This is me:
I'm a barista (not a barrister, alas; my splendid buffet of mental health issues have helped to choke that dream) and, like Café Groundhog Day, it’s 8.30am and I’m standing in front of the same regular customer, making the same coffee, with a papier maché smile sagging off my face, doing my very best not to steam my eyeballs into the back of my broken brain.
On a good day I can make hundreds of perfect coffees, quickly, efficiently and with genuine joy. In my heart I love being busy, I love talking to people and I love meeting new customers.
People say this of me; that I’m friendly, funny and great to chat with.
I will laugh at your shitty jokes, helpfully give you directions to any landmark you happen to be looking for (and is usually within sight, had you bothered to look), congratulate your son on getting good marks in his exams and happily remake your last coffee because the milk “tasted funny”.
However, more often than not, when that bell above the door ‘trings’, heralding the arrival of yet another enforced, jolly interaction, my immediate instinct is to try and crawl inside the milk fridge and wait for rescue.
It could take some time.
But I have to smile. And I do.
This is the me you don't see:
Working in customer service with depression and anxiety is exhausting. At times it’s borderline impossible to conceal. Like trying to hold a casual conversation while violently throwing up into your lap.
Everything becomes a negative, every well-meant word or joke is a barb or a blow. They don’t know that the little quip they just made at my expense triggered a tidal wave of desolation, likely to last for days. And neither they should. But FUCK YOU for saying it. FUCK YOU for seeing me in your headlights and choosing not to swerve away but drive right over my fragile head.
They’ll tell me to cheer up, they’ll threaten a bad review on Trip Advisor, or verbally scold me in front of my peers. They don’t care.
“How hard can your job be anyway, mate?”
They don’t know that I’ve spent the last four days drinking so heavily my kidneys are radiating. That the only way I can see myself making it to 3pm is if I “pop out to make a call”, sprint to the shop and neck a carefully selected, scent-free can of fruity alcohol. Not because I’m an alcoholic, but because what began as one drink to numb the depression has turned swiftly into a dependency to cure the anxiety.
And it helps to make me chattier.
So next time you come across a barista – or, for that matter, a barrister – who doesn’t seem to be as perfectly friendly or efficient as you might like . . .think about the person you can’t see.
And say thank you, and goodbye.