Meltdowns make us human!

“Narrative is everywhere that human beings are” (Abbott, 2002)

Putting on the brave face can sometimes be the only way to get yourself through the day. However, there are days where being strong and concealing your emotions to make it to the end of a working day are just not an option. We are human, we have emotions and it’s those moments where you have a little meltdown and you’re at breaking point that you remind yourself you’re human!

This need to suppress our emotions can be explained by the term “emotional labour”. This term was coined by American sociologist Arlie Hochschild who in her 1983 book, “The Managed Heart”, wrote emotional labour is ‘the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display’ requiring one ‘to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others’. I think we’ve all experienced it multiple points of our lives, some probably more than others. Most commonly it occurs in the workplace. I have worked in a retail assistant role for just over 2 years now, and although the experience and lessons I’ve learnt whilst being in the position have been rewarding, I often question if the “emotional labour” is worth it.

2020 has brought many challenges for us all, a prominent one being having to adapt to balancing the work/uni/home life through COVID. As mentioned by Wheeler and Gunasekara “the responses required to contain the spread of the virus have obliterated the boundaries that conventionally separate work from the rest of our lives.” We’ve all had to re-evaluate the concept of work-life balance. How do you make time for it all? Well sometimes you just can’t! It’s ok to take a minute to pause and take moment for yourself, and this is exactly what I had to do a month ago at work when that brave face just wasn’t enough. The week my little “meltdown” happened was a rough one. I had overworked myself and although I thought I could push out to make it to the end of my shift, I found it was this “emotional labour” and hiding how I really felt which made me feel so burnt out in the first place!

One minute I was doing fine and assisting customers throughout the store, the next thing I know I’m  hiding at the back of the store crying in our kids section. How ironic! Having a big baby sook in the kids section!

(Image found on giphy.com)

My manager came to ask me a question and saw the mess I was in. As I’m very close with my manager, I have and continue to be very honest and open about things going on in my life with her, so she was more than understanding of my little breakdown. Instantly, she grabbed my belongings and told the other staff she’d be gone for about an hour, she was dropping me home. I live 30 minutes away from my work so she really went out of her way to take me home. Having an in depth debrief/discussion on the drive home with her was really helpful, she is like a big sister to me. Having a mature adult role model listen to your story and give you advice is so valuable.

Bronwen Thomas in Narrative: The basics (2016) explains “Narratives don’t just entertain us, therefore, but educate, inform and persuade us, affecting our actions and interactions with one another in all manner of ways.” In that moment I was able to reflect that maybe I was overworking myself, physically and emotionally. The transformative lessons I take away from this experience can be explained with the concept of “quest narrative”. ‘The quest narrative tells self-consciously of being transformed; undergoing transformation is a significant dimension of the storyteller’s responsibility’(Frank 1995: 118). Looking back to that day, I can definitely say it was the catalyst for me to make a change in my jam packed weekly schedule. It made me realise the impact of what overworking was doing to me physically and mentally.

Although physical and mental health definitely align with each other, when you’re physically unwell however it may be a lot easier for others to notice, hence the great importance on having a chat to someone when mentally/emotionally you aren’t feeling so great. Moving forward, now I feel I’ve worked on learning to not bottle up or conceal my emotions especially in the workplace. It wasn’t healthy! We aren’t robots, we are living, breathing, feeling human beings. We all have both good days and bad, accepting that and reminding ourselves that both are ok is so important. At the same time as understanding this about ourselves, it also applies to how we treat others around us. You don’t always know if it’s a good or a bad day for someone else either!

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(Image found on giphy.com)

References:

Abbott, H. Porter (2002) The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Cambridge University Press, 218 p.

Frank, A. (1995) The Wounded Storyteller. Body, Illness and Ethics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Giphy (2020) https://giphy.com/

Hochschild, A. (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, Berkeley: University of California Press.  [Google Scholar]

Thomas, B (2016) Narrative: The Basics, The Basics, Routledge, London, https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1102871

Wheeler, M. and Gunasekara, (2020) Forget Work-Life Balance – It’s All About Integration In The Age Of COVID-19. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/forget-work-life-balance-its-all-about-integration-in-the-age-of-covid-19-137386

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