I remember the first time I heard about Girl AGain and its training program with Yes She Can. It was my therapist who, in trying to recommend things that would get me out of the house, suggested something she’d heard about: a store that trains young women on the autistic spectrum. Both my mom and I were intrigued and decided to check it out. What we found was a warm and welcoming space, that my anxious self felt comfortable in. I applied and I got started right away in the Spring of 2017 .
It was something like a culture shock, at first. I’ve never had a job, nor worked in a store type of environment. I was assigned tasks, and some of them were hard for me. A thing about me is that I don’t like to disappoint anyone, or how my mind puts it, ‘ruin things’ So if I thought I could screw something up, I wouldn’t or couldn’t do it (which, ironically would disappoint people more, but hey, anxiety’s weird right?)
But the job coaches and store manager were patient and would let me work through things one at a time, and let me know that if I screw up, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve written about how I worked through my phone anxiety on this blog before, and I’ve gone leaps and bounds since then. (Side note, my brother was worrying about calling someone, and saw me call para transit, and was emboldened to make his call. ‘If my sister can do it, I can!’)
I could go into detail about what I learned, but first I want to talk about how more confident and ‘at home with myself’ I feel since working here. I’ve always been known as a ‘nice and polite’ girl. However, my social anxiety got in the way. If you never had social anxiety before, I envy you, because it frustrating. For me, I couldn’t buy things at the store without a huge internal debate, if I could at all. I’m known to be smart and quick-witted (thanks, Dad!) but you wouldn’t know it because just saying that I was good was a struggle. If you wanted to be friends with me, good luck, because you had to approach me and hope and pray I could look you in the eyes (I often rose to the occasion, but it was a monumental effort. ) I remember one time, before I was diagnosed with autism, I was playing a fighting video game with some boys at college who approached me, and one of them started to do something a bit weird in the game. I was internally panicking! Why was this happening? Did I do something wrong? Am I ruining their game? Eventually, after what felt like a panic-filled eternity, the match ended. “I wanted to see what you would do if I went up there.” he said simply. That was all. I was relieved, I hadn’t ruined anything! Having social anxiety is exhausting. To be completely transparent, I was put on anti-anxiety medication, but that does not erase it completely. You have to work at it, and that’s what Yes She Can offered to me.
Nowadays you can probably find me at work, greeting customers or answering phone calls, getting back to people about what we have in stock, and doing the best I can. But I am a changed person. Not to say I wasn’t sociable before, but now I feel comfortable with myself. I even joke with check-out people, something I never thought I would do. I talk to and compliment strangers. That was unheard of for me two years ago. I get into small talk conversations on elevators, instead of just ignoring them. Before, if I talked to someone I didn’t know, 9 times out 10 I’d fake my emotions so they wouldn’t see me panicking, but now? I’m 100% me. I don’t have to hide myself anymore.
I still have work to do, but I’ll feel like myself while doing it.
By Mackenzie H.