Updated: Jul 3, 2020
It was a brisk day in February 2019 in North Eastern Pennsylvania. I was dressed in black slacks, a hunter green tank and a black blazer that graced the back of my knees. My hair was curled. My makeup was perfect. I clenched my black portfolio tightly to my side that held my freshly printed, extensive resume detailing the past 7 years of my work in adult mental health case management, residential, entrepreneurial pursuits, and most recent peer support position. (I did enjoy peer support, it was meaningful work that I had felt called to do. I was proud of obtaining my certificate in that specialty. But, it lacked professionalism and structure that I desperately needed in order to perform and produce. I was said to be “overqualified” for the position upon hire, and truthfully I should have listened.)
If there was any task that I had perfected it was interviewing for a job in my field. I was flawless at job interviews. I always did my homework. I knew the in’s and outs of the position, the work environment, the company. I knew what employers looked for. In my field, a spotless legal record, clean urine screen and a heartbeat pretty much got you hired. Social Work and Human Services are not for the weak or the money hungry folks. Case workers are very overworked and underpaid and spread incredibly thin because there are only a handful of people who would ever actually sign up to do the work we do. Many of us have our own personal stories and reasoning behind why we pursue the very rigorous mentally exhausting work. Of course you know that I was built for it, and if I did have to work at a “job- job” it was this.
But the job that I was about to interview for was THE JOB. I thought Children and Youth Services was THE JOB, but oh no. It was this. This was the mother of all jobs I would ever have within my field of study. I was wildly impressed with myself that I had made it this far in the process. I couldn’t even believe that I was sitting in the lobby, as a candidate for a job to work at this building. I felt as though I had great big giant balls of steel on one hand. But on the other, I was absolutely terrified.
“Who the hell do I think I am? What if they know? What if they figure it out? What if it comes out? What if I am about to walk into an ambush?” I thought to myself. I had recently experienced an ambush and I knew that I wouldn't survive another one. Not here. My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to throw up. With my history and personality I have a tendency to go to the worst case scenario end of the world with my preparations on most things. This was absolutely no different. I had no idea what was going to transpire within the next hour of my life. Stability had become a staple for my mental health. I had to be somewhat of a control freak in all things, in order to make sure I stayed well in between my ears. This was playing with fire. This was poking the bear. This was the icing on the cake of idiotic ideas that I had thus far. I was certain I was going to pass out or have a panic attack or both.
Who in the actual hell interviews for a professional position in an inpatient psychiatric unit where they were once a patient just 8 years prior after surviving a self induced stab wound to their stomach?
Oh yes, that would be me.
Despite all of my nerves and apprehension about the next 45 minutes of my life, I felt as though I belonged there. I felt my calling. I felt the healing from the pain I had experienced. I felt the lessons I had learned and skills I had obtained and the difference I could make in patients lives there. If anyone should work in this place, it’s me. Because I get it. I survived the darkness. And if I could, anyone could. Really. I wrote my first book to share my story to hope that someone reading it decided to be a part of the 1% and rise up, not the other 99% and accept defeat. After all, it doesn’t matter where you have been and what you have done, it matters where you are going and what you are going to do about it. Life rewards action.
After all I had experienced in my life, I decided that if this interview went poorly or I did not get an offer, I would be okay.
After sitting in the lobby for what felt like an eternity, two women with warm smiles approached me. I instantly felt at ease. I am a big one on feeling vibes and sensing energy and thankfully for me, theirs was good. It was time for my interview at Robert Packer Behavioral Science Unit.
They led me into a small conference room and invited me to have a seat. One introduced herself as a clinical supervisor, the other the director. They both seemed thoroughly impressed with my resume and took a particular interest in my entrepreneurial pursuits and my “publication”.
“Oh God this is it” I thought to myself with my whole heart in my throat. “This is where the cookie crumbles and I walk out with my tail between my legs….errr no! My head held high and proud, because I told the truth.” When asked about my book I said: “ I personally struggled with mental health and have survived a serious suicide attempt. Now I have chosen to share my story and help other people. I chose to become who I needed when I was struggling. Because I know that if I were to have read this story in my bad times, I would have made a different decision.”
I felt the blood rush to my face and I knew that what I had said sat heavy with the director. I could sense a shift in energy but I couldn’t quite tell if it was bad. The clinical supervisor beamed at me like she was a proud parent of a kid who just won first place at the science fair. She wasn’t who I was worried about. I could tell she liked me. I could tell that I had won her over and that gave me some comfort, but not much.
The director said: “ Let me be very transparent with you.”
“Oh God, here it is.” I thought “The, we don't hire patients, maybe this isn't the best fit for you, we don't feel like you would be cut out to work here...."
She continued: “ There are a lot of sad cases here. I have worked in big cities and urban areas and I have seen some of the worst cases I have ever seen in my career here in rural Bradford County Pennsylvania. Are you sure that you are going to be able to handle working with these folks with your history?
Without any hesitation I replied:
“I have turned my experiences into strength and feel it's my purpose to help others. I believe I can, yes.” The clinical supervisor then asked what I do for self care. I answered with writing, music, exercise. The interview came to a conclusion and the director looked at the clinical supervisor and asked: “ Well, do you think I should take Miss Brittany upstairs and give her the tour?” She replied “ I absolutely do!” Still beaming at me.
I was shocked. Then I began to panic because I knew what was about to happen and I hadn't prepared for it. At all.
They escorted me out of the room towards the double doors that required badge access. Behind the double was the elevator that takes you upstairs to the unit which also required a badge to summon.
A jolt of sheer anxiety rushed through my veins.
I didn’t think this far ahead. The last time I was brought up to that floor in that elevator was being escorted by security in a wheelchair. I was on enough pain meds to stop a horse mid gallop. I had 26 stables in my stomach. I was the most broken I had ever been. I was at my absolute lowest point in life. I had worked incredibly hard for the past 8 years to never be back in that elevator again. And truthfully, forget that elevator even existed.
Was I ready for this? Was I going to lose my shit? Was this going to be a trigger? Was this the icing on the cake I had been worried about? Maybe this was a bad idea. Could I run? Was it too late? Maybe I could go to the bathroom and just not come back.
The doors opened before us and I followed her into the small box that was going to take me up to the floor. My heart was racing. I remembered the smell. I remembered being in that elevator and not being able to get out fast enough after the last visit with my mother I had that went sour just 12 years ago. I remember sitting there in that wheelchair with security praying to just fall over dead because I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive my “sentence” on that floor. And I remembered the freedom I felt when being discharged on that very hot day in July of 2012 with my father waiting for me in the lobby and his candy apple red GT mustang in the parking lot outside the doors.
For one person I had quite the history with that elevator. Good grief. What exactly was I thinking? Who did I think I was? Strength Personified? Sure, but only kept at a distance away from the memories that this place held. You see, I have done well for myself since I was discharged from this place but only because I had moved far away and moved on with my life. You can’t sit in the past and move beyond
it. You can’t sit in your guilt and shame and expect to heal. Sadly, I realized those things much too late for my liking, but hell this would be a great story for my next literary work, right?
I seemed to be handling the elevator okay but it was only a matter of seconds before those doors opened to my own personal inpatient pandora's box. I wasn’t sure what was going to come out. I was truly terrified at that moment. The anticipation nearly stopped my heart from beating. I am fairly certain that the director and I were making small talk but hell if I could think about anything than those doors opening.
I can tell you one thing, I sure as hell wasn’t prepared for what happened when those doors opened.