Hi, I’m Cydne. I’m a pansexual, biofemale whose gender identity changes from day to day. I have severe mental health problems, and Aspergers too, as well as arthritis and IBS. Joy! I’m a massive Trekkie and a video game nerd, and I usually blog at livebythem.tumblr.com.
There was a day last year I remember quite clearly. I went shopping. I spent 20 minutes talking to one of those guys who proposition people on the street for charity donations. He was collecting for a charity I do not agree with, and he was asking for a donation I could not afford. I ended up donating anyway. About an hour beforehand, I bought some overpriced cheese because the aggressive free samples guy made me feel guilty by handing me the product right after I took a sample. I’d also gone large that day on my McDonald’s order, because I forgot to ask for a medium, and the server said “So that’s a large, yeah?” and I was too embarrassed to say no.
Anyone with conditions like mine will have similar stories to tell. Those of us with social phobia who are afraid of confrontation. Those of us on the Autistic Spectrum who are easily led and manipulated. Those of us with depression who are lonely and just thankful for someone to talk to. We are the ones who are most easily tricked by aggressive sales techniques, most likely to tip high when a server pretends to be our friend, most likely to keep something we don’t want for fear of confrontation upon returning it. Yet, statistically, those of us with mental illnesses are more likely to be jobless, and thus, more likely to be unable to afford the things we buy out of fear and guilt. According to a UK study, only 20% of people with mental illnesses are employed.
It is likely that the companies who instruct and train their employees to act in this manner are aware of the effect they have on us. A friend of mine took a seminar in “Assertiveness and Sales Techniques.” He was taught how to spot weaknesses and take advantage of them in order to sell products. He was taught to be slightly flirty with women who seem to care a lot about their appearance, and taught to act like a kind friend to people who shop alone — especially women who look nervous or unhappy. In short, he was taught to spot psychological weak points and use those to sell goods.
I doubt his experience is a rare one. These multinational corporations pay millions of dollars to research firms to help them improve sales. Sales research groups use psychologists to help them better understand how to sell to people, especially on the case of body language. The effect Autism and mental health issues have on body language is well known. So there’s a fair chance that they know they are harming those of us with mental health problems and Autism or Aspergers, for the sake of sales, both emotionally and financially, similar to how they know they are harming those with body dysmorphic disorder by advertising using only photos of the slim and airbrushed.
It’s the donation soliciting people that affect me the most, I think. They seem to deliberately target me, perhaps because I used to shop alone. I find confrontation terrifying. I find meeting new people terrifying. And I’m terrified of what people think of me. So, when a friendly looking guy approaches me and asks me for “a moment of my time to discuss Oxfam,” I find myself unable to walk away, lest he judge me, or say something to me to make me feel bad in some manner.
They always say things like “it’s only £3 a week, anyone can afford that!,” and I find myself so ashamed of being on benefits and having shopping bags with me, that I have to agree and sign up. Even now, I feel like I should tell you that my bags usually contain pet food or replacement clothing, in case you judge me for how I spend my benefits. Heck, let’s be honest, saying “everyone can afford £3 a week” is pretty darned classist, too.
A day spent shopping may not seem all that memorable to most people. But my day shopping last year will likely stay with me forever, serving as a reminder of my vulnerability. I no longer shop alone. I do my shopping online, or with a trusted companion. I am a vulnerable person, through no fault of my own. This is not about being easily persuaded, or being a stereotypical “shopaholic” female with no money management skills. This is about being ill, and knowing that most companies out there will gladly take advantage of that.