The value and difficulty of talking to a mentor

In previous times, I once viewed asking for help as a weakness – I saw most people around me going through life without seeking support, so therefore I wondered why I was so pathetic battling with my thoughts/feelings and feeling like I needed an outlet with someone to talk to. This proved to be the biggest barrier to me accepting and continuing to work with a professional. Furthermore, I’ve also tried numerous counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists etc over the years and frustratingly never felt like any of them were the right fit for me or really understood me and my difficulties, especially with expressing myself verbally and taking longer to process things. In my experience, some mental health professionals aren’t aware enough about neurodiversity and the impact on the individual.

When applying to Disabled Students’ Allowance at university, I initially felt a bit sceptical when I discovered I was eligible for Specialist Mentor support due to all these previous attempts to speak to someone without much success – I just assumed that it obviously wasn’t for me because there would be nobody who would ever understand, and kind of just gave up on the idea. Initially, this belief was confirmed to me as I got assigned someone who believed it was reasonable to make me trek halfway across Coventry to an area in the city that I wasn’t familiar with for the sessions – anyone who understands me and my dyspraxia, knows that it impacts my fatigue/energy levels and it can mean I get overwhelmed and stressed much more easily – particularly when it’s unfamiliar! It was this and his inflexibility when I explained this issue that waved the red flags to me even before the first session. It was no surprise to me that I didn’t find him the most understanding and approachable person to confide my worries with, and so I requested another mentor through my provider when I still felt uncomfortable after a few sessions.

A brief overview of the Specialist Mentor’s role

Unbeknown to me until after a few sessions when I finally felt comfortable enough to disclose, my current mentor turns out to have dyspraxia herself – this was a complete fortuitous coincidence, and proved to be what I needed; someone who actually got the specific difficulties and someone who was passionate about neurodiversity. Although she experiences dyspraxia quite differently to me, I can tell she has the understanding of my slower verbal processing difficulties and awareness of the fact that every dyspraxic individual is different. She’s never assumed anything and has taken the time to learn more about how it affects me individually and the barriers to communication and expressing myself that I have, and has put things in place to help accordingly which I’ve somewhat lacked in my life so I really appreciate it – one example of a helpful strategy she has implemented is texting me the day before the session to ask whether there’s a topic I’d like to discuss – this gives me the time to think about what’s been bothering me or what I’d like help/advice with, which eases some of the pressure of having to think of things to say on the spot. She also texts me a summary of what we’ve discussed straight after each session for me to refer to, which gives me extra time to process everything and aids my dodgy short-term memory! This may sound simple, but this idea of hers has made a massive difference.

Every week, I particularly still find the prospect very anxiety provoking and my anxiety has a habit of building it up to be a massive thing; it’s always proved to be better than my mind anticipates, but nevertheless I find that some weeks seem to be easier to open up and talk about things than others, where I sometimes feel more awkward. I don’t think there’s enough understanding of the fact that talking about your past experiences and thoughts/feelings is a really difficult and courageous thing to do; you are uncovering things that you would rather keep buried deep and forgotten about. Talking about your past and describing how certain things made you think and feel requires you to relive some of those traumatic experiences, unearth and experience painful memories all over again. Truthfully, I have been afraid of this and how it would make me feel in the past; it’s like picking at a scab and opening a wound again. Inevitably, I sometimes find this upsetting and draining, and I feel the need for some self-care afterwards; whether that’s carving out the time for doing an activity I really enjoy such as playing on my Nintendo Switch, going for a mindful walk in nature to clear my mind or something else.

Being a quieter and often socially anxious person who has difficulty keeping up and contributing to conversations, I often assume everyone perceives me negatively and assumes the worst of me due to having a few encounters with people who have thought this in the past. This frequently bothers me, as it affects my confidence and self-esteem a lot and can create a barrier to healthy relationships with people. When you’re convinced literally everyone you meet dislikes you, it really knocks your view of yourself – my mind has even tried to convince me that my mentor thinks badly of me, probably due to my negative past experiences. This is an example of something I have discussed with my mentor, and she suggested searching some famous introverts/quieter people for reassurance – to my surprise, I learned that some of the world’s most successful and leading characters are quieter, more introverted people – including Albert Einstein, Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln! It was also helpful to discuss what qualities I saw in my quieter friends, and how we maybe wouldn’t relate to each other so much and be so close if I was different. I am constantly trying to accept the way I am more, with thanks to a self-compassion workbook she also suggested. Other topics I have frequently discussed is comparing my life and my progress to other people’s (which I’m guilty of doing a lot), never thinking I’m good enough, sleep problems, bad days and perfectionism – what strikes me is she always gives me the time to explain, and then always offers a practical thing to try or tries to unpick/challenge my thoughts sensitively with empathy, acknowledgement and a lot of patience.

Perhaps surprisingly considering my social anxiety, I have found having to use video calls during lockdown more difficult – I have recently discovered that I prefer face to face meetings with people rather than online, so will be pleased when the sessions can be delivered safely in person. Since finishing my university foundation year course, I have also found coming up with topics to talk about each week more difficult – living through a global pandemic, you would think that I’d be bursting with worries and frustrations to talk about, but when I was at university I had clear stressors and things that were bothering me that aren’t so apparent now that everyone is in the same situation, living and working at home. There are things to discuss, but it can take me longer to think of something now. Maybe having a break next month and going back to sessions in September will be what I need.

I think it’s important to remember that it can take some people longer to build trust and rapport with someone, particularly quieter individuals – I have certainly always found this to be the case for me, and there are still things I don’t feel comfortable talking about with anyone and perhaps never will, which is also ok. It can require patience, time and understanding in order for someone to feel confident enough to talk about difficult things completely openly and honestly, and I may always find this stressful and tough to do. Everyone is different and will take different amounts of time to feel more at ease to talk about things – something I have felt there hasn’t been enough awareness of in the past for me, but my mentor does seem to really get.

Another tactic out of many she has taught me is calling my brain ‘Donald’ (after Donald Trump.) Whenever my mind tries to tell me things like ‘no one likes you,’ ‘you’re useless’, ‘you’re a failure’ etc (which it does), I can say out loud ‘shut up Donald, that’s rubbish. I don’t believe you’ – because it’s called Donald Trump, it can make it easier to not listen to it and believe it’s lying!

I think having the ability to talk to someone, with whom you genuinely click with and trust is really important and something that’s finally proved to be valuable and worthwhile for me after many tries with the wrong professionals. Even if she can’t solve the worry or difficulty completely, I always feel better having discussed something with my mentor and shared the problem rather than keeping it bottled up, which is never a good idea as it makes the situation even worse. Although I find it tough, it is the relief I feel afterwards and feeling listened to which makes me realise it is worth persevering and continuing with. I know I am very lucky to have eventually found the right person for me, and I might not have done if I hadn’t been so assertive and requested it to be changed when it didn’t feel right – it is worth keeping this in mind, following your instincts and not feeling pressurised to continue if someone doesn’t feel right for you. My mentor genuinely seems to know more about how my mind works than me, as she explains things about my brain so clearly and it’s exactly spot on when I can’t explain it myself! Having little things in common like being obsessed with positive stationery is also really nice!

 

 

 

One thought on “The value and difficulty of talking to a mentor

  1. I really like this post I can relate to a lot of it. I too in the past viewed asking for help as weakness but I learned the hard way that asking for help is a strength, to this day I hate asking for help but I recognize that’s it’s important to do so when I actually need help. It’s great that you got a mentor who understands you and can help you, I have had mentors/ coaches whatever, who just never understood me and it was frustrating! Yh I get it, I have always had problems keeping up and contributing to conversations, and I feel like people just think I’m boring or something and that makes me feel bad. I sometimes feel like people do see the worst in me. That self-compassion thing sounds really good!, For the past couple of weeks for 10 minutes a day, I have journaling positive things about myself, this does sort of boost my self-esteem. I love that Donald trump tactic!!, Maybe I will try that!, I do get thoughts that I’m worthless, that people don’t like me and that I’m a big failure. It’s great that you get along with your mentor and that she gives you right support, I really need someone like that to be honest.

    Like

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