Slides and Steps*

*pretend it says snakes and ladders, okay?

In the town where I grew up, the playground I frequented most often had a deathly metal slide. One of those really old-school, stainless-steel terrors with a ladder at the back and a field of prickles at the base. It was horror in summer, but epic nonetheless.

I feel like many years of my life are analogous with this slide. I started the journey expecting to leap off the bottom, collect my belongings, and run free across the dangerous grass, dodging the painful minefields of clover that dominated the park.

But, instead, this happened:

My life has been a scramble down the slide, where I constantly get stuck halfway because things have never been perfectly polished the way one expects, and I get trapped at the bottom trying to climb back up. I have struggled and thrashed in the pit at the base, desperately trying to claw my way back to the surface to no avail.

And this was where I resided, for many, many years.

Until recently. When, much like something out of an evil villain’s lair in a sci-fi movie, the hidden stairs popped out of the slide, and I was able to get my hands over the edge, and stand up for the first time.

Slowly, slowly, I am climbing the steps. And now, when things come crashing down, instead of slipping to rock-bottom, I stumble down only a few steps, recover, and begin to climb my way back up again.

The stairs are infinite, and I don’t know what’s awaits at the top, but I know that life has evolved from a constant slippery slope into a staircase that I can conquer, over and over and over again.

And that, my friends, makes my life a game of snakes and ladders.

Lessons

Just because they say they understand, doesn’t mean they do.

Just because they texts emojis, and kind words, doesn’t mean those sentiments are actually reciprocated.

Just because you’re good at your job, doesn’t mean you’re not at risk of being fired.

I lost my job. This isn’t to say that I’m unemployed, but I lost my consistent
“real” job (I’m still a tutor, after all). I lost my job because I spent time in hospital to ensure I wouldn’t kill myself. And when I returned to work, they told me that my “situation” (i.e. my mental health) made me unreliable, and I was fired, despite being a pretty great employee.

They said they understood; they provided a long sleeve shirt to cover my self-harm scars, they let me take extra breaks if I felt too anxious to continue. But when it came down to the real hard truths of my life with mental illness, they didn’t understand at all.

The first time I called in sick was two days after a suicide attempt. I was an involuntary patient, and couldn’t make my usual Saturday shift. The next time, the time that led to me losing my job, a friend had me admitted so I wouldn’t hurt myself. And I begged her not to take me. Because I just knew that I was going to get fired. She – and the hospital staff – convinced me that my anxious mind was pounding my with impossibilities, and I believed them, and allowed myself to spend time in a safe space.

And then I returned, and my world crashed down around me, and my sense of security and self-confidence were torn away, and I was left crushed and jobless and contemplating death. Work kept me alive. Sometimes, a shift was the reason I woke up the next day.

Even though I could, I’m not going to fight the fact that I lost my job. It’s an unfortunate fact. And even if I could somehow get my job back, why would I want to return to an environment that only provides false understanding?

No; instead I’ll treat this like the lesson that it is.

Some people will insist they understand, when really, they don’t at all.