I have this very weird issue: people trust me. Now, in general, that is not necessarily a bad thing. I am often seen as competent, as someone who makes sound decisions in pressured situations, and I am calm and collected when I have to be. At least that is what I seem like to others. I am also a good listener, I can relate to most emotional problems and I am an expert at showing empathy. All these skills have often given me certain successes in life. I was appreciated, people looked up to me. There was and still is jealousy too.
I generally push all that, all the appreciation and the seemingly silly adoration, into the “They don’t really know me” box. But it doesn’t matter if what I seem like is true or not. The issue that I have is that people come to me to talk about their problems, their private struggles, their illnesses and relationship setbacks. I have become a sort of secret keeper. And I am not sure if I like that role.
I can see the loveliness in all of this. People like to turn to me, and in most of my friendships, and even relationships. I have taken on some sort of caretaker role. It suits me well, I have the skills, and it helps me avoid talking about my own stuff. But it is also a huge responsibility. During the last couple of years, I have retreated from some friendships that were too draining for me. Once the dynamics are set, it is just difficult to change things.
My Volunteer Work
I used to work as a volunteer on a website and app for emotional support. That place has hundreds of thousands of active listeners. millions of live chats a week, support sessions in group chats. I was one of those active listeners and because I naturally have the skills that they were looking for, I quickly climbed the ladder in that organisation. I didn’t even want to, I just enjoyed supporting people, but when I got offered mod, mentor and mentor roles, I took them. It was fun and I felt like I was doing a good thing, helping others. Eventually I had the position of an ambassador, the highest position a volunteer could have in that organisation. I hadn’t even applied for it, I was offered the position.
I loved overseeing the listener community, leading teams, writing guides, teaching listeners, and continuing to support those that needed help. But because people trust me, things started to become icky. I was supposed to help with conflict in the community, to be a sort of mediator, to come up with solutions. Of course that can become difficult. The worst thing for me was that I had to keep a lot and lot of secrets.
Being a Secret Keeper
See, if you are in a community with lots of mentally unstable people, things can go south quickly. It was encouraged that those seeking support also signed up as listeners, to give back, so to say. It is a lovely idea in theory, but in practice, you have a bunch of people with mental illness trying to function with each other in a close-knit community. The result was drama. But we were instructed to not spread gossip, to not talk to others about the things we have heard, and to keep things as contained as possible.
I had dozens of issues to solve a day. And I got to hear so many things I didn’t want to know. Who was fucking who, who had offsite contact with each other (discouraged), who was lying about their age, their gender, who was suicidal. My brain was just filled with all these secrets and it slowly drove me nuts. I didn’t even want to know those things! But beep beep beep, private message after private message of desperate listeners who messed up and needed help to sort it out.
I tried my hardest to not treat anyone differently because of the things I knew about them. The American mother of three who fucked the 19 year Indian guy who was still living with his parents, via Skype. The mentors who had met up in real life and now the girl was pregnant and the guy got psychotic because of the stress of it all. I can go on and on and on about this. But I contained things, I tried to not let anything slip.
I am a bad secret keeper when it gets too much. The moment someone told me something juicy, I felt the strong urge to talk with someone about it. I tried to sort it by writing a journal, to get it out of my system. Unfortunately, that didn’t help. I needed to tell someone! So I went down a road I am not proud of. I started to tell things to my boyfriend at the time. He was also working as a volunteer in the organisation and he knew the people I talked about. He was not the right person to tell though, because he sees secrets as a leverage over someone. That was definitely one of the reasons why our relationship didn’t work out.
When I started dating my current partner, who also was a mentor in that organisation, things changed in that matter. He discouraged me to share too many things. There was no interest in knowing private things about our fellow listeners. He dislikes gossip and is actually a way better secret keeper than I am! So while I sometimes asked him on feedback about certain situations, I actually learnt to not follow my ex’s footsteps and to gloat in other people’s misery. I never did that, but I just didn’t have the push to make a real effort to keep the secrets I had been told.
In retrospect, I think what bothered me the most was the sheer amount of things that were happening in the background of a community that was supposed to be safe and decent. My brain was just overrun with all those secrets, and I was the end of the line, I was the container to store those secrets. And that container was overflowing by the end of it all. I am a trustworthy person, and I can keep secrets if I am being asked to. But I had reached my limit.