I was off to a bad start the other day. I had to call in that I was coming to work late (not the first time either). Once there I usually have a nice slow roll out to the start of my day…a coffee or two or three…check some emails…generate some regular reports…nothing too taxing. Instead this day I had a cluster of challenges (all without my caffeine fix) that put me to the test.
My focus quickly became helping a woman in obvious distress…this computer is nothing like what I have at home…I don’t know how this works…I usually don’t need my password it just works…my calm demeanor kicked in but I couldn’t help an avalanche of negative thoughts…this isn’t at all complicated…what is with people not even having a basic understanding of computers…if I can do it why can’t she…
I treated her with courtesy despite the constant negative refrain running in the background of my mind. I proceeded to explain step by step what we were doing. I did not guide her by the hand or be overly compassionate. The woman at the adjacent PC did though and that pissed me off. Who is this woman to undermine my authority…do I tell her to buzz off…she proceeded to soothe the woman…you’ve got two people here to help you hunny…no worries it will all be ok…so now this interloper is pissing me off. She’s treading on my turf and treating me like a chump…buzz off lady!
So now I’m questioning my approach…am I a cold person? Am I in the wrong line of work? I’m just not into helping the helpless. One of the challenges of working in a public library is that you can expect the unexpected…ANYONE can use a public library. I had fairly recently moved on from an academic library to my current gig. I do relish the particular challenges of this milieu but this day my mindset was not positive.
Ultimately I was able to help the distressed woman. I matter-of-factly explained what I was doing step by step and this seemed to put her at rest. I resisted blasting the next door interloper and just verbalized my agreement that there was nothing to worry about. I ended up retrieving the document she wanted to be printed and just to make things simple I forwarded the document to my own email and worked from there.
She was effusively thankful and I was able to move on and get that coffee but the experience lingered with me awhile. I felt intense guilt for that flood of negative thinking and was afraid that I had let that spill out on a helpless woman. It wasn’t until an hour or so later when the interloper with her own advice agenda stopped by the desk to thank me for how courteously I had helped that patron. She went on to explain that she knew the woman and she was recently in a bad traffic accident which left her with neurological damage. She had nothing but nice things to say about my exchange with her. I felt a mix of guilt and relief.
One thing I think managing a mental illness has subjected me to is a consistent disconnect between my internal thoughts and my actions. I’ve become good at faking it. Here was a case where I assumed that my internal thoughts had spilled out and spoiled this interaction. Residual symptoms of my schizophrenia are thought of as broadcasting and mind reading. I’ve become good at contesting those thought patterns but it still is a struggle sometimes to sort them out and determine what is really occurring outside my mind in objective reality. The truth is that what matters most is our actions. This morning wasn’t so bad after all. After a coffee or two, I settled in for a nice ride.