My life changed when I applied for a job entirely out of my comfort zone. Logan, still a part of my life when I applied, supported it at the time. He told me to follow my dreams and to take charge of my life; he told me that maybe this would be good for me, at least until he thought it wasn’t good for us anymore.Working double shifts and taking classes over the summer devoured my time, and while Logan and I were trying to make long distance work, it seemed the distance between us grew further every day. I would be on the unit, busy trying to learn the ins and outs of my new job, and he would be halfway across the state, sending threatening texts to my phone.

He blamed the job, along with all of my issues, on our downfall. Inaccurate as that was, and despite my defenses, I let it happen.

Most people possess the gumption to claim a new job has changed their lives, yet job did change my life.

I don’t have enough fingers to count off the number of amazing people I’ve met.

Ava didn’t like me at first, but I blame that on the girl who sat in front of me and dragged my socially anxious self into a friendship I hadn’t even really wanted. She, meaning Ava, started on the same floor as me, and by some chance, our friendship began and became the type of friendship you don’t know or understand how you lived without.

I have always, for the duration of my conscious and social life, felt out of place. I have always, since childhood, worried about never finding the person whose friendship would change my life. I watched my peers line up into cliques, groups, all surrounding me. I had those people, but then I still felt alone enough to the point of wanting to die.

I’m not going to lie and say I feel wonderful currently; as I sit here and write this, my stomach churns. As I sit here and write this, I think about why my past attempt didn’t work. As I sit here and write this, I wonder how easy it might be for the people to move on. For me, all of these feelings have never quite left me, but I manage. I have always managed, yet somehow, I’ve survived on managing without purpose for a long and frightening time.

I’m not going to say Ava gave me purpose when she let me into her life, but she didn’t leave me out. She accepts the weird. She accepts my apologetic nature and does what she can to help me realize I deserve more than I thought. And I feel like I don’t deserve her friendship still, because of who I am. I’ve never met someone who supports me in the way that she supports me, and sometimes I’m so afraid that I’ll lose her, too.

I’ve already lost mostly everyone else. There are people who care, but very few, and of those few, she is the most important.

I was sitting in this repugnant, ghastly classroom on the third floor of the hospital, some weeks into my orientation, still vying to fit in without appearing strapped for friendship or comfort. The dull walls told me even less than the dull presentations that were supposedly vital to our performance on these psychiatric units (later, I learned that nothing but working on the unit served as appropriate preparation). Those walls had seen hundreds, if not thousands, of those trite central orientation classes. Those walls locked us in and mocked us as we tolerated dreary voices unloading cumbersome information upon our minds. Do your therapeutic observations, provide trauma informed care, and do what you can to de-escalate – in all aspects, follow the least restrictive model.

It made sense to me. With my mother working in mental health for most of my life and an interest in what goes wrong and how we can help, I knew I wouldn’t be changing the world. Those yellow bricks of that hospital hold in sickness, not health. If I were to change anyone’s world in the most minor way, that would be enough for me.

When they put us in that hellishly boring room after weeks on end of sinking in those awful office chairs and then offered a teach on taking manual blood pressure, I genuinely thought about dipping out of that room. I’m not joking when I say I am underqualified to manually gauge blood pressure, and although the machines on the unit are appalling, I’m grateful for them.

But my lack of skill is beside the point – the day we broke out the stethoscopes and opened our ears to heartbeats was the day Ava became my friend.

That terrible room was full of orientees, each of us on different floors, each of us figuring out who was worth befriending and who was not. Up until this point, that shrill girl with her annoying friendship and always visible underwear had sucked me in. I was taking anything I could get because my anxiety didn’t, or couldn’t, handle being the outcast very well.

So, while everyone paired up, Ava and I were left behind – she in her corner and me two seats over in the back row. The beginning of that orientation hadn’t proved to be out of the ordinary, except for the fact that one of the best nurses on our floor was leading it. Maybe that should’ve told me something.

Anyway, I moved to sit beside her, and we made the weird small talk that one makes to avoid feeling socially anxious.

The moment when I couldn’t hear her heartbeat started it all, I believe. I joked that she must’ve been as dead inside as I was, and she laughed. It is in the company of the people who tolerate your morbid death jokes that you realize who your honest friends are.

When she reads this, I hope she understands how much I appreciate her and how I’m struggling to convey that sentiment without letting tears fall from the storm clouds my eyes have become. Empty weeks of work and stress pass us by, yet she and I are armed with the startling, outlandish, and audacious reality of what amicable friendship we’ve created – thank you, forever.


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