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Retail Anxiety Disorder and YOU
By Mark Edwards

"I'm Chris, I'm 18, and I hate my job."

The first time was the hardest, standing up at what was for that brief moment the head of the circle of hard plastic chairs in a darkened auditorium. This was the third day of the Retail Anxiety Disorder Retreat - they couldn't think of any cute acronyms for the tee shirts, so we didn't get any - and was my second focus group.

The groups were not unlike AA meetings, except instead of a gym-full of raging alcoholics, it was a gym-full of disgruntled retail workers, some of who were alcoholics, but that was beside the point. The camp was supposed to be two weeks in an idyllic, stress-free mountain camp up in the Canadian Rockies, during which there would be camp fires, horse rides, nature hikes and wholesome fun in order to allow the patrons to convalesce in peace.

Retail Anxiety Disorder is a disorder that has existed for a long time. Often, it simply manifests itself as biting, sarcastic remarks and witty satire along the vein of Kevin Smith's Clerks. In more extreme cases, it can cause hair loss, anxiety attacks, severe depression and, if left untreated, violent outbursts (which, parenthetically, spawned the term "going postal").

RAD, while possessing a great acronym, was given its name and was first documented as a psychological problem by some doctor - I forget his name - who did a study on the habits of long-term retail workers. It turned out that the combination of hellish working conditions, long hours, impersonal and stupid management, and rude, "bitchy" customers, and further aggravated by fluorescent lighting, caused a unique chemical imbalance in the brains of said workers, thus causing RAD.

Anyway, that's all beside the point. The point was that I had this disorder and that I was finally getting help for it. That help came at the hefty price of three thousand dollars for the whole package. But here I was, and I was already seeing results. I sat back down after my routine confessional, a satisfied smile on my face, basking in the support and smiles of my fellow psychotics - apparently the sarcasm and irony hadn't quite been cured yet.

We continued around the circle, but I didn't listen. I knew them all intimately by now - all disgruntled, all misguided, all seriously needing help and a holiday away from the hell-hole of work. There was Al, a forty-seven year old Wal-Mart employee who did Tae Kwon-Do on the weekends and who came here after biting a customer's ear off. Then came Betty, a twenty-four year old worker at McDonald's who had a nervous breakdown and urinated in the coke reservoir... weird. After that was Ron, a fifteen year old kid who worked at a grocery store. The kid went nuts and started pelting customers with fresh produce from atop a nine-foot shelving unit before falling and breaking his forearm. There were others, of course, but you get the idea of the kind of people I was staying with.

My story is much less dramatic. I started having bizarre dreams, which then translated into equally bizarre hallucinations after I developed insomnia. I thought I was going deaf in one ear so I would only serve customers who were less than four feet in height (which was basically nobody), otherwise I would stare right through them as if I didn't see them. I would break out in cold sweats and my feet would seize up into little fists when somebody mentioned the name of my store. Finally, I had a brief psychotic episode during which I could only say the words "have a nice day" in fits and starts, mimicking the rhythm of the words I was trying to say ("Ha vani ced ay?" - how about the knicks?). Anyway, after basically losing my mind after being overwhelmed by the job (hey, if people can be scared of a little spider, a shitty job at $6.50 an hour [Canadian] can destroy someone as well), I put in for three weeks' holiday time and signed up for the camp.


The camp continued in much the same fashion. I got to know my fellow patients (there's that irony again), and I did a lot of thinking. I even kept a little journal of how I was feeling. In retrospect, I think I'll take that journal out of storage and read it over. I kept thinking that if I cleaned it up a bit and had it published, it might make an interesting read. Anyway, as I was nearing the end, I had somewhat of an epiphany. Weren't the people organizing and working at this retreat ALSO employees? Weren't they also prone to RAD? WAS I IN THE CARE OF VIOLENTLY DISILLUSIONED PSYCHOTICS?

I knew then and there that I had to get away from this camp, lest my very own personal care facilitator go mad, steal my razor and cut me into very thin strips. I would later find that paranoia was the last and most enduring phase of RAD, but that knowledge didn't help me as I packed up my single bag (even as a kid, I always packed light), hopped the fence and walked to the greyhound terminal, six kilometres away. I have no idea how long it took me, but I had the good fortune of arriving just as they opened, a bus already waiting. I bought a ticket with the emergency money I had brought (in case camp got to be too much and I needed a stiff drink and/or smoke) and was soon on the next bus headed home.

My life pretty much returned to normal. The mountain air did me good, as did the wholesome outdoor activities, but the camp itself was largely a bust. I remember I was sitting at my table in the morning, enjoying the early light and listening to my walkman so that I didn't disturb my family, and I heard on the news a story about a crooked camp that tricked retail workers who suffered from depression into paying and attending. The whole thing took place in the Canadian Rockies at an abandoned ranch, and lasted two weeks. I shook my head at the bizarre similarity between the crooked camp and the RAD camp. It turned out that the patrons of that crooked camp were due to receive a cheque for eight thousand dollars in damages from the proprietors of the camp, gained during a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the patrons.

"Lucky bastards," I thought to myself, dreading the fact that in a week I would have to return to work. Although the vacation did me good, I still suffered from some clinical effects of depression, unbeknownst to me, so I would still break out in cold sweats from time to time. The effects were fairly mild, however, so my world was no longer a dark forest populated with the slathering, hungry wolves that bought stuff from my store. It would be nice to get eight thousand dollars, I thought to myself. I could quit my job for a while and relax, maybe even take a holiday to someplace nice. Maybe Japan...

A week later I got my cheque.

Grizzled veteran of the Console Wars

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