At age 68, I work three eight-hour shifts a week in a grocery store. Not just your average grocery store: it’s a funky health foods supermarket in the very funky town of Asheville, NC. We have terrific management at all levels, who treat people well and support you for being yourself – even eccentric. My coworkers are amazing – fun and creative people, many or most of them artists or musicians. Our customers tend to be really cool people – fresh and interesting, available to the kinds of interactions I describe in these posts. So, great merchandise, great management, great coworkers, great customers – I have advantages here that most of my brothers and sisters in the service industry don’t have. Yet I believe that most of the encounters I describe here could happen other places at the right moment in time.
I haven’t always been a grocery store cashier. I was a Ph.D. clinical psychologist for 20 years, then a Fortune 500 management consultant for another 15. This job is more than, as some customers say, “a good retirement job”. Yeah, after eight hours on my feet, my legs are sore. Yeah the pay is not that great – ridiculous when I think of what I have made in the past.
But bipolar disorder has made high-stress work impossible for me. I was not diagnosed until my mid-forties. Before then, I mostly was just perceived as “enthusiastic” – and by the occasional person as “too intense”. Then in my early forties, the youthful energy that had propelled me forward failed me at the same time that some situational factors left me very vulnerable, and I began to crash. More about my journey with bipolar disorder is described in another blog (bipolarintegrity.com). Enough to say that over about fifteen years I saw some really dark days and that I’m a lot better now. I love where I live, have great friends, a great support network. I am by no means “over” bipolar disorder, as you will see in these entries. But then none of us are over what makes us tick, what makes us vulnerable, what makes us interesting. Leonard Cohen says,
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s where the light comes in.”
Not every entry in this blog will involve my store. Life is big and happens everywhere, so you will hear about my dance community, my funky eight-person household, the Asheville environment, etc. But all of life unfolds before me here at the grocery store – funny stuff, synchronistic woo-woo stuff, poignant stuff. On a good (OK, usually manic) day, all the experiences of my 68 years come together and I work magic with my customers. On a good day, I love them and I know they love me. On a good day, I know that I am in the right place at the right time. On a bad/depressed day, it can feel like a trip through hell, but I always have a few good interactions and it’s better than sitting at home. And I need the money.
Majo John Madden