Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Let Me Tell You a Story

Gather round, kiddies. I know I've been flitting in and out of the internet world for the past like, what? Four? Six months? I think you all deserve a reason why.

Let me paint you a little picture. This last December I was not in a good place. I have crippling anxiety, but I had yet to realize it at the time. I'd just dropped out of university, was feeling horribly depressed and agoraphobic, and I had no job. Life was miserable. Finally, I managed to snag a job with a temp agency. After a few jobs serving plated dinners at big Christmas parties, I decided I needed something more stable. So I talked to my temp agency and they hooked me up with a seven month job at a child and family services agency.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

The first day I missed, because I was too terrified of the prospect of a new job with people I didn't know. The next day, I made it. I stepped into the tiny waiting room at quarter after eight, but there was no one to be found. I sat on the couch, incredibly nervous, when a lady stepped out of a door down the hallway. I watched her walk towards me, wearing her long skirt, glasses, her hair a pile of dark curls. She said to me, "Are you the new receptionist?"

"Yes," I said.

"Good, come on in. My name's Rinah."

"I'm Katie."

Within the next ten minutes, I would come to meet my other coworkers. In the weeks that followed, I would grow to get to know and love each of them. Mary, the lovable admin assistant who helped with the aboriginal department and was always willing to listen. Deb, the snarky second-in command with a die-hard love of penguins. And Stephen, the nerdy little gamer boss.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I had no idea what kind of place I was actually working at, but I found out fast. That first day, I read reports of what some of the kids were doing-- apparently, the previous day, when I'd been too anxious to come to work, one of the kids nearly jumped off a cottage roof. This was a residential treatment facility for children and teenagers who'd suffered through abuse, sexual exploitation, poverty, drugs, neglect, and a million other problems that would turn your stomach just thinking about it.

After that first week, I was in love. Everyone in this agency treated me with such love and care, compared to the horrible abuse I suffered at my last job (Before the temp agency) More than that, I was fascinated by these kids. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to find out how they were being treated. I wanted to help them. I felt an extreme kinship to a lot of the kids. Each report I got was a new piece of a story unfolding before me. Every day I glimpsed into the lives of these troubled kids, most of which I've never met.

Now, as my contract came to a close, I knew I couldn't leave this agency. I'd grown to love everyone and everything about it, so I asked for a job as a relief staff in one of the Independent Living Programs, which is sort of like a group home. On my first day, I bonded with one of the boys there, who was incredibly smart, though he had some tics in which he blinked a lot and snapped his fingers. I was amazed by how easily he opened up to me. I've always been terrified of people, and yet this boy, who'd suffered through many traumas in his life, accepted me without a second thought.

In the weeks that followed, I eventually made it to shift leader, and spent two shifts by myself in the home. I was really honored to be trusted that much, as I have no certification, and little to no training. But it was incredible. Just like before, the kids accepted me. Maybe not always fully, but they watched movies with me, played games with me, and I managed to navigate the not-so-good times without losing my cool.

On one of my shifts in which I was working alone, a girl in the home was having a rough time, as she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. I went down and talked to her for a long time. All I had to do was show her I was willing to listen, and out poured all her secrets. She's been in the system for a number of years now, as she'd been taken away from her parents by the courts.

She showed me pictures of her family. "My brother and I are pack rats," she told me. "We store food everywhere. Sometimes, we'd find pizza behind the couch that my brother had left there and forgot about."

"Haha. Ew, that's nasty."

"Yeah, but we'd never know when we'd eat next, sometimes."

She told me about her experience with the cops, how she'd lost it and pulled a knife on them when they'd tried to apprehend her. "I was walking to my grandmother's house. I had a plan. I thought, if I could just get there, then everything would be okay. We'd live happily ever after."

She showed me all her art, but one piece in particular caught my eye. It was a photography poster with a bunch of different shots. They were all accompanied by short paragraphs of prose, explaining it. One picture was a phrase that had been carved into the door of one of the confinement rooms back on campus.

It read, "Show some compassion for the suffering soul."

It struck me hard, especially when the girl told me who had carved the message. It was a client I knew. A client still on campus. A client I had read so much about. Guys, the client who scratched those words, has literally been through HELL.

In that moment, I felt so connected to that client. She doesn't know it, but I love her, and so do a lot of other people. The world can be a cruel place. Sometimes people will hate you for no reason, but it works just the opposite, too. People can love you, without ever having met you.

So that's my story. These people changed my life. And you want to hear the best part? Once my contract expired, they offered me a permanent job at the front desk, where I've been working this whole time.

So kiddies, that's where I've been. I promise to be around more often now, and I may post more about my real life stuff now, as well as mental health. :) Learning about mental health is the best way to write better characters, anyway. Am I right? ;)

Peace,

-Katie

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