Listening is a Powerful Thing

This isn’t anything new, but it’s something that’s been drawn to my attention once again.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone in which you really felt heard? You finish the conversation, and the other person leaves the room. You sit back, and realise that they do get it.

I had one such conversation recently. I’m currently in a psychiatric hospital, so there’s plenty of talking each day. Plenty. Catch ups with nurses, group work, therapy with my psychiatrist, as well as chatting to other patients, and keeping in touch with friends. By the end of a busy day I’ve talked much more than I would on any day at home.

A lot of it is relatively meaningless chatter. Not necessarily bad, but not hugely memorable or life changing (or blog post provoking!). Sometimes, however, there’s one of those conversations that ends with relief, gratitude, and hope.

The issues I struggle with (mentally, and physically) can’t be fixed with medication, several therapy sessions, or the click of your fingers. It’s not that simple, and that’s just how it is. Trauma is complex, and takes time to work through.

It can be very difficult for loved ones (be they friends or family) to sit with how unwell I sometimes am. They can’t fix things, can’t cheer me up, can’t change anything. I think they often feel lost, and overwhelmed about what to do. I’ve certainly felt that way with friends going through a rough time.

I’ve learnt something though – it’s okay to sit with being unable to fix something for a loved one. It’s not very comfortable, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Sometimes things are horrible, unfair, and unfun. It is how it is. It doesn’t mean things will be like that forever, or that they will never change.

Sometimes you need to sit with the crapness (technical term!) of a situation, and let your loved one know that you hear them. You know it’s hard, uncertain, unknown, or scary. You know that there’s no simple fix, but you wish there was, and you care about them.

Sometimes, when you’re struggling, it’s nice to know that people care, and will walk with you.

Friends have asked how they can help when I’m unwell emotionally or physically. Occasionally there’s something practical I can think of that will help, and is appropriate to ask for. When there’s not, it’s harder. All I ask in those situations is that my friends continue to be my friends. I ask that they check in on me if I’ve not talked to them (either in person, via SMS, or online) in a day or so. I ask them to care, to listen if they’re able to, to spend time with me if they can.

Support, even when things can’t be fixed, is nice. People aren’t meant to do life alone. We can’t live in isolation.

When I’m unwell I need my friends. It goes both ways though – I’m there for my friends as much as I can be, and sometimes I too must sit with being unable to fix things for a friend.

It’s tough, but listening is an amazing gift that we can all offer to those we care about.

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