The other cool thing that happened Friday was stopping by my old workplace to surprise my 22-year-old son and say hello to my former co-workers (and maybe even a resident or two). Now, up until about three months ago, I got palpitations whenever I even thought about going there—hell, just taking the exit gave me the heebie-jeebies—but I finally got over it when, flush with the success of a good job interview and more than a little hypomanic energy, I decided to pop in.
The response had been exactly what I needed to put what happened there to rest. No more nightmares, no more humiliating memories. It was great! So when I decided to drop in yesterday, I didn’t even hesitate to march right through the front door, just like I did in the old days when I actually belonged there.
This time was different, however. People were like “hey, how ya doin’?” as if I’d never left. The same staff members I’d worked with were all sitting around in the break room while my son and the other medication aide were preparing the residents’ dinnertime meds, and even though eight months have passed since my departure, it was just like old times as we chatted and joked around.
And then I went to the restroom.
It wasn’t two seconds after I closed and locked the door behind me that the flashbacks started. You see, during the last few months before I left, I spent an awful lot of time in that bathroom, hiding from the residents and the ringing phones and the families who always wanted a piece of me at the worst possible times. It was the place to which I would escape when I desperately needed to gather my fleeting, disjointed thoughts and take big gulps of quiet to try to steady myself in the midst of utter chaos. It was also where I’d stare down at the floor tiles and see faces, animals, and all sort of things in the patterns.
The latter was most noticeable when I was manic, and it was weirder than THAT when I was mixed, which was pretty much all of the time by the end of my employment. I’d sit there in the dim fluorescent light, listening to the muffled sounds of walker wheels going up and down the hall, and watch the patterns morph into Indian heads, ladies in hoop skirts, hound dogs with floppy ears……
I guess you could say I went crazy in there back in those dark days. Then yesterday, as I roosted for another moment or two, I was suddenly engulfed in sorrow for the sick, frightened woman who used to work in that building—the one who looked like me and wore my clothes and sat at my desk.
And then it struck me: I am not that woman anymore.
I haven’t walked in her shoes in some time, actually. Through all the mood swings, Will’s cancer diagnosis, financial ruin and other unfortunate events I’ve experienced over the past eight months, I’ve never again been crazy like I was then. No, not even when I hallucinated during that last manic wing-ding in October. I’ve changed a great deal, learned a lot of things, taken more than a few lumps, and survived it all. I’m not as scared and broken as I used to be. There are still some areas where I need help, but that’s true of all of us. And I realize, at long last, that the time I spent rebuilding my life after I left that place has been a time of healing and growth, not one of stagnation and decline as I’d feared.
I looked down at the bathroom tiles one more time before leaving, and I smiled because this time, I didn’t see anything at all. 🙂