I’m writing this post at four in the morning waiting for the phone to ring. Most of the time, my phone is silent, and I occupy myself during the wee morning hours with Tumblr and The Onion. But, when the phone does ring, I put my life on hold to hold onto someone else’s.
I am a crisis line worker. The full-on term is crisis prevention hotline, but most people know it as a suicide hotline. We are the ones tasked with listening to those standing on the metaphorical ledge and hopefully (hopefully) give them what they need to take a step back. While the hotline runs 24/7 with the help of numerous volunteers, I am one of the few that works specifically overnights. My shift starts either at midnight, or in this case four AM, and I wait for four hours. Sometimes, I only get one or two calls. Sometimes, it seems that my phone doesn’t stop ringing.
When I tell people about my alternate employment, I get mainly one of two reactions. First: “Whoa. I could never do that.” Second: “I’ll totally call you and not tell you it’s me!” The first one is understandable. I had several months of training before I got on the lines, and even I didn’t expect that I would be able to do this work. The second one makes me roll my eyes because I know they’re not going to call. They are just trying to make light of a situation they find uncomfortable and a subject they find taboo. It’s easier to play it off with humor than to wonder about the people that dial our number hoping for something (anything) that will help them through the day.
I just got a call from Scott*. He’s one of our regulars who calls daily (we have a few). These callers have us as part of their mental health support system, an empathetic ear that isn’t directly involved with their care. Scott gets frustrated easily, with a stutter that can overpower his speech. Often, he calls in because he’s annoyed with his roommate, or concerned about his father. Regardless, I end each call with “I’m happy you called today” and he always replies, with such an overwhelming sense of gratitude, “I am too. Have a good day.” It’s short, sweet, and I always feel better afterwards. I hope he does too.
People often ask me, “How do you do that?” It’s really not a matter of how. As I said before, we received months of training and preparation before we go on the lines. We memorize Active Listening skills by heart and have a list of referral numbers close at hand. The question people really want to ask is:
“Why do you do this?”
The answer is simple. I do this because I needed help once. Had I known about this number, my hands would have shaken as I dialed in, my first words caught on a nervous breath. I managed to pull through my own sleepless nights with guts and grit and the support of people who love me but, every once in awhile, someone needs something else, something more. And, I am happy to be that voice in the darkness when they need it most.
*Name has been changed