This time last week I felt like I’ve been put though a mangle, after two, very different, but equally demanding, challenging, potentially exposing days liaising with strangers.
The first was being interviewed by two very bright, eager, shiny faced young medical students/researchers at my local mental health facility in preparation for my (pending) therapy this Autumn.
This took over three and a half hours in a windowless, airless room, not counting two visits to the lavvy and one five minute tea break.
The lack of breaks wasn’t down to them. It was down to me. Much like yanking a large, well established sticking plaster of an unwaxed, hirsute front bottom, I wanted it over and done with as quickly and painlessly as possible.
God, it was bloody.
Not because they were unkind, cold or clinical.
It was because they weren’t.
They were intent on making me comfortable with the process, and tried so hard to say the right things (urrgghhh!) that it just made it worse. And the more they sensed my discomfort, the harder they tried.
Bless their hearts, but it was excruciating.
They were so frigging wholesome, so untarnished, so eager to please, so evidently loved that every time I told them something that they could never, ever relate to, their faces would pucker with confusion, compassion and pity, before hurriedly dipping their heads into their respective notebooks to frantically scribble down their observations, and I just wanted to die from mortification and embarrassment.
We were like chalk and cheese, oil and water [insert favourite cliche] etc. The times that they tried to be jolly and smiley, I couldn’t force it or pretend to be, and when I occasionally spat out a wry but hopefully witty comment, it either went over their heads or they were too nervous to laugh in case they misread my intent, so instead of bonding, all I could feel was the vast chasm expanding between us.
I felt old, corrupt, soiled and a complete and total failure. These girls were young enough to be my kids and I was the helpless one?
I honestly cannot describe the shame.
And as I left that soulless hospital ward and emerged out into the bright sunlight that I finally realised what I had committed to.
2-3 YEARS of this?! How will I bear it?
That said, I was grateful for my exhaustion as I had a very early start the next day and wanted to get a good night’s rest.
But whilst I did manage to get to bed early and nod off, nothing could prepare me for getting up at sparrow’s fart, aka before dawn.
On the plus side, I didn’t have to give much of a shit about what I looked like. What a joy that was! Up, shower, dressed and out of the door.
Good job I wasn’t being hired for my looks. Or my personality really.
As, in complete contrast from the day before, I was essentially just a warm body to the people who employed me that day. An anonymous drone. Part of a rentacrowd. I was totally insignificant to them and they neither wanted nor needed to know fuck all about me.
But it wasn’t dehumanising or horrible.
It was a massive relief.
Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t rude or unkind. Well there were one or two dickheads there, puffed up with a sense of self importance that was neither warranted or deserved, but I didn’t feel I had to kiss their arse or suck up to them, which is more than I could say for my previous employers. Oh one woman was a bit short with me, because I’m pretty sure she wanted to impress certain parties, but to my astonishment I was able to let it wash over me.
It didn’t burn me. I wasn’t incensed. I didn’t hit her back with a barbed lash of my infamous tongue. I gazed at her blankly and meekly walked away. Result!
Plus I met some cool, funny people to chat with. Transient, commitment phobe pretenders just like me, but so full of banter, gossip and anecdotes about the business that I could get away with giving very little away about myself, thus maintaining my anonymity and emotional distance.
I also learned that my usual tactic of finding a kindred spirit and sticking to them doesn’t wash with this lot. One minute I’d be having a big old bonding session with one woman, the next I’d come back from the loo and she’d be in a different room chatting to someone else. This kind of work will be a good opportunity for me to learn to do the same.
I have to keep reminding myself, I don’t HAVE to FIT IN. I can flit too.
It was perfect. Almost like it was tailor made for me.
And my indifference to the VIP’s, and their desire to distance themselves from us made me an ideal candidate to work alongside them.
‘Oh, so and so’s here! I hope I get to see her! Do you think such and such is here too?’ piped up one keen little soul, wide eyed with excitement.
Whilst I’m sure they’re both nice enough, I really couldn’t give a shit, so I wasn’t one of the crowd that was hovering around trying to get a glimpse of them.
Because these VIPs and the fawning, kow towing wannabes looking after them are to my mind, no different to the rest of us.
We’re all just warm bodies for hire.
They just don’t know it yet.
It was a long old day, but I was prepared for that and took stuff to keep me occupied. We were well fed, well rested but it was gruelling, given that I had not worked properly for months, plus, after being grilled by the Looney Police for nearly four hours the day before, it didn’t take me long to get overwhelmed with all the small talk and forced interaction, and I frequently longed for my sofa, mogs and a bit of solitude.
Then at last, we were allowed to leave and I had to queue up with all the others to get signed off. The blustery guy in charge (who was quite sweet really), relieved that all had gone without incident, in a fit of bonhomie added an extra hours pay to my form, countersigned it and handed me the pink carbon copy.
And there it was.
The first wage I have earned in nearly two years.
A fraction of what I used to earn of course, and once the social see it hit my account I may well lose my benefits which is kind of terrifying.
But for that moment, I was proud of myself for bitch slapping the FEAR into submission and getting through these two most vital of days.
‘Thank you’, I said smiling, ‘it was fun!’
‘FUN!’ he echoed, clearly amused that such a menial role could be entertaining to me.
But he had no idea. How could he?
For after all those years I had to pretend to be someone I was not, barely ‘masking my contempt for the assholes in charge’, working with people I did not respect, and supporting policies that I did not agree with, to be able to embrace my inner Lester Burnham and do ‘a job with the least amount of responsibility’ was just bliss.
And the irony that I had to do less acting in this scenario than my previous roles did not escape me.
As I staggered gratefully to my car to hit the road, it occurred to me that, at the end of the day, we are at our core, all actors anyway.
I am no more Sista Sertraline than I am this vehicle.
I merely occupy it for this particular journey, and one day the engine will die, the wheels will stop turning and I will step out of it and move on.
In the meantime I wonder what the road might have in store for me tomorrow. Living one’s life authentically and not walking the wheel sure is keeping me on my toes.
Nobody told me there’d be days like these.
Most peculiar mama.