Super Awesome World: How I learned to be a good Samaritan...to myself
Hi, my name’s Amy and I’ve struggled with depression for the last six years. I’ve been diagnosed by my GP, I've completed a course of counselling on the NHS and I've taken anti-depressants on and off for 5 years. There, I said it.
For some, admitting any of the above is utterly terrifying and perhaps seemingly impossible. But I’ve got to a stage where saying, ‘I suffer from depression’, feels almost as easy and straightforward to me as saying I have a cold. And here’s why.
The first time I realised I was mentally ill? Well, I had no idea that it would come out when it did. I had a friend that had had depression and had struggled for a long time. I was seeing her for a long overdue catch up and started to tell her about what was going on with me and doing my usual of being positive positive positive but then she said those magic words, 'But are you really okay?' and the tears just came. And wouldn't stop. I spent the next half an hour not being able to speak. It was only then that I really knew I had to get help. And it was such a shock to me because I knew I wasn't doing well. But I just thought I was sad. And lonely. And angry. And so so tired. And that maybe I'd always been like this and, perhaps, always would be. That it was just in my make up.
Giving me the space to see I was ill and should go to a doctor was the best thing any friend could have done for me. She didn't say, ‘Things will get better’. She didn’t say, ‘Have you tried this great new book on mindfulness?’. And she didn’t say, ‘It's not the end of the world!’ And I wouldn't have blamed her if she had. But instead she listened. She asked me a few questions about the extent of my feelings and about how it had been affecting me, but mainly she just let me talk, in my own time, without judgement.
It feels like such a long time ago now but that conversation was a huge turning point for me. I’m pretty sure that without such a kind, understanding friend (with such excellent listening skills), that wasn’t afraid to have that difficult chat, I would have suffered undiagnosed for much longer, potentially gotten worse and who knows where that could have led me. But opening up and talking about it, unlocked something, something that I been burying deeper and deeper under tightly packed layers of pain. And because I no longer felt alone, I could find the courage to tell my other loved ones and I could finally get the help I needed.
I have been a listening volunteer for the Samaritans for almost four years now. Joining was an easy decision to make. I had seen the darkness that mental illness could bring and I didn’t want anyone to feel alone like I had. Samaritans are sometimes dubbed ‘the suicide hotline’. And it’s not entirely inaccurate. The service does provide confidential, non-judgemental support for people in crisis, and unfortunately so many of those people in crisis feel they have reached their limit and are ready to give up on life altogether. But the thousands of Samaritan volunteers all over the country are also ready to offer an empathetic ear to anyone that is struggling, you don’t have to be suicidal. If the darkness is a force that threatens to consume us and drag us down into despair, then the Samaritans are an army of light. (A non-religious army of light, I hasten to add).
Listening to distressed callers is far from easy, but there is an incredible support system in place to help all volunteers cope in this sometimes extreme environment. We are Samaritans to each other. The listening skills we have acquired through training and experience, we extend to our fellow volunteers and (not unsurprisingly) to the other people in our lives. Dealing with depression gave me the empathy and desire to be a good Samaritan; being a Samaritan gives me the skills to be there for anyone, people I may never have recognised as needing someone to talk to before I became a Samaritan.
I can also be a good Samaritan to myself whenever the darkness threatens to rear it’s ugly head. I am patient, kind and non-judgemental. I tell myself that I am not alone. I know I am not alone. I hear voices just like mine all the time.
It feels like we are just beginning to talk about mental health. To talk about male suicide rates, victims of sexual abuse, the emotional education of our young people. But we need to talk more, much more. Only when I can talk about my depression as freely and openly as I talk about the common cold, can we say that we are truly listening.
With special thanks to Claire Reid for listening to me in my darkest hour.
You can call the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK & ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit your local Samaritans branch to speak to someone face-to-face.