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Reflecting on my summer

This summer, I worked too hard. I allowed the guilt of working at an understaffed and poorly managed restaurant to get to me, and I picked up every open shift I could. At the time I thought I was doing something good for my coworkers and for my bank account. In retrospect though, the money I made was not worth it. Looking back at everything I did over the past three-ish months I realize I was turned into a zombie—an anxious, overworked and severely dehydrated zombie. Nearly every day I would work from around 11am to midnight, surviving off of my hours-old watered down iced coffee and fries I’d steal from expo when no one was looking. 

I recognized then how unhealthy my life had become, both for my physical and mental health, but I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. I became addicted to the money I made and almost addicted to working so hard I’d throw up. I barely had time to spend with my family and friends, and talking to my long distance boyfriend was becoming increasingly difficult when all I had to say of my day was how tired and stressed out I was. Despite all this, and the fact that my life became extremely empty during my months at work, I don’t necessarily regret how dedicated I was to my job. I do regret that I was so dedicated to working at a corporate restaurant that I likely didn’t care if I lived or died. The effort I put into a lot of what I do is my biggest downfall because of how quickly I burn out, and the Applebee’s in my small town did not nearly deserve my effort. 

Coming back to campus, I realized just how badly my brain had been scrambled by the constant anxiety I felt while working all summer. Even in the rare times pressure wasn’t put on me by customers, coworkers, or managers, I managed to put pressure on myself. This led to me dissociating frequently at work – on autopilot but still anxious – something I have fallen into many times before. Now it is a few weeks after my last shift and I am still trying to shake off Zombie Mia and go back to my usual self. I am halfway alive-and-well and halfway stuck in my tourist-industry-induced numbness. 

This experience taught me that I am self-sabotaging when it comes to work, but not in the quirky way people respond to interview questions about their biggest weakness. I am self-sabotaging at work to the point that it severely affects my wellbeing! While almost always overloading myself academically, this semester I am going to try to avoid recreating my summer in hopes of completely returning to my usual levels of anxiety. I will also attempt to return to my baseline of bitchiness, as working in the service industry made me both a ruthless monster and a teary-eyed child. 

I wouldn’t wish the type of summer I had on anyone. I know now that money isn’t worth my happiness, and I am lucky to have the privilege to step away from 60-hour work weeks. Not everyone has that luxury! I know firsthand how much of a toll this amount of work takes on a person—which is yet another reason why we must raise the federal minimum wage so people don’t have to work three jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. 

 

I hope sharing my unhealthy relationship with work this summer reminds readers to tip their servers and bartenders a minimum of 20 percent  and not to yell at them ever. (The times I was yelled at left me in tears. There are ways to solve problems without screaming at someone.) Service workers deserve respect and if you don’t give that to them you are irredeemable in my eyes. 

Finally, if any of you find yourself struggling with overworking, do not let yourself get to the point I allowed myself to get to this summer. Eat three meals a day, drink water and take breaks without guilt —we ALL deserve time to be more than just students or workers. I know how easy it is to slip into unhealthy habits, especially at a school for self-proclaimed overachievers. If you need to talk to someone contact the Brandeis Counseling Center (bcc@brandeis.edu; 781-736-3730) or outside counseling if it is available to you.

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