The Doorway Mantra – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald newspaper – August 2013

It’s good to see N as he strides through the door of the drop-in session with the biggest grin on his face. He works for one of our partner agencies and has been recuperating for the last couple of months after suffering a heart attack. It quickly becomes apparent from what he is saying that he very nearly died, but he just shrugs his shoulders and states that it’s no big deal since he has nearly died before.

N informs us that J, one of our ex guests, died a few weeks ago, and that the funeral has been delayed whilst they to establish the cause of death. I desperately try to remember who J was and I feel awful that I am drawing a total blank. However, in my defence, I must have met somewhere around 700 people during the seven years that I have been working at Doorway and my ability to retain names is well known to be appalling. Although I’m surprised that we hadn’t already heard the news, since information normally spreads like wildfire around here.

But the moment is swiftly forgotten and the topic of conversation reverts, once again, back to the ‘normal’ subjects of general crisis management in our sessions.

And then, a few days later, in a rather surreal moment, it suddenly dawns on me just who J was. The realisation hits me hard since I am doing something totally unrelated to my work and the memories of him come flooding back. He first visited us when he was sleeping rough after a relationship breakdown at the start of 2011. During his subsequent visits over the period of the next year we supported him until the point when he no longer needed us and moved on from our service. He always came across as being one of those genuinely ‘nice guys’ who tended to hide his true emotions behind a mask and tried to stay positive about his future.

I start pondering on how I’ve become rather blasé about death.

As I further explore my feelings, I realise that it’s not so much that I am getting blasé but it’s more of an acceptance now. I still question the justice, and I get upset, but I guess that I can now accept that it ‘just happens’ after losing so many people that I have known over the years.

I suppose, in our line of work, it is kind of inevitable that people die – we’ve had our fair share of accidents, suicides, overdoses and illnesses during the time that I have been involved with Doorway.

And I’ve also learnt to become anaesthetised to so many different feelings as a form of self-protection. Which can come across to others as being blasé or uncaring, but actually it’s a way of disconnecting in order to just cope with some of the horrendous issues that our guests face in their own lives.

But rather ironically, the upside to all this is that it does make me even more determined to keep as many of our guests alive as possible.

And that’s what keeps me going, through all the despair and frustrations, month after month. The moment when an ex guest walks back into the drop-in session after a long absence and just says a simple ‘thank you’ for saving their life. That moment makes it all worthwhile, and keeps me going throughout the darkest days.

I’ve also learnt that bad things happen, often on a daily basis, but I have new mantra that if the consequence of an action / situation is that no is going to die, then it’s not really of the greatest importance. For example if the office printer breaks then there is no point in getting stressed about it since it’s not going to end up killing anyone. So everything is relative in my slightly skewed and distorted world.

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