BECOMING A SALES ASSISTANT
The job that I have now is my second proper job. When I started I was nervous that it would end the same way my last job did – getting fired for being ill when I was in hospital. Plus, I knew working in retail would challenge the social difficulties that I have because of my dyspraxia. When I started, it was only a part time job during the week, so I was introduced to this environment when it was at it’s quietest.
However, it was still a challenge. I would go home exhausted from the day of interacting with customers. This was due to two things I believe. The first being, it takes me longer to process new information and learn new systems. This meant that, whilst other new sales assistants were able to remember where everything was and what to do, I was left lost not being able to remember what clothes we had or the procedures we had to go through to make the sale.
There was also the fact that I had to use a lot more energy and concentration to be able to talk to new people. Knowing what to say and when is difficult when my thought processes are slower. Some customers were patient with me and others would think I had no idea what I was talking about since it took me longer to get the words out. This all culminated in me sleeping whenever I was not at work and feeling physically, mentally and emotionally drained when I was at work.
It took me a while to confess to my employer that I had Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. I am very fortunate that my employer is patient! With each fail he was always understanding and willing to give me another chance. The reason I decided to tell him why I had such great difficulties with some things was because my failures were adding up fast.
Of course, when I did, it was a mess. I had rehearsed what I was going to say, but when I was in front of my employer and had his full attention, my mind went blank. Only random words popped up and I couldn’t remember how they connected to what I said. My employer told me to take my time. Slowly, I started to remember what I wanted to say, but it was coming out in the wrong order. I knew I was confusing him.
Slowly but surely, I have been telling him bits and pieces about how my dyspraxia affects me in the workplace. Part of the reason I have been finding it difficult is because I know some people don’t believe there is something “wrong” with me. I have learnt how to blend in and not bring attention to my difficulties.
Maybe I should ask him to read this since my writing is more succinct than my speech (if you’re reading this Mr. Boss, I really do appreciate all of your patience and the faith you have in my abilities. Thank you.).
TYPICAL CLUMSY CHILD
I had never really experienced any of the usual effects of dyspraxia since the verbal side is what I’m actually bad at, but once I got onto the floor of a retail shop, this changed. I had to move around more which meant that I was walking into rails and unfortunate customers. At first I thought it was just a phase, maybe my hormones affecting my spatial awareness, but three years on and I am still reeking havoc.
Something else that I wasn’t used to was losing my balance and falling into things. It usually happens when I am turning around. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because my inner ear reacts too much to the motion. Once I have turned around, I feel myself slowly falling to one side like I am an extra from Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and then having to find the closest solid object to push myself upright again.
At work there are two sets of stairs on the shop floor. For some reason my dyspraxia has decided to make me the clown of the shop by tripping me on my way up the stairs. At first my colleagues were concerned when this happened (I make an impressive bang when falling), but now, we are all used to it and have a good laugh about the gravitational pull the stairs have on me. Luckily my colleagues haven’t realised how much I fall or walk into things, I don’t want to give too much laughing material in one go.
LEARNING THE TILL
Somehow I was making a good impression on my employer. He started to give me more responsibilities starting with learning the till. Luckily I have used computers for a lot of my life so, using the keyboard was something that I could do, although, I do make a few mistakes when trying to go faster and probably scare the customers when I growl at myself and hit my head after trying to key in the style number for the third time! When at the till I can be slower since my eyes take longer to focus from the computer screen to the item style number and back again. This is something that I have recently noticed. When under pressure to read the style number and then look at the computer, it can take a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and see the computer screen in focus. Not helpful when there is a queue of customers waiting to pay.
When there are a lot of people waiting to pay, two people usually do the till. One person to key in the right things at the till and another person to take the security tag off and fold the clothes. This is another area that I am slower at than my colleagues. I don’t have the dexterity when folding the clothes and putting them into the bag. It can be embarrassing when the customer has paid and received their receipt and are now waiting for me to fumble my way through trying to put their new item neatly into the bag. Sometimes they take the item from me and do it themselves. This makes me feel like a bigger failure.
After I had learnt the till, it was time for the next big step. I was given the key so that I could do openings. This was an exciting and petrifying new experience. I was so happy that I was being entrusted with this, but also nervous at the prospect of being the one in charge in the morning (even if it was only for an hour). This became a bigger responsibility as my employer slowly increased the amount of hours I was left in the morning, always checking in to see how everything was going.
BECOMING ASSISTANT MANAGER
I guess I proved my self capable because in the new year, my employer asked me if I was interested in becoming Assistant Manager. This was the biggest step and I knew I couldn’t say no to the offer. Although working in a clothes shop challenges my dyspraxia in ways that are always mentally and physically exhausting (I am also one of those people against consumerism – it’s very conflicting), I knew that learning how to be assistant manager with a manager and employer who are supportive and understanding, was something that would be rare to come by.
So, I said I wanted to be assistant manager with enthusiasm and I got to work. My enthusiasm slowly waned though. I started to become insecure with my ability as I tried to stay on top of my responsibilities. It wasn’t because I was given too many responsibilities. Both my manager and employer were slowly giving me new responsibilities as I became more efficient with the ones that I had. I became insecure because I was stressing myself with thoughts that I needed to be doing more to be a better assistant manager. It didn’t help my insecurities that some of my colleagues seemed to be doing a better job of being assistant manager when they were still sales assistants.
Before I could fully settle into this new role, I had a family holiday for 10 days just a few months into my new position. I was already feeling unsettled by the new routine that I had to learn, making a further change to my routine by going away was the tipping point. I didn’t realise at the time, but I had entered a “dyspraxic phase”. I have had these all of my life and they can last for a couple of weeks to a couple of months or even years. I had learnt that I get these phases where my memory gets worse and my processing of information becomes slower, but I had never fully known what could trigger them. This made it difficult to identify my dyspraxic phase until it was over.
During my holiday I felt out of sorts the whole time. At night I was having nightmares about failing at work and during the day I felt like I couldn’t fully relax and enjoy myself. There was always the thought of work making me feel on edge.
Once I got back to work, things didn’t improve. We were trying out a different system for selling and I was getting lost amongst the changes. I didn’t know what to do and my mind became a place of chaos. Due to this, my memory worsened so that, when someone asked what a customer had bought a few minutes ago, I couldn’t say. My employer would tell me information that I would relay wrong to my colleagues and I would forget to follow through on a task (if I had remembered that task at all). All of this lead to my manager, employer and some of my colleagues double checking everything that I had done.
Life was exhausting! Not being able to do my job properly and the emotions it produced in me meant that I was stuck in a body incapable of doing anything. After work I would go home and go to sleep straight away, and on my days off I would stay in bed unable to do anything because I didn’t have the energy and concentration to focus, not even to watch mindless tv.
Now that I am out the other side of this most recent dyspraxic phase, I am staying on top of most things, but I am still treated like the forgetful dyspraxic I was a few months ago. Although I find this difficult. I understand that they don’t realise what had happened to my brain at the time and the fact that I am better now (especially since I can’t verbalise it even if I try).
There are other things that I am still yet to learn. Like what to say when my employer asks my opinion on different things. This gives me a confidence boost, but since I was previously so preoccupied with just getting through my education I had never learnt how to critically think. This meant I would give him an answer, but was rarely able to give him a reason and sometimes my only reason would be because I had a feeling it was right.
I also need to learn how to be flexible with rules and procedures. I will follow rules and procedures to the letter and so, if someone changes these I have a mental block. This happens mainly when I ask my employer or manager how to do something or how to deal with people in a certain situation. They will tell me to follow a certain procedure, but say there are exceptions. In my head there can be no exceptions to a rule because it complicates things and I find it difficult to see the proper exceptions.
This is the next big step. In a few months I will become manager. This wasn’t an easy decision to make compared to when I became assistant manager. I know that it will mean longer hours and having to close the shop, both of which will disrupt my eating and sleeping patterns (the autistic side of my dyspraxia is having a break down). Managing the staff is also going to be a challenge. How are they expected to be able to follow me when I can’t even communicate properly?
Despite all of this, I know it will be an invaluable experience. I will need this if I am going to one day achieve my goal of creating a charity that supports young people who are experiencing specific challenges in their lives and ultimately help them to fulfill their own dreams.
Please feel free to comment below about your own experiences in the working world and how you are managing/coping. Stay tuned for the last post of Dyspraxia Awareness Week tomorrow when I will be talking about the positives of having dyspraxia.
My best wishes for all of you