To the cashier who realized I was having a panic attack,
First off, let me say this. Bravo!
While I understand working retail can be a crazy and fast-paced job (because I have worked retail jobs before too), I can only image the obscene things people must say to you, or the jaw-dropping scenes you must witness from time to time. Nobody is perfect, but sometimes shopping, especially Christmas shopping, can bring out the worst in us.
It’s hard enough for anyone shopping in big box realtor stores with cramped aisles and crowds of people, it’s even worse when you have social anxiety that stems from your PTSD.
Loud noises, screaming, booming chatter, and buzzing P.A. systems are overwhelming to the senses. They’re even more overwhelming when they set off triggers. But as much as I try to avoid these uncomfortable, cramped and packed places, I still need to venture to them every once and awhile.
Dreadfully, even during Christmas time.
On this fateful day, sitting in the parking lot, watching the waves of people coming and going into the store, car horns beeping and people pushing carts all over the place, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy trip.
So, I mediated in my car for five minutes and finally took a deep breath as I headed inside.
I was immediately triggered two minutes later when some lady started screaming at one of your sales associates because you were sold out of some mundane item.
But I kept a brave face, trying to stay focused on the list I made, as I quietly made my way through the store. Toothpaste? Check. New black socks? Check. Cat food? Check.
What should have taken fifteen minutes of shopping on a regular day, ended up being an hour and a half of wading through large crowds and trying to avoid packed aisles. But I kept taking deep breaths, trying to stay focused on the task at hand.
But it was too hard. The upset customers, the loud chatter, the constant buzzing of announcements over the radio, the too-loud Christmas music playing in the background, it was all too much.
So by the time I placed my five measly items down on your line, my hands were trembling and my lungs were restricting.
The lady in front of me was complaining to her husband about how crazy the crowds were and the devil on my shoulder couldn’t help but be smug. Lady, you have no idea!
I was barely able to comprehend your words when you finally greeted me when my items scrolled up to you on the line. “Hi there! How are you today?”
By this point, the fear was all-consuming. Sweat was rolling down my spine, my lungs were burning, tears were threatening to fall down my face and I was gritting my teeth hard to keep myself either screaming or crying, trying to quell the nerves that were screaming at me, RUN!
“Fine, thanks.” I mumbled quietly, keeping my eyes averted and digging around in my purse aimlessly while you checked in my items. In those two minutes it took you to scan them, I was already feigning feelings of guilt, terror, and embarrassment. I hated that I was having a panic attack in public. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t greet you or talk to you like a “normal” person. And I felt defeated that after three straight weeks of “good days” I was having another panic attack.
I can’t exactly remember how much the total came to but I remember hauling out the twenty dollar bills and handing them to you.
But what happened next changed everything.
As you placed the receipt and my change in my palm, you gently gripped my fingers and leaned over the cash to come face to face with me. At first I was terrified, half-expecting you to yell at me, but then you’re soft eyes and gentle smile stilled my racing heart.
“It’s ok,” you whispered, “I know what you’re going through. You’re going to be ok.”
The interaction was so brief that I thought I even imaged it. But you offered me the slightest of a nod before bouncing back to stand up straight, plastering on your customer-perfected smile.
“Thanks! Have a great day now!”
Your words didn’t settle in until I was sat in my car again, staring at the cash and receipt I still held in my hand.
My heart was still pounding, my head was still spinning, and my eyes were still threatening pools of tears, but for the briefest of moments, just as fleeting as your words, I felt a small ray of hope.
Your words may have stunned me, but they also offered something greater.
You offered me hope because you showed me compassion.
And for the first time in over five years, even though I was still slightly embarrassed, I felt understood by someone other than my family and friends.
A complete stranger acknowledged and accepted my illness.
As much as I try to hide my deep struggles with my illness from people, especially strangers, for the first time ever, I felt a small victory.
You didn’t brush me off or look at me like I was another crazy customer about to cause a scene. You saw something different. You saw someone struggling and in that moment, you were brave enough to offer a helping hand rather than to turn a blind eye.
Maybe you think your actions were nothing of importance, but they were meant everything to me. For a moment, you helped break the stigma of mental illness. You made a difference for someone. You made a difference for me.
One small step for a struggling customer, one giant leap for mental health rights.
So to the cashier who realized I was having a panic attack,
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I don’t know your name and I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again (And really, I was so out of focus that I don’t really remember your face), but I am sure glad we crossed paths that day. I’m so thankful you offered compassion when I felt like I was falling off the edge.
For a brief moment, you changed my world and I hope you continue your quiet championship in helping others as well.
So once again I say thank you!
And I hope you didn’t have to deal with too many more “crazy” customers during the holiday madness.
A girl just like you.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.