Day 17 of 100 Days

Sarah Swaysland

Sunday, 17th January, 2021

Today was a Shout day, as I thought I’d take a little break after a long, tough shift last week. I felt ready and raring to go for this one and had lined myself up with some good herbal tea and proper relaxing records. One of the things I love about volunteering with Shout is that every shift is different, and you just don’t know what you’ve got coming to you. It certainly keeps it interesting.

What: Crisis Volunteering
Organisation: Shout 85258
I’ve had two quite difficult Shout shifts in a row now. I’ve started taking shifts at busier times, as I’m now feeling more confident in talking to people and feel more able to take on the busier shifts where you get a lot more high-risk conversations. Every now and then though (or two shifts in a row), there comes a conversation where you feel like no matter how hard you try to actively listen and explore someone’s situation with them, you just can’t get to a position where you can help them create a plan to get to a better place - and it feels like you go round in circles which can be frustrating.

I can understand completely why people are finding it harder than ever now to manage their mental health. Lockdown has become a mental health vacuum for many people, and it seems to be sucking the life out of them (like the spectres in His Dark Materials). When you're finding it hard to discover a positive focus, it can lead to dark thoughts which are then difficult to manage. When you volunteer at a crisis line, you are doing your best to practise compassion and often end up travelling to mental places you never knew existed. You are giving up your own judgements and actively being there with a stranger at their time of need, and this can be exhausting sometimes. When you’re on that journey in each conversation though, you can feel yourself climbing out of a dark place and on to a better place alongside the person you're talking to, and it feels good when you can see a bit of sunshine.

I hit a bit of a lightbulb moment after this shift in that I realised that in the last couple of weeks I have been a bit heavy on empathy and had almost left compassion to one side. I’m just getting to the end of the book Human Kind, by Rutger Bregman, which I picked up straight after my Shout shift. It feels almost serendipitous that I did this because it felt like medicine after my tough shift. I’ve reached the epilogue of this fascinating book, and in it he states his ’10 Rules to Live By’. They all seem like they’d be good rules to follow regardless, but the one that spoke to me, almost saying “here you go, I know you’ve had a tough one, but this will make you feel better” is rule four, which is ‘Temper your empathy, train your compassion’. It reminded me that even though I’m on a journey with my texters when we’re having a conversation, it’s not my role to take responsibility for their feelings by trying to experience their pain in the same way. Empathy is something you should always have in your toolkit, because it’s good to experience a wide range of feelings, but you should use empathy sparingly. Like salt. Too much salt can give you a heart attack, and too much empathy will break your heart. It just doesn’t make sense to put yourself in a position where you are feeling pain when you don’t have to – is that not a form of martyrdom? The alternative to empathy is to instead practise compassion, which is feeling FOR someone and not WITH them. It doesn’t sap your energy, and you can still travel with them on their journey to feeling better. It also takes a lot of practise.

I’m feeling okay with regards to my own mental health, partly I think because of the fact that I have a lot of different positive elements in my life, and I'm drawing a lot from this 100 day challenge. I’m continuing to meet and interact with a lot of great people, albeit remotely. I feel like I’m producing some really good work, which is really motivating for me and it spurs me on to look for new opportunities. I’m also looking out for milestones which continue to create positive goals for me to reach. In this world of extraordinary uncertainty, it’s good to be able to create something concrete to work towards.

I had great company on my shift tonight, starting off with an album called Multiplication Rock by a guy called Bob Dorough (pronounced ‘Durruff'). I call it brain music because you can learn as you listen. You might not know it, but you’ll have heard Dorough because his music is sampled in De La Soul’s ‘Three is the Magic Number’ and it’s a great song. His style is upbeat, and his music seems to have a purpose which I really love. We discovered him on Radcliffe and Maconie on 6 Music, and actually bought the album so we could play it to our son who, in all honesty, hasn’t reacted much, but it usually takes him a few goes to get into something. I then listened to Otis Redding, The Platinum Collection, which put me in the mood for Bill Withers, Still Bill. I needed those two. There is absolutely no way you could listen to either of them and not come out in a better place. Both take up solid spots in my safe space albums.