I like a challenge.
I guess you could say I seek them out. Challenges. Like leaving a very comfortable existence in Human Resources, complete with a spinny office chair, days that ended at 4:30pm, and promotions being slung at me like hotcakes, for the precariousness, danger, filth, red tape, and chaos of human services.
I guess I didn’t want to feel satisfied and accomplished at the end of the day, I wanted to feel defeated, useless, and ineffective. It seems I preferred being beaten and bloody, scaling a cliff with broken fingernails, to being cozy and warm inside my custom-designed, pleasantly-lit, ergonomically-sound office.
This is an ongoing and self-perpetuating theme in my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve cheerfully skipped by the path of least resistance for night-shrouded, thunder-filled, shadow-stifled trails, lined with those ugly trees from The Wizard of Oz that chased you and threw apples at your head.
I’ve also always been fascinated by the dark side of this world: severe and persistent mental illness, sociopathology, paranormal activity, criminality. I blame Stephen King. I grew up on Stephen King. And Piers Anthony. And Agatha Christie. Either that or subconsciously I find this world really, really boring.
Long story short, this fascination with extremes and desire to be challenged has led me to the damndest places and the damndest people.
My lifelong hobby of catching and playing with fire, for the simple sake of catching and playing with fire, has put me in situations that an individual with better judgement (or far less morbid curiosity) would never find herself, would never want to be.
And this includes dabbling with the mean girls.
What I’ve done is identified the most elitist, exclusive, most opinionated group of women I can find, be it in school, workplace, or social setting, and I found my way in. Why? I don’t know. Because someone told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t or how difficult and miserable it would be. Same reason I jumped at the chance to work with the severely and persistently mentally ill, the incarcerated. To observe. To learn. To understand.
I know you might say that ‘mean girls’ are hardly a category of interest, and are not nearly as dangerous as criminals, but I beg to differ. And I do believe I figured out when it started.
When I was in high school, still naive to the insecurity-exclusivity vacuum, bopping along as sheltered and clueless (and I mean clueless) as one could get, I was hit for the first time. A classmate of mine, let’s call her “Kelly”, decided she and I were rivals (she TOLD me this), and that she and I could not occupy the same space, have the same group of friends, or be civil with one another. I didn’t care much about her either way. She was sort of inconsequential. I didn’t notice her, until… until she convinced the director of the school theater company that I had a part-time job, I wouldn’t be able to make rehearsals, and that she should take over for me, usurp my role. If that wasn’t enough, she told the friends I’d had since elementary school that I was some sort of teenager of ill-repute, my French teacher I was using my Spirit Week Teacher-for-a-Day duties to lower others’ grades, and told me that I was frumpy. Let’s never mind her chronic halitosis and her cameltoe.
Honestly, though, I was devastated. Devastated. Not because of the aftermath of all of her meddling (and lying), but that people could or would be so unnecessarily and self-servingly cruel. Now, I’m guilty of an overactive mind/conscience. I could never have pulled that off. To this day, I don’t think I could pull that off. And maybe that’s how I ended up so taken by the barbs of the human mind.
I left Human Resources because I was bored, I needed to know more about these creatures with whom I shared my space. I needed to know more about the reclusive accountant, the inner workings of the security guard’s marriage, why the receptionist was so moody. And that’s how I got into behavioral health.
A little less than ten years later, when I was in graduate school, I was granted access to an ‘exclusive’ group at my workplace. They were always laughing, planning outings, and having fun. I managed to work my way in and found they were small-minded, immature, did ‘recreational’ drugs (Don’t you love that phrase? What’s recreational about drugs? Let’s play some shuffleboard and then we’ll smoke a little pot and take some Vicodins!), and maintained an extremely tight ship.
I was confronted by two of them after I had made plans with another coworker to attend a whitewater rafting trip. They cornered me, alone, in my office and scolded me for not ‘asking them first’ about the trip. At first, I laughed. They weren’t serious, right? Or they wanted to come, too. Turns out, they were scolding me for not asking them permission to go on that trip. And they were mad. I couldn’t wrap my mind around any of it. I sort of laughed it off, grabbed my things, and got out of there.
It was like a sorority of hellhounds. That was the end for me. Not only was it lacking in logic, it was creepy, too.
I befriended them to figure out why. I always had to figure out why. And the only conclusion I’ve come to is that those bloodthirsty, vicious, and insatiable creatures were tremendously insecure.
And why so mean? Why, to strain out all the women with the ego strength, independence, and presence of mind to bring them down. To keep out the threats. To protect themselves.
That was easy. Now let’s get back to my official career.
Once I learned, ate, and digested everything I needed to know about Schizoaffective and Bipolar disorders, and Borderline Personality Disorder, and collected all the requisite academic qualifications (and student loan billing statements) to back it up, I wanted more. I wanted to go a little deeper. The next logical step was the chemically dependent.
And working with the chemically dependent? They say an addict will steal your wallet and then help you look for it. They’re right. My experience was all that and then some.
And once I had that figured out? The incarcerated.
I had aspirations of working for the FBI as well. As a profiler.
I feel like I’ve descended into hell on some levels, or was at least trying to. It was an odd bucket list. Where some people want to see the world from a hot-air balloon, I wanted to see it from behind Hannibal Lecter’s facemask. I wanted to get as close as I could to the flames without getting burned. I wanted to push myself to the very last inch, stand on my tiptoes at the edge of the gangplank without falling off. And I did it.
The good news? It was a fun trip, suspended over the depths of hell, tied to a frayed rope, and peering into the insane, poorly-lit human zoo from behind cracked glass. It was fun. But I’m done. I’ve learned all I could. Or all I wanted.
And now I’ve got kids, and they bring the sunshine, and I rather enjoy the sunshine. Sure, they’re not as difficult to crack as the people with whom I worked or cavorted, and I don’t have lies to smoke out, or motives to uncover, but they do have hugs. And smiles. And belly laughs. And my daughter’s clothes are ruffly and covered with glitter.
And that’s good for my heart. And it’s regaining its original luster, growing brighter and stronger every day. And I’m still learning, just on a different scale, in a different, much more palatable area.
And I feel that things are just the way it should be. For now at least.