Skills

Community transmission of contagious disease being what it is, I’ve been back working on Operation Swine this last week and a half, and I am so totally OVER IT, man Most people at work have been on this thing for like eight weeks now and everyone’s tired and everyone’s tense and everyone has the little railroad tracks between their eyebrows. I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t been all that involved for most of the response to H1N1, unlike the vast majority of my co-workers, and I can tell you with no reservations whatsoever that I will be very glad not to be involved anymore again, ever, once this is all over and done with.

This last week I found myself dealing with all sorts of…situations that had the potential to affect at least a small number of actual, real-life people out in the actual, real-life world. I guess maybe the same was true, a little, back when I used to be an actual, real-life psychotherapist—I mean, I used to diagnose mental health issues at the age of twenty-five, if you can believe it–but for some reason that responsibility weighs a lot heavier now. I’ve been so worried all week: that I will send the wrong email, give the wrong advice, make the wrong decision—and then, of course, that not only will I be fired, but that my New Zealand residency will be revoked and that I will be deported (and that I totally will not get the bond back on my third of the flat, either) and then America won’t want me either because I will be the woman who allowed swine flu to take its deadly toll on a far-off island nation and where will I go then, I ask you?

None of this has happened (yet!), of course—my part in Operation Swine has remained more or less behind-the-scenes, and it turns out that having all that poor ROI social work training has come in rather handy. Considering how stressed everyone is and what pressure we’ve all been working under, people are treating each other well and we’ve responded quite reasonably to a difficult situation. I’m actually pretty proud of my workplace, I’m happy to say, and also maybe a tiny bit proud of myself, too, for contributing my contribution.

I did, however, yesterday, as I was running down the corridor and down the stairs, pausing only to gel my hands in transit, find time to wish that someone would step in and take control, be in charge. I wanted someone to tell me what to do, and then when I was done, to tell me that I’d done a good job. I wanted the buck to stop far, far from me, so I could go back to whatever it is I do with my time—whatever it is I do with my life, with myself.

And—you can imagine where this is going—I came quickly to the horrifying realization that, with this tiny frustrating work thing at least, I am the grownup. I am in the one in charge. This didn’t bother me nearly as much ten years ago when I was making referrals to psychiatrists as it did the other day, I assure you. I seem to be regressing as I get older—as my hair grays and my skin wrinkles I seem to be shedding all the knowledge and skills I ever had (but what were they, exactly?) and exchanging them for a whole suite of incomprehensible new anxieties and insufficiencies about the simplest things, the things that most people have mastered by the time they’re eighteen and which I thought, up until recently, I had too.

Just in the past couple of weeks I’ve let a kettle boil completely dry, neglected to wear a belt to work so that I had to run around the aforementioned corridors with one hand hitching up my waistband, spent a whole day frantically texting my housemates on the mistaken assumption that I had left the front door unlocked, and burned a whole panful of onions. I’ve forgot to call my doctor about a prescription as well as the library about this book they say is overdue but which I cannot find anywhere. I have not been able to get it together to call friends on their birthdays, nor to go grocery shopping, nor to call the car hire place for my upcoming trip to Hanmer Springs. I can’t seem to have any sort of committed relationship (including one with a hairdresser) and as yet I still have no discernable personal sense of style. I just had to get up in the middle of writing this entry because I almost let the fire go out, as I am still having trouble understanding that actual combustion is involved, here, and that it’s not like just turning the central heating up to high. I turn thirty-five in nine short months and the pedestrian middle-class dream of driving my own secondhand car and living alone, in, like, a rented one-bedroom apartment seems unreachably fantastic in a way once reserved only for having a rainbow unicorn Pegasus as my best friend or marrying Bruce Patman.

Before I portray myself as too sitcommy, here, I have to say that I did used to be able to do a lot of stuff: separate my whites from my colors, adequately execute a bicycle shimmy, knit a scarf. Actually I can still do those things, sort of, now that I think about it. I can do quite a few things: I’ve been known, and quite recently, to braise a brussel sprout, organize a meeting, and paint a picture of a cupcake. Occasionally I accessorize, you know? And most of the time I do think of myself as an adult, albeit a sort of late-blooming one.

But still…still. It’s the middle of 2009 and the fallout of 2008 flutters and drifts and settles around me, crystallizing and heaping up like the snow we never get in Wellington. Months of traveling, of living out of suitcases, of living back at home, of transition after transition after transition, one after the other after the other. We’re halfway through this year and I’m still catching my breath from the last, from all the ridiculous expectations and unconsidered dreams, and from all the ways I thought my life had changed. I’m more stable now, I guess: job, flat, residency, friends, knee-high boots, fantastic parties, check check check, but I’m not settled, and I don’t know if I ever will be settled, and part of me doesn’t ever want to be settled. And part of me never will be, I guess. I’m just like everyone else that way.

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4 comments

  1. I remember how shocked I was when I was your age and realized that I seemed to be getting less and less brave, for lack of a better word, as the years went by. In my own instance I concluded that it had to do with me finally realizing how fragile so many things in life are, and omg if I make the wrong decision/recommendation/whatever there could be such PERMANENT consequences. But that’s just me. I found your blog through Sundry’s blog right when you were leaving to go to NZ, way back when, and have marveled at your courage ever since. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Oh my god, I am now totally in love with Bruce Patman too! Thanks for the link.

  3. I’d like to point out that helping save a nation from the swine flu might be using parts of your brain and energy reserves that normally would be remembering belts and stoking fires and whatnot. You are a superhero, but using super powers incessantly does tend to drain one slightly, as time goes by.

  4. All you really need to have accomplished before turning 35 is the buying of the delicious cheese and wine you will consume on your birthday.

    I didn’t have any checks on my car-owning/own-place-having scoresheet, and I don’t care either. Not having cheese, on the other hand, would have sucked.