Thursday, October 21, 2010

Working Retail With Fibromyalgia

I graduated from college with a B.A. in Art, Interior Design. I was good at it and liked it well enough but how I chose it was a bit funny. I had already moved "away" for my second year and attended the community college in the town I wanted to go to University in. I applied for transfer as a junior the following year and had to declare a major. So I grabbed that university catalog and flipped through with a pen and paper ready to jot down every major that 1. Did not include complicated math or science 2. I could work after graduation without having to go to graduate school 3. Seemed interesting and like something I could do. Oh such the overachiever! So it came down to Recreation Management, Interior Design and something else I cannot remember. Interior Design won and that's what I did. I had an "internship" the summer before I graduated back home in Los Angeles and secured a job there upon completion. It was a small outfit, 1 woman with a store-front that did residential design. Neither one of us realized how much training I was going to need and let's just say it did not work out. I then took a job as a retail interior designer at a reputable high-end furniture company. The commission structure was a joke and I made as close to no money as possible but rose in the ranks to consistently one of the top-selling designers every month. After nearly 3 years I left to take a "break" job in cosmetics at a high-end department store. I needed time to figure out what to do with myself, take more computer focused interior design classes and get into commercial design, go back and get my masters, who knew? I needed time to unwind and refocus. But I actually liked cosmetics! It was fun and I learned how to put makeup on and once again became the top sales person nearly overnight. Then my husband was accepted to University in San Francisco and we moved. I was quickly promoted and placed with the same cosmetics line at a major department store downtown. Oh it was a blast! For the first time in my professional life I gave it 100% and excelled in management. There was so much action and activity and stimulation! I worked my butt off and got a few more promotions, winding up as a junior executive before developing CFS and Fibromyalgia. So I quickly climbed down that ladder and went back to counter management. And set out trying to find out what was wrong with me.

Working retail with Fibromyalgia was living hell. Standing on my feet for 8 hours, dealing with the often insane general public, racing around at top speeds to keep up with the traffic demands. It was grueling and painful on my body and brain. I would lie around on my days off trying to figure out what on earth was wrong with me, my legs and feet throbbing, shooting, stabbing. Feeling like I was crushing myself just by standing and like I was going to implode. I could not do the things that were necessary to keep the house together and had to rely on my husband for more and more help. He was unhappy with his job and did not want to live where we lived but could not look for a new one in a new place because my ability to work was so uncertain. I had build a great reputation in San Francisco and rode the coat tails of that through my illness but no one could tell me what was wrong with me or what to do about it. We were quickly racking up debt due to my loss of income and increase in medical bills. I was a mess, falling apart emotionally and physically and my husband was developing major depression not far behind me. I would paint myself up pretty and plaster a smile on my face and force myself through each day at work, then come home and crumble apart all over him. He was just as confused and worried and scared as I was but had to stuff all of his feelings inside because there was only room for 1 nut-job at a time in our house!

I look back on that time now with shame and embarrassment. I know I did the best I could but my selfishness was astounding! Here he was working himself to the bone, miserable and cold in the rain, disappointed he had worked so hard for his degree to wind up in a job he got no stimulation from with a company he did not want to grow with. His young wife was falling apart, sick, relying on him more and more to complete basic household tasks and he had no one to go to. I was too absorbed in my problems to be there for him and he just stuffed it all deep inside and got up every morning and dealt with it. I think that is how a lot of our loved ones do it. The distance between us grows into a valley, long and deep, because we forget that Fibromyalgia is happening to them too. We become so absorbed in our pain, our problems, and eventually they shut down emotionally or leave. NOT to excuse the behavior but I can see with a bit of perspective now and am still amazed he is standing steady by my side. Things have improved for him. I started climbing out of the health-hole after we moved to Arizona and had matured enough to recognize the long-term impact of my sickness on him. I started encouraging him to talk about it and became okay with the fact that there was a part of him that was mad at me for getting sick, and then feeling horribly guilty about being mad at me, poor guy! I became okay with him having feelings about what had happened to me and in turn us. I had processed enough to listen without defensiveness, anger or fear and he slowly unraveled all that wound-up nastiness inside of himself. We have evolved to a point in our marriage where we laugh again, we have fun together and when things get tough, support each other when things get rough. I truly believe after what we have been through we can make it through anything. But it is the exchange that makes it work. Not all me or all him having all our needs met all the time. The amount of sacrifice required to see a marriage into the double digits is insane! But as long as we are both standing here willing to try I will take his craziness and he will  take mine.

Thanks for joining,


  1. Leah, I worked as a cosmetic rep. and counter mgr. too! I felt the same way you did. I felt like I was going through he floor, standing in my high heels all day. I was 32 at the time working with 19 year olds. It wasn't glamorous, it was just exhausting for me! And i had 3 kids at the time. Young kids! We've had many peaks and valleys through 48 years of marriage. And a few affairs too! But here we are each others' best friend. I'm glad you learned so jacquie

  2. My best friend owned a Merle Norman Studio and I helped her and worked for her when she wanted to take time off so I think I can relate. And I remember that she kept files on each client with their colors and perfumes. Also she had difficult clients too from time to time. I remember on day when I was helping her and was going to be working that weekend so she could be off that I asked what the notation in the corner of a certain file meant. It was PIA. She said if you see that at the top of a file don't even waste your time on them. You could not make them happy or please them if you were Jesus. She replied it stood for Pain in the ass. We had a good laugh and every time I pulled a card with that in the corner it was all I could do to keep from laughing my butt off.