Mental health has reached a point now where it is getting recognised, understood and accepted which is bloody brilliant but there is still an issue regarding listening, it’s a skill that we aren’t ever really taught how to use.
I’m more of a listener than a talker, I’d rather let someone chat about whatever they want to chat about then worry about boring them with whatever I want to chat about, which is a mindset I have carried with me for many years. During my teenage years my mental health was very poor and I hardly ever spoke about it, partly because it was so difficult to do so and partly because I thought well what’s the point? No one was going to listen to me. I’d be told the same shit as always “It will be okay” or “I’m sorry you feel like this” as they respond in a bored sense of tone, to which they quickly change the subject to something else and brush off what I have just said as though it wasn’t important. So what was the point in me going through the stress and difficulty of speaking about my troubles when I didn’t always feel like I got the appreciation or respect back as a response? Another reason I didn’t speak about my troubles was because I knew full well how depressing they were. I wanted to speak about my troubles a lot but I felt like I couldn’t because I didn’t want to be known as that ‘depressing friend’. I didn’t want to be the friend who always brought the mood down or spoke about my dad’s death which happened years before (which I felt others would think was a long time ago) but due to my PTSD, it felt like it happened hours/days/weeks before or it was happening in that moment. I had this persona of being the life and soul of the party, I felt like I had to try and keep living up to that because it was that persona that people enjoyed being around, not the depressed girl with shit going on in her head.
As a child I didn’t really need a listener. I was free spirited, adventurous and happy with my life but then it all went to shit when I was 12 years old. I’d say my first ever listener was my dog Barney. We got him a month or so after my dads death and he has been my little rock ever since. I still struggled to verbally say how I was feeling so I sometimes used to say it in my head whilst I had him next to me, that way I could let some of the emotion out without actually verbally discussing my thoughts/feelings. He was always happy to see me when I got home from school and comforted me on the days where I broke down. He was there for me to hug, pat and play with, he was just always there for me. The best thing about pets is that they don’t understand our world. They live in the present moment every day.
Things didn’t really get any better once I left college and started to work. My listener became my boyfriend at the time and I actually opened up to him a hell of a lot more than I did to friends/family at this point but he couldn’t understand. He could sympathise, but not empathise (I have said this before and I will say it again, I hate sympathy). He tried his best to comfort me but his lack of understanding and lack of willingness to understand sometimes resulted in arguments. The relationship as a whole was an intense and toxic one. I knew and felt that I could talk to him but I knew some of the topics I wanted to talk about, he could take the wrong way and it would result in either me feeling more like shit or an argument. When I could see that the relationship had really started to affect my mental health I felt so lost. My friends had been telling me to leave the relationship for ages before (for starters I knew that’s what I needed to do) so I knew exactly what their advice would be but again, I just wanted some guidance rather than advice from a more mature point of view so I began to talk to my mum more.
For the most part of my relationship I had kept the negative details away from my mum as I didn’t want her to judge my boyfriend, but there would be times where she would ask about him and I would either struggle to come up with a suitable answer or burst into tears. There and then she became my listener. She listened to every word I said, never got her personal opinions involved and offered me guidance rather than advice which was exactly what I needed. I became more comfortable talking to her and we crossed that ‘boy talk’ barrier so whenever boy troubles came up again, if I needed guidance I knew I could turn to her.
However, dealing with my PTSD, depression and anxiety was a different story. That I still struggled with and I tried to hide as much of it as I could but I knew I was on a downward spiral and it wasn’t going to be long till I crashed and burned. I tried to hide it the most from my mum, I knew that we had gone through similar stages of grief but she had gone and finished her counselling years before this and I didn’t want to be the one that brought up the memory. I saw the pain she went through and I didn’t want her to feel that way again.
I then had a mental breakdown that changed everything. I sat on the end of my bed and messaged my mum to come upstairs into my room, she popped her head in and I immediately broke down. She sat next to me, put her arm around me and just listened to me cry till I could catch my breath and explain to her that I needed and wanted professional help. Again she just listened and provided me with reassurance that she would be there for me and help me if I needed it. She stuck by her word and took me to my doctors appointments, offered support, left me alone when I needed to be alone and she never pressured me or pestered me to tell her any details. She knew that if I wanted to talk to her then I could and would talk to her.
If someone is opening up to you about a subject that they might have difficulty with, have the decency to respect them for being able to speak about something personal and just listen. Maybe that’s all they want, they might not be seeking guidance, advice or comfort, just a human with a listening ear so they don’t have to feel so heavy. It could be a big step for them.
It can be hard to know what to do or how to react when someone opens up to you. Below are some of my personal conversation tips:
– Ask questions. Show you are actually listening and create a conversation with them but without getting your own personal opinions involved. Asking questions will allow them to get more off their chest (if they want to), prove to them that you are there and listening and possibly help them figure out what is happening in their head.
– Be in the present moment with them.
– Empathise (also, know the difference between empathy and sympathy).
– Stay calm. This one I think is actually really important. When barriers are being brought down for a conversation it is important to just stay calm. I prefer to not let any other feelings of mine get involved as I feel as though, if I am calm, it might help them feel calm which could again help them talk to me.
– Allow them to talk.
– Never ever judge.
– Respect and appreciate their honesty and thank them for trusting you.
Shout out to the best listeners I have come across in my life. You all helped me in some way.
Sending my love to you all,