Anxiety is Like Air

When they offered to shift me to part-time, I leapt at it.  I was oversocialized, so less socialization would fix the problem.  I didn’t hate the job, I just hated having to do it 40 hours a week. Like many things, it seemed like a good idea.

And then.

Then it took three weeks to get my schedule change approved, and the schedule I ended up with was not the one I had anticipated.  Right before it went into effect, we had a two-day training course on a new software program that promised to fix a lot of the problems we had with the current system.  In fairness, it would fix a lot of the problems with the current system, and it would make our jobs a lot easier – when it worked correctly. When it wasn’t frustratingly slow, or on the verge of crashing.  Someone had decided that it would be a good idea to program what was essentially a huge database interface program in Javascript, and I don’t know whether it was just inherently unstable because Java, or our machines didn’t have the RAM to be able to handle the demands we were making on it, but whatever the reason, it couldn’t quite do it, and when it did, it managed it very slowly.

The first thing to suffer was my handle time, even though the new system was supposed to improve it.  Suddenly I wasn’t getting my handle time bonus any more.  (And somehow the fact that we were told “not to worry” about our handle time for the first week in the new system didn’t trickle down to our pay being unaffected.)

Meanwhile, the corporate drones had decided that the way I made offers was insufficient, even though I’d picked up the style from everyone around me.  Somehow no one else had to change their offer style, but I did.  Again, this impacted my handle time, and my sales stats, as did the fact that the new system wasn’t set up to process multiple offers as quickly and smoothly as the old one did.

On top of this, call center management had been working to make sure that everyone in the center was trained to perform the specialized customer service for a targeted queue of customers.  I’d had this training right before I went on the floor, so I’d been working with this group for nearly the entire time I’d been on the phones.  Generally speaking, these were good customers who’d been with the company at least the full length of a contract, and frequently much longer. Some of them were entitled assholes (if I had a nickel for every time someone used their length of service as a reason that I should do whatever thing they wanted from me….) but most of them really were good customers of the sort who paid their bills on time and understood how the system worked, and what I could and could not do.  The argument was that they wanted everyone in the center trained, so that we could be a dedicated center that handled only these customers.  They were better customers, the handle time was longer, the offers were plentiful and the bonus scale was higher.  It was a win for everyone involved.  And then, they started putting everyone in both the special queue and the regular queue.  Without warning.  For the first few days, they told us that it was just because of the holidays, there were fewer people available for the main queue, and so on. Then we found out that we would be double-queued until the end of February.  Then, the end of March.  Then, indefinitely.   (And all this before we got to the end of February.)  Also, the number of calls you received in a given queue seemed entirely arbitrary, and the bonus you were paid out was dependent on the number of calls you took per queue.  The other day, I heard the reaction as a five-year veteran who’d been in the special queue for most of that time discovered that she’d taken more calls in the main queue and might be getting the (significantly) lower bonus payout.  Or maybe not.  No one was quite sure.

And then there were the customers.  As I said, while there were a few entitled assholes, most of the customers in the specialized queue just wanted their problems fixed, or to be handed up the food chain until they found someone who could fix them.  In the main queue, I ran into customers who just wanted to complain.  For 45 minutes.  While refusing to let me transfer them to someone who might be able to fix their problem.  Who, when asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” had no actual answer.  (“Go back in time and make it not have happened,” perhaps.)  We were not allowed to end a call with a customer for any reason, and if the customer hung up with their issue unresolved and were surveyed, it would impact our pay negatively unless we’d followed the call flow like grim death, no matter how inappropriate it was.  (Does the system show that they’d called before?  You have to ask them if it’s about the same issue, even if they interrupt the beginning of the call with, “This is the 600th time I’ve called about this today!”  You have to make an offer even if they’re sobbing about their dead parent/spouse/child as they call to disconnect the line.)

They also started taking away our “soft” tools, places where we could send customers with issues that couldn’t be resolved.  Essentially, everything they’d given me when I hit the floor to make my job easier (or even doable) was taken away over the course of the month of February.

Meanwhile, there was the shift bid.  Everyone in the center had to re-bid for their schedules, with no guarantee that they’d get a schedule even remotely like their original one.  There was no option to stay put, no option to bid “any days of the week within these hours,” no option to bid “no starting before x time” or “no ending after y time.”  More than half of the schedules available had start times before 7 AM, and some as early as 4 AM.

Can I tell you how much of a morning person I am not?

(Can I also tell you how ludicrous I find this insistence that people in West Coast call centers operate on East Coast time?  This is not the first one I’ve seen like this, and our call center closes for the night at 10 PM Pacific, which means that people on the East Coast could reach a live person until 1 AM but people who live in our state couldn’t talk to one after 10.  But that’s another rant.)

Fortunately, I had excellent stats for the months in question, and I ended up getting my first schedule pick.  For me, though, that was just the first step.  The next thing I had to do was re-apply for a schedule modification (like the one I just went through, that took three weeks?).  Feeling like I’d learned from the first time, I offered three different variations for my schedule, and mentioned that I wouldn’t work weekends.

Having one day a week with Jack just wasn’t enough time.  I felt like we were always rushing to get things done.  More, though, my anxiety was expanding, like air, to fill the available space.  I worked Saturday, had Sunday off, and worked Monday, which meant that Sunday was spent alternatively trying to recover from my stress-filled workday and getting keyed up over having to do it all over again the next day.  In the middle of all that, I was trying to be a loving and supportive girlfriend, helping him adjust to the new job and the new dress code and all of his accompanying stress, and trying to be more together than I probably really was.  (Most of that, I suspect, was an attempt to convince myself that I was okay, because I felt bad enough only being able to work two days a week; what kind of loser was I if I couldn’t even manage that?) Tuesday I spent recovering from Monday, which gave me Wednesday and Thursday to be productive before Friday started the nasty cycle all over again.

Mostly, it was a recipe for disaster.

Disaster dawned bright and early on Saturday, after having forced myself to go to work, even though I didn’t want to.  I was coming to the slow and total realization that I hated my job.  (Probably not a surprise to anyone but me.)  This was the same sort of dull, sick feeling that I’d had years before, at the job that I’d lost due to Hurricane Isabel.  I reminded myself that losing that job was a blessing in disguise, because it helped me get free of Isabel altogether.

I was running a little late, for various reasons, so I arrived minutes before my shift was due to start, and coincidentally at the same time as one of my teammates.  He told me that at the team meeting on Wednesday, they’d announced a sudden and strict adherence to an old policy mostly notable in its neglect: there would be no more than two personal items allowed on your desk, and there would be absolutely no reading, knitting, or doing anything else while on the floor.

This stunned me.

There were times when the only thing that had kept me calm, functional, and in my seat had been the ability to focus on my knitting between calls.  I picked it up when I was talking to particularly aggravating customers.  I clutched it like a miniature, hexagon-shaped life raft during panic attacks.  My knitting allowed me to keep it together.  Eight hours without it, and without anything else to do in between calls?


I didn’t even log in.  I went over to talk to my manager, who’d been supportive and helpful during the whole ordeal.  She verified that it was true, and didn’t blink an eye when I handed her my badge.  On top of that, she told me as I filled out my resignation, they had denied my schedule modification.

I’d been planning to give two weeks’ notice when I walked away, like a good corporate drone.  I hope you can understand why I couldn’t.

And you know what?  Jack and I ended up having a fantastic weekend together.

I’m very glad I quit.

Now, it’s just a matter of getting the anxiety to stop expanding to fill the available space, and I’m working on that.  Right now, I’m not okay.  I have moments of okay, and those moments are getting bigger; I have moments (and days) of not-okay, when I feel like I’ve spent eight hours doing not very much indeed.  I have to take every milestone, every accomplishment, no matter how small.  Yesterday I baked bread (scored a bread machine at the thrift store, 50% off of $20), made dinner, did the laundry.  Today I did some grocery shopping, washed dishes, repaired a hole in one of Jack’s socks, talked to friends online.  Wrote this blog post, which is a triumph all by itself.  Tomorrow will probably be similarly small triumphs.  Small triumphs, one day at a time, until I can manage the big ones.  Until I did the dishes is not a triumph at all.

Wish me luck.


~ by Amber on February 29, 2012.

2 Responses to “Anxiety is Like Air”

  1. [HUGS]

    “I did the dishes” is so an accomplishment right now [eyes sink guiltily]. You are not alone and it will get better.

  2. Good Luck.
    I wish you well, & it sounds like quitting was the right thing to do.

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