Later in the week, I practised my counselling skills, as part of the counselling skills course I am currently attending. I thought the other members of the class were very good, and they received some constructive feedback from the observer. I wasn't confident about my own ability but, surprisingly, all the feedback I received was positive. I was puzzled. No criticism at all? Surely there is always room for improvement?
During the interview at Samaritans, I was asked about my reasons for leaving the service two years ago, which is understandable. I replied that, at the time, I had too many things going on outside of my volunteering with the organisation. That's true. It's not the whole story, though.
For as long as I can remember, I've been an introvert. People would say I was a quiet child and, even now, might say I don't often contribute much to a conversation. In reality, I listen. I process what people say. Only when I have something meaningful to say do I say it. Mostly, though, I listen. Any introverts who are reading this will know how tiring this interaction can be, and will be familiar with the need to be alone sometimes, to recover. It can seem that others are throwing words and feelings at you, at a machine gun pace, and it can be overwhelming.
I'll admit to being flawed in one essential way. I can forget that empathy is not a universal trait. I'm only human. It can seem that no one wants to listen to my concerns, or how I feel. In the past, I've seen this as a fault with others. My relationship with them, I reasoned, is one-sided. I'm the one who listens intently and, when it is my turn to speak, no one wants to listen. For a long time, I carried a lot of anger and resentment around with me, over this issue. Unfortunately, this idea that no one wanted to listen led to me being even less vocal, withdrawing from opportunities to socialise with others, and going into a downward spiral that eventually resulted in a major depression.
To some extent, volunteering equipped me with skills which were necessary to deal with this. Most importantly, I learned not to judge others, to accept that I could only ever see their behaviour, and never fully understand the forces driving their behaviour. The pace at which those skills developed, however, was easily outpaced by the cumulative effect of dealing with other peoples' problems and not being kind to myself. It was this concept of being kind to myself which would prove vital to my continued support of those who needed my support.
It is acceptable for us to take some time out. If you'll forgive my use of a metaphor, we have to press the reset button. I've heard that some like to go fishing. Others play golf. At least one person I know likes to go to a coffee shop and read a book. There are no rules. There is something you enjoy, and you are more relaxed when you are doing it. We must restore the balance, and ensure that we have some positive experiences in our life. As I discovered, at great cost, a lack of these positive experiences leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face in our daily lives.
I reconnected with mindfulness in the time since. There are things I enjoy, of course, but mindfulness serves as my reset switch. The simple realisation that I can support others, not having to carry their suffering with me, enables me to find the peace that I was previously unable to find. Best of all, I don't have to find a river, a coffee shop or a golf course.
During the practice of my counselling skills, I had to take on the role of a client, so that another student could practise their skills. It was noted that I am uneasy with talking about myself, and especially how I feel. I need to work on this. I have to accept my flaws, so that I may work around them or work to improve, but I also need to work on accepting that, in some ways, I am okay. So, I'll take the lack of constructive criticism as a sign that I may actually be quite good at supporting those in distress.