma’s progress on Sunday, as it moved toward Florida and changed in intensity. It was very windy and rained heavily all day and evening. At one point we got a tornado warning for our area and had to huddle in the hallway, which was scary for a bit. Of course, with two dogs, we had the joy of taking them outside in the storm to go to the bathroom. Both dogs hate rain, so our trips outside were brief. It was cute though, that Betty had two little doggie rain jackets which we put on them. At about three a.m. or so Irma came through central Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. Betty and I were both still up at that point, but my mom had gone to bed. I think the stress and tension had drained her, and she just needed a break.
I didn’t have to work on Sunday or Monday, as Goodwill closed due to the hurricane. On Monday we went home to assess the damage. We had learned from a neighbor who stayed home through the storm that our neighborhood had lost power on Sunday. We saw why when we got close to home. There were trees down along the street next to our entrance, and electrical wires were down. The only entrance to our community was flooded and impassable, so we had to drive through an empty lot to get into the community. We finally got near our home, passing several others that had roofs ripped off. My mom cried with relief when she saw that our home had only minimal damage to some trim around the roof. We were very fortunate!
Our neighborhood was without electricity for a week after the storm, so we stayed with Betty during that time. I think we got through the whole experience well, all things considered. It was stressful and scary at times, but we were lucky (again) to have Betty. It would have been worse had we come home the day after the hurricane and had no power for a week. We were very glad to have someplace cool to go…our neighbors had to deal with the heat and humidity of September in Florida without air conditioning. I was quite happy to get through our initiation to Florida hurricanes. It was something I had been nervous about when we made the decision to move.
(Continued in Part Three)