Today is RUOK day. A useful conscious reminder about reaching out to others.

Maybe extra useful for our sector which, understandably, has a focus on wildlife and is maybe less conscious of the people.  The creation of a responsive and resilient wildlife volunteer sector will, however, help the animals in the long run.

In the first of the Bushfire Recovery webinars Two Green Threads did with psychologist Lyn Page, and which was hosted by the Australian Red Cross, there was a question from one of our participants about how to talk to a friend you were worried about, and that you knew was doing it tough.  This scenario may be one you are familiar with, as our wildlife caring community is grappling with six months of rolling environmental and human crises.  Your social antennae may be attuned to the need to help a fellow carer, with questions about how to assist them to take the step of getting professional help.

The RUOK Disaster/Emergency Mateship Manual which can be found here says:

“Sometimes listening can be all that’s needed. Giving someone a chance to vent and acknowledge that things are tough right now can make all the difference. You won’t always have the answers or be able to provide advice to the person. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to give advice It might also be helpful to enlist support for a broader community discussion about how people are feeling.  If someone is struggling it might help them to realise they are not alone.”

When the founder of the positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman, was asked about the best tip on improving mental wellbeing, his response was – ‘help another’.  This recommendation is all about the magic that happens when the benefit to the person being helped, is also felt by the helper.  For the helper, such action provides the chance to feel connected, supportive, and able to take some time out from their own issues to assist someone else.

I sometimes, however, find this to be a “bit of a chicken and egg thing” … do you have to be in a good headspace yourself to support others, or does helping another provide a path for improvement in one’s own headspace?  I guess it’s about whether your reaching out is being used to avoid your own issues, or as an opportunity for connection.  If you don’t know the answer to this question, don’t think you are Robinson Crusoe, I am right there with you!

Which came first?

For myself, if I want to be able to help, support and hear another’s concerns, then I try to reflect on how much help I am actually capable of giving in that moment – this means checking in with myself to ensure I am able to be present with the person I want to help.  Asking myself the question – ‘what is my intent on being part of this conversation, and are there any boundaries I need to be mindful of?’ – has become an important moment of reflection before I offer assistance.  This moment is when I consider my own emotional and mental state to ensure I am strong enough to be able to sit and listen to another person as they open up – in this moment this isn’t about solutions, this is about listening.

It can sometimes feel hard to know where to start.  There must be trust between the two people, and sometimes listening can be all that’s needed. The RUOK website has some great resources here on how to start such a conversation and includes the useful four step process of Ask, Listen, Encourage Action and Check In.

Sometimes listening can be all that’s needed.  No advice or references back to similar times you have had, just listening.   It’s the expression of emotions, offering them a chance for movement and exposure, that might offer some relief for a person.  You don’t have to offer fixes.

The other question to consider is how would you like to be approached if this was you?  If you considered yourself, thinking and feeling how you do now, and someone was chatting with you, what is it that you would open up about or enable you to see the need for external help?

In my experience, as wildlife volunteers we often have engaging and extensive conversations about our animals, what has been happening with rescues, and support for the wildlife cause.  I have noticed, however, that we can be adept at making sure the conversation stays clear of the harder topics – what this is doing to me and how I am feeling.  Building on the prompts provided above, here are some specific wildlife caring relating questions that might help to talk about these topics.

  • So we have talked lots about your animals and yet we haven’t touched on you. How are you going?
  • I’m imagining from all you’ve just said is happening with your animals, your head might be whirling and your heart sinking. Want to talk about how this is impacting on you?
  • The rain, on the back of years of not seeing any, is a great thing for so many and sometime it might seem like even water isn’t bringing back the burnt nature and all the life it had. What does the rain do for you?
  • Losing a baby that you have raised for so long with such commitment and connection must be wrenching. How is your energy in body and spirit?
  • What is it that is sticking to you lately or thoughts you can’t put down?
  • What has been weighing on your heart or mind?
  • I can sense you are not yourself, and the recent floods and frenetic activity to try and look after flooded wildlife might mean you are feeling lots of emotions? Can you get in touch with them and tell me how you are feeling??

You can’t force people to talk or to seek help.  It’s not your job to fix it.  What you can do though is plant a seed.  Let them know they are not alone.  Create a sense of hope that this is not how it always has to be and that life can be different.  Keep offering a chance to chat when they are ready.

Parrots rescued by Pittwater Animal Hospital.

Caring for wildlife can be an isolating activity – lets care for each other as much as our animals, as we need each other to stay strong for the long haul.


Podcast Episode:

Why we need to sustain ourselves to care for wildlife – a conversation with Jessica Dolce

Caring for ourselves is fundamental to the message of Two Green Threads; because if we look after ourselves, we can keep looking after the wildlife for longer. So how does looking after ourselves ever get a decent look-in?

Caring for the people looking after the wildlife is a fundamental message of Two Green threads; because if we look after ourselves and each other, we can keep looking after the wildlife for longer. There can be lots of internal messages and stories about self care so how and when do these ever get to see the light of day?

Our first podcast episode is on the topic ‘Why we need to sustain ourselves to care for wildlife’, with guest speaker Jessica Dolce.

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