So I did it.
And my offer of help was accepted by a charity in North London.
The first time, I was so nervous, especially when I discovered I’d have to run the CBT gauntlet first by filling in one of those stupid diagrams that tries to fit you into some kind of category on the basis of numbers and tick boxes, with the help of one of the facilitators.
Kill. Me. Now. Why didn’t I see that one coming?
It was hard to bite down my irritation, (which is getting worse by the day, courtesy of my improved fitness levels/lower meds) because nothing is really that black and white is it?
On good days I might be a ‘2’ but on bad days I’m more of a ‘9’, and only really bad days, I shoot off the end of the star like a flaming meteor, blazing with defiance and resentment, then die and fade in the cold blackness of space.
But the girl was very sweet, so I bit down my irritation, answered the questions as well as I could and then was taken into a common room where I would be helping some of the visitors in some kind of creative activity. Pretty soon as the minutes ticked by, feelings of discomfort, claustrophobia and terror started to overwhelm me.
I kept my head down, broke into a sweat and was seconds from bolting out to the car park, hurling myself into the sanctuary of my beloved motor and hitting the road, when some very timid little guy who was sweeping the floor put down his broom and walked toward me proffering his hand in greeting, asking my name and bidding me welcome.
The fact that he hung on around thirty seconds longer than Mr Shake Hands Man at his peak was irrelevant. This obviously shy, socially awkward chap went out of his comfort zone to make me feel welcome, filling in that painful couple of minutes before Susan, the Activities Manager came over and I was both touched and grateful.
We then went into the kitchen to do a cooking activity, and whilst only a couple of people were interested, we both took on one each and went through the basics of how to make rice pudding.
And it was fine really. Susan seemed nice and my charge seemed to enjoy himself. But the voice of my inner Judge (who would, incidentally, put Big Judy to shame) pushed herself forward and started to carp on at me.
‘Yes, that’s all well and good, brownie points to you but did you actually teach that man anything? You spent most of your time washing up, and that manager seems super keen for you to come back and help in the kitchen, so you’d better stock up on your Marigolds and hand cream!’
Discomforted, I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind, so much so that the following week I could not remember whether I said I’d go for the next one, and when i did not hear from them, I did the easy thing and stayed at home.
I don’t think they were impressed, but I honestly could not remember, otherwise I’d have gone in or cancelled, simple as that.
The next stint was when I was scheduled to attend a Strategy Meeting so that I could learn how the organisation worked and get to know people, but when I arrived it had been changed to an ‘Facilitation Meeting’.
I was still none the wiser.
‘Oh are you the lady that’s presenting?’ asked the young man on Reception, and I felt a reflex jolt of deja vu-esque terror peppered with amused hysteria.
‘Fuck, I hope not!‘ I laughed nervously.
He blinked, and blushed at ‘a lady’ like me using such profanity.
As it turned out, the meeting could have been called either of the above or something else besides because it was one of those horribly familiar ‘meetings for meeting sake’ that I remember from my previous life, complete with dreary Power Point slides riddled with Dilbertesque buzzwords, ambiguous categories and there were no tangible direction, aims or take away action points whatsoever.
Adding insult to injury, there were only about twelve people in attendance, and under half of whom were not capable of understanding what was required of them (and I think I include myself in that number), and as the remainder swiftly got sidetracked by trivial side issues like whether male or female visitors left their communal toilets the cleanest, the rest of us sat bored shitless watching valuable minutes of our lives ticking away.
The best part though was that a lot of people with severe mental health issues don’t bother or have the wherewithal to try and hide what they are feeling, hence one fell asleep, three walked out, the others giggled like kids in a classroom and one made ‘blah, blah, blah’ signals with his hand when anyone from the management side of the room spoke, which was most amusing.
I felt their underlying frustration though. Why should they have to sit through this when it was patently obvious that they were only there out of obligation/politeness and that no one had explained what all of this guff meant?
One young girl, when asked if she was happy with the recruitment policies rather eloquently said ‘I don’t know muffin’ abaat this, I’m not an intellectual!’ which was probably the bravest, most intelligent thing anyone said that entire afternoon, and even then the penny didn’t drop.
‘Jesus,’ hissed my Judge with appalled wonderment, ‘what a debacle! They really don’t have a fucking clue what they are doing. And they’re going to get your life back on track?!!’
‘Shhh’ I replied, ‘they’re good people. They mean well!’
‘Ah ha, and the road to hell is paved with what exactly?’
Happily just at that moment, the ‘meeting’ wrapped up and my ‘star’ interrogator comes over to thank me for attending, we chatted briefly then I headed to the exit only to be waylaid by the beaming activities manager.
‘Oh hi Susan, sorry about the misunderstanding last week, what are we making tomorrow?’ I ask, hoping it’s something that get these people excited enough to try cooking at home.
‘Erm, no idea, but can you go me a massive favour and give the kitchen a bit of a wipe around? Some of the guys have been making snacks and they’re tidying up the mess, go and crack the whip at them!’, says she, eyes gleaming with something as she bolts off in the other direction.
Smelling a big, fat rat I enter the kitchen and am almost knocked to the floor by the mass exodus of guilty looking blokes, although one stays around long enough to show me where the aprons are before legging it.
Big of him.
The kitchen is a total shit fight. The surfaces are filthy and covered with piles of dishes, discarded ingredients, tubs of hot food, soggy, half defrosted bread, huge pans and platters caked with baked on gravy and curry sauce.
I have only ever been in this kitchen once, but even if I knew where everything (anything) was, it was hardly a ten minute job. It was going to take hours.
And as I stood staring aghast at the devastation, I remember the little triumphant smirk on Susan’s gob as she deliberately stitched me up, and the rage literally comes from no where and shoots through my core, shattering the powdery chalk ceiling of suppressive Sertraline that has held it down for so long.
WTF? How fucking petty is this? I’m meant to be getting support, understanding and kindness from this place, not having to deal with someone going out of their way to wind me up or pay me back?
Then it occurs to me that I owe them absolutely nothing, so I don’t have to do this.
I stalk out into the corridor and spot a familiar waddle.
She turns, looking a little more wary than when I last saw her.
Yeah, you’d better look nervous.
‘Sorry hon, that kitchen is a total sty, the guys have all left and I haven’t the time to sort it out for you. Sorry!’
‘Really?’ her eyes widen with faux innocence, ‘show me!’
I very nearly say ‘Well you don’t need me to show you where the kitchen is do you? Byeee!’ but I play along and she scurries after me.
Her acting is appalling.
‘Sista, I’m so sorry, if I’d know it was this bad, I’d have never asked you to help, you go. i’m meant to have finished half an hour ago, but that’s fine, I’ll do it….’
I smile and head for the door.
‘You know what upsets me, that they just go and leave this all for me, we’re meant to be a team and now I’ll be here hours and this is the thanks I get, blah blah blah….’
So even though she didn’t deserve it, I end up being the bigger person and help her out. By wiping around, loading the dishwasher with cups and throwing stuff out, that is. NOT washing out filthy stinky pans or mopping floors however. FUCK that. I left that to her.
At the end of it she shook my hand and thanked me, appeared to have something akin to respect for me and may well have been ready and willing to start afresh the next day.
I’ll never know.
Because I never went back.
Because it wasn’t over for me. I don’t forgive or trust easily and in what should have been one of the few places I could be myself and expect to be treated with encouragement and respect, she abused my trust and from hereon in I know I would have seen her as an enemy and not to be trusted.
Because that’s what having a condition like mine does for you. I don’t want to be this way, but I am. And she should have known better.
And from a more analytical perspective, I didn’t and don’t feel that this charity would utilise my skills and/or help ease me back into the world, let alone allow me to teach these people who suffer as I do anything useful whatsoever. What’s the point in demonstrating something to someone if it’s not done properly? They don’t even pass the food around to taste afterwards, or hand out recipe cards, so do they honestly expect these people to go home enthused enough to make meals for themselves?
And from an organisational perspective, from what I could see, the whole system is as all over the place as that pointless meeting was, and all I wanted to do was come in as a consultant and fix it, making it something that proactively educated, inspired and rehabilitated those with mental health issues and not be somewhere where everyone, staff and clients alike just seem to go through the motions.
I’m not quite sure who’s speaking now, me or the Judge, but as much as I want to participate in something like this, i can’t help being this way and I know that I’ll just get frustrated with them and their efforts, and end up pissing them off with my endless, well meaning ‘suggestions’.
I also know that doing endless hours of washing and tidying up after some lazy ass cow who thinks its OK and appropriate to treat sick people as unpaid skivvies really isn’t going to work for me. Plus she should be experienced and smart enough to know that just because someone is mad doesn’t necessarily mean they are also stupid.
Quite the contrary. I think my condition makes me and others like me very observant, intuitive and extremely cunning.
And if I can kick the ass of a massive commercial organisation at my lowest ebb, well, foxing a childish bitch of a manager would be a doddle.
To be totally fair, there are nice people there, and they do mean well (shaddup Judge!), but I will be writing to them to explain that this isn’t the right place for me to work at right now and I’ll thank them for their time and give them my best wishes for the future.
I may even drop round a batch of freshly made cakes one day.
Complete with a recipe.
Because I know that they’ll want to go home and make some after tasting mine.
Case dismissed. 😉