“Breathe, Alice. Just breathe,” I told myself. I could hear my name being shouted. It was Mr.__, waiting not so patiently to be laid down. I knew I had to get back out there, but I had told him ten minutes and I still had five of them left.
I was in the linen closet. Hiding. Breathing in the subtle scent of cheap detergent and being embraced by the cool comforting darkness.
It’s safe in the linen closet. The solutions are simple in there. Shadows and worn out towels cannot be disappointed in you. You cannot let a bedspread down. A fitted sheet is in the flat sheet spot? Easy fix. No fear of missing something, no getting sucked into the toxic drama of the wash cloths. Pillow cases don’t die.
So how did such a ray of freaking sunshine end up cowering under a blanket of her own neurotic fears in a linen closet? Well, it all started with a hole in my sock.
The first thing I noticed as I was punching the clock was that Mr.___ was already up, dressed and in his wheelchair, a rare and pleasant surprise. As I walked down the hall and greeted my folks, I saw that three of my residents already had their TED hose on. I smiled to myself and made a mental note to say thank you to third shift. It had all the makings for a remarkably smooth day and I gathered my supplies, blissfully unaware of the impending shit storm of inner crazy that was headed my way.
Because third shift was on top of their game, I was able to knock out two showers before breakfast. It was in the middle of the second shower that I noticed it; the beginning of a hole in the big toe of my left sock. I could barely feel it. A minor inconvenience in an otherwise good start to the shift. I shrugged it off, finished the shower and gathered my folks down to the dining room.
It was about twenty minutes into breakfast when I noticed it again; my big toe slowly, but with great determination trying to escape the confines of my sock. My sock, which was wet at this point from the showers. They invested all this money on renovations and couldn’t be bothered to find a crew who knew enough to leave a dip in the floor so that gravity pulls the water to the drain. When I mentioned it, they tossed us a squeegee, which did nothing solve the wet sneakers problem. And running around for eight hours in wet sneakers is exactly as gross as it sounds…
“What is WRONG with you, Alice?! For Godsake, you walk everywhere anyway. You’ve been handling the wet sneaker situation for years. Peppermint oil, hot water soak and lotion. Why are you stressing about it now?” I thought to myself as we finished clearing out the dining room.
After doing a round and checking the hall, I sat down and adjusted my sock so that I couldn’t feel the hole, willed myself not to wiggle my toes and got back to work. Mrs. __ was a little worried about her friend in the hospital. Mrs.__ is dead set against the idea of using her walker. Mr.__ needs clean sheets. It’s clear they weren’t changed. Honest to God. How hard is it to change a bed?!…all the while, I felt the hole growing; my toe rubbing rebelliously against the top of my still damp sneakers, mocking the other toes for obediently staying in their cotton cage.
As I went along with my day, I noticed that my thoughts darkened. I didn’t have easy access to my supplies. Every time I get used to one supervisor, they are replaced with another. No benefits. No money. No boyfriend. No 401 K. I found myself worrying about things that ordinarily do not weigh much on my mind. The world’s smallest violin grew louder in my head as the damned hole grew bigger in my sock.
By the time I found myself in the safe cocoon of the linen closet, I had worked myself into such an inner storm of nerves that my smile wasn’t fooling anyone. I didn’t understand why my emotions spiraled when the day started out with such promise; why I was choking on some weird, undefined panic. Why was I suddenly living in fear of tomorrow, convinced that the world around me would implode because of my endless list of shortcomings? It made NO SENSE! All over a hole in my sock? It was like drowning in a tea cup.
So I took a break. I sought refuge and in the safe confines of the linen closet, I quickly began to sort through my shit. As maddening as they can be, a hole in a sock has never driven someone to the brink of insanity. Clearly, I had some underlying issues going on. I had five minutes left to get a grip and put it back in perspective.
I tend to focus on my actions rather than my emotions. What I do matters more than what I feel. After all, feelings always pass and come what may, the show must go on. I have an incredible amount of gratitude and passion for the life recovery has given me and any sort of self-pity seems like spitting in the face of a second chance that many people don’t get. I do not take this for granted, but there is a thin line between working THROUGH your feelings and STUFFING them down. It took a hole in my sock to realize that I had been doing the latter for quite some time.
I wrote last week about this job being about perspective more than money. That is true, but it doesn’t mean that I am not affected by financial insecurity. As caregivers, most of us are a paycheck away from homelessness. It’s my normal. The money always seems to work out, but it is a stressful scary reality. I like to minimize that fear, to focus on the positives, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
I like to write about the beautiful raw, heartbreaking, humorous moments that I share with my folks on the floor and how they bring such depth of meaning to my life. Every bit of that is true. But it is also true that every shift, I face my own mortality. We deal with so much loss. I love my residents as individuals; as friends and I have days when I’m keenly aware that my very best effort is nowhere near enough to make their quality of life as good as they deserve. Some days, I feel like a failure because of that. Just because I don’t allow myself to sit in that feeling doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The ability to adapt and persevere, the lessons learned from overcoming challenges, finding meaning in the mundane; all favorite themes of mine. That doesn’t mean that the challenges themselves don’t leave scars.
Focusing on the positive is a good thing. Focusing on the positive to the point of denying the negative, however, can be dangerous. It’s a tricky balancing act. I forget sometimes to leave room to grieve, to give myself permission to be human, to feel anger or fear, to not be “okay”.
It’s a subtle, unconscious drive to be superwoman. A need to be the solution because I feel like I was the problem for so very long. Though my intentions are good, the end result is me hiding in a linen closet because my world imploded over a hole in my sock.
Thankfully, life has a learning curve. Sometimes a mini meltdown in a linen closet just what the doctor (or shrink) ordered to force some much needed reflection. I took one last deep breath and left the safe confines of my “crazy” cave.
“HEY! What the hell is going ON with you today?” Mr.__ demanded, as I stepped out to the bright fluorescence of the hall.
“…I have a hole in my sock. It’s been nagging me all day.” I mumbled.
“You should have said something earlier. You could have borrowed a pair of mine”…Sometimes the toughest challenges we face are those we don’t show and sometimes the simplest solutions are the ones we don’t see.