As a woman with bipolar I disorder I have experienced many major depressive episodes. During those times I’ve not only relied heavily on family, but also on friends and church leaders. As a recipient of the compassionate phrase: “I’m here if you need to talk”, I want to provide some perspective from the talking end to help those who may occasionally find themselves on the listening end. (Be aware that if you find yourself on the listening end too frequently, please appeal to someone else to help lift that load so you do not become the sole means of support).
During a major depressive episode my own thinking and perspective is skewed significantly. Things that might be inconsequential when I am feeling well tend to become very large and out of proportion. When you are on the listening end, don’t assume that I am providing you with an accurate picture of my life, but do assume that the way my brain is processing the information is quite painful. If I am able to get these concerns out to a nonjudgmental ear, it may help me ease the pain and perspective until I can get access to more definitive relief (i.e. proper medication, counseling, passage of time, exercise, nutrition, and/or proper sleep).
A nonjudgmental ear is a precious asset for someone who finds him/herself in a bind, but it is not necessary for you to become that sole asset. If your stress meter is tapped, don’t offer a listening ear. If someone asks for your help – a kind way to decline would be to first let them know that you love them, like them, and care for them. After this reassurance, let them know you will pray for them.
If you find it necessary to advise the individual on someone else to talk to, first express your concern/and or love. If the individual persists in talking about problems, be honest and let them know that you are having your own difficulties that make it hard for you to listen. An individual who asks for help is already feeling vulnerable, so a reassurance of love and prayers (and possibly some ideas on who else to contact) from your own end may be enough. Another idea is to personally contact someone you know who is familiar with this person and might be in the position to offer some assistance – for example, stop by with a plate of cookies and a listening ear.
I have been blessed to have kind, supportive people around to listen at crucial times in my life. Some experiences have been more positive than others. There have been times when I have felt devastated after talking to someone because first, I may have revealed too much, or second, after talking I begin to experience a slight shift in perspective that allows me to see things more proportionately. When this change in perspective takes place, I feel embarrassed for having expressed ideas, thoughts, or feelings that are not an accurate reflection of my reality.
Each one of us will find ourselves at the listening end at one time or another. Listening without judgment during a depressive episode means letting a person express what he/she is feeling in the moment without allowing it to cloud how we feel about them. That can be difficult, but let’s keep it in mind.