Nearly ten years ago or so, I worked for the department of mental health where I experienced a level of stress unknown to me before. The incident that ignited this stress happened my very first day on the job and it was one that has impacted my life since.
Early in my professional career I had taken on a position in the commissioner’s office as her assistant. It was a temporary position as I was covering for a mature woman who had gone on medical leave. The Commissioner was a very lovely woman, extraordinary and charismatic with the perfect balance of compassion and authority. I liked her right away and it was evident that the sentiment was mutual. My colleagues were smart, hard working professionals who genuinely cared for the clientele and patients who required services provided by the department; but some were also visibly tired and overwhelmed by the case loads they had to handle. The recycled air was heavy and the walls were sparse.. the only thing that made the ambience tolerable were the connections I had made during my time there and the fresh flowers I would bring every week to cheer me up.
Despite all of that, when I received the assignment I was pretty stoked because as a former educator, who had devoted my time to bilingual young children, I had always been fascinated with psychology and the human mind..
I just didn’t expect my first day at work to be one full of drama, anxiety and sorrow all at once..
The phone rang and the caller sounded confused, desperate and depleted.. I’ll never forget his voice nor his name. All I’ll share is that he was a migrant worker from South America and what happened next sent chills down my spine.
The caller expressed that a friend urged him to call the department out of concern for him because he wanted to take his life. I had never had someone say to me “I want to kill myself.. I just don’t want to live”.. I was shocked and at a loss for words.. which rarely happens to be frank.
Because Spanish is my native language, this call was transferred to me without prior screening due to the language barrier. As he spoke I wrote down the word, “SUICIDE” on a piece of paper for the commissioner to see. At the time she was standing near my desk along with a colleague ready to train me on the “basics” of the role. I felt numb writing it to tell you the truth.
When they saw what I had written I quickly went into translator mode and did all I could to remain calm in keeping the caller on the line. As difficult as this was, I was praying inside that he would listen and that all would be okay. Unaware of the protocol when such an incident occurs, I did all I could under an unimaginable amount of pressure to remain present and translate back to him the directives from the commissioner and professionals who suddenly flooded my desk.
The problem with all this was that he sensed the commotion on the other line.. he became reluctant to continue to speak and wouldn’t give clear responses about where he was so he could be safely picked up and taken to the nearest hospital for care. Clearly and understandably so, he was nervous and hung up..
With words in my mouth, a fast beating heart, tears down my cheeks and a stone face.. I kept saying.. “I lost him.. he’s gone..” I felt defeated. I couldn’t believe that after all the efforts to keep him on the line he had intentionally dropped off never to be heard from again.
I’d like to believe he is still alive, but something deep inside tells me otherwise. I’ve never been one to regret my actions because I do all I can to live a life full of intention and follow through on those intentions.
As you can imagine, this incident changed me. While there, I beat myself up quite a bit about it too. I just didn’t know how to handle it even though I had been consoled by those around me, there was a void within me that was impossible to fill. That was when I knew wholeheartedly that being of service for others by counseling them or simply listening was something that I genuinely loved and was natural for me.
Because of the stress that I carried weeks and months following the incident, I remember asking for a day off. The stress was so intense all I wanted was to run as fast and as long as my legs could handle, be in nature and just be alone with my thoughts. It was a Wednesday..
As I ran though the hills of the neighboring residential areas, I remember it was sunny and it was a beautiful spring day when I thought, “this is the perfect mental health day”. I didn’t know I needed to check in with myself the way I did that day.
It was serendipitous in a way. I was convinced that doing something like that mid week was the thing that allowed me to think clearly and to start to heal from the experience I had had my first day on the job.
Since then, that mental health day, has become my special day.. my “Wellness Wednesday” in which I just take care of me. I have to be honest here and let you know that it wasn’t always easy to do after I had left that role for a corporate position. In fact it was pretty tough to keep up and I hated every moment of it. I dreamed of the day that I would be able to take Wednesdays off without explanation and that I would honor my body, mind and spirit everyday.
After becoming a mother, it has not always been easy to do but since my kids are young, I make it a point to include them whenever possible. If I have a client on that day, I do all I can to accommodate her and make sure that I take care of myself early in the day and check in with my feelings while diving deeply into what needs to go and what I need to work on.
So now you know how and why Wellness Wednesdays are a part of my lifestyle and why it’s so sacred to me.
I hope this story inspires you to take time to connect with yourself in a way that makes sense for you and your lifestyle.
Tell me in the comments section below what challenges you are having that hold you back from taking a breather?