There is a clear distinction in my life now: before and after getting ill. I got a new identity as Ida the Mental Patient and every perception I had ever held of myself before was out the window.
I don’t really bring this part of my life into my new job. Anyone who asks is told that I’m a journalist by trade and was forced to give up my career due to an illness but I don’t really volunteer much information about myself. That might be a surprise to anyone who follows my twitter feed but I want to keep myself as anonymous as possible at work.
This has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment. I’ll be the first one to say that I’ve spent three months in the loonie bin if anyone asked whether it was true or not. I just want to be something else than Ida the Mental Patient for once, and for most of the time, I am.
That was until last Friday, when I was reminded that before Ida the Mental Patient there was also Ida the Reporter.
Becoming a journalist was a fulfilment of a childhood dream. My life was off to a supposed start of a glittering career when an illness that had been bubbling underneath the surface for years decided to become a tsunami that destroyed everything I had worked so hard to achieve.
The reminder came in form of a function hosted by my workplace. I like doing evening functions because after dinner service it’s mainly collecting glasses while listening to music. I noticed from a distance that a person I trained as a journalist with was sitting in one of the tables with who I assume to have been colleagues.
I didn’t need to go to that table. Had I walked past it, someone else would’ve collected the glasses eventually. I, however, don’t like making adjustments because something is supposedly embarrassing. I don’t do embarrassing. I’m the one who makes the first move when I fancy someone, I’m the one who sings karaoke, I’m the one who goes over to say hi when a sudden reminder of my life before the abyss is staring at me in the face.
I’m not someone who gets embarrassed easily. I say outrageous things if I know they’ll get a laugh. I’ll lay out the most painful experiences of my life for public enlightenment. I spent countless hours of my university career dressed up as either a cardboard box or Sonic the Hedgehog in public. I don’t need to be dared, I’ll do it anyway.
As a journalist you basically do what most people hate: make phone calls, approach complete strangers and ask uncomfortable questions. You can not be too embarrassed to do something. Sure, it’ll feel silly to call a person I just interviewed for an hour to check a detail but it has to be done. The worst that can happen is that I’ll look silly. When the choice is either potentially looking silly or being sued, I know what my choice will be.
I will happily remind my best friend of the time she once refused to buy something she saw on the way out of the shop because she had already bought something and worried about what the cashier might think.
Also, why in the lord Buddha’s name should I be embarrassed? I lost my job through no fault of my own. What happened to me could happen to literally anyone. Saying a couple of friendly words and noticing that I survived the ordeal isn’t going to kill me, it’s just going to show how far I’ve come.
Still nothing prepared me to what waited in that table.
The person I knew was sitting in the middle of a group of young, smartly dressed people having a drink and enjoying themselves. I approached the person I knew by referring to them by a nickname we used at the time of our training to make sure I’d get their attention. I did. I could see it in their eyes that I was recognised.
I was completely blanked. The person didn’t say a word back. I stayed still for a few seconds that felt like an eternity while those bright-eyed and good-looking young professionals all stared at me in my waitresses’ uniform that despite the best guesses for sizes didn’t quite fit my form.
I could almost see the old Ida, the one who wasn’t crazy, sitting among them.
So I started picking up glasses on my tray and left. As I was walking away, even with the music booming, I could hear this person telling their entourage:
“That was weird.”
I went back into the kitchen. I put the empty glasses among others. I headed out the back door and the moment the cold hit my face I started crying my eyes out. I was so ashamed that the self-disgust felt like it was coming up as thick, acid-y bile. My legs had become completely hollow. I was nothing, I wanted to be nothing, I wanted to completely disappear. The ground was shaking back and forward with my heaves of cold, harsh air, my whole body burning from the stares of those people.
I was so embarrassed, so utterly humiliated that I wanted to kill myself right then and there.
Then the anger.
How the fuck dare you? How dare you? HOW DARE YOU?
That was my life you fucking bastard. You were there from my old life and you made me feel as I already felt inside.
But I’m NOT nothing! You haven’t got a fucking clue what I’ve been through to have come this far. I almost died, endured months and months of mental and physical pain, losses and hurt and humiliation I thought wasn’t humanly possible to come to this point where I’m back at work and making my own money.
A lot of people are proud of me. I’m proud of me.
But you, you pathetic waste of perfectly good oxygen, you are the embodiment of the whispers in the back of my head saying that my new existence is somehow less.
I’m not even worth a hello now.
Why would I be? I’m just a waiter.
The inherent shame of a downfall in an industry that doesn’t treat failures kindly, sorrow for the life that I lost and fierce, tiger-heart pride of how far I’ve come switched places continuously inside me.
Somehow amid all this I managed to salvage what there was left of my makeup and headed back on the floor. Had this person greeted me back in the first place we could’ve had a quick chat and I could’ve told them what happened. Fuck knows what they must be thinking now because by the time I came back the table was empty.
Which might as well, as I would’ve probably emptied a full bottle of sparkling water on the said person’s head and gotten fired.
I hold no illusion that they will ever read this but in case you happen to recognise them, could you please pass on a message for me?
Have you got a pen handy?