A Year of Mindfulness – 39 – Others

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

‘Twas week 39 of the mindfulness challenge, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse!

Did you like my attempt to get myself feeling a little more Christmassy? No?

Me neither.

Seriously though – prepare yourself for storytime this week!

Week 39 brought the mindful of ‘others’ week – I had to bring mindfulness into my interactions with other people. Not just friends and colleagues, but everybody I interacted with. I was to pay attention to their expressions, mannerisms and the way they interacted with me, and practice mindfully listening to what they say. The idea was that my interactions this week would be more thoughtful and I would be less on ‘autopilot’ going through them.

This one was a really interesting one. It fell during the early weeks of lockdown 2.0 in November 2020, so I wasn’t leaving the house much to interact with other people. However there was one day where I went to run errands and I knew I’d come into contact with a lot of people, so figured I’d make the most of this task then. Cue story time!

With everything going on at this point, I was feeling desperately under the weather. I really didn’t feel up to doing everything I had to do this particular day, but I forced myself out, thinking it might shift my mood a little. I ended up having a really nice chat with the supermarket cashier, who told me about her life and what it’s like working in the supermarket during yet another lockdown. It was only a short, brief, encounter but it actually brightened my day and left me feeling a little less grey. As I was driving home, I thought to myself that maybe when I’m feeling like this, what I actually need is to get out and speak with people, even though it’s the last thing I want to do.

On my way home, I had to stop to post a parcel and buy some meat from the local butcher. I really don’t like eating meat, I was doing well on my venture towards vegetarianism and eventually veganism, but this year has caused me to fall well and truly off the wagon. I’m just rolling with it – it’s hard enough to cope with everything going on without punishing myself further, but it’s something I will rectify in 2021.

Anyway, like many others this year, we wanted to make more of a conscious effort to shop local than we already did, so we decided to start buying meat from the butcher. Well, as daft as it may sound, I’ve never been in a butchers before! I had no idea how it all worked. This particular butcher has been rude to me before when I’ve popped my head in walking past with my dog, I’d only popped my head in to ask a question and he just glared at my dog and answered me abruptly before glaring back at my dog again (which was not in his shop or causing any harm to anybody). In hindsight now, I’m like, WHY were we choosing to support him?! I just put it down to him maybe having a bad day. You never know what somebody’s going through and all that.

So I wandered in, and was met with quite a defensive stance and asked “what do you want?”. I was already feeling pretty anxious, and shocked by the abrupt tone, I replied “I’m looking to buy some meat.” He looked at me as if to say ‘no shit, Sherlock’ and I realised he was asking what meat I wanted. I quickly became overwhelmed with what the hell I was supposed to ask for, how much I needed, what I was supposed to do, etc. I was caught off guard and had wanted to buy some steak as a treat, but how much is enough for two people? How can he possibly know how much we like to eat? Why had I not figured this out before coming in?! It was all just a bit overwhelming and I panicked, so began to mumble and waffle a bit. He practically shouted at me that he couldn’t hear me, and when I was toying with which steak to get, he asked “well which one is it?!” His tone and demeanour was just so aggressive that I felt like a child being told off for doing something wrong. Except I wasn’t a child and I had done nothing wrong! Of course, as I write this now I know it’s no big deal, but then, it made me feel so small and insignificant, and with the way I was already feeling, well, I was close to tears.

Maybe I am a butcher’s worst nightmare not knowing exactly how to ask for what I want, but from the minute I walked in, everything I said was met with a snarky or sarcastic response, as though I was inconveniencing him. I ordered two steaks, which was met with a hostile, sarcastic expression and “yeah, but how much do you want?”, at which point I became more anxious because I was secretly hoping that ‘two’ might be a sufficient quantity in butcher terms. Naturally, it wasn’t (and I still don’t know what is?). I asked a few questions in an attempt to order quickly and cause less inconvenience, which somehow created the opposite effect, and pissed him off more. I even wondered if he had perhaps mistaken me for somebody who has been in previously and caused trouble, or something like that. I thought it was quite a strange attitude from a small business owner, and I was cursing myself for not just buying meat in the supermarket where I’d just been, saving everybody the trouble.

If it were any other day that I was feeling like my usual self, I’d have walked out. But I was feeling so vulnerable, that I was almost in tears at this point (my go-to reaction whenever I’m feeling shit) and it felt like such an ordeal. I got everything ordered and pacified myself with the fact that I was almost out of there and never had to go in there again, when he tells me he doesn’t accept card payments, so I had to get cash from the cash machine in a nearby post office.

I’m almost out of there and in the clear. All good so far, right?

Wrong.

The cash machine wasn’t working.

I tried three times with three different cards, and it just would not work. Someone else also tried and it didn’t work for them, so I figured it was a problem with the machine. Ordinarily, my first thought would be to go straight into the post office and ask if I could withdraw cash there, but because I was panicking about how to potentially have to tell the butcher that I couldn’t withdraw any cash, I called James in a frenzy and told him I’d explain why later, but could he bring some cash down to me ASAP. Because he is an angel husband sent from above, and also because he was working from home, he was able to come straight to the rescue.

I decided to use this time to post my parcel, and hide for as long as possible from the butcher. I explained to the cashier that the cash machine wasn’t working and he might want to put a sign on it to warn others. He gave me a look as though I’d just punched his child in the face, and advised me point-blank that “it was working this morning.” Jesus fucking christ what is with people today?! Honestly, by this point, I was so done with these shitty attitudes that I just glared back at him, thinking how upset I felt that I had encountered two really rude people in one day while feeling like shit already and having not wanted to go out in the first place. The thought made me begin to tear up, and I just wanted to get the hell home.

In avoidance of saying anything and bursting into tears, I shrugged at him and waited for my receipt, at which point he demanded I take him to the machine and show him exactly what the problem was. He told me once again that it was fine this morning, and asked me had I tried it more than once. I wanted to chin him. I explained that I’d tried three times, with three different cards, and somebody else behind me had also tried, it wasn’t working. Still looking at me like I was a piece of shit, he goes to the machine, presses a few buttons and tries it out. And of course, what happens? It works. Of course it does.

He looked at me once again, as if to say “See – no problem”, and I made some ridiculous remark about how typical it was and scurried away from him as fast as I could, because honestly, by this point, I was getting angry as well as upset. James turns up then, takes one look at me with tears ready to fall down my mask, and demands to know what’s going on. I told him I’d tell him when we got home, and I went back to finally pay the butcher. I felt drained.

The butcher at this point, seems to have noticed I’m on the verge of tears and miraculously starts being lovely, saying “you didn’t have to get your husband, I could have just let you go and you could drop the money in later”. At this point, I was so drained from the adrenaline and ups and downs of everything, that I smiled and thanked him before heading to my car where I finally broke down in sobs. I’d finally cracked.

In normal circumstances, this would have been nothing more than a mere annoyance. I’d have actually given a little attitude back to both men, called them out for being unnecessarily hostile and rude, and not given it a second thought. I can’t stand bad manners and rudeness, but I can give as good as I get, especially when I get on one. But the way I was feeling about life in general during this week meant that this whole outing left me in hysterical sobs, like somebody had opened the floodgates and there was no way to stop it all flooding out.

I wished I hadn’t gone out after all, and that I had just saved the trip for another day. But then I remembered the really lovely chat I’d had with the lady in the supermarket, and I remembered that it’s not those people being rude that’s the problem, it’s just my inability to cope with it at present. You get nice people, and you get not-so-nice people.

But is it really as simple as that?

I think there’s a middle ground. Of course, this was a tremendous overreaction on my part due to how I was feeling, but even if I wasn’t feeling the way I was, those two interactions would still have left me feeling negative. I tried to reason with myself that maybe those two men were going through something in their personal lives, but they have been rude on several occasions now. If I were ever that rude to people in any of the jobs I’ve worked in, I’d lose my job. When you work in customer service, it’s kind of a given that you are remotely pleasant. OK, we all have down days, and we all have to deal with idiots from time to time, I’m not saying the customer is always right, but there’s a difference between the customer being a dick and just trying to run some errands. You don’t have to go out of your way to be awful.

So week 39 of the mindfulness challenge was unfortunately not an overly pleasant one. I tried to be aware of mannerisms and listening to what people had to say and the way they interacted with me, but it was too stressful this time. And to be honest, I couldn’t wait to no longer have to interact with people and get home to the safety of my home. Though I am still grateful to the lovely lady in the supermarket!

Be kind people, or if you can’t be kind then don’t be unkind, it really isn’t difficult.

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