Anxious twenty-two-year-old. It’s 0330 and she hasn’t slept in two days. As I spoke to her she began crying. I gave her time to take deep breaths, 3-7-4. Inhale for three seconds. Hold it for seven. Exhale for four seconds. She did this twice. Calmed down a little. We continued talking—that is, I let her talk.
She bled her heart out to me. Was working as a teacher’s assistant in an elementary school, but lost that work to the pandemic. (Guess teachers working from home don’t need assistants…) Now she’s working as a server at a Thai family-run restaurant. She’s Thai too, but raised “white” (American). They took her in but she feels out of place, an embarrassment, herself. I sympathized with her. Explained my ethnicity but that I felt more at home in Chicago than my ethnic country. Tell her that when patients ask about my ethnicity, I lie. “All I know is the food words! I’m █████—Don’t speak in your language to me!” She laughed. At least she knows Thai, she can communicate to others. Not that she wants to talk to family that much, giving her too many problems. On top of the stress of losing her dream career—education—a pandemic, bills, and school starting next week.
“It’s always, family, isn’t it? They’re the cherry on top of a cake of crap. Only way you can escape them is be fleeing the country.” She laughed. She did just that, left and spent some time in her “homeland” reconnecting with that side of the family.
She’s into astrology. Likes Dragon Age, was recommended to her by her bestie years ago but didn’t get into it because “it just wasn’t the time for me.” “You had a Steam library.” “I played League of Legends. Yes, I’m that kind of gamer!”
Been going to therapy for three years. They always do this to me… Hmph. But I can’t help but get into it. [sigh] …It took her a while to get to this point, to “learn to trust in the process”, to understand that she had to do things at a certain pace, the pace she always takes things. Guess she was rushing. But now, she’s proud of herself. “I’m practicing what I learned in therapy…!” (The breathing.) I told her that it always takes time to learn something new. Particularly when your way of doing things—though not the healthiest—was how you survived this long.
She’s a people-pleaser. Always puts others before herself. “Because for a long time, the only way you could take care of yourself was meeting other people’s needs first. That was the only way you could make sure you were safe.” I told her a bit about “my friend” (myself) and him being a pathological people-pleaser, too. Told her that it led to him being his ex-wife’s unpaid social worker. “At least you weren’t hitched! People-pleaser, person who can’t support themselves emotionally—unpaid social work.” I wagged my finger. Don’t do it!” “That’s, that’s really great advice…!”
She’d just gotten out of a relationship, too, she laughed, exasperated. “Oh, noooooo…” I was laughing too. “Oh, noooo….!” She tried really hard to make it work. But, he wasn’t able to support himself. It wasn’t her fault, I told her. Now all of these expectations… And all of the mistakes you made, and the mistakes that sonuvabitch made! and all the work you put into it—now you’re single and you’re left hanging with that baggage and you’re like, “Great. What do I do with the rest of my life?”
She agreed. And, it turned out she was aromantic.
She was really happy when I showed her I knew what that was. (“Hey, being aro is fine. Being ace is fine. Being one but not the other, or being both is fine, too.”) Very casual. …I think she was struck by that. She didn’t know how to react to that, though it was relief. She might as well have told me she wears glasses and it would’ve been the same.
Zombie dreams. (“Oh! I dream of zombies too! Chronically. Thought I was the only one!” She was really surprised and happy to meet someone else who dreams of zombies.) Her cousin’s a nurse. “She told me that COVID dreams are a thing. It’s not just me… Though I’m the only one of my friends who dreams about zombies.” High anxiety. Fixation, hypomania. Came into her last shift excited and breathless, like she was Spongebob Squarepants. Reminded herself that she was another “statistic” then kept wondering why she kept saying that about herself, then backtracking and realizing “well no that wasn’t really negative…! But why do I keep…”
I told her, “Because it seems to soothe you. Maybe it’s not the healthiest, but it seems to soothe you.”
“I don’t understand, but I’m so glad I came here—”
“Glad you came on my shift, huh?”
[laughter] “I mean, this is really great, really great. I’m valid. I’m in a safe space—”
“Well I’d rather you be safe at home, here in the hospital is probably where you could catch COVID—but I know what you mean, go on.”
“Oh my gosh!” [laughter]
So I explain to her: “…When you talk to people who are open-minded, who listen to you, but they’ve never gone through what you have—no matter how kind they are it’s tiring to have to explain yourself, to be a Martian explaining what it’s like on Mars. It’s different when you meet another Martian. You can cut the crap and connect—” [clap] “—just like that.”
“I… Oh. Oh. That makes so much sense.”
Real appreciative of the friends in her life, who noticed she was acting “weirdly”, and of her co-workers, who noticed it too, that Thai family that took her in. I told her it was a good sign. She had people who cared about her, and it was a signal for her to slow down and take a break. “As soon as you can catch one, that is.”
“I need to add them to my list…” “List of statistics or sons of bitches?” She laughed. “It’s so good! It’s so good to talk like this! Like, like this is therapy—”
“Talk is therapy. It’s good to feel like an actual human instead of another statistic, right?”
Tolly: Ansel met a nice anxious girl and made her feel better, as usual.