I'm not sure when it happened, but there came a time in my life when I found that I could go days, weeks, even months, without any kind of major emotional meltdown or panic attack. I wasn't cured of my various neuroses and hang-ups; I doubt I ever will be, in truth; but I had, at least, managed to settle into a routine that meant I could avoid all those things that were wont to trigger them.
Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever and
last week I was brought crashing down to Earth when my cosy little bubble of
trigger avoidance and a well honed fake personality was popped by unavoidable
work related issues.
Exactly one week ago today I was scheduled on what's known as a 'refresher'
course; something which you are required to undertake every 3 years or so, if
you wish your license to operate a forklift truck (FLT) to remain valid. Since
my employment pretty much hinges on my being able to drive a FLT, there was no
way out of this.
Now, as anyone who regularly operates these miraculous machines will tell you,
there is nothing simpler. Let's face it, a one man vehicle whose gears are no
more complicated than Forward/Neutral/Reverse, has a top speed of about 15
miles an hour and is primarily (always, in my case) driven on private land with
a minimum of traffic to worry about, is never going to require NASA levels of
expertise to drive. So the problem wasn't so much proving that I was capable in
order to get my renewal rubber stamped; it was the accompanying drama that was
messing with my head. Allow me to take you through the many ways I hated last
The course was on Monday; I was informed about it on the previous Friday. Since
I wasn't working on the intervening Saturday, that meant I had zero days to
piss about on the trucks practicing all those little things that you do to pass
the test, then never do again until you have
another test. Don't be shaking your heads; I don't drive, but I bet
there are plenty of examples of that kind of thing with you car lot.
As I say, the test isn't all that hard regardless, but someone with my anxiety
levels need all the help I can get to be prepared, and this wasn't. Help,
As in, anywhere I haven't been before. Every previous time that I've done this,
it's been at my home branch, with people I knew. What this means is that
they're people I'm relatively comfortable faking a certain level of friendship
with, or at the very least a kind of low level 'jokey' enmity.
This time though, thanks to branch closures, openings, redundancies and
re-hirings and high staff turnovers, the staff at our branch no longer have
synchronised licenses, and no-one else was due. So off I was shipped to another
branch, to interact with strangers for a day. Helpful.
Everything about the day itself
On arriving at work I was immediately bundled into the managers car and whisked
off on my way. Now, being stuck in a car with anyone
gets me jittery after too long; I only have a limited supply of 'small talk' in
me. And of course, this being early morning, and the branch we were headed to
being in the middle of a busy retail area, the traffic was horrendous; you'd
think people had jobs to get to or something; so that added a good while to the
As people go, my current manager is less problematic to speak to than some, on
account of how he started shortly after me when we were both essentially kids
and I've known him all the way through his climb up the ranks, so he's kind of
'one of the lads'. If this had been any other manager I've ever worked for I'd
have been clawing at the door to get out.
Even so, the bulk of our conversations; just like the bulk of my conversations
with everyone; are very 'hit and run'; I like the freedom to leave a room when
I'm out of material. And yes, I do practice off
the cuff remarks ahead of time, and keep a store of them for future use.
Being spontaneously witty doesn't just happen you know.
He steered the conversation to music, television, politics, sport... some of
those things I know a little about, others I know nothing about, but none of
them are things I'm willing to express an opinion on to someone without first
knowing their opinion, so I can gauge
what I think the level of... look, I can't explain this, but suffice to say I
overthink everything and I wouldn't make a very good dinner party guest.
Eventually I got the talk back onto work, which is pretty much the only thing I
feel truly comfortable talking about, and since he; for reasons unknown, but it
may be down to heavy drug use in his formative years; seems to actually respect
my opinions and agree with my ideas when it comes to how to run a branch, I was
on steady ground.
Until we arrived at the branch...
First impressions I had were that the staff were all numpties and the place was
a shithole. Of course, even I am not so oblivious to social niceties as to
think that those would be acceptable conversation starters, so I was knackered.
We (myself and the two people also doing the course) were locked in an office
with the instructor, but not before he had found time to announce that this
would be an all day thing, rather than half a day, which was what we had been
told. What this meant was that my managers business in the area would be
concluded and he would be leaving earlier than me. He said that he would come
back for me at the end of the day, but then the instructor said that he
lived...somewhere...I don't know, places I don't live in are all the same to
me... but the gist was, he would bring me half way so my manager wouldn't have
to brave the tea time rush hour.
Unbelievable. So I now had that to look forward to.
The session began and I thought I would be safe for a while; these things
usually consist of a bit of a lecture and some safety videos made in 1972 in
which a bunch of stuntmen die horribly. No call for small talk there.
Unfortunately, our instructor had other ideas; we were going to listen to his
stories about meeting famous footballers (number I'd heard of: 0), look at
pictures of his grandson (how many times can you say 'yeah, cute' and seem
genuine?), hear stories about all the many businesses he'd
owned/co-owned/founded as a favour to a friend (quantity of bullshit detected
in said stories: a hell of a fucking lot), and so on and so forth. The others,
both fully rounded individuals capable of holding down a conversation without
gagging on their words, were fine. Myself, not so much.
At one point, and I can't believe I did it, I joined in the conversation. It
had turned toward fireworks, and they were all agreeing with each other about
how much they hated them and I thought, hang on, I have something I could say
here that is actually relevant! So I told the tale of someone I know having
been scared by a dud firework hitting her window. On topic, and vaguely
interesting, I thought.
Maybe it was just my paranoia; it was almost certainly my paranoia; but they
seemed to listen politely enough then get back to their own chatter as soon as
politeness allowed. I spent the next hour sitting there, stewing over my words
and trying to figure out what I'd said wrong, counting how many different ways
I'd embarrassed myself, and working out how much longer this hell could go on
for. They, for their part, went back to talking about football.
Lunchtime arrived and after I inquired as to the nearest shop that I could get
some food from, since I hadn't brought any, since we had been told this would
be OVER BY FUCKING LUNCHTIME, I set off. Only to be stopped by instructor man,
who offered me as lift. LEAVE ME ALONE!! I wanted to scream at him, but of
course I didn't. I'm too afraid of confrontation for that. So my blessed
relief; my little bit of alone time that was going to be my walk out to the
shop; was taken from me.
What is the 'done thing' when someone you don't know gives you a lift to the
shop and then needs to use the cashpoint? Do you stand and wait with him? Or do
you head in ahead of him? If you stand and wait, are you being too clingy? Are
you saying that you can't go to the shop by yourself? If you do stand and wait,
you have to then walk round the shop with them, making smalltalk, feeling self
conscious if it takes you longer to find something than them. But if you go in
alone, are you being rude? Are you saying you don't want to be seen with them?
Welcome to my head. In the end, not knowing which was the 'correct' response, I
went with the one that required me to speak the least, and headed straight in
After lunch was a load more waffle about getting shirts signed by football
players etc... before we finally, well after 2pm, went out to the trucks. Then
we spent another hour standing in the cold while he made various phone calls.
Someone: It's a bit chilly eh?
Me: Just a bit, aye.
(Repeat) (Repeat Again) (And Again) (And Again...)
That was the conversation for the afternoon. Riveting stuff.
When we finally rated his attention again, he told us a tale about a man 'in
his fucking 30's, a fucking grown man' who upon making the same simple mistake
several times, was chastised by the instructor. 'In the end I grabbed his
fucking leg and dragged it off the pedal. Then he burst into tears, I couldn't
Here's the thing, if you'd pulled me up for making the same mistake over and
over again, and then grabbed my leg, I wouldn't have started crying; I'd have
told you to fuck off; but only because I'm a better actor than that other guy.
You can bet the house I'd have been close to tears.
The practical tests themselves were over in about 5 minutes once they
actually started. Then it was back indoors for a written test based on
information we should have covered on the morning but didn't because he
was too busy name dropping and then home. With him. In his car. I was
genuinely terrified. I have this knee twitching thing that happens when
I'm uncomfortable and it was going a mile a fucking minute the whole
way home. He kept talking about stuff, and I kept ignoring him;
literally, I was beyond the point of caring what he thought anymore. I
practically jumped out of his car when he got me where we were going.
And do you know what? When I got in my manager's car for the second leg
of the journey, my mood being immediately apparent to him, he asked how
the day had gone and I told him. He found my torture, and it was
torture for me, every second of it, funny. Not because he's an
unpleasant person; he isn't. But because we come from a background, and
work in an industry, that simply doesn't take that kind of thing
Which is why, after a few minutes, I switched on fake me and laughed along. I should have known better than to do anything else.
It's been a long one this week, even
by my standards; I apologise. I'm not sure I've fully gotten across how
upsetting the day was, either; I read it back and everything seems so
petty. Either way, I've gotten it off my chest and I can go back into
my bubble, until the next time.