“I was standing there, minding my mind like it was no one’s business but mine to mind.”—“Another Song I Haven’t Written,” by Me.
Doctor’s office, circa a few years ago. Sober for over a year, my life was still far from the “unicorns spitting Skittles everywhere on golden pathways to love” that some people would have one believe life is for them. I had asked to see a therapist, and bureaucracy provided me with a pretty good one.
(The office, part of my county’s Mental Health Department, has since been de-funded and the service sold to private business by the county. Public mental health services privatized. Everyone in Ulster County, New York, was suddenly declared to be balanced inside and completely well. My therapist and I spent our hours twice a week for a couple months sharing stories of the bureaucratic heck we were experiencing; he with not knowing whether or when he needed to start looking for work, and me with not knowing how to apply for Social Security. I know that he helped me at least.)
There were a few stressors in my world and I had lived two decades ignoring stress and burying my head in any nearby sandbox at any sign of impending stress of any sort, which made these bureaucratic stresses loom ever larger. The good news is, I did not bury my head, and I am here, and today’s column is not a how-to (or how-not-to) about living life. That would be more boring than usual.
One day, I arrived to check in with the staff at the about-to-be former Ulster County Mental Health. I had arrived early but the one staffer available was occupied with the only person there ahead of me. It became apparent that she was late, and had arrived late for her session, which would have been ending right around then.
Her pleadings were thorough, endless, falling on unsympathetic ears (paperwork that she needed signed was not going to be signed), and were running into my time. Something inside me snapped …
… I gave her empathy. I have no idea why.
Old me would not have been in that office in the first place. Old me would have been enjoying my version of medicine. Old me might have spoken a snide sentence in a snide voice with a hope that the staffer laughed at least, and then I would have disappeared in a cloud of snide.
Old me still lives inside me, but I try to ignore his special pleadings.
When the mental health customer who was holding things up turned around and looked at the room for an ally in her cause, she saw only me. I felt my inner Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” rise up and then ignored him. The single most banal and potentially saccharine sentence escaped my mouth like it was an prisoner who was digging a tunnel to freedom and discovered that he had instead dug his way into the warden’s kitchen: “You can always start your day over.”
WTH? Eight times out of eight if I had spoken that bit of sugar-coated inanity out loud with my outdoors voice, I would not have meant it. This however was the ninth time. “You can always start your day over,” simply means … I have no idea what it means. To this day. But I say it to myself approximately 24 times a day, still, to do just that: Still me.
“You can always start your day over.” The staffer behind the plexiglass window looked out at me with an expression that could only be interpreted as, “At least I have a window between this person and me.”
Apparently I said it like I meant it, because apparently I did, and the customer running late said:
“Thank you. That’s right. Huh, that’s right.”
Old me wanted to correct her: “Not ‘That’s right.’ I’m right. Me.” My inner Sheldon did not come outside and play. New me added nothing further to the exchange, however, because sometimes “getting away with it” means getting away with being kind.
She left, I checked in on time, and all of this merely remains today as an anecdote.
Get away with kindness. Not all of us have bubbles of plexiglass around us. And that was all my sarcasm ever was.
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