For a time, whenever I talk to friends about feeling anxious or overwhelmed, a tinge of discomfort often lingers.
After all, I am usually on the other side of the conversation, ready with a cheerful disposition and a myriad of emojis.
As an operations and content manager at online counselling platform Talk Your Heart Out, my typical workday already involves managing a range of enquiries from both clients and therapists. I am not a therapist myself.
But in many cases, I am their first port of call. When I pick up the phone or open a new email, I would hear or read about someone else’s past experiences, recent transitions, and their ongoing struggles.
In this mode, I exist in a liminal space — to clients, I am neither their therapist nor their friend.
Yet in my work, I am privy to a little bit of people’s lives when they reach out to learn more about their own mental health.
So, after a year in this job supporting others through their problems, bringing up my own suddenly seemed out of place.
Whenever I wanted to talk about my own issues, I would stop myself from opening up. “Is this a good time? Everyone’s busy,” I would tell myself.
The irony of this was not lost on me. For someone who spends her working hours encouraging others to confide in us about the daily problems they face, I have certainly found it difficult to practise what I preach.
That was the case, until the people I work with started showing me that it was fine to talk about my own struggles.
I saw how my colleagues, bosses, and some of our therapists never shied away from sharing their mental health and relationship problems, their experiences with therapy, and how they developed a support system of their own.
It took some time, but I gradually realised that working at an online counselling platform doesn’t mean that I am any less susceptible to having mental health or relationship issues, nor does it make it any easier to talk about them.
If I could meet people where they are, why can’t I meet myself where I am?
There are many different ways we can show up for ourselves, and I realised that it is okay to feel disengaged sometimes and to eventually accept help when it is needed.
I’ve also learnt that it is fine for people to be uncomfortable when they seek help, since I was in that stage too. Sometimes, it is okay to recognise their vulnerabilities and give them space to process.
One day, a person (who I shall call Amy) wrote in to find out more about grief counselling, as she just lost her mother with whom she had an estranged relationship.
When someone says that they are going through a rough patch, a typical response would be to say you understand how they feel, and perhaps share a personal and relatable experience.
To respond to Amy, I typed out “We understand where you are coming from.” But I reread the line, then deleted it. I wasn’t even sure how she felt. Was it regret? Disbelief? Anger? Or grief? It could well be a mix of them all.
Wanting to console whoever’s pouring their heart out to you, to lift them and possibly yourself of the weight in the air, is instinctive.
I have come to learn that while my job was to offer support, I must also respect their reality.
Sometimes, that means resisting the inclination to express an understanding of their emotions and recognising that I may never be able to.
Other times, it means accepting that they may not be willing or ready to accept help at the given moment.
Mental health is a journey without a destination, and that is not to say that counsellors and therapists wander aimlessly and wind up nowhere. There is no destination because we are perpetually navigating the ebbs and flows of life.
When we seek ways to improve our mental health, we do so with desired outcomes in mind: achieving better moods, gaining knowledge on how to manage stress, or building stronger relationships with others or ourselves.
Nevertheless, progress towards these objectives is not a linear one. The vicissitudes of life mean we are not going to feel great all the time.
This process of being intentional with one’s emotions is not going to be smooth-sailing, nor is it supposed to be.
Whether one is waiting to bloom, about to bloom, or in full bloom, what matters is that there is beauty in being present at every stage of your growth.
A year ago, I entered this job — my first one after graduation — not knowing exactly what I wanted to take away. One year on, I am humbled by what I have learned and the interactions I have had, for bit by bit, they have expanded my humanity.
That has been my year of change, not just in employment status, but also in responsibilities, and the ways I think.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sheryl See, 24, is an operations and content manager at Singapore-based online counselling and coaching platform Talk Your Heart Out.