Prior to this summer, I’d never thought I fell into the category of textbook, cliché young people who believe they’re invincible. More specifically, when the owner of a local ice cream and coffee shop offered me a job in June, it didn’t even register that eating ice cream and drinking coffee for dinner four nights a week for two months might cause me problems.
Similarly, I didn’t think about how taking the job would mean that for the rest of the summer, I would be working four strenuous jobs while completing an introductory French class. These facts, lined up one by one, spelled out impending doom for both my physical and mental health.
However, at the time, I was thrilled. My job meant I had an excuse to leave the house and interact with people that weren’t my family. The free coffee and ice cream were just the cherry on top.
For the first few weeks, my expectations actually came to fruition. I loved spending time with my coworkers. And, as a coffee snob, I revelled in the opportunity to make different types of drinks and quickly developed strong opinions on the inherent superiority of regular milk to its oat and almond counterparts.
Then, of course, there was the ice cream. My store had an abundance of fancy ice cream, gelato, and sorbet flavours including standouts like watermelon, Ferrero Rocher, and lemon. I spent the time between serving customers eating cup after cup of ice cream while chatting with my coworkers.
I was having such a good time that, at one point, there was even talk of me working at a new Toronto location during the school year. My job served as a reprieve from the guilt-ridden stress I was feeling from my other responsibilities. Though I wasn’t literally failing French, I wasn’t studying enough to really feel like I was doing well. The same was true of my effort towards my other jobs.
I didn’t want to acknowledge that spending 30 hours a week at the shop was contributing to the fact that I felt more overwhelmed than I ever had before. But, inevitably, the happiness I had simulated by starting the job came crashing down and I was forced to accept some pretty inconvenient truths.
I’ll be the first to admit that I learned these truths a little late. This seems to be the case now more than usual given the plethora of thinkpieces spawned by the great epiphany catalyst commonly known as the COVID-19 pandemic. But let’s get something straight: I have never learned anything through thoughtful self-reflection and I sure as hell wasn’t going to start because of the pandemic. To use a tired metaphor, I’m more like a shark. I need to keep moving or else I’ll drown.
That being said, I challenge any animal to continue moving when its diet consists mostly of dairy products with the occasional cookie or croissant to round things out.
Soon enough, my unsustainable lifestyle took its toll. I slept all the time but could never shake off the cloud of exhaustion that enveloped me. My digestive system was completely thrown off. I’ll spare you the grisly details, but I remember feeling distinctly surprised that I always had a stomachache yet never seemed to have an appetite.
The deterioration of my physical health also forced me to acknowledge the deterioration of my mental well-being. It’s hard even now to figure out whether my symptoms were caused by my diet or my anxiety. It was probably the unholy combination of the two. Regardless, every task, no matter how small, felt like staring up at the misty, out-of-reach peak of a mountain. I could feel the boundaries I had so carefully crafted through relentless scheduling dissolving around me.
Perhaps the ultimate sign of my unhappiness was that I stopped drinking coffee when I came into work. Instead, I would have a nice cup of tea to calm my nerves — truly blasphemous. Though I continued to eat ice cream — mostly because I was too inept to pack a lunch — it became a reluctant exercise, something I could do to take my mind off my racing heart and shaking hands.
The end to this story was bittersweet, as most are. I was sad to say goodbye to my coworkers, who I had really connected with during my time there. But I also acknowledged — for maybe the first time in my entire life — that I had simply taken on too much. I physically don’t have the time to do everything I would like to, and I have to accept that.
I’m happy to report that I didn’t end up getting a second job once I moved to Toronto. In an ironic twist of fate, my roommates only drink oat milk, so there’s really no point for me to buy the real stuff. Oat milk is an okay substitute, I guess. Also, despite the fact that there are two gelato places on my new street, I’ve only given in to the temptation and gotten a cup once. Even then, I ate a few bites and immediately felt I’d had enough.
This might feel like the underwhelming conclusion to an underwhelming story, but I’d like to believe it marks some small form of progress. I can only hope that, one day, I’ll reach a point where I can do things that make me happy without further overwhelming myself in the process.