I have a love-hate relationship with this social media campaign. I love the intent. I love that celebrities speak out about their mental health struggles, and that people I know express their care and support for those who struggle. I also know very personally the pain of an environment where being honest about uncomfortable emotions invites censure and rejection.
Most of the posts I’ve read are from the perspective of those who have worked their way toward healing. (And yes, finding one’s way toward healing through a mental health crisis is some of the hardest work a person will ever do.)
On this day meant to create a sense of safety around being honest about one’s mental health, whether it’s robust or frail, why do we not hear from those who are not on the “I’ve triumphed” side?
For one thing, speaking up about mental health struggles takes energy that is often needed just to make it through the day.
For another, all of the social media campaigns in the world and work place initiatives are not going to make it any safer to show our deepest vulnerability if the individual people in those work places and social groups don’t know how to be a safe presence for those who are hurting. In all honesty, workplaces aren’t about emotional safety. It would be wonderful if they were. The truth is, they’re about getting the job done. That’s how that profit is made from which employees are paid.
Providing support for when someone we care about is experiencing mental health struggles requires time and willingness to be present. It is about a process of support, not fixing a problem. Emotions are messy and unpredictable. They don’t heal on a timeline, and when they are given a safe place to be seen, they often get even messier.
Most people don’t know how to be present when emotions get messy. This isn’t anyone’s fault. Healthy emotional processing isn’t something we typically see modelled. We’ve grown up being told, both explicitly and implicitly, that success is related to our ability to hide our vulnerabilities, disguise our uncomfortable emotions, and just “power through” no matter how much we hurt inside. We don’t know how to tend that which cannot be “solved”.
This is part of why I have invested the past decade in training and building my skills as a compassionate listener. For those who come from a religious background, I offer “spiritual direction”. For those who prefer a non-religious context, I offer “personal coaching”.
Either way, the offering is compassionate presence and skilled listening. Those who come to me choose how often they want to meet, and for that hour, usually once a month, the conversation is entirely about them. What have they experienced since we last met? What is nudging at their intuition that they want to attend to more closely? What is the hurt they dare not speak aloud anywhere else? Together we gently explore what doesn’t often receive attention. Together we listen for what their inner wisdom wants to say.
Life is requiring a monumental amount of us these days. A pandemic that just keeps going, natural disasters at increasingly frequent intervals, social and political unrest are all coming at us from multiple directions. People we love are experiencing health crises and yes, mental health crises.
I am not a counsellor or a therapist. I am happy to suggest counselling or therapy when those skills are required.
But for those who just need a safe place to set down their heavy loads for just an hour and tend their own hearts, I am honoured to be available. It is a profound privilege to create a space where it is safe to say, “Life hurts and I don’t know how to manage it all.”
Bell “Let’s Talk” Day is a starting place. My hope is that the work I do keeps the conversation going.
If you want to explore this more, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org