Death is a topic that is often on my mind. I am faced with having to think about death at least once a week. We spend most of our lives trying to ignore that thought of death, where I willingly volunteer my time once a week to put myself right smack dab in the middle of the conversation. The funny thing is that I never feel more alive in my life than when I spend those four hours a week volunteering at the crisis hotline. Maybe it’s not really even about death, but a pure joy towards the other extreme, which is Life. Maybe it’s about a fear of death that keeps me coming back. By constantly facing the fear, maybe it changes my fear around the topic of death. Maybe it helps me face my own mortality, as well as the mortality of those I love. An existential psychologist would say that much of the dysfunction in our lives can be traced back to our fear of death. So maybe I keep coming back to minimize my own dysfunction.
I currently volunteer for one four-hour shift every week at the crisis hotline, which does take calls from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Why do I do this? The answer I typically tell people is that I am doing this because I am working on my masters in mental health counseling and this gets me some really good experience with individuals in crisis and gets me a chance to practice my craft, which is true. It also gets me in front of some people that can lead me in the right direction towards future professional goals, which is good. Though that would ignore the bigger question of why I would pursue something that can be filled with such horrible things and people going through such tragic things in their lives.
The reality of the situation is that I don’t really have conversations about suicide with people every time I go in. Most of the time it is regular callers with different mental illness’s or just individuals who are going through some really challenging times and just need someone who will listen to them. I love these moments. One of the greatest things in life for me is just listening to them, and the less talking I have to do, the better. Even though I really love those moments, that doesn’t change the reality that every time the phone rings, my heart skips a beat, my stomach gets a knot, and I think to myself, is this the person that I am not going to be able to help?
This past Monday was one of those days when I got one of those calls. The woman was at the end of her rope, in a bad relationship, and had just purchased a gun two weeks ago, with an intent to use in on herself. She had told her boyfriend that she was feeling this way and his response was “Are you going to leave a note”. Now what can you really say to this? My goal was of course to empower her, to help her to see the strengths that she has, and open herself up to the possibility that she does have a bright future, all in a span of about a half an hour. Oh yes, to also make sure that she never touches that gun again and gets rid of it. Fortunately, I believe I was able to accomplish all of those goals, though I do not get to know the real outcome, though the outcome in my mind is that this woman will have a bright future. It’s the only thing I can really think about, well if I want to maintain my sanity. She made a plan to have her Mother come and get the gun and dispose of it and she ensured me that she would make an appointment to meet with a therapist the next morning. And you know what she said to me at the end of the call? “Thanks.” It wasn’t even about the words, more about the way she said it. The feeling I got then cannot be put into words, as I do not have the vocabulary to really do justice to that feeling.
There are moments in your life that are much bigger than yourself, and cannot be defined in monetary value. Its just moments where you know you are alive, when your adrenaline is pumping, and you meet a goal that is purely self-sacrificing that are moments that move you. So I guess my answer to the why questions I was asking lies somewhere in there, I suppose.
A couple things you can do if you are local to the Twin Cities area is the Stomp out Suicide 5k run/walk for awareness (in honor of Alissa M. Haines) on August 25th and the Hustle for Hope 5k, which proceeds go to the crisis connection, which is the organization I volunteer for on September 29th.