Anxiety and job-seeking in Ukraine – a diary

Oil painting by correspondent, 2021 – if you would like to support the artist’s work, contact me

In the light of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, I am re-posting this piece, which is from a text conversation that I had with a Ukrainian woman that I met on a penpal website between 2019 – 2021. She spoke about her life, including anxiety issues and job-seeking. I last received a message from her some two months ago and I believe she is still living in the capital, Kyiv, which is undergoing attack as I write.

Please, if you can, urge your political representatives, in whatever way you can, from email to a public protest, that de-escalation and negotiation is needed now to stop any more bloodshed. There is no military solution to defeat Russia, due to their nuclear capability and their insistence that Ukraine is part of their sphere of strategic influence. The world has to negotiate and offer Ukrainian neutrality to Russia in exchange for troop withdrawal and return to speaking between foes. Ukrainian political alignment with Russia may not be ideal but it is far better than being destroyed and occupied.

Between December 2019 and April 2021, a Ukrainian woman in her 30s, currently living in the Kyiv area, shared with me some of her experiences of challenging her anxiety symptoms, searching for work and her efforts at painting. She told me she prefers to listen to stories than tell them but gave me permission to share some of her experiences anonymously, saying: “You can embellish the story with different romantic stories, whatever you want, but only my photo is scary to upload) it is better not).” At the start of the conversation, from which I have deleted my responses and most of her questions for me, to focus on her experience, she is living with her parents, near Kyiv, helping at her father’s small local electrical goods store and selling religious books by mail.


Dec 18, 2019

Today is a sunny day. I argued with my father that I would find work after the new year, and he would stop drinking)). Maybe at least it will drive me out of the house.

…we bet that if I go to work my father will not drink). This is not a quarrel, but a game. Once I argued with my brother that if I go to work in Poland, he will quit smoking. I went to Poland, but he did not quit smoking 🙂

Dec 20, 2019

I have not had time to buy gifts, instead, I got drunk yesterday, could not stand it)). Because of this, the state of health is not very good. But she swore to herself that this is the last time)

no, I can drink alone). I feel good only the first half hour, and then it becomes very bad.

I also drank 2 beers). I have not bought gifts yet, I have a big family, I need a lot of gifts.

Dec 22, 2019

Yes, I’m better, I swore to myself not to drink anymore, although often I really feel like it. I choose which country I should go to work. But it will be in six months, it will take a lot of time to draw up documents) Maybe Sweden)

I will go through a paid agency. But this is not soon, a lot needs to be done for this)…this is work somewhere in the factories. It’s very difficult there, but i can earn more than in Ukraine. Since I haven’t been working for a year, I need to pay for it).

No, I’m very cowardly, but in extreme conditions it’s easier for me. When everyone is busy, all Ukrainians who go to work are in the same conditions). Although in Poland it was difficult for me, and I even had to change the city and work, right in Poland. But the second time I will behave differently, calmer.

Dec 25, 2019

Thanks! Merry Christmas to you too !!

Today I sent parcels to my customers)….We celebrate Christmas on January 7th, so it’s too early to give gifts. We have Orthodox Christmas)…. And I will celebrate 2 times)

Continue reading “Anxiety and job-seeking in Ukraine – a diary”

I went from 6.6% to 1.5% to 18.1% above minimum wage – retail & hierarchy

By Hetty;

If you know my story you might not believe me, but I managed to wrangle a raise out of my boss. Instead of doing yearly reviews, they’re now doing quarterly ones so that you get three extra chances to hear how much you suck based on metrics you have zero control over. She delivered my scheduled emotional abuse herself. This is what my previous review was like.  

Reviews go this way—she reads the script, asks me the prescribed questions, I make excuses, change the subject, and we go back to talking about the daily business. This time, however, I was afforded a good opportunity to ask about money because I had noticed that someone was making more than I do—someone who, well, shouldn’t. 

I asked her, “Don’t you think it’s a little silly that after nearly ten years, and half of them in this office, I make twenty cents above minimum wage?”

“Well—I don’t know why they do that.” 

Continue reading “I went from 6.6% to 1.5% to 18.1% above minimum wage – retail & hierarchy”

My summer of fun – two new jobs, future plan?

Adam was made unemployed by his furniture store employer during Covid, earlier this year and he struggled to receive unemployment support payments. In this blog post, he reviews his job experiences since, providing an insight into two very different job roles and their demands. The piece was first published on his blog.


It’s been a while… which immediately gets the song by Staind stuck in my head

It’s been a while,
since I could,
hold my head up high,
it’s been a while

– and now it’s stuck in yours.

But yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted in here. Oh shit FOUR MONTHS?!?! Damn that’s crazy, especially since it’s not like I’ve been super busy – well at least not on my days off, which is something I had plenty of in May since I was basically unemployed. And not collecting. Which made me the ONLY person that hasn’t gotten those free handouts for not working during the pandemic.

Truth be told, I would have LOVED a free handout, but hey that’s what happens when you work for an employer who lied and said “oh no we won’t contest unemployment if you quit” which they basically forced me to do a month after likely having Covid which completely fucked with my head before going back to a job that completely fucked with my head and mental health. Yeah don’t ever work for Jordan’s Furniture. Or buy anything from them. I’ve been gone since February and just seeing a commercial, driving by a store, or even seeing a delivery truck makes my blood boil to this day. If it wasn’t for the cool co-workers that I had I would completely hate that place with every fiber of my being. But hey at least I now know what a loveseat is and that you’re not supposed to sleep on your sofa (which EVERYONE does) or sit on an ottoman (which EVERYONE also does). God bless those who still work there. But I digress…

I did pick up a short-lived part-time gig writing for Seekonk Speedway in May/June, which was a lot of fun and something that I wish I could still do. I can’t because I started a full-time job working as a merchandiser for Pepsi in early June – actually just eclipsed 90 days on the job which is an accomplishment in itself – and I just didn’t have enough time in the day to do both jobs.

Now, let me tell you something about short-track racing… it’s insane. And it has it’s own little (or not-so-little) community which I was totally unaware of. Seekonk Speedway is like 20 minutes from where I’ve lived my whole life, and I’ve always liked watching NASCAR, but I had never been to an actual racetrack. Seeing the track before racing begun literally blew my mind. It is tiny – it’s only 1/3 of a mile for one lap – and yet they often have 20+ full-size cars going way faster than the speed limit during the events. I couldn’t even fathom how 20+ cars fit on that track without getting in each other’s way – which honestly is the best part of racing.

Opening night was nuts. It got postponed because – shocker – it rained when it was actually supposed to happen, but when we did finally have a nice night, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I figured, how hard could it be to write about a race, not knowing how quickly everything happens during said race. You’d think since the track isn’t that big that you could see everything at the same time. And you’d be completely wrong. You look at one car making a pass to take the lead, while another three are side by side by side on a section of the track where three cars don’t fit that way, and then someone who started 15th is now up to 5th, and oh there’s another pass at the front, and now there’s two cars in the grass and I have no idea how they got there which I can’t write in a recap… and all that happened in about 10 seconds. And happened again a lap afterwards. Did I mention there are like four or five races a night and some are like 30-50 laps each? Holy shit there was a lot going on.

Thank goodness I had lots of help from the staff in Seekonk, especially from Doug and Kevin, the two public address announcers who were excellent at their jobs and really helpful to someone who had to learn a lot about racing in a short amount of time. They seemed to know everything and everyone, which brings me back to the whole racing community part. The Speedway can hold a lot more fans that I imagined, although I never saw it at full capacity due to Covid restrictions still being a thing until after I had to stop writing for them. What I did get to see what a group of people that seemed to know each other, know all the drivers and the lingo, and basically grow up and even almost live at the track. It was like being at Cheers – yeah that reference just aged me big time – because it was the place where everybody knows your name. And what’s even more impressive than the fans are the drivers and their crews. They work on those cars for hours on end, week after week, and risk it all on the track where all that time, effort, and I’m betting a lot of money can come crashing down (literally) in the blink of an eye. Which you shouldn’t do while at the track because you’ll definitely miss something. It’s truly a labor of love because I don’t believe they get much in winnings and they don’t really seem to care. It’s about the thrill and the love and the history, because a lot of those drivers grew up in that community themselves. I wish I had gotten to the point where I could’ve started to interview some of the drivers and other members of this not-so-little community because I’m sure there would have been some really cool stories to hear.

I had to step away from that job once I got my current full-time gig with Pepsi. I’m considered a merchandiser which is something I really enjoyed doing in retail – I even took a couple college courses many years ago in retail merchandising – but this isn’t quite like figuring out how to put out seven boxes of clothing when you have zero space in your store. This is basically stocking shelves full of Pepsi product at various grocery stores and Walmart/Target. I have a group of different stores to go to every shift, some of which have their deliveries coming that day (no I don’t drive the trucks or unload it… the pallets of product are waiting for me in the backroom), and I need to stock, rotate, fill coolers, and make the stores look pretty and full before I move on to the next one.

It’s a long and exhausting job which requires lots of driving, early mornings (I HATE early mornings), and some LONG shifts. I was averaging at least 50 hours of work a week to start without counting the 30-45 minutes or more it would take to get to and from home. So yeah I wasn’t doing anything when I got out of work except shower, eat, and die/sleep. The first few weeks were brutal and not very enjoyable… everything took so long and it seemed like there was way too much to do and not enough hours in the day to do it. I really just wanted to quit and told my boss that I’d love to go to part-time if possible, but at the time they didn’t have enough workers because everyone is still getting those free handouts to not work (except people who work for shitty companies like Jordan’s). They did move me to an easier group of stores that were further away, and I’ve definitely gotten a little better and more comfortable at the job. Oh and the pay is really good… like way more than I made at Olympia or Jordan’s.

There were weeks at the beginning when I was racking in 10+ hours of OT that I’d make just as much in a week at Pepsi that I did in two weeks at Olympia, which goes to show you how poorly they paid someone who was there for 19 years (and why they can’t keep stores staffed right now). I definitely don’t miss that job either just some of the people that I worked with. That’s the thing with this new job… you don’t work with anyone. You’re alone, you get your shit done and you leave. Which honestly is really nice because I always liked working alone when doing tasks like merchandising a store or organizing or most retail tasks. And I’m an introvert with social anxiety who doesn’t really enjoy talking to strangers so yeah this is perfect for me. I am a perfectionist which apparently is a terrible trait to have as a merchandiser, because you could literally be in a bigger/busier store for hours trying to get everything done and fully stocked. Which would be fine if you didn’t have 4-5 stores to typically go to in a day.

I’m trying to get better and stick it out because the pay is really good and I seem to always quit things when they’re not really easy for me or I’m not really good at them from the start. Not looking forward to driving in the winter to stores that are like an hour away when I can go 80 on the highway – 65 when there are cops around of course – but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. My hours have gone down to like 40-44 a week and I’m not nearly as totally exhausted after my shifts or on my days off – they go by so damn quickly can time slow down a bit on Tuesdays and Wednesdays please? – so that’s good.

I tend to have a lot of ideas that I either forget or never follow through on for one reason or another – mostly probably self-doubt or not wanting to take chances – and one of them that popped up recently (that I clearly remembered) was possibly going back to school for the third time. Not sure if it was from seeing pics over the summer of everyone graduating – since most of the 2020 class had their ceremonies postponed until this summer due to the pandemic so I had a bunch of former co-workers getting their diplomas in 2021 – or just realizing I’m really not doing anything productive other than working or just trying to figure out how to do something other than a physical job that’s more well suited for people in their 20’s and not in their 40’s – I still look like I’m in my 20’s though – but I’ve definitely considered it.

I’m not even sure what I would go for or what major to pursue or where to go or how in the world people pay for college. Was thinking about communications and either an Associate’s (I’d need like 3 courses to get it) or a Bachelor’s, but then my friend Renee said if I go back I should get my Master’s which I had no idea you could do without first getting a lower degree – I have a Bachelor’s in computer science and an Associate’s in sport management already. So I looked up a couple things and contemplated either communications, creative writing/journalism, or sports leadership/management. I’m just not sure if it would be worth it, if I’d have the time to get it done in a reasonable amount of time, and how to pay for it. Plus I didn’t hatch this idea until late August so it wasn’t like I could actually enrol like a week later to start school right now. Still time to figure it out or likely ignore it and not do it.

So yeah that’s about it. Still single too but that’s likely never going to change either. It would probably be easier to get my Master’s than ask a girl out. Or even find one to ask out. Other than friends – actually I don’t even like asking them out and I’m not trying to date them. And don’t ever get feelings for friends because that apparently is a death wish.

Hopefully it won’t be another four months until I update this. Thanks for reading and as always drop me any comments or advice.

Adam, Sept 7, 2021

Interacting with other people – customer service & approval

The writer reflects on working in a health store, customer social interaction and managing the desire for external approval. It was first published on her site.

Hi. Its been a few days (or weeks) I always want to write about what I feel is relevant in my life, I feel like that will give me the best insights, and at the moment its meeting new people.

I recently started a new job, around two weeks ago. I work in a health store over the summer. My task is to greet the customers, give them a good experience and then either give them guidance or show them to whatever they are on a hunt for. Its really rewarding because its a lot of problemsolving and i get to practise what i know and have learned the past years.

Most people that come in know what they want but some people are just lost. Its interesting though, how interactions with other people go. There is the small talk. The very brief exchange of phrases for the shallow relationships. Its almost like a dance. It’s understood, what the situation is. I say something, they say whats expected. The barrier. The authority. It feels unnatural. I feel fake. Because I feel like a phony. Im just little me, standing here and playing grown up. I cant say whatever I want. There is a script and rules to the situation. It’s a game of power. Even though its not that serious..

I don’t like that working too much in customer service makes you probably evolve to someone you´re not around other people. That’s why my goal is to work one to one. Be self-employed. Ive gone from call center jobs where EVERYTHING is scripted and forced, to sitting at a grocery store as a cashier to now, less interactions quantitatively speaking, but still face to face encounters with people. It feels better, but still not quite right.

Ive thought a lot about that, why I feel unnatural and fake. its all just a feeling I have. Or a belief. Working in sales and customer service doesn’t really go with the idea that I think of myself as shy. I limit myself there. It doesn’t go together with the idea of how ive been an majority of my life so this sales version of myself feels foreign. And I can fake it, but its not me, its like playing pretend. But since ive done it now for a few years its starting to feel a bit easier. Does that make it natural? Is it just something that becomes a part of myself as time goes on? Fake it until you make it sort of thing?

It’s a strange thing, because having social anxiety for a majority of my life has made me think that I am a person who is fearful of other people and am there for reserved socially until I have trust with the person and then I open up. That feels like me. That’s how I have evolved to be socially. But its not a trait, I have to remind myself. Its just a habit. Difference between trait and habit? I think one comes before the other. Maybe habits become a trait. A habit that repeats itself day after day. Year after year. Then you catch it, notice it and realize; it doesn’t serve me. Its not benefiting me. The opposite actually. Its limiting myself and my goals I now have. And, as youre unhappy with a trait then you have the power to break that habit. I can change whatever Im not happy with. I need to realize that. Im not a prisoner in my mind. I can actually change whatever the heck I want.

Anyway, the concept of conversation is so intriguing to me. To share your view of the world with anothers version of the world. Intersect those worlds. Expanding. I find people and connections so interesting. I want to understand people and learn about others and therefor myself. How we are all connected..

There was this one woman who was very reserved as she walked in to the store the other day. She was talking a bit to herself and getting things from shelves, knowing very well what she needed. Me, standing behind the counter, pushing down my ego at her dismissing my attempts at reaching out if she needed help. I take it personal, I always do, their response to me. I pick up immediately if they are friendly or not and it sets my mood even though i try to hide it. If they are talkative or if they dismiss my attempts. Im soooo desperate for outward approval, I know this, yet it is hard in a profession like customer service not to be. You need to give the customer a good impression, fish for their likes. Youre hired for literally getting their approval..

Yet, this woman, not wanting help kept walking around by herself.. she then asked me one small thing. I didn’t know the response and then she dismissed me again. Didn’t deem my presence to be of worth (sidenote;THIS is what my ego thought at the moment! Important!

Hahah obviously its impossible for me to know what she actually thought) After she´d paid for her things and we´d engaged in some small talk I asked her one question to hopefully leave her with a good impression. She surprisingly took the bait and opened up and started talking about hundreds of things. She was a very interesting lady. She spoke about spirituality, meditation, how she worked with healing crystals and how she saw angels etc.

We talked maybe for fifteen minutes (or more like, she talked haha) and as the conversation went by I chimed in to say something, wanting to give my input or share something from my life, she didn’t give it much energy. She said something very small, like a word or a hum, then continued on with something else. And, I noticed afterwards as I retold this story to my boyfriend that my desperate feelings of getting approval, especially from someone that doesn’t “care” steams from my daddy issues. It felt veeeeery similar to how I feel when im talking to him. I tell him something and he doesn’t even let me finish before asking a new question. He just asks something because he is supposed to as a dad – now he has done his part in acting interested. It makes me feel unimportant and even more desperate to get him to care, say something good or funny enough.

I always thought of my dad as narcissistic, in a search for an explanation because my ego couldn’t possibly accept that my own dad doesn’t care for real about me, but it doesn’t really matter. I always felt that way concerning him. And this woman left me with that very same feeling. I also realized afterwards that maybe this woman wasn’t interested in my life, she was so fulfilled in hers that she doesn’t have interest in little me and my story. She only wanted to share her experience. And that’s not from some hateful place, its just, some people are like that. Either, they have difficulty connecting with other people or they don’t feel the need.

The thing was, from that experience with the scattered lady I noticed so much. That lady doesn’t owe me anything. Yes, its nice to be polite to strangers sure but im just a store clerk. She has her life and I have mine. She doesn’t owe me shit. Some people get more out of wordly exchanges and maybe that’s when someone is on someone elses level but this woman felt so “above” me, if I can phrase myself like that, on a spiritual level, that maybe she didn’t feel like my words gave her much. And that sort of stung at the moment but reflecting afterwards im like, huh. Im self-entilted. And lol that feels obvious but it’s a good reality check.

People have their life and problems and no one is obliged to reciprocate to whatever you’re feeling. My feeling towards this lady was “wow, tell me your secrets” but her intention could have been “okay I need to stop by this store for a quick moment and get the things I want” This feels ridiculous now, writing about it. Hahhahaha of course its like that. A stranger. But you get caught up in emotions and being entitled, feeling that things surround about you. It was just a good reminder that, hey, no one owes you anything. Because when you have a habit of needing to get everyone elses approval, its not something you always reflect on. That youre unimportant to other people. Naturally. You cant be of importance to everyone. And don’t get me wrong, the conversation we had (or she) was lovely in the end. She told me a lot of things that left me thinking but it just was onesided and the whole thing made me think about conversating.

I value conversation and connection with people so much. Also why I feel so fake when having small talk with customers. I don’t want to have conversations about the weather or the news. I want them to tell me their secrets. Their struggles. Stuff they don’t want to tell anyone. Like, why? Hahaha. Why on earth do I want that? I think, maybe if I get peoples trust I can trust them. I can be myself. If I can manipulate this random person to like me so they expose their real self maybe I can be myself. No games. And this, controlling and manipulating my surroundings to be myself is just.. sigh..

I need trust in myself. If I have that, nothing else matters I wont feel desperate and look for it outwards. I have it inside myself. Easier said then done though.. (ofcourse, connecting with other people will still always be really important to me, I crave to evolve and connect with others, but maybe it wont be in the same – chasing everyone elses approval type of way) It’s a working process. My relationship to myself is definitely improving this year and that’s more than I can say for past years. Past years been a different focus, so I think im on my way to really getting to know myself and learning to have my back. Its always good for me to reflect on my meeting with people and learn from it. ❤

by Luna, Luna Mil, July 25, 2021

Flowers over a fence – let me know if you know their name! (S.Ali)