Mama Said…

Cracking under stress by Bernard Goldbach

We’ve all had those days. The ones that start hard, go slowly, and end on a bad note. The kind of days that make us want to curl up with a glass of wine and a commitment never to go back outside again. Customer service seems to leave people with this feeling a lot – a feeling that you’re fighting the tide, that people don’t listen, that something is wrong.

I have those days once in awhile. For me, it usually means I’m tired and overcommitted, and that I haven’t given myself enough time to chill out. My first semester of my MLIS, I was working 4 jobs and taking 12 credits. I was also negotiating space with a new roommate, learning a new neighborhood, and trying to work with a student organization. In short, bad plan. All of those things were good, but I couldn’t say no. I just kept adding new things, and telling myself it would be good for me. In the end though, I had trouble being good for any of them.

Now, I’ve cut it down to 2 part time jobs (one’s an internship), and 4 classes. I’m still busy – I still push it too hard sometimes, and have to remind myself to calm down and back away. I have to remind myself that I’m not essential to the workings of each thing I’m involved in. And while that can be hard to hear, it honestly helps. I got a really great group for my group project that has seriously reaffirmed my belief in teamwork. And I have a roommate who occasionally makes me coffee.

The people around me want to help me, which is huge. But more importantly, I want to help myself. I am learning to take a breath, and maybe even to say no.

Mama may have said there’d be days like this, but I don’t have to sit still and let them happen.

Long Days and Learning Curves

Most days I’m a lot like my junior high self: when someone asks me how work was and what I did, I shrug and respond, “It was ok, didn’t do much.” This is obviously untrue, but it just seems easier than trying to explain everything. Most days, where do I even start?

Some days, though, something leaps out. There was the day that I got a shy kid to grin for an hour after I helped him search for Thomas the Tank Engine books – and then he pulled a chair up next to mine so we could find more things. There was the time that my very first reference question was explaining to a very nice, very well meaning elderly gentleman that the book in his hand was not “The Secret Garden” (as in the one by Frances Hodgson Burnett) but “My Secret Garden” by Nancy Friday. There was the time that a student ninja rolled across the front of the security post at the academic library I work at to cheer me up by pretending to sneak into the library (while madly waving his ID around for me to see).

There are lots of those really great times. The reasons why I want to do my job.

Then there are the reasons that I remember why I need to do my jobs. They’re the times where I can’t seem to get anything right, or at least where everything seems to be going wrong. They’re the longest days. They are upsetting, perhaps even a little scary. Perhaps they peel away the image I’ve gotten of a community I work in but am not from. And I remember why I want so badly for the library to be a safe, welcoming place for people to learn.

These thoughts are far loftier than what I was thinking as cleaned up blood off the library bathroom floor. Far more focused than writing up my incident report including the words “firearm” “illicit drugs” and “arrests.” And certainly more coherent than when I began to shake several hours later, wondering what was wrong with me as I struggled to pull my thoughts together.

Obviously, my Wednesday this week wasn’t normal, but I learned some things. I was reminded that my assumptions about life weren’t necessarily valid for everyone else’s life. The safety I felt fairly certain of even in a rough neighborhood couldn’t be extended to everyone. That the library had to actually assert itself as a haven to be respected, rather than just expect people to know it. I learned that I can make it through very stressful situations and get things done. That I have really great recall of things said to me when I’m stressed. That going into shock after certain experiences isn’t weakness.

That I never for a second questioned what I was doing there that day, or whether I would come back. I just would.