Carrying Too Much? Headed For A Crisis?


Let’s suppose three conditions exist:

  1.  You’ve got problems.
  2.  Your employer tells you to leave your personal problems at home.
  3.  Your other half tells you to leave your work problems at work.

So you’re not to unburden yourself at home or the workplace. But the message society is broadcasting in 2019 is that talking about your problems, stresses and general mental health challenges is highly encouraged. So who will listen to you if the people in your daily life with whom you have the most contact apparently won’t?

This is the situation many people find themselves in, and with no one they know prepared to listen to them – really listen to them – most people end up carrying an increasingly large load each and every day. Every so often, that load becomes unbearable and then something happens where you shut down completely and take an extended medical leave of absence after experiencing a mental health crisis.

If you saw someone carrying a heavy load, you’d offer to help. The same person carrying too many problems on the other hand is harder for us to see.

If and when you do break down the Management team where you work might say they saw it coming. Well, if they saw this coming, what did they do to reach out and try to head it off before it developed into a full-blown crisis? Was there any offer of counselling? Did they sit down and try to get at your work-related or personal concerns as they impacted on your work production?

Now some employers do have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). These provide employees with access to confidential counselling services. For those that access this help, it’s a good opportunity to talk openly about the pressure you’re under in both your personal and professional life. You’re given a number of sessions to participate in; and you set the frequency of those talks. It’s just the two of you; you and your Counsellor.

WHAT you talk about is pretty open. Don’t expect however that this Counsellor will hear you out and then tell you what to do to fix your life. That might be nice to envision for some, but in reality, they listen, offer support and yes do make some suggestions on various strategies you might find helpful. They will share community resources if and when appropriate for you to take advantage of, but what they won’t do is lay out a plan for you to follow that solves all your issues. That after all, would be their plan for you, not your plan for you.

Okay so this sounds good if you work for an employer with this counselling service to access. But, for the many who don’t have such services paid for to access as part of their benefit plan, what’s a person to do?

Well, you can opt to pay for counselling services out of your wages. While you might feel this is money you can’t afford, consider that your own mental health is at stake and perhaps you can’t afford NOT to get the help you’re after. If you have a complete break down and have to quit or get fired, you still have all your issues to deal with – plus loss of income and loss of employment.

I think it’s fair to say there are a lot of people these days who are carrying worry, grief, anxiety, depression, bitterness, fear, hopelessness, low self-worth, phobias and pressure with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Some have learned to hide it so well, you and I would be completely shocked if they ever shared what they carry. We’d likely say, “What?! You? No way. I don’t believe it. I’d never have guessed. But you don’t show any signs of that!”

Now we all experience stress and worry; it’s not confined to a few. For the majority of us, these worries and pressures are things we can work through using the skills we’ve acquired and practiced while resolving other challenges and similar situations in our past. As we work through problems and worries, we gain confidence in our ability to work things out, we might have learned to see the bigger picture; to know with great confidence that these problems will eventually pass and life will go on. This perspective and these growing skills help us manage the problems as they arise.

However, equally true is the fact that many people don’t have the knowledge of resources to draw on, they don’t have good role models in their lives helping them learn the skills to resolve problems. They may therefore fail to resolve their problems on a regular basis and all these failures just compound their problems because they repeat the same behaviours which result in the same problems arising. Tragic, sad and a vicious circle.

You may opt to talk things out with a trusted friend. Good for you if you have a friend you can in fact trust, and if that friend listens without jumping to the temptation to tell you what to do. Saying, “here’s what I’d do if I were you…” isn’t really helpful but it sure sounds like what you want to hear.

So how do you access counselling? Ask your employer if there’s help. Ask anyone who works in a community agency for a phone number of such services or use the internet to look up counselling services in your area.

To your good mental health.

The Climate Dictates What You Hear


There are a lot of jobs where one person listens to another to offer a service. Mental Health Workers, Social Workers, Employment Counsellors, Teachers, Psychologists, Addiction Workers, Real Estate or Investment Brokers just to name a few.

In all these occupations, the degree to which the provider of the service creates a trusting atmosphere often dictates the length of time the consumer of the service needs to fully share and disclose. Most people are pretty good at keeping what’s really going on – the BIG stuff, sufficiently buried in a conversation, revealing the small stuff as a testing ground.

I know when I meet someone, I make the point of saying I’m going to do my best to earn their trust by creating a safe, trusting atmosphere. The quicker they come to fully trust me and share what’s really going on – the big stuff – the quicker I’ll be able to personalize the experience for them; addressing their experiences and making the experience richer.

In short, I can only help someone with what I know to be their issues if those same issues are shared with me. If a person gets around to opening up with me late in our time together, that leaves less time for an in-depth response if they’d prefer one over me being a sounding board or an empathetic ear only.

Now if words alone were all someone needed to open up and share their biggest, darkest thoughts, fears and struggles, “Trust me” would suffice. Yeah, most people have heard these uttered before and been burned trusting those they felt could be trusted, eventually to be let them down. Those same people are ironically, often part of the problems people present.

Actions which support the words spoken are much more effective at creating a trusting atmosphere. So when you’re in a job where listening to people and providing help is involved, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those same people before you are listening and watching. In a group setting, they want to first see how you respond to other people who open up a bit. Do you make light of what somebody shared? Do you seem interested or uncomfortable? If someone in a group shares something personal, did you give them an appropriate response or steer the conversation back to your own agenda?

In my job, I hear a lot of personal tragedies, I see the pain and shame on a lot of faces as people tell me things they’ve held inside for a long time. Every so often someone says, “I don’t know why I even told you; I haven’t shared that with anybody else. I said more than I’d planned on telling you.” If you’ve ever had someone say this or something similar, you know first-hand what a responsibility and privilege comes with such a disclosure.

Of course if you haven’t the time to listen to someone or the supporting resources to offer up when someone takes you up on your offer to listen, you should be careful of inviting the disclosure in the first place. After all, you may not like a lot of what you hear; what you hear could be more than just uncomfortable. Be ready to feel angry, shocked, troubled, concerned and if you’ve never feel these things you may not be as emotionally invested as you might or should be. I don’t mean you take on their issues; never that. However, taking what someone discloses, holding it for a time with care and sensitivity, then returning it to them in a way they can better carry the load can be more of a help than you know.

You’d think in some cases, that one’s position alone puts us in a position of trust; that it should come automatically. The biggest place of trust for most people is their parent or parents. “You can tell me anything” is something a parent might say, but children know that they can often only disclose so much to a parent. How many kids have kept their gender identification secret? An unexpected pregnancy hidden, an accident with the family car, or problems with bullying.

It’s not enough to say, “you can tell me anything.” People are often conflicted about wanting to share things – big things – but also afraid of ridicule, embarrassment, hurting the listener in the process, etc. Sharing often makes a person feel vulnerable, open to judgement; and if they respect you greatly, they may not want to risk having you think less of them for their behaviour, weakness, poor choices – past and present.

Shut down, dismissed, ignored, not believed; these are also the kinds of things people who want to open up and share are afraid of. “You don’t know what you’re talking about”, “You’re smarter than that”, “I don’t want to hear this!” are examples of being shut down and dismissed.

Fail to create an atmosphere of trust and you add another worry to the person you’re trying to help who may be burdened to the point of becoming numb and paralyzed.

A key is to find out what the person disclosing would like as an outcome. Are they looking for solutions or just an ear? Rushing to ‘solve their problem’ is often NOT what they want. When you, “solve” another’s problem yourself, you remove the learning moment, seize the empowerment you could have left them with and keep them dependent.