Six Cats and a Black Dog | Thank You, Samaritans: There Before the Crisis Hits
Last year I made a Blog For Mental Health pledge. Sadly, there is no pledge in 2016 and the Blog for Mental Health site is no longer being curated, though it is currently still accessible. However, this was a wonderful project (and it ran for several years) and I’m truly glad it got me blogging about this subject, albeit less regularly than I’d like!
Samaritans: There Before the Crisis Hits
I had some difficult news this weekend. A role I have been in for some years is coming to an end. In the last year, I’ve found a kind of balance between my role and also teacher training. I did a lot of hours on both the former and the latter last year but this year it meant I could scale back my teaching placement. I had applied to volunteer at a mental health museum and was also considering applying for voluntary work at a local gallery. Recently, I had found a real balance between working evenings/weekends and using my weekday daytimes productively to do many other things. Excited about the path for the future, I was planning to complete my teaching certificate and finish my degree. I had a plan in mind.
Unfortunately, then came the hugely unexpected news that my role was to end. This was just one of those things, sometimes jobs come to a conclusion, but my head was suddenly in disarray. My husband and I are going through an amicable but nonetheless painful separation, I am in a town away from my family and friends and also finding teaching harder this year. Now my role is ending, which means my plans are going to change. Yes, I will apply for jobs – I’ve started looking already. I will return to, most likely, Monday to Friday daytime work. But my carefully constructed study-work-volunteering plan will need to go to the bottom of the queue in terms of organising and fixing things. My worry was, would my mental health care go there too?
My family rallied. They offered ideas and solutions. I could move into a spare room, I could live with family part of the week if I found work local to them and reduce travel costs, I could try temp work or supply work or bar work to tide me over and they would help me look for a permanent job. They were so kind but, suddenly, I was drowning in these ideas and suggestions. I took the train back after a family visit from Saturday to Sunday (also, awkwardly, the first time I had seen many people since before my marriage ended and at a party no less) with my head spinning. I felt like I was in freefall but I also felt selfish and ungrateful: here people were rallying round to help and I actually wanted to run screaming.
So, feeling the world swirling and churning under my feet even as I sat, I contacted Samaritans. It wouldn’t be the first time I had contacted them. I strongly suspect a call to them saved my life once, but that’s not a tale for today. I think sometimes there is a view that you can only call Samaritans when you are in the deepest despair, about to take your life. Actually, I think they would far rather you made that call long before that point, that they can help you stay safe rather than get safe, that they can keep you far from a crisis rather than only being there in a crisis.
I explained the things that had happened and how overwhelmed I felt. That actually options were very frightening at the moment because it isn’t just a case of finding a new job (and possibly moving) but – at least it feels like this – a whole new way of living. That my carefully constructed plan and approach very much incorporated a commitment to self-care that has kept me very safe for some years now and allowed me to be medication free, working and – mostly – hopeful, even despite odd dark days. Needless to say, they got it. No advice, no suggestions, just a listening ear. A shelter in the storm of thoughts and anxieties and fear in my head.
I love my family and I love them SO MUCH for trying to help. I think that’s an instinctive thing that we do when someone is in trouble – we try and help and fix things and offer suggestions and that is no bad thing. That’s love, to want to stop someone’s pain and anguish and offer ways forward. I love them for that. Sometimes, though, we do need that someone who doesn’t really know us or our foibles or our history or even our personality but just understands our pain and can say “I hear you”.This is why we need Samaritans. It is a vital service, particularly in times of crisis but not only in times of crisis. From the second I shared my thoughts my panic began to ease. Long before I reached crisis point but while I was still able to acknowledge I was worryingly anxious, there was an ear. My family said wonderful things, they praised my strength, but I think I needed a stranger to hear and know they didn’t have to say any of the right things or praise me. They just needed to hear without anything colouring it.
Three/four years ago, this spiralling fear would have culminated in a frightening panic attack. This time, it resulted in my stepping back, regaining control, knowing that although I might need to make a decision quickly, it didn’t need to be immediate. I had time, I could think. They gave me, for want of a better description, punctuation. A breath. A moment.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I am fortunate that even though I have lived with depression for big parts of the last 18 years now, I am here to enjoy life. Sometimes that fact surprises me. It always humbles me. Samaritans have been there for me on more than one occasion. Sometimes, just knowing they have been there has been enough without picking up the phone, in the same way you can know a good friend or your wonderful family are there without constant contact. They’ve touched my life, more than once, and that sticks. I’m grateful to a lot of people today (and every day) but I’m grateful to this organisation and the wonderful people behind it. Please don’t ever feel there isn’t anybody there or that your worries are not worth sharing. They ALWAYS are.
Happy World Mental Health Day. We all have mental health, we all need to safeguard it. Thank you to the many amazing organisations (including MHFA England and their excellent Take 10 Together campaign) making this a priority and being there for those who need it. The people working with and within your organisations, many of whom are the most wonderful volunteers, are simply incredible.