I’m guilty of a few things. I roll my eyes at the way people jump on online bandwagons. Sharing similar stories but not saying something unique. I might share a hashtag that has been shared umpteen times. I might see people saying something and say something similar myself. Im a follower when the conversations stray into grey areas.
I was watching TV last night, about a fictitiously real episode in Australia’s shameful history, and the number for a crisis support service flashed up on the screen at the end. It invited people to call if they needed to. I asked my husband, who was watching the TV with one eye and his ipad with the other, when this all started happening. When the sad stuff came with warnings, when the numbers at the end of the credits covered us against the tough stuff.
Each time I run a workshop or speak somewhere I catch the eye of a person in the audience, usually a woman, who is crying. Im never quite sure if its something I’ve said, something I’ve reminded them of or if they just genuinely have something in their eye. In the beginning, when I first started speaking, it used to throw me – I’d lose track of my palm cards, I’d tried to pass them a tissue while keeping the talk going. I’d want to sit with them and rub their back. But the more I got up and spoke, the more people hung back to chat with me after I realised it wasn’t my job to rescue them. I realised that being sad was part of the magical mess of life and the more I showed that I wasn’t surprised by their tears, the more I just smiled warmly at them and kept on talking the more people connected.
You see I realised quite quickly that we cant solve other peoples stuff – their grief, their heartache, their loneliness. All I could do was listen, keep on talking and provide spaces for people to share if thats what they wanted. Some did. Most didn’t.
In the recent trend of adding numbers to stories as a way of ticking the box to show we care it raises the point of what else we can do. Of whether or not numbers continue conversations or if they send the message that being sad, or low, or forlorn is a problem that needs to be fixed?
Could we acknowledge the sadness in other ways without pathologising it?
As a mental health professional its important to note that crisis support agencies fill the void for many in our community. Having worked on crisis lines myself there is always an influx of calls just as night settles in. When peoples loneliness surrounds them, when people ring and say they just need to talk so that someone can listen. Im just wondering if there is a space for something other than a number that acknowledges that lightness and darkness exist for all of us at different times. Our challenges are more than a link to a person on the end of a phone line, our connectedness can exist in other ways.
How else can we connected when the sadness comes?