I'm going to start off by telling you I do not make a livable wage, I've worked in retail for over 20 years and most people working retail don't. But that's a different conversation all together. I want to talk to you about what it is like to still be working in the time of the corona virus.
I work at a big box home improvement store as a kitchen designer. With the state of the economy currently I'm most definitely not essential. I think for quite some time my position won't make any money for the company because record amounts of people are uncertain about their financial futures. When this whole situation started to ramp up so did my anxiety. When I saw the early reports coming out of China, it made me anxious. I remember thinking to myself how these situations happened other places all the time but not here. This seemed different for some reason. In February I had to take a work trip to Atlanta for training. The first cases were starting to pop up here in the US. Other countries were being effected. I was so anxious flying in and out of Atlanta that week, one of the busiest airports in the US. I just kept thinking about how when they first started about AIDS the best way I ever saw it put was you weren't just sleeping with one person, you were exposing yourself to all of their previous partners. That's how this made me feel, except it was everything I touched and places I had to go were exposing me to everyone else who has passed though.
I'm a diabetic so I'm at higher risk if I get this. I live with my mother and her husband currently, they are both diabetic and over 60. I worry that if this virus comes into our home someone will die. So when things started to blow up here in the US, I told my bosses that there might be a time I would have to stop coming to work to protect myself and my family.
As more and more cases started showing up my anxiety about this was increasing. During this time I had to visit my Dr. to discover my blood pressure is high, which is something that has always been good in the past. In the last month she has increased my dosage from 25mg to 50mg to the current 100mg doseage and added a second medication to try to get it under control.
A huge part of this is because of the daily stress of coming to work. From the beginning customers didn't seem to care about the social distancing measures put in place, even though there were signs posted everywhere in our store. Almost every single customer that had a question for me walked right up into my personal space. At this point I could barely hold it together at work. I was on the verge of tears constantly. I had to take a few mental health days because I felt like I was in a living game of minesweeper, anything I come in contact with could kill me or someone in my family.
My employer has been great through this. I asked if I could switch to one of the overnight stocking positions for the time so that I could still work, but not come into contact with the great unwashed oblivious masses. They thought that was a great idea for me and let me switch immediately. They have also granted all employees 80 additional hours of sick time. Employees at higher risk could fill out a form to get an additional 80 hours on top of that, which I absolutely did. They are giving all employees working over 35 hours an additional $100 per paycheck for 4 weeks ending this week. They have been bringing food in the store to make it easier to eat while here. So I am very grateful for them for doing all this.
I know I have the sick time to use, but I fear if I use it now to try to avoid getting sick and get sick later what will I do then. I'm grateful I still have a job when so many people out there don't. Just like everyone else I have bills to pay, expensive medications I need to be able to pay for. I feel like I don't have any choice but to be here.
I'm telling you all of this so you can understand what us "essential" employees are going through. I don't remember the last day I made it through without just breaking down and crying about everything. Yet I still see whole families here "browsing" because they are bored. Because we are open because we are essential. I 100% understand we are essential. I know if my refrigerator were to die I would have nowhere to safely store my insulin. I understand that if your water heater dies you need it replaced asap. But there is not such thing as a paint or flooring emergency. I do also understand that everyone is feeling the anxiety and doing home projects to help keep your mind of the current situation. You can very easily order everything you need online and pick it up. I've heard some of the managers saying they would be happy to bring it out to peoples cars so they didn't have to come in. Please try to consider that you coming out when you don't need to could very possibly kill one of my co-workers or family members.