Black Friday is Evil.

Thanksgiving is just over a month away, which means that as of this writing, there are 39 days until Black Friday.  Black Friday, the “official start of the holiday shopping season” in the United States is a day that has tainted the souls of many a retail worker, myself included. The day is an unofficial American holiday.

I take my inspiration for writing this post from a Facebook Group: Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving.no shopping

Or is it? There are some that might say that our nation, that worships and praises the ‘Almighty Dollar‘ holds Black Friday as a day of deep, cultural significance because that is the one day that the Almighty Dollar shifts hands most often within the entire year. If Christmas is the Holy Day for Christianity, then Black Friday is the Holy Day for Consumerism.

Every year, I turn on the news and hear a report of riots, people being stampeded to death at store openings, or some sort of violent injuries and deaths because of it. The last few years, when I worked at Wal*Mart, we had fights over the “last” items up for sale in some of our electronic or toy specials.

Now, I know I’m not going to change anything by writing this blog, but I thought I’d at least record my opinions and feelings.

As a retail employee, I dreaded and feared not only Black Friday, but Thanksgiving as well. Most every job I’ve had since I got out of the Military has been retail in some fashion: Food Service, Grocery Store, and actual retail stores, has required me work Not only Black Friday, which one would expect, but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve. (The only exception was the year I was Student Teaching and the year I was unemployed.)

Yes, even the year I worked at a Karaoke Bar with my FATHER AS A BOSS I had to work on the holidays. And they were busy days too. (though we did our family meal at the Karaoke bar, and that was kinda cool, but we shared it with all the customers, having them pay for drinks only that day, unless they wanted menu food).
Now my memory might be wrong, but I remember stores being closed on Thanksgiving when I was small. I know places would open early on Friday, but Thanksgiving? No, that was a family day. My mom and dad stayed at home with us, and if we ventured out, Mom would take us to see our grandparents and extended family, while Dad would go visit his mother. (My father does not shop.) Family members who were in retail would be off to spend that day with our family.

We might have had a babysitter on Friday while Mom went shopping, but never had Thanksgiving taken away from us.

Flash forward to the Now:
Every Thanksgiving my in-laws have gotten together for the holidays, it is a flip of the coin if my work schedule would allow my husband and I to attend. My in-laws live an hour and a half a way on a low traffic day, on holidays? it is worse.One year, we got to my mother-in-law’s house to find everyone else had already had their food, and we had the scraps. Other years, we have to leave early so I can get to work, missing out on good family time. There are some of my in-laws that are only in town during holidays: my brother and sister-in-law live 6 hours away and I don’t get to see them often, just the holidays.

But, stores, and I think my former employer is one of the worst about it, are slowly starting their Black Friday sales early: as early as 6-8 PM on Thanksgiving day.
let me describe Black Friday from a retail employee standpoint (And remember, I suffer from anxiety  as well as fibromyalgia, so this is a particular rough day)

Last year, I worked from 6 PM to 3 AM Thanksgiving day to Black Friday morning, with a turnaround shift requiring me to return to the store at noon on Black Friday.
I stood at a register in electronics most of the shift, waiting for the 10 PM sale for the E-Reader of the Moment to launch. I had to wait there to watch the line and watch to make sure stuff wasn’t getting stolen from the displays and that people weren’t getting behind the register to steal my cameras, e-readers, and what ever.

download

On Black Friday, items ordinarily sold in my department (electronics) sit throughout the store, scattered in places like the Garden Center or Produce; I knew where nothing was.

The store itself got BUSY after 6. Every customer who ever shopped at my store during the year was there; all at the same time. It was AWFUL. As a retail employee, I had a hard enough time keeping up with the customers on normal days, on Black Friday/Thanksgiving, I wanted to pull my hair out by the roots the entire night.
When I finally had time to go to lunch, one of my bosses tried to make me return to the sales floor. I was already late for lunch, and my health conditions get worse if I don’t eat when I am supposed to.
Plus, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing with people asking how many of our items we had.
Let me tell you something:

I HAVE NO IDEA!
The bosses don’t generally release that to the retail slaves, or at least mine didn’t.

Plus, the MESS. There is three times the normal returns/rejected items on Black Friday, and bosses still expect the stuff put away before the end of shift. And, three times the customers, so no time to do it. One year, my department had seven baskets full of electronics returns. SEVEN. I had a panic attack the last two Black Fridays.
Last year I doubled my anxiety pills, and still couldn’t make it.

Regular customers, who are not in the slightest bit obnoxious on normal days, come into the store and act like they caught a case of the crazies during holiday shopping.

But that was Retail. Thanksgiving as a server was just as much as a nightmare. You would think that people wouldn’t eat out on thanksgiving, but, NOPE! Apparently, Turkey day means that “I know I’m stuffed on real food, but I’m gonna go to my local Ihop and eat more before I go assault retail slaves and buy stuff.”

black-friday-2009-walmart

It’s worse on Christmas. One year on Christmas, I worked at IHOP for a thirteen hour shift, THIRTEEN FREAKING HOURS and brought home less than $100 in tips. I was forbidden from leaving until my last table left the restaurant. “You leave, you don’t get the tip.” It was a 10 top, and they left me $3.
Oh, I got a lot of “thank you for being opens” but not any money.
My husband and I now go out for breakfast on Christmas, but we always leave at least a 50% tip to our server, even if she is the worst server in the world.

Some might say that when I got my jobs in retail/restaurants that I knew this sort of stuff was going to happen. No, I knew it would happen when I was in the Army. I understood it. In retail?
It caused me to hate the holidays. I have turned into this fella right here;
grinch

This year, I’m unemployed. Will I go shopping on Thanksgiving?
No. I will not. Will I go out on Black Friday? Maybe, but not until the afternoon.

Why I don’t do Flu Shots

I know, you’re reading this title, and probably thinking, “HOLD ON! Is Mandy some kind of weird anti-vaccination lobbyist?” No, I’m not. What I’m actually going to discuss with you here is further from the truth. I am actually very pro-vaccine. Children should get vaccinated to avoid catching some of the nasty illnesses that, thanks to vaccines, are no longer a threat.
I wish the chicken pox vaccine was around when I was young, as I would have liked to avoid that week of torture. shot

However, there is one annual vaccination that is pretty debilitating for me. and this is something of some controversy. The Flu Shot.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs,  I have Fibromyalgia, an illness that I’ve lived with since I was in the US Army.  For those of you unfamiliar with Fibromyalgia, it is a nasty thing to live with. Muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritable bowel syndrome, brain fog… the list of symptoms goes on.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

And that is by no means complete. Life for me is a roll of the die. Each morning I wake up not knowing until I make the move to get out of bed if I’m going to have a flare, or how bad that flare is going to be. Joint pain for me is not just “morning stiffness,” it is “my whole body is stiff all day.” I don’t sleep well, my mind is always active, I wake up if the wind blows. I have times where my brain fogs, and I’ll forget what I’m saying mid sentence. (My Husband calls it “Shatnering”).

Here’s a lovely image of the Fibrobrain (not mine):

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don't necessarily agree with the image's original site on all things.

The Fibro Brain. Note: clicking on this image will send you to the original source of the image. I don’t necessarily agree with the image’s original site on all things.

Now let’s look at the flu and it’s symptoms. Here is the flu:

Flu

Cute little booger, isn’t he?

Well, he might be cute, but the Flu is actually quite an awful illness. Let’s look at the symptoms:
512px-Symptoms_of_influenza.svg

Joint pain. Fatigue. Headache. Vomiting. Enough to put a normally healthy person in bed for several days.
Now, if you add the two together, Fibromyalgia+Flu, you get a nasty combination of a flare-up along with the added joys of coughing, vomiting, runny nose, and sore throat.

So you would think the Flu shot would be a wonderful boon to me, something to give me the chance to avoid getting a sickness that will flare up my illness.

Wrong.

Other than my Fibromyalgia and my anxiety, I am generally a healthy person. I might catch a cold once a year, and generally, I’m better within a day or two. Every so often, when I work myself too hard, I will get a fever. I don’t get “Sick,” I am ill, but rarely sick.

For my purposes, “sick” means “contagious.”

I have had the Flu shot before. The U.S, Army required I get them annually during my time in the service, and the Veteran’s Administration consistently tries to get me to update that shot every year. It is one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

Let me give you a quote from WebMD, in answer to the question “Can the Flu Vaccine give you the Flu?”

Despite the scientific impossibility of getting the flu from the flu vaccines, this widespread flu myth won’t die. Experts suspect two reasons for its persistence.  One, people mistake the side effects of the vaccine for flu. While side effects to the vaccine these days tend to be a sore arm, in the past, side effects often felt like mild symptoms of the flu. Two, flu season coincides with a time of year when bugs causing colds and other respiratory illnesses are in the air.  Many people get the vaccine and then, within a few days, get sick with an unrelated cold virus. However, they blame the innocent flu vaccine, rather than their co-worker with a runny nose and cough.

Okay, so WebMD says that people confuse the side effects that one gets from the virus with the actual flu.
But what happens when I get the flu virus? Do I get just a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms?
NO! This is what  I feel like on the flu shot: zombedToo Zombie to get out of bed.

That’s what it is. The side effects of the vaccination cause me to be so sick that I am bedridden for days, sometimes a week or more, just from the shot.

Now, if I were prone to getting “SicK” instead of just “Ill,” I might consider getting the shots.

It’s a controversial topic. I’m not the only Fibromyalgia Survivor that has suffered ill effects from the Flu Shot; it’s happened with others as well. Some doctors who treat chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia recommend against  the shot, though others argue that the effects of the flu are more devastating than the illness itself.

My Disabled Vet Story.

Understand that despite the negativity I write in this blog, I am very proud that I served in the Army. I had some bad experiences, but, I was a rare case. I got out of the Army due to Fibromyalgia, and I had some problems with my first Unit.

I would do it all again, in a heartbeat. Only, I’d be a little more brazen, more willing to stand up for myself while I was in the service.

I have changed the names of people, particularly of my Unit.

disvet

In 1998, I joined the U.S. Army. Though I had some problems as a teenager, and was a physically weak girl when I went in, I was confident I could handle it.

I had a little anxiety, but not so bad as it has become in my adult life. It was assumed, at the time, to be normal teenage stuff, and looking back, I’m certain it was.

Prior to joining the Army, I was a very polite, quiet, God-fearing patriotic girl. I was slightly more of a tomboy than girlish, but mostly because I didn’t like wearing dresses or make-up. I joined because, at the time, I felt like I had nowhere to live, and needed to grow up some.

I went to Basic Training on September, 15, 1998 in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I was not in the best physical condition: while I could run, and do sit-ups, I could not do push-ups to save my life. Because I am well-endowed, I had this problem where my “chest was touching the ground” when my arms were parallel, so my push-ups did not count.

Having large breasts in the Army is a negative. Not only for the push-up thing, but because uniforms don’t fit right, weight scales do not account for breasts (I was overweight the whole time I was in because of my figure.  My body fat was always right on the scale of fine, but my weight was always questionable.

Back to my story. I spent a month and a half in the Fitness Training company at Ft. Jackson, SC and then went to Basic Training right before Halloween, 1998. I spent my 20th birthday on the bayonet range and playing with camouflage make-up.

In January, 1999, less than a week after returning to the Base after a holiday leave, I went on a Field Training Exercise. During the course of this exercise, I became extremely dehydrated and had what had to be a panic attack. I am told I pulled a Drill Sergeant onto the ground, and threw my rifle at someone. Honestly, I don’t remember. My first clear memory after *starting* the ruck march was sitting at the hospital showing my dog tags to the triage nurse. I couldn’t remember my Social Security Number.

It turns out that I had over packed my ruck sack because my “battle buddy” loaded our shared bag with all her stuff so she’d have an empty ruck on the way back. So it was either carry all my stuff or leave it behind. And  I could not leave it behind. The only thing of “mine” in the shared bag was my sleeping bag.

I graduated Basic Training, and went to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. Because of my job, my AIT lasted 7 months.

AIT was miserable. My class would be promised something, off weekends, benefits, opportunities for non-mandatory fun, only to have it ripped away at the last minute. We were the “low man” class for six months, because no new classes of our MOS started for several months. What made it worse was that a person I met in Basic that I’d hoped to lose in AIT followed me- into my unit. His was on the stalker side of… whatever that was. I had to allow myself to get into a rather awkward position for him to realize that I did not  want him in my life. It cost me 7 weeks of freedom: I was restricted to base, given no privileges, and to this day I declare the punishment I had for it “worth it” because the man needed to leave me alone.

He had me afraid that if I told anyone in the Army the “truth” of our relationship that they would boot me out, or send me to jail.

I swore to never let another man do that to me again.

Eventually, AIT ended and I went to Germany.

I landed in Germany on a Friday afternoon: August 27, 1999. At least, I think it was afternoon. I was directed immediately to Darmstadt, where my unit was located, despite the wording on my orders. I was in a unit that was attached, detached, rearranged, and whatever from one unit to another, so that we were next to impossible to find. We were not even part of V Corps.

The first thing my new LT said to me was “Oh, you just got out of AIT! Do you have your TS Clearance yet?” When I shook my head he continued “Your old Drill Sergeant, DS (BLANK), is gonna be our new Platoon Sergeant starting in late October. She’s just finished ANOC (Advanced NCO Training) and is going on leave.”
The first words out of my mouth, before I could stop myself, were “Sir, please tell me you’re joking, she hates me.”
Because she was the one who “Caught me.”

I spent that first weekend alone, and not certain who or what to do. I was afraid to go off post. I didn’t know anyone, and I was the only female in my unit living in the barracks. Akl the other females were married or had children.

At the time, there were 20 soldiers in the unit, not counting SFC (Blank), 3 females, 17 males. Of all the soldiers, there were only Six in the barracks, I was the only female there.

On Tuesday, August 31, one of those male soldiers took me to the “Kontakt Klub,” where I met my future husband, He’d offered to show me around town later that week. The next weekend was Labor Day, after all, and because I was still in processing, iI was not going to have to report to my unit until after Labor Day weekend ended.

I spent that week relatively alone, leaving the barracks only for in-processing courses, and the requisite “German Language getting-to-know our city” trip. On Friday, when Morgan was supposed to meet me, I was down town with a soldier from my unit. SPC (JERK). (JERK had his German finace living in his barracks room (So did another male soldier in our unit) and he wanted to show me the “cool places” to go. When I got back to my barracks room, there was a note “Sorry I missed you” on my door, and I was looking to staying in for the weekend, again.

Then the Female MP’s saw me, and made me go out with them to the Darmstadter Club. It was the on-post soldier’s bar. I was 20, but legal to drink in Germany. They told me “We don’t pay cover cause we’re MPs. We’ll just say you’re with us.”
So, Police officers took me out to drink and party when I was only 20.

I was in the club not even 5 minutes when my future husband found me. We ended up spending almost the entire rest of the weekend together. He showed me even cooler stuff down town than my fellow soldier did.

We were not a couple “yet,” it would be another week, Sept 11, 1999, when we acknowledged we were a couple.

In the meantime, I had to adjust to my unit. I spent almost all my off time with my future husband , at his room because mine was on a fourth floor and had no heat. I won’t go into the details of my relationship with my future husband  at that time, except to say that I was 20, we were a young couple, and I bruised if I bumped my arm on stuff.  My job was shift work, 8 hour shifts, at the time, Day one dayshift, Day two was Swing, and the Third day was mid shift, with a day and a half off, repeat. If a day off ended up being Sergeant’s time or a day the captain needed us, then, nope, no day off. I got little sleep.
I managed to hide that I was dating at all until right after my 21st birthday, when I came back to work with some bruises. Most were pt related. Others, well.. I had a few love bites, a string of them.

It did not look good.

But I told my unit I was fine, I’d gotten rid of a bad boyfriend before, I could handle it.

SFC (BLANK) wouldn’t drop it.
Soon afterwards, I had a nervous breakdown. They wanted to ship me to another post, which would have ended my relationship with my future husband. I started having my pain issues soon after.
Fibromyalgia, it’s called. I hurt, all the time.
Generalized Anxiety disorder. That’s what docs call my mental health issue, but I think it’s more than that.

I never got the TS Clearance I needed in Germany to do my job, and thus got perp walked anytime I entered or left my job site, even to go to the bathroom or to eat.
They could have sent me to the mail room with other soldiers in my unit that did not have TS but wouldn’t because of my future husband, who  became my escape from the craziness of my unit.

I almost never went to my barracks room. Because they could find me there.

My unit hated him. they claimed it was because of the bruises, but they would freak out claiming I was being abused when i got bruises on the rifle range.

A good 98% of my bruises occurred due to my general klutziness (walking into a desk) or PT bruises. But they “sounded like excuses” to my unit. That other 2%? My future husband was an over exuberant young man.

My unit started writing me up for every bruise. If I fell asleep during training because I’d been up on a mid shift the night before, I’d be written up. I got written up for some of the most inane things ever. Sunburns. Being 3 minutes late to formation. Wearing pants and Army dress shoes instead of a skirt and pumps to Class A inspection (Though SFC [BLANK] never specified the requirement. My skirts never fit).

My hips began to hurt when I ran. I couldn’t keep up, no matter how hard I tried. My push-ups suffered. My sit ups remained the same, improved. My PT was failing. I was in and out of sick call trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

Over the 2 years I was in Germany, I underwent a number of weird problems that the doctors couldn’t solve. I bruised easily. My hips popped and cracked and ground together when I ran. This caused me pain that at the time I described “like someone is stabbing me in the hip joints.”  I could not sleep. I’d wake up at the drop of a hat. I was constantly in fear. I did not have a driver’s license, because I was terrified of driving highways before I left for Germany, so why would I want to drive on the autobahn?
About the only relief I had was my future husband, and our shared friends.

My unit ordered me to break up with him 6 months after we started dating. I had another nervous breakdown (or something like it) on Valentine’s day that year, and they decided it was his  fault. We had a fight on that day. I’d been punished because he took my ID by mistake and I couldn’t leave post to go to work. (There was more to it than this, but that is really all I’m comfortable talking about.) It was a loud, obnoxious fight, not a physical one.

When I got to work that night, I was a mess and my Unit ordered a break up. I’ll tell you the problem: They asked about my sex life and punished me if I didn’t tell, and  punished me for telling when I did.

I filed a JAG complaint citing DADT and got to stay with him. I just had to be quiet about it.

We did actually break up, for a brief time (like 4 months) so we could re-evaluate our lives. We got back together, and were much quieter about our relationship and life together. We were stronger when we got back together, and had a much better relationship.

After a while, things calmed down. I never got my TS Clearance, and my unit pretended I wasn’t dating anyone, until I showed up with a bruise on my right shoulder during PT. (This one I got at the rifle range, while my future husband was on a field exercise.) SFC (BLANK) freaked out and called his immediate superior, a First Sergeant who outranked her.

From what I understand, his unit almost gave her credit on the arguments about me being abused. Until that day, because there was no way i got a bruise from  a man who was several hours away from me.

The TS Clearance thing almost didn’t bother me. Until they pushed a new soldier’s clearance forward. This soldier fought to get her husband to Germany, and once he got there, divorced him because he was “Evil Incarnate.” She was schizophrenic, and she got  Top clearance while I did not.

When my future husband left the Army, i went home to meet his mom. When I got back to Germany, they pulled me out of the TS Site with the weird shift hours to a 9-5 M-Fri job: the mail room. Because I no longer had him for them to worry about.

But they still rode me.

I started working with a play to replace him. I started drinking with the cast.
My unit worried I was drinking too much. I probably was. But I never showed up to PT Hungover or drunk, and never drank on duty.

They didn’t want me hanging around the man I eventually married.

I left Germany on Sept 6, 2001.During the two years I was in Germany, I took over 30 pregnancy tests at the clinic (because my doctor was convinced every problem had to have pregnancy as a root cause. He did not even bother checking out to find out why i had wonky menstrual cycles.) I had a doc tell me my hip pain was “child bearing hips.” I spent three months on crutches “just in case” I had a degenerative necrosis of the hip joints. I had a number of X-rays.

I finally got a diagnosis sometime in early 2001. Fibromyalgia. I instantly wanted to get a medboard, because that isn’t going away.
SFC (BLANK) told me “If you pursue a med board, we will give you a bad conduct discharge because of all these write-ups.”

SO I Changed station on time in Sept of 2001, to Ft Bliss TX.

My new unit was a dream. I was on shift work, but the same shift every day of every week. It didn’t change. I was pretty much my shift leader. My Platoon Sergeant wanted to promote me, but couldn’t because of my permanent profile do to Fibromyalgia.

So I got out.

Three weeks before I left the post, my TS clearance came in. I told CID that I no longer needed it, I was one foot out the door.

I got out, took the first offer the Med board gave me.

My husband I got married in 2004.

It’s been 11 years since I got out of the Army. What is the legacy?

I have Fibromyalgia. I hurt all the time. On my best days, I have a pain scale 3. ON my worst, 6-7. Some days I have headaches so bad I can’t get out of bed. Sometimes my legs hurt so much I can’t stand up. I still have problems sleeping. I have semi-frequent digestive problems. I have polycystic ovaries (not diagnosed until after I left the Army) and can’t have children. I am borderline diabetic.  I can’t take normal pain pills because they do next to nothing. I have frequent bouts of brain fog that turn me into William Shatner. I will LITERALLY forget what I’m trying to say in the middle of talking.

I’ll have days when I’m fine, but, most days, I’m not. I can hide it well, for short periods of time, but I am sick. And the army is to blame.

Then there’s the anxiety.
I can’t handle being out and in crowds too much any more. I get panicky on busy days around a lot of people. I can do it once or twice a month, but my body hates me for days afterwards.
I can’t control crying.

I have nightmares about SFC (BLANK), I dream that she’s still my boss. To this day, I can’t trust female bosses, at all. Which is a shame, because I identify as a feminist. I barely tolerate male bosses.
I cannot simply “pick up the phone” to call people. Talking on the phone terrifies me. Going out to pass out fliers, or to try to network for my 10-7 job? I can’t do it.
In some ways, the army made me a better Public Speaker than a private speaker. I don’t mind talking to large groups, to a point. But, to small groups of people? I can’t handle it.

There are work-related things I can’t do because they cause me too much anxiety:
Calling strangers on the phone.

Approaching strangers to pass out fliers.
I’m afraid to touch strangers’ cars, for fear that the alarm will go off.

I cannot look people in the eye when I talk to them. Unless I’m lying. Then I’ll stare you straight in the face.
I don’t deal well with the general stresses of retail. Too many customers, and I freak out.

If I get too many “stupid questions” I start to feel superior, and come off  like a rude know-it-all.

And if I’m flaring, this is all worse.

You know, I have forgiven the Army for the Fibromyalgia.

But my ability to trust women bosses? the anxiety?
Not yet.