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She was Broken

‘For Heaven’s sake! Put that tray down and get the damn washing on!’. Her nasal voice boomed across the dining room and cut a diagonal slice through each of my ear drums. Resident’s paused midway through scooping porridge into their mouths and watched wide-eyed as the new carer was again being screamed at by the senior staff member. There was unease in the air as the young girl scampered across the faded linoleum and up the ramp towards the laundry; head down and tears again welling in red-lined eyes.

To say it was a baptism of fire would be an understatement. When I began working at the aged-care facility, I was already a wreck. Nursing a broken heart from a devastating end to a relationship and never having worked in aged-care, I was beyond nervous. My anxiety was at its peak and I even jumped when the automatic air-freshener sprayed. I had no idea that I would be sent even lower than I already was; by a person who was meant to be kind.

I have just read an article by Rachel Macy Stafford called ‘Am I Invisible?’ about being left out, or treated badly or just needing kindness, any sort of gentle kindness. It struck a nerve in me. Not to open old wounds but to appreciate people in my life who have shown true, unconditional kindness when I had nothing to offer back. People who found parts of my personality they liked and wished to get to know. People who didn’t know me at all but their inherent personal qualities of treating people with kindness and compassion shone out of them like morning sunbeams over the ocean.

There is one person out there, maybe two, three, ten, two dozen? But at least one person who has held their hand out when you were lying on your back, pinned down by insecurities, circumstances and devoid of energy to try to get back up by yourself.

I stood behind the laundry sobbing. Sobbing and sobbing. ‘Why me? I am trying my best! I don’t know what I don’t know!’ The sound of the back door opening and the rustle of wheelie frames being ushered noisily inside sparked me to wipe my tears, blow my nose and blink heavily, trying to less redden the red in my eyes.

Day in, day out I was screamed at, told I was ‘hopeless’ ‘useless’ and ‘a wonder I was ever employed because I wouldn’t be for long’. I was set up to fail by being asked to perform tasks she knew I had no idea of how to do but knowing I was too terrified to ask for help. I would go home and feel empty; no tears were left, no strength was had and no future was I looking forward to. Except the days I would drive into work and see a familiar car parked in the familiar spot. The other senior staff member was on shift and it was going to be a good day.

Tonia (pseudonym) was the absolute opposite of the other staff member and to me, in my current broken state, she was an angel. She greeted every staff member by name and let the staff organise themselves in the morning. And to top it all off, she cared deeply for her colleagues of whom she was fiercely protective. I was often rattled at work but kept it together to provide care to the people I was there to support. However, every day I was on with Tonia, she would stop me as I scarpered up and down the hallways and hug me. A big, warm, long hug. And she would whisper to me “You are doing a great job, never forget that, you are doing a brilliant job”. These moments slowly built my confidence and with the camaraderie between myself and the other carers, work got less traumatic and more enjoyable.

Unbeknownst to me, the manager was addressing the issue with the other staff member. The other staff had been reporting what was happening to not only me but other new carers and things were happening.

Personally, I decided that I would not be a victim. I would not let the nasty insecurities of one person affect me so deeply because I was giving her power. So I made a promise to my soul that I would never again let someone make me feel like that. And I would never make someone else feel like that. I worked hard at that job; really hard. And was offered a nursing scholarship a few years later.

The other day I had breakfast with the colleagues who were so supportive at that job. Four women who I will always love and admire because they suffered as well. And we laugh, hug, tease each other but most of all, have a deep respect for each other that you can see as we look at each other with admiration and kindness.

You see, you don’t have to ‘stand up for the underdog’ all the time. You just need to be compassionate. Often a kind word or gesture can be all it takes to remind someone struggling that ‘things will be okay’.

I will always strive to be like Tonia. I don’t think I’ll ever get to her level but if I come even slightly close, I will be happy.

Take care and be kind to each other.

  • Rachel.
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Please don’t go, I love you so.

It’s crisp here in Denmark, Western Australia, a small town on the south coast. Crisp, fresh, bracing, refreshing… I am a thesaurus! I’m here by myself for a couple of days in a really cool AirBnB on a lake, with iridescent blue wrens with round little bodies skipping around just beyond the glass sliding door; so close yet so far.

How have you been? I think about you, even though I don’t know you. I wonder where you are sitting as you read this blog. Are you happy? Do you know if you are happy? If we don’t have troubles now and then, how would we know when we’re happy?

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That brings me to Anthony Bourdain. Yesterday, Friday the 8th June 2018, Anthony was found in his hotel room in France after taking his own life. Death by hanging. Anthony was a celebrated chef and food writer, featuring in foodie shows such as No Reservations, The Layover and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. He was never afraid to try what us Westerners would call ‘ugh, really weird food that I would never try in a thousand years’ or ‘I can’t believe he is putting that in his mouth!’.

When I hear about suicides, I feel a pulling gnarly feeling in my heart. My eyes start leaking and I have to look away from whatever it is I’m reading or whoever it is I’m talking to. I’m not a stranger to having suicidal thoughts or, dare I share it, an attempt. When I become aware of a suicide, I feel drawn straight back to the empty blackness that filled my being when I truly believed I was better off out of this world and maybe, in my void of rationality, being reincarnated as someone who is immune to the dark feelings.

Who wants to talk about people killing themselves? Not many, but we need to. We need to not focus on the celebrity ‘live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse’ but how to reach out, connect with someone; hold their hand, hug them, let them hear you pour out all your reasons of why you think you would be better off not here. And we can let people listen to us, nod their heads, cry with us and purge feelings we have kept suppressed for so long. Feelings that have festered and turned toxic. Feelings that have become imbedded in who we think we are and who we think the world thinks we are.

This too shall pass. 

Yes, I work in Mental Health and I am passionate about mental health. But I know people who don’t work in mental health but are just as passionate about supporting people going through a tough time. You don’t have to have a mental illness to go through shit or feel like shit or wish that shit would just get better.

I can’t sit here and write sentiments like ‘Things will get better’ or ‘You are special, the world needs you’ because although those things can be true, what good is it going to do right now? But what I can say, from my own personal experiences, not quoting anyone but myself is that it is sometimes damn hard to forge ahead, especially when you resigned yourself to being 6 foot under in a matter of days. It is damn hard but a problem shared is a problem halved, and when I reached out to a good friend, when I let her know how low I was and how I needed someone to look out for me; she did. And every day I was above ground, I worked hard at achieving small successes. I went to work even though I hated being there because I was saving to find another job; that helped. I made myself see friends, go to coffee dates and contact my family. I tried to laugh and when I tried to laugh I started laughing because my fake laugh sounded so stupid it was funny.

As I think back, 10 years ago when I was at one of the worst times of my life, I bring myself to the present; where I am now, typing this to thousands of people of whom I have never met and may never will. I’m in a good place, through hard work and determination, through times and events that I thought I’d never recover from; I’m in a good place and I’m going to stay here even if things aren’t good all the time.

The sun will come up tomorrow and you’ll be here. I’ll be here and we can be shoulders of strength to people who truly believed the sun wouldn’t come up. And we can show them it has. Because it will.

There is always someone to listen, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you or someone you know may need help. 13 11 14.

sunrise

Take care.

Rachel.