The store had just opened — a health food store that provided organic and locally sourced food. It was an alternative to the local Kroger. And everybody who worked there was new, friendly, and — the best part — from the community.
There wasn’t much to do during that opening week. So we spent a lot of our time cleaning. Or we’d chat with customers. I’d never worked retail before, and I’d never been one to be outgoing.
I worried about making friends, but by the end of the first day I had made friends with another employee. I was elated until I learned that the regional manager had told higher-ups that I “didn’t have a sense of purpose” and was “giggling too much with a co-worker.” I felt like a total failure, and I was afraid I was going to lose my job.
I’d had poor luck in corporate environments. I have ADHD, and I didn’t enjoy sitting at a desk, cranking out work I wasn’t passionate about. So when I applied to this job, I was excited to be applying to something different. Yes, customer service was outside of my norm. But change was good, right?
At this job, I assumed I could finally be myself, working in a community with people who looked like me. I assumed I’d be able to move around without going stir-crazy with my ADHD. I assumed I wouldn’t have to worry about turning down my personality for the sake of professionalism. But after hearing of the regional manager’s remarks, I feared I’d assumed wrong.
“What was I supposed to do differently before the product came in?” “Was laughing at work not allowed?” “Was my ADHD making me think I was being more productive than I was?” Questions like these filled my mind and left me full of anxiety.
I told my friend what the regional manager had said about us — I was afraid to confront the issue. To my surprise, my friend went to speak with the manager to straighten things out. And after that, the “issue” stopped and the regional manager left the store. It turned out we weren’t the only ones she’d had remarks about.
In that moment, my co-worker and friend provided an outlet that helped me cope with work anxiety. She affirmed that I was not alone — I could say what I felt, even if not to my boss. I’ve learned that when these genuine connections with work peers happen, they’re worth leaning in to. They’re also incredibly helpful.
Looking back, I’m glad I had that experience with that manager. I ended up learning a lot from it. Seeing how my friend chose to handle the issue showed me that I can be assertive without worrying about job security. I can stick up for myself instead of shrinking. And I have people like my co-worker to thank.
The people I’ve worked with have made the challenges of working with ADHD more manageable. They’ve also made the experiences worth it. And no matter where I work, I know these connections will be my saving grace.
Originally published on our Medium publication for/by. Check out our full collection of stories by adults who learn and think differently.