“A problem shared is half solved”
–The intending counsellor’s starter pack
I think so too. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have nudged Tumisi to write that letter to Nathan three weeks ago. I’m a mental health police, I’d like to believe. It’s in the ways I look out for the sanity of the people I care about. While this can be sometimes overbearing for them- my incessant “are you goods,” that is- I rarely budge. I find the bottling of emotions an unhealthy practice, a subconscious hatred for our wellbeing. And while I do not always have answers, I believe me and my folks take a chip off mountains each time we chose communication over silence.
Despite years of acting the listener though, and when necessity demands, the counsellor, I still can’t bring myself to embracing the quote up there as absolute. That quote seem to motivate most caregivers and intending counsellors to split issues into two equal halves, one half being made whole by a mandatory exposition of our fears. But what happens to the other unsolved half? Does it actually, eventually grab its own “exclusive” 50 percent solution because of some verbal spillage? Wait, are issues even worth the hype accrued them? And if they worth much attention, how sure are we our “intending counsellors” aren’t some buttheads who’d make us a specimen of the fallacy I see in that statement up there?
Some weeks ago I was having a casual conversation with a “friend” when I asked about the welfare of his apprentice, a young man in his twenties who learns Disk Jockeying from him. I hadn’t seen him in a while since he started working on behalf of his boss at a club every Thursday night. If it wasn’t for the recent engagement, he might have been in my office with his boss, both engrossed in their usual banters about steering clear me. But while I expected a simple reply about his wellbeing, my “friend” tells me: “Uchenna got “disvirgined” by three ladies who ambushed him in his hotel room last week.”
I was taken aback, speechless for a while. Yes, I do share some level of closeness with this “friend”, but not enough to make me privy to such information. As he recounted everything that happened that I didn’t ask for, I shut my eyes, and took a mental tour of conversations we’ve had in the past. I dissected every gist in search of any personal details I may have reeled out carelessly, such information I wouldn’t want the world to hear from the mouth of a talebearer. Thankfully there wasn’t any. Yet, I felt ashamed on behalf of that young man who confided in his boss, not knowing that barely a week after, an unsolicited ear would be fed with the debasing details of his first sexual encounter.
It takes guts to unburden issues before someone. Whether with a family, friend, colleague or even stranger; recounting setbacks is never an exciting experience. So when people summon courage, pull down their insecurities and develop trust in us, we must understand they aren’t expecting us to:
- Make their private issue(s) a public affair,
- Exploit their vulnerability either through blackmail or any kind of abuse,
- Compound their insecurities by acting indifferent to their plight, and/or
- Write them off through negative criticisms and/or self-righteous judgments.
I doubt Uchenna knows his sexual abuse is no longer a secret between him and his boss. I pray he doesn’t; he doesn’t experience that hurt that comes from voicing one’s fears into the wrong ears. It’s always heartbreaking, that wound that cuts so deep walls and broken bridges become one’s forte. May his plight not make the headlines, making a thousand genuine smiles forever lose grace in his sight. And may he not come in contact with another of them you-can-tell-me-anything folks; wolves in “I-care” clothing that feast on our weaknesses and leaves us naked and ashamed.
A problem Shared (With the Wrong Person) Is a Catalyst to More Problems
These days, I’m very careful in the ways I enquire about people’s wellbeing, including friends. Because I have been in Uchenna’s shoes before, and I can’t tell how long it took to nurse my broken heart, I allow people breathe when they build an edge around me. Maybe that’s how they know how to heal: playing the lone ranger, avoiding contact with anything that would ignite trust. A second time.
Shared problems ought to bring about relief and empathy. But when processed by an unrefined ear with a loud mouth, it becomes a spiral of issues: People sink into depression. They start feeling like the universe is against them. Some lose their self-esteem and start seeking for acceptance in bottles of alcohol, hard drugs, porn, sex and other crazy addictions. More walls of resistance are built, relationships are destroyed and genuinely concerned folks are seen as wolves. The fear of an endless circle of hurts takes many on a gradual journey to the grave; others take a faster route: suicide.
I wish we would all understand that nobody owe us their stories. That when people share their issues with us, it’s not because they’re hosting a pity party and thus, in need of guests who’d drink of their plights then puke on their faces. They voice their fears because they have faith in us- in our empathy, advice and/or on the spot solutions. They could’ve spoken with countless others, but they chose us. If we see this as a privilege and not our divine right, we would allow God use us to reach out to them, and not act like the unsolved part of their problems.
P.S.: Name and some circumstances in the story shared have been tweaked to keep my “friend” and Uchenna’s identity faint from folks who are close to me. Don’t even try stressing your memory if you’re my friend; you have no idea what this is. Grab the lesson here and move. I love you too.