“I’m here!” These are the words that are spoken by various persons in the recent Bell “Let’s Talk” commercial. When it comes to mental health one big step in caring for others is just being physically present for people. Whether it is in my office, or on the phone with friends or colleagues there are many times when I’m just listening. I’m not offering advice. I’m not giving resources, or trying to problem solve. I’m there when people are crying, or angry, of frustrated. I’m there when people are happy and want to share their good news with someone. Sometimes I will ask, “Is there anything you want me to do?” Sometimes people do want help or guidance. Other times people just want to vent.
In the military we tell people that you are never alone. There is always someone you can talk to. This is true. However, there are times when we feel alone. We may not be ready yet to talk to anyone. Maybe we are still trying to figure out the voices in our head. Maybe we know we are frustrated but not quite sure why we are feeling that way. Maybe we are annoyed about work, but not sure exactly why. What can we do?
If you have ever been in my office for counselling, one of my biggest suggestions is for you to start to journal your thoughts. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. The journal is for you alone to read. Write down what is frustrating you. Write down what is making you sad or even happy. You don’t have to write sentences. Maybe it is just a word or two.
Our minds can spin. Writing forces our minds to slow down enough to put pen to paper. The next day we can read what we write. (In my case, my handwriting is so terrible, I’m often left wondering what the heck I wrote down.) Our own writing may give us hints at why we are so frustrated. We might learn why we are ticked off at our significant other. We might examine in writing our role in these issues. What have we done to help or to hurt others? What can we change? What is outside our control?
Not only do I write, but I also pray. Some people think that prayer is a one-sided conversation. We talk to God and hope for the best. That is not how prayer is supposed to work. By all means talk to God. It is equally important to take the time to listen. Just be silent in your thoughts. You will be amazed at how often God will talk to your heart. Sometimes we learn to swallow our pride and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes we are nudged to put down the jelled donut and to take a walk to clear our mind. Sometimes we find the inner courage to ask people to join us for dinner, or a movie, or ice fishing, or to watch the auroras.
When it comes to mental or spiritual health, the above suggestions are just some of the tools that we can use for self-help. There are many other tools that we can use. There is always hope. If you are not sure where to turn, or what to do, please give someone (a trusted friend, a pastor, a counselor) a call. They will be there for you.
Padre Kenneth MacRae
Canadian Armed Forces.