For some strange reason I have signed up to a counselling course. For some time I have felt the urge to shake it up, step outside the routine, perhaps even learn and add to some of the tools I already have. Perhaps even start using the tools I already know about but seem to forget when I most need them.
There is a certain irony to my participation in these workshops. I have often said that my ability to facilitate or present on many of the topics I do is not because of an academic background. Rather it is because of what I have experienced and what I have learned from others on this journey called life. So when I attend workshops such as Mental Health and Addictions, Depression, and Anxiety I wonder whether I am there to help me help others or whether I am there to find out more about myself. And ultimately, I suspect, if I find out more about myself I should be in a better place to help others.
The participants in the workshop come from a diverse selection of professionals. They all have jobs in areas that these topics pertain to. They have various academic backgrounds. A wide range of experience in dealing with messed up people. Some stories were truly heart breaking. I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who choose to work with people experiencing mental health challenges. Without them far too many of us would be lost.
Quite often, in fact, far too often, I felt like screaming. I found myself in a room with professionals trying to learn how to deal with the likes of me. Someone who has had addiction issues, someone who just this week experienced anxiety like never before, someone who slips in and out of depression far too often. So often I felt like what they were discussing would not be helpful. Far too often it seemed like a clinical approach that felt just like the term suggests. Clinical. As much as people tried it seemed that they did not get it. But then again, why would they?
In my mediation work with people injured in motor vehicle accidents I hear countless stories of various, and often times, serious injuries. As much as I try to understand what a broken leg feels like, as much as I have read and heard about concussions, as much as ongoing treatments appear to be necessities, I will never truly understand the depths of misery those types of injuries can create. All I can do is deal with those issues as best I can based on my training.
There is an old American Indian proverb that goes like this. “Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.” I have always thought of this in a broader sense. Not about criticism. Rather understanding. Can we really understand someone unless we have had similar experiences? Perhaps. Can I be taught to better help and empathize with them? Absolutely. Let me reiterate. There are many professionals out there doing a truly amazing job of dealing with people who are struggling. For that I am thankful.
In the last workshop I attended, the one on depression, I did come away with one significant truth. Far too often I cannot remember a quote. This one I do and will for some time to come. It simply says this. “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.” William Gibson. Make it a good one.