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Annie’s mailbox: Customer’s social skills suffer due to his illness

Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar The Spokesman-Review

Dear Annie: I work in a small restaurant. One of our regular customers (I’ll call him “John”) has a mental disability. He’s very nice and I know he means well, but he really makes me uncomfortable.

John comes into the restaurant and stays until we close. When we’re not busy, my boss lets him come back into the kitchen. This is when my comfort level really drops. John follows my every move and watches me constantly. If I look up at him, he looks me straight in the eye and gives me a huge smile. He hits on all the girls who work here and has given us his phone number. Sometimes he’ll stare at us and say, “Wow!” It’s really awkward, especially when my boss leaves us alone with him.

I feel bad that I’m weirded out by John, but I can’t help it. Can you please give me some advice? – A.R.

Dear A.R.: It might help if you understand that John’s illness prevents him from controlling some of this behavior. He likes you. He thinks you’re pretty. He’d like you to call him. He doesn’t understand that being so direct is disconcerting. Ask your boss to talk to him and explain that staring and saying “wow” is not an acceptable way to behave around girls. He can help teach John more appropriate ways to conduct himself. John likely poses no danger to you, especially if he remains in the restaurant area, but he should not be in the kitchen for health as well as safety reasons. Tell the boss John’s presence hampers your work and makes you nervous, and that you’d appreciate it if he would stay in the main area of the establishment at all times.

Dear Annie: I don’t mean to sound like a whiner, but at this stage of my life (I am 37 and divorced), every day is overwhelming and I seldom, if ever, enjoy one life-fulfilling day. My job is stressful, but it is very rewarding and provides for my son. I like what I do and don’t want a career change. However, I just don’t seem to be able to live my life to the fullest.

I know that in many respects I am to blame because of my personality. My divorce continues to hurt me. I am very sensitive and too easily stressed, but I can’t help it. Sometimes I even feel the bad vibrations I emit. I get nervous when I talk and sometimes blurt out things I don’t intend to say. Can you help? – El Paso, Texas

Dear El Paso: You are a prime candidate for counseling to help you learn to control your anxiety, balance your oversensitivity and develop some self-confidence. Consider it a gift to your son, who will learn his social skills from you. Ask your doctor to refer you or use the employee assistance program if your job offers one.

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