The Questions I Ask When I’m Not OK

“Let’s talk about the thought patterns that lead to self harm.”

It is 8:15pm on a weeknight, and I am at work. I smear peanut butter on a cracker. I have way too much left on my knife, and I balance it precariously across the saucer which is my dinner plate, baring my teeth as I pin the cracker between them, leaving my hands free to type.

“When you say you ‘can’t do this anymore’, do you mean you’re thinking of acting on your plan to kill yourself?”

I lick stray peanut butter off my fingers, wait for a response. A yes means I have to escalate, get a supervisor, start asking invasive questions about methods and timelines. I load up another cracker. Refresh the page. Keep working.

My phone buzzes. A friend is struggling. This person’s relationship is failing. That friend’s job is getting them down. A third friend’s face pops into my head and I’m flooded with guilt when I realise I have no idea how they are. I open a third chat window for good measure.

“How are you, anyway? I feel like I haven’t asked that in forever.”

Refresh. Cracker. Refresh.

“I’m glad you came to us before self-harming. What can you do tonight to keep yourself safe?”

My login stops working, I am forced to escalate a client who probably didn’t need it just because I couldn’t get them the information they needed. They’re safe now. They’re going to try to get some sleep. It’s 10:30 and I have a mountain of paperwork, but I’m also worried about a client who I think might be abusive. I write them up, just to be safe. That’s one thing I can comfortably hand off to the supervisors.

I go home, but all their lives are stuck in my head, and I find myself escaping to my friends, reaching out my internet tendrils to touch, well, anyone.

“How have you been? I bet the new baby is an adjustment.”

What is it about this work that has removed my ability to connect on any level but as Helper and Protector? What about it puts that armour so firmly in place?

I get home, have a fight about nothing from sheer exhaustion. It’s freezing tonight. I don’t remember the last time I slept. I’m worried one of the clients might be pretending to be better than they are. My head swims: low blood sugar. I immediately assume diabetes. My dinner of crackers does not seem a likely cause.

This week, I’ve hit burnout, and all my support structures are coming in too late. When was the last time I spoke to someone without a smile on my face? When was the last time I spoke to someone without my first goal being to understand them? When was the last time I just let my friends be instead of demanding they hand over their pain?

“You need to stop working so hard. You are giving them more than they are paying you for.”

My therapist is right, so obviously I yell at her. I can’t just stop, after all. It has to be done. It isn’t optional work. I’m not asking for this. Except for the times I wake up after two hours to send an email that could have waited. Except for when my heart starts racing because I slacked off and watched TV for half an hour to decompress instead of doing my admin. Except for all of it, really. All of it that I chose.

It is 3am, and I am giving them more than they are paying me for. Tomorrow, that fucking ends.

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