This is a long post. Most of it was written the morning after the incident that precipitated my meltdown. It is now several days since that happened, but I’m keeping the wording mostly the same.
My meltdowns seem to be getting rarer and rarer as I get older (a good thing!), so I won’t have as many opportunities to document them as I could’ve had years ago or as a child. So, I thought it was important to write down as much and as soon as possible about this specific one.
Looking back I can see that I was already stressed out. Adding in the lights and visuals of the grocery store plus a rude and unaccommodating employee was too much. I don’t think the story has any potential triggers for others – it doesn’t always take a huge big thing to cause a meltdown. Sometimes the tipping point is just the final thing of many and not always the biggest of those things.
So, with that said, here’s my story:
Last night we went to the grocery store to pick up a few things.
I should’ve known better, of course. I’d attended a crowded event the day before and had felt too overwhelmed yesterday morning to even go work out at my tiny little gym where I know pretty much everyone by now, they believe me about my sensory issues, and I enjoy the workouts.
But, by the evening I was feeling a little better and thought that a quick trip to the store with husband would be manageable.
We’d pretty much finished shopping when husband mentioned that he’d like to get some bread, which was on the other side of the store. My head was starting to buzz a warning about the lights being too much for me before too long, so I told him that was fine, but we needed to hurry because I needed to leave the store very soon.
Hooray for noticing that I needed to leave! That’s something I did right. I handled that well. I successfully communicated my need and husband respected it by heading straight for the checkouts instead of walking all the way across the store for bread.
At that time of night, the only checkouts available were in the self-checkout line. Cool. That’s where we usually go anyhow. We started checking out, taking turns scanning and bagging until the machine malfunctioned and wouldn’t let us continue.
The machine had buzzed the self-checkout cashier several times before this, but had always gotten unstuck eventually. There were a couple of other people checking out at other terminals and they needed help too, but it took quite a long time for the cashier to even get to us each time.
This time was no exception and felt even longer than the previous waits. It didn’t seem as though the cashier was in any kind of hurry the way I would’ve been if I’d had that many customers who needed help that late in the evening. She even stood at her computer screen for several minutes, doing nothing (I watched), before coming over to help us.
Once the cashier had gotten to us, she began to berate us for messing up the machine. She blamed us for setting the product down incorrectly or something. I carefully explained that I’d set it down exactly how I’d set every single other item down, but she said that setting things down wrong made the machine get stuck so I must’ve jiggled it or something.
Okay. Whatever. I didn’t figure clarifying further was going to do any good so I shut my mouth in hopes that it would go faster that way.
Sadly, it didn’t. She blamed us a few more times, dug through our shopping bag without asking first, pulled the last item out, and rang it up again so it was listed twice.
She was then unable to void either one. She spent a long time trying to void it while complaining about the machine.
I was barely holding it all together by now.
Somehow I managed to say that we’d be happy to just pay for the (extremely inexpensive) item twice if it would get us out of there sooner and make it easier for everyone, but she refused, saying that she had to void it out and again blaming us for the terminal malfunctioning.
So, losing the last shred of my patience, I noticed there was another terminal available and asked if we couldn’t just go over there and start over again while she figured out how to unstick the terminal without having to worry about making us wait.
But no, of course we couldn’t. She was very firm on that point.
Husband suggested that I go out to the car or get him the aforementioned bread to get me away from that lady, but I was in full near-meltdown mode and I didn’t trust that lady at all. There was no way I was going to leave her near my groceries, even with husband right there, and go somewhere else.
That cashier didn’t feel safe. I was starting to mutter under my breath, trying to be as quiet as possible – letting some steam off a bit here and there. I couldn’t control it much, but I did as much as I could to quiet my voice while pacing back and forth and bouncing on the balls of my feet.
I used to work in customer service years ago and I don’t ever want to be one of those awful customers who berate employees, but I really have never treated customers as poorly as she treated us. Ignoring them, blaming them, and then refusing to grant them a perfectly reasonable request? Nope.
I’m not even supposed to be “good with people,” yet, I know the rules and how to treat customers well and with respect while actually helping them achieve their stated objectives.
It was a good 10-15 minutes later before she finally let us go to another terminal. Our frozen stuff was starting to visibly thaw by now and I had just wanted to leave for a good half hour by now.
I don’t know why she wouldn’t just let us move to another terminal. I was probably pretty well distressed looking by then. Maybe she thought we were stealing something? But if so, why wouldn’t she want us to go to a different terminal and ring everything up again from the start? That would be the most logical way to catch someone or prevent them from stealing without seeming as though you even suspected them.
Looking back, I do wonder if disclosing my autistic status would’ve helped move the situation along more quickly, but I don’t think it would have. Also, disclosing to her would have meant ignoring my gut feeling that was her overwhelming unsafeness.
I’ve spent my entire life having my gut feeling discounted and invalidated. I often don’t even notice when I feel threatened by someone, but I’m working on recognizing and listening to that feeling.
I’m pleased that I noticed and honored that feeling. I’m not pleased that I probably acted poorly in the grocery store. I’m also frustrated still, even today (the day after), that we weren’t able to check out uneventfully the way we usually do. We actually do know how to use the self-checkout and use it correctly all the time because that’s my preference rather than having to talk to a cashier at a regular lane.
Being erroneously blamed repeatedly and then having my request denied without any good reason given or any apology was just the last straw for me. I was out of straws. It felt as if she took my last straw and waved it around in my face while yelling “Neener neener neener. I stole your last straw!”
I held most of my meltdown inside until we got out to the car at which point I let loose. Husband let me rant about it for as long as I needed, only gently correcting me about some details when I’d perceived them differently than he had.
Honestly, we probably will never go to that store again late at night when she could well be the only cashier there again. I don’t want to deal with that person ever again. She didn’t feel safe at all and I cannot ever be totally certain that she’s working there either, because of my face-blindness, unless husband is with me to tell me that she is.
This is the sort of thing that results in me burning bridges and/or never going back somewhere again. Maybe that’s an over the top kind of reaction, but my face-blindness is another issue to consider as part of the whole. I might never know in the future whether I’m interacting with her or someone else. This leaves me open to possibly being mistreated to the point of a meltdown again by someone I will almost certainly not recognize if I see again.
That’s a very scary potential situation to willingly walk into, and I know how poorly it went this last time. I don’t want to ever repeat it.
Thankfully, situations like these happen much less often nowadays than they used to. They haven’t really gotten any easier with age though. I’m just able to avoid them more effectively now because I can often catch warning signs and act to get out of difficult situations before things get to the meltdown point.
Melting down in public is not something I do on purpose. It’s something I will do everything in my power to avoid. It’s not for attention. It’s not a conscious decision at all.
It’s the point at which I reach fight or flight and can neither flee nor fight.