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Dealing with mask-less customers and unexpected encounters

When my retail store started requiring customers to wear face masks, the company implemented “health ambassadors”. They’re employees that get to stand by the entrance and tell customers to kindly put on a mask.

Somehow, management thought it would be a good idea for me to become a health ambassador. Yes, they thought it was a good idea to put an employee with on-going and well-known anxiety issues in the awkward position of having to confront customers and ask them to put on a mask.

“Health ambassador” sounds official and like it requires a bit of training and shadowing a more experienced and confident employee. Imagine my surprise that all I had to do to become a health ambassador is to watch a two minute video and slap on a black shirt that says “health ambassador”. Including the time it took to walk to the back to watch the video, the whole process to become this mask bouncer took about five minutes. My Black Friday sales training took longer than it took to be qualified to handle customers that may not appreciate being told to put a piece of cloth over their face.     

It’s not that I’m rendered completely incapable of doing certain things because of anxiety, but having anxiety can make doing certain things difficult and therefore I require some experience and preparation. Watching a short video and throwing on a different piece of clothing isn’t enough to convince my very flawed brain that I can do this without the need to go into Panic Mode.

Thankfully, out of the dozens of people that headed into the store on my first health ambassador shift, only three of them didn’t come in with masks. But I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to put on a mask. All three of them had an expression on their face gave me the impression that if I dared to ask them to put on a mask I would end up on one of the many viral videos involving customers at other stores going absolutely apeshit on an employee who asked them to put on a face mask. The sour look on their faces reminded me of my Mother whenever she was upset with me and fuming, but not quite screaming at me yet.

Speaking of my Mother…being a Health Ambassador put me directly in contact with her.  

Normally, if I’m at work, if I see her in my area I will get as far away as possible. (If you read my post on her, you might understand why). I could not do that as a Health Ambassador. I had to stand there behind the barrier as she passed by to go into the store. Even worse, she spoke to me. She didn’t seem to recognize me in my face mask when she politely asked me how my day was as if I were a stranger in that sing-song Snow White voice she uses whenever the monster she needs to make herself appear human presentable around others. It was almost exactly like the last time we spoke nearly seven years prior: she was politely asking me questions and I felt like I would be creating a scene if I refused to answer.

“Fine. I’m okay,” I said to her, but I was mostly lying to myself. When she was out of view, I felt an overwhelming and sudden wave of nausea and nearly puked in my mask.  

As if my luck couldn’t get any worse, this encounter happened toward the end of my Ambassador shift and I was scheduled to do an hour inside the entrance to count customers and sanitize carts about ten minutes after this incident occurred. Not only did I have an encounter with my Mother outside the store as she headed in, I also encountered her inside the doors as she headed out. She had only bought a couple bags of groceries. Instead of taking the cart outside with her, she decided to approach me and ask if it was alright if she left the cart with me. Again, her tone and the way she spoke indicated she still didn’t realize her estranged daughter was underneath that cute bumblebee mask—if not, then she pulled quite the dick power move, which honestly wouldn’t surprise me even after years of having nothing to do with her. Of course, she was technically a customer so I had to answer her. I think I mustered out a “Yep.” I don’t quite remember—I was too busy trying not to throw up and was fidgeting my fingers because my hands were starting to shake from panic. A coworker seemed to notice my unease towards the end of my shift because she said she could see it in my eyes that I “looked cranky”, though I think she was unaware that what was actually happening was I had been having a mild yet drawn out panic attack for the past hour.

Honestly, I would have rather had a customer explode at me for asking them to wear a face mask because that would have been better situation than encountering my Mother.

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