Juggling Too Much? Overwhelmed?

How are you handling all the things that are going on in your life? Imagine yourself as a Juggler and each of the things you’re dealing with at the moment are represented by one of the items you’ve got in the air. Oh and each item you’re juggling is the same size as the source of the stress it represents.

For some that image is inconceivable. There is no way anyone could possibly have that many items in the air without some or all of them falling beyond what you could juggle. There’s a word for that and it’s, ‘overwhelmed’.

Now you know what you’re carrying around with you more than anyone. If you’ve ever actually watched a Juggler, it’s important to think now about how he or she gets to the point in their act where all those items are in the air at once. And come to think of it, it’s equally or more important to keep watching until the end where you can see how they finish the act.

Most of the time, The Juggler always has to start with one item, perhaps a ball, being tossed in the air. One item only; now doesn’t that make you envious! As the ball is in the air and second and then a third are added to the mix. At this point, a really good Juggler can still smile at the crowd of people assembled, even take their eyes off the objects ever so briefly and maybe do a little talking too. In other words, they can multi-task and the balls are still being successfully juggled; things are well under control.

For many people, this is what real life is like. There’s a few things that have us concerned at any one time and we’re successfully juggling them. To others, we are smiling and talking and we look in control of things.  In fact, as we juggle these few things, we might grow in confidence and think we can handle some additional items.

The best Jugglers didn’t become the Jugglers they are without dropping a few things though did they? Actually truth be told the very best Jugglers have dropped more balls over time than others with less skills to handle heavy loads. Those who are really good practice and practice; they are at it daily and for hours and in that time they drop countless items in an effort to both get better and to stay well-practiced with those more complicated loads.

The real problem with using a Juggler as an analogy for whatever you’ve personally got in the air yourself is that the Juggler’s act only lasts for a limited time and then she or he gets to stop juggling. They face the crowd assembled with their hands spread out from their sides, smile and bow as the crowds applaud their skill at handling all the things they’ve just witnessed.

You and I though; does it ever feel like you can’t put some things down; like you’re juggling 24 hours a day. You go to sleep to escape your worries and find that you can’t turn off your brain; then when you do wake from your restless on and off sleep, you’re assaulted with all those thoughts of what you’ve got in the air? And where’s the crowd of people who would be so impressed with the phenomenal number of items you’ve got going anyway? There should at least be a crowd!

Complicating things and increasing the degree of difficulty is that what you’ve got in the air aren’t all nice little balls of the same size. Ever watched a Juggler who starts with small balls then near the climax has a knife or two, a flaming torch and a bowling ball up there too? I’ve witnessed that. Impressive for sure; and better them than me!

Okay so here’s what’s really impressive; you! You may not think so but you’ve got so many things going on in your life and unlike that Juggler, you didn’t consciously decide to go out of your way to learn to juggle for a living. You certainly didn’t train for it, wish these things upon yourself and you’d love to drop a few things never to pick them up again.

Every so often when you watch some Juggler though, a second Juggler comes on stage. This second person or Assistant Juggler starts accepting some of the items the original Juggler starts tossing their way. The new Juggler takes what’s thrown his or her way, shifts it to their other hand and then passes it back to the first, and so the overall number of things in the air remain the same but the load is lightened.

Hmmm… could be something in this illustration that you could benefit from. What if you had someone who could listen to some of your issues, accept them and perhaps shift them around, reframe them for you and then give them back to you with ideas that might make those things a little easier to handle? Could be they not only get easier to handle when you receive them back but eventually you might be able to stop juggling a few of those things entirely. That would make the other things you’ve got in the air manageable.

Sharing is a good and healthy my friends. Consider adding an expert; a professional Counsellor or even a best friend or two to lighten your load.


Get Yourself A Counsellor

Today I’d like to make a case for seeking out professional counselling help; and with an opening like this, it’s more than possible I’ve already lost a significant number of readers. Why? I feel it’s because some readers may not want to read about the topic as it would force them to think of their own challenges. Other readers will feel they’ve got no issues to share; and certainly not with a Mental Health Counsellor. Then there’s the stigma isn’t there; some readers wouldn’t want someone to walk by and catch them reading an article urging people to visit a Counsellor. In short, people have various reasons for not seeing or speaking with a Counsellor to unload.

If you’re still reading, I congratulate you and I thank you. I thank you not so much for reading my piece, but more for reading what may be helpful to you. It could be that this is the piece that gets you thinking for the first time about seeing a Counsellor, or perhaps this is the piece that finally gets you to take action after having thought about it and read about it for a long time. Either way or for any other reason, thanks for reading on.

First of all, I’m not a Mental Health Counsellor; I’m an Employment Counsellor so I’m not drumming up business for myself. Whereas I help guide people to finding employment, a Mental Health, Family or Individual Counsellor provides help to those who are experiencing a wide range of issues that keep them from moving forward; who struggle dealing with things arising from everyday living.

If you feel weighed down dealing with what’s on your mind; you find it increasingly difficult to fit in when it comes to family, work or social situations or you’re just not coping with things the way you once did, it might be a good idea to speak with someone and work through things so you can get on with life and enjoy things as you perhaps once did.

Counselling is confidential and that’s an important thing to know and remember. When you share what’s on your mind, what you talk about goes nowhere beyond you and the Counsellor. If you decide what you’re sharing should in fact be shared with someone else in whole or in part, you make that call. Ethically, morally and contractually, Counsellors don’t tell others what you say, so the more you open up, the more they can help. You can start by sharing the smaller stuff on your mind or delve right into the major things that you’re trying to cope with.

You may imagine as you go about your day that you alone have somehow come to the point where you’ve got more than your share of problems. How did it get to this point? Why does everyone I talk to seem to have it together except me? What did I do to deserve this? Why only me? Why can’t I handle things anymore? Why am I so sad all the time or suddenly start crying for no apparent reason?

These questions – and many more like them – are examples of the kind of questions other people are asking of themselves; questions you may believe you alone are struggling to answer. You’re not alone in asking these however, you’re surrounded by people throughout your day that may be thinking and asking themselves the exact same things. As you look at other people and think to yourself, “not them”, they might be surprised to learn of your struggling too.

Still reading? Good. If you decide to give a Counsellor a try, you should know you can seek out a male or female Counsellor. Depending on what you want to talk about, you might be best with a specialist such as an Addictions Counsellor, or you might look for a Mental Health Counsellor and see if they recommend someone highly trained in what you disclose or meet with you on an ongoing basis.

One thing you should definitely know is that the stigma about seeing a Counsellor has changed and continues to change. While there will always be naysayers who look down on people who see a Counsellor, more and more people have come to view those who seek out support and help  from a Counsellor as courageous, strong and wise. It’s true! When you need your brakes looked at you go to a professional; if you suspect you’ve got a cavity, you see a professional. Seeing a Counsellor to regain and improve your mental health and talk about things that are troubling you is no different.

So how long does it take and how much will it cost? Good questions. It takes as long as it takes because you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to counselling services. You’ll know when you’re once again comfortable and able to deal with things alone. As for cost, these services could actually be entirely free. Many organizations have counselling fees and services built right into their benefit plans. If you’re on social assistance and money is an issue, you should consider asking for the availability of counselling from the person you interact with there. Finally, if you do pay for services, view this as an investment in yourself the way you would anything else you do to feel good.

Counselling may be what you need both personally and professionally to get or hold onto employment.

Frustrated People Only Bring You Their Troubles?

If you work in Social Services you’re likely inundated with people constantly telling you their problems. Not many people book an appointment just to say, “Nothing’s wrong at all, just thought I’d like to talk with you about some good things going on of late.”

People I know outside of my job who work in other lines of work sometimes say things like, “It must be depressing when all people do is bring you their troubles”. Funny how I’ve never agreed with them, and I usually go on to tell them what an actual privilege it is to be in this position where I can be of help to those in need.

The guy I share an office with at work and I were just discussing this yesterday. Last Christmas I made a present for him which is a 4′ x 2′ collage of inspirational quotes; all printed off with pictures reinforcing the quote. I turned to it and said that I recalled a quote on it somewhere that spoke to our discussion. I found it in a few seconds, and it went, “Never regret that people only bring you their troubles. Consider yourself the candle that people think of first when they’re in darkness.”

And I thought today that this concept was worth reminding us all about. In this field, (and there are others as well), we interact with a large population of the disadvantaged, the persecuted and the needy. In the case of my colleague and I, we work with people in receipt of social assistance. Many of them present multiple barriers to living happy successful, financially independent lives. Some present with issues of abuse, addictions, low self-esteem, dysfunctional families, failed relationships, depression, anger, criminal records, hygiene and grooming, poor communication skills, and the list goes on.

It’s humbling sometimes to pause and just consider how versatile, patient, skilled and compassionate one has to be in order to best listen to and then act to assist people presenting with various combinations of all the above. In only a few minutes, we’re expected by them to know enough about their plight in order to give them the help they need. This ability to quickly assess what the immediate need is and who we are dealing with, is an acquired skill just as is the way in which to best respond in kind.

There are dangers in this field when you work with such populations. It could be that you get numb to the position you are in, listening all day to these stories, and just as people are explaining themselves, you mentally jump ahead and categorize their problem and the most often correct solution. “Stop talking, because I’ve stopped listening; here’s how you solve your problem”. No one I hope would ever actually say that, but there is a danger that you may think it, and then your actions follow this course. You’ll be wrong more than right unfortunately and lose the relationship of trust with the person that’s so critical in this work.

Another danger is taking on their problems and issues as your very own. You can’t, ‘save them all’. You can’t take them home and turn their lives around. That’s condescending and playing God don’t you think? Oh my colleague was saying this about a client he had just worked with for 5 straight days, but of course neither of us would ever serious entertain the idea of suggesting such a thing. It’s unhealthy to take on all the problems you’ll encounter as your own, for otherwise you might end up with compassion fatigue; and that’ll make you less than effective.

The best of workplaces I really believe has a system in place whereby if you’ve personally just spent a significant amount of time dealing with someone in an extremely rough situation, you can call on colleagues to takeover and debrief if needed. This process gives you the opportunity to step back, share and deal with what you’ve gone through, and then return better prepared to cope with the rest of the day. I call it Mental Health Maintenance. It’s caring about each other enough that you do for them what you’d appreciate them doing for you in return if needed.

If you find yourself constantly frustrated; annoyed more often than you used to with people, ‘dumping’ their problems at your feet, look inward. What’s changed? Why does this frustrate you so much now when in the past you found it energizing, and looked forward to helping? For a variety of reasons you may yourself need either some time to pause and rekindle that mental stamina that’s been overtaxed, or it may actually be your inner self saying it’s time to move on.

Don’t get the idea I’m advising you to quit. There are many occupations where someone with your skills could be most effective; perhaps even within the organization you currently work for. In order for your clients to get the maximum help they need, someone in your position needs to be at their compassionate and caring best however. You’d be doing them and more importantly yourself a favour in either re-igniting your passion or finding it other places.

But I suspect you are pretty good at what you do. You’re here for the right reason. Whether it came as a calling, or it came as a job but you’ve discovered it’s a career, you make a difference in the lives of others. Go ahead, be a problem solver; it’s an honourable profession.

“You Don’t Know Me At All, So Don’t Tell Me What To Do!”

If you work in the field of Employment Counselling at some point in your career you may have had a client give you some statement similar to the above. The statement, “You don’t know me at all, so don’t tell me what to do!”, usually comes immediately after you’ve made some suggestion or statement that challenges the person to try something they haven’t been doing up to that point; something that is uncomfortable even.

These kinds of statements are usually defensive posturing, said to protect the person from actually having to take action when what would be so much more pleasing is having you just comfort them and agree they are in a tough situation either without making any suggestion to act or suggesting things they themselves don’t mind doing.

But as the saying goes, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Sometimes you do need to be nudged, pushed, prodded, kicked and jarred into action in a direction that is uncomfortable, challenging, and involves a great effort.

As an Employment Counsellor with over about 35 years of work experience in various jobs all of which involved working with people, I’m quite comfortable with saying that I’m at a point where I can read people fairly well. Oh I’m far from perfect – and no one is – in this regard. But I’ve become good at reading body language, interpreting the reason for clothing choices and what they say about why a person dresses the way the do, picking up on whether they are confident, shy, extroverted or introverted in the first 10 seconds of meeting them, and making educated guesses about things like their upbringing, parenting skills – even mental health challenges in many cases.

Do I have some kind of mystical power? No. And neither do all the other folks out there who have a long history of working with certain populations of people. Like anything else, it becomes easier to identify and make accurate guesses about people when you have seen the same issues again and again that appear to be grouped together. So for example, a single mother on social assistance who is living on her own, talks without making eye contact a lot, and is talking about involvement from a child protection agency has quite often received less than great parenting themselves. And many of these women have been victims of abuse by previous partners, the father of their children, sometimes even family members. That’s quite a leap to make maybe in thinking, but you may or may not be surprised to see how often it’s correct.

This is really just doing the following: taking my past history of dealing with many people, and with a new person in front of me, looking for common traits, characteristics and behaviours that fit with patterns of people I’ve met in the past, and then making some assumptions about the person based on those in the past who tend to match the person in the present. These assumptions are like best guesses, and need to be verified, checked into and validated of course to find out if they are accurate or not.

And you do this too by the way. For example you walk down the street and see a large male walking down an alley, it’s late a night, they are wearing a hoodie that covers their face, and they are coming toward you and you’re alone. So do you say, “Hello nice night tonight isn’t it? What brings you out tonight?”, or do you try to remove yourself from the situation by walking into a store where there are other people for safety or perhaps put your finger closely around your pepper spray just in case? Well everything in the news and on television or in the movies probably has you looking for a way to safely get out of the situation and your alertness to potential danger goes way up. Could be he’s just off to night school to become a policeman, but it’s doubtful in your mind.

As anyone who’s an effective listener will tell you, it’s very important to focus on the one person you are interacting with and give them a chance to tell their story – because for them it’s well – THEIR story and unique to them. Even if you’ve heard 50 other people tell a similar story, that person has a story unique to them. By making all kinds of guesses, you may speed things along, and they might consider you some kind of mind reader, but getting to the place where they are open to help may not be possible until they feel you really KNOW them. And you can’t know them in their mind until they’ve told you their situation.

So this becomes a real key to being an effective Employment Counsellor, and I’d wager, an effective Counsellor in general; listen.

When we listen, the other person feels they’ve been heard. And when someone feels they have been heard, they are much more receptive to seriously considering options placed before them by someone they trust has their best interests at heart. This 3rd person clarity allows them to perhaps move forward in ways that are more meaningful to them. It may not be as fast as we’d like for them, but it raises the chances of real success.