Posted by: Kate | February 7, 2008

Thanks for Nothing

Does it ever happen to you that someone lavishes praise upon your head when all you did, really, was continue to breathe and perhaps blink once or twice?

It happens regularly at my job; for those new to the party, I do mental health crisis assessments in the emergency department.  Whenever someone shows up with any sort of psychiatric symptom, from depression to anxiety to psychosis, I can get called in to help figure out whether they can go home safely.  Sometimes I’m doing hard work, really struggling to find ways to communicate with patients and doctors and hospitals, straining to form connections and understand a situation, agonizing over every little choice along the way.  But other times, all I’m doing it sitting there, just listening, just waiting until the person finds the right words for themselves.  I’m not doing anything except staying out of the way.

I get it, that sometimes all it takes is an attentive and calm presence to help someone feel calmer, but it doesn’t feel worthy of praise.  You’re feeling better because you figured something out, and I was just along for the ride.

I had it happen again this morning, at Gretchen’s place.  She had a knitting emergency (a miscrossed cable, for those of you who can read such words without flying into a panic because I’m speaking gibberish) which I knew how to fix.  But instead of fixing it for her, I just helped her set it up and then got out of her way, and now she is a cable-correcting expert.  She insists that I helped; I think I just got out of the way.

It all balances, of course.  There’s the times when I feel like I’ve bent over backwards for someone and barely got an acknowledgment or, worse, received criticism for my effort.

It seems like there should be some deep, pithy way to sum this all up, but seeing as how this cursor has just sat here and blinked at me for ten minutes, apparently there is not.

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Responses

  1. I guess they could be thanking you for (like you said) being attentive to them. You could have not been there at all, or have decided to deal with the situation differently. You made a choice that yielded a very good result for them.

    To you, it may have been nothing, but to them (especially, I can imagine, for your psychiatric patients) you’re all they had to cling to, even if all you did was listen.

    It makes me think of a branch sticking out of a sheer cliff. You fall but are able to grab on to the branch. Until help comes (assuming here that it will), the branch is saving your life… and all it is doing is whatever it does all day, everyday.

    I don’t know you but thank you for you because from this post I see how you’re making a difference in people’s lives and that. Is. Wonderful. 🙂

  2. Awww, thank you. Really. It’s not nothing, to comment and put yourself out there.

    And I know I do important work, and that feels good. It’s just funny to me that sometimes it’s the smallest things that get the most attention.

  3. It would be difficult to think of someone doing your work without feeling good about it. 😛

    That is a strange (but pleasant!) occurrence and then I’m not sure what else to say.

  4. sometimes it’s just knowing that you’re there, period. or in the case of the sweater, knowing that if i broke it again, you were still there. and the small, cute one wiggling his toes to schoolhouse rock probably helped too 😉

  5. The smallest things do get attention, because they’re small gestures of kindness not flamboyant attempts. It’s like when someone has a problem with their PC, i often just stand behind them and they resolve it themselves. It’s just having someone there to share the problem and make them feel less imcompetent that’s important. Although sometimes I wish I did get some recognition for the larger scale projects. From little acorns great oak trees grow so keep doing the small things – there is a snowball effect!


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