“Those who still think that listening isn’t an art should see if they can do it half as well.” Michael Ende, Momo
It is tough work to go through a mentally difficult time.
My struggle with being transgender lasted many years, it is still a work in progress, but one can manage it if there are supportive people around. I do and I am thankful for it. That wasn’t always the case before I came out.
One of the main problems of battling with my transgender nature was that I developed a common, well known mental illness called depression.
Recently I have had time, thanks to this self isolating madness we are going through, to think about people who supported me through difficult times. What did supportive people actually do that helped me along? I want to be able to give the same support back to others if I see somebody struggling. So I tried to analyse who really helped me and who wasn’t so helpful, even though they may have tried. First of all there is this massive gap I noticed between the time I came out and the time before that.
In general it’s always easier to talk about depression and personal struggles AFTERWARDS.
People tend to be understanding and tolerant when one talks a bout struggles after one has come out of them.
It is a little different when one is in the middle of it.
When you are in that dark hole and you can’t speak or express yourself and can’t think, then support is not so readily available. I always had the impression people get angry, they are lost and don’t know what to do. I think there is likely no depressed person who hasn’t heard sentences like “Don’t let it get to you” “Cheer up” “Think positive”.
As if one does not know that!
Did people really think I woke up and thought, “Today I shall think as negative as I can, let every little emotion consume me because this is the road to success and happiness in life” ?
No, I knew I should cheer up, think positive and not let it get to my heart. But despite knowing all this I was still depressed. Sometimes for months. And I felt very alone most of the time. I withdrew completely because it took to much effort to squeeze a smile in my face so people wouldn’t be upset about me.
I grew up in a culture where one does not talk about personal problems or emotions. At all. If there is a problem or a conflict everybody pretends as if it doesn’t exist. It gets swiped under the carpet and there it festers. It causes so much suffering for everybody involved. And it’s totally unnecessary.
I get told a lot now that I should have done my transition earlier.
Yes, I agree. I should have but I couldn’t. I had to learn first how to open up about my emotions and to be able to talk about them. I did not how to do it. I was so used to swallow everything down and pretend everything is fine and smile to give a positive impression. I had no guidance, no real help when it came to how to figure out what was actually wrong. I had a lot of people giving me advice. But it was the wrong one, usually it was about changing my career. They got frustrated with me when I said that I don’t think that’s the core of the problem. I started to socially withdraw from them.
But they were some people who were there for me and who strangely didn’t help me with the actual problem. They never gave me much advice. And I never expected them to. But there was something in dealing with those people that gave me strength and made me feel better.
Initially I did not understand what it was they did right.
It was only when I started therapy when I discovered what real secret to being supportive is. And that is, they were listening!
That’s it. They just listened. Ok, therapists do a bit more than that but that’s the basis of what pushed me into the healing process. And that’s what those really supportive friends did too. They just listened. They didn’t take on my problems, I did not make them feel bad because I wanted to drag them down with me.
They kept a healthy emotional distance and just listened to me. They acknowledged my struggle. That was all they did and that was the solution.
In the context of my therapy I was able to talk myself through my problems and I started to understand them.
So I decided I want to try this myself and give that back to others. Of course I am no therapist. But when knows and acknowledges that then the expectation to solve somebody’s problems are much lower. I know I can’t solve their personal problems. Nobody would have been able to solve mine either. But one can assist somebody in helping them resolve their own problems.
Just by listening to them. Really listening.
I decided for me this means to be a good friend. To give my friends (who deserve it) my full attention. And who deserves it? I think its people who are able to give the same favor back. That’s all. Anybody willing to give you time for your problems in return.
It needs to be a balance between giving and taking to have a healthy relationship. There is no use for anybody to sacrifice oneself to a needy person who only wants to talk about their own problems all the time. Somebody who needs your energy to make them feel better will only emotionally drain you.
No, it can’t be toxic. I only have very few of such people in my life. But this circle is growing and growing more than it has done so in my life before.
Just LISTEN! Shut up and listen. Only pay attention and acknowledge their problems, feel compassion. Then go home and watch a funny movie or paint or do some other crap. I believe the ability to be empathic to someone, without identifying with the other person’s problems and taking them on to yourself is what the Buddhists mean by compassion.
It helps nobody to pretend a problem doesn’t exist. And somebody who acts happy is not necessarily happy. It only makes the world for the person who wants to help look tidy. But it only looks tidy for them. That’s not help at all.
When I was 12 years old I had a bad experience with a catholic priest. It was only one time but it was sexual abuse nevertheless. I did not understand what happened back then and I live with the consequences to this day. As it often happens in these cases my school grades dropped, drastically. I went from being one of the best students in my class to having to repeat a class within a year. Nobody in school or in my environment ever asked me what’s happening or if something was wrong. Nobody cared. I ended up repeating two classes and failing a final school degree. The consequence I feel today is having severe difficulties finding a good job because of my poor formal education.
Furthermore, I developed the only Phobia I have, which is called Genophobia. I have a severe panic of intimacy. If somebody gets too close to me my body reacts like other people’s body reacts if they are trapped in a housefire or somebody puts a giant spider on their hand. This prevented me from ever having meaningful relationships. Big sacrifices which could have very likely been resolved earlier, much earlier in my life had I grown up in an environment who was able to communicate properly. But it wasn’t. I do not feel regret or I am angry at anybody of my past. But I do not want to have this happen to anybody else. I had to deal with the effects of these issues much longer than necessary. This is why I am saying it.
There is a building in in the village in Bavaria where I once lived that has the following sentence written on the outside wall:
“Sag nichts hinein, sag nichts hinaus, so bleibt der Fried’ in meinem Haus.”
It means one should never speak about anything in order to maintain peace! I call it Bullshit. All one maintains is the Bullshit of everything looking alright. It’s only supporting the sugar coat that covers up the bullshit underneath.
So, please, listen to me, if somebody you think you really care about seems to have a problem, take some time, focus on them and really listen what they are saying. A real loved one should be worth that sacrifice of time.
You will be a miracle worker by only doing that. Thank you.
If you need to learn how to listen because you have never done that before, here is a great article:
And here is a great article about compassion: