Have you ever thought, if you just stopped and really listened, something amazing might happen? Maybe. Maybe not. Then again, how will you ever know, if you never take the time to find out?
This is something that I’ve been reflecting on recently while on my journey to become a Crisis Line Counselor. I’ve been going through training with the Contra Costa Crisis Center for the past two weeks now and honestly, I’ve learned so much. Sometimes, it feels like too much all in one week, but I’ve been soaking up every minute of it!
We’ve learned all sorts of interesting and, yes occasionally, upsetting facts about what goes on at the Crisis Center on a day-to-day basis. They take in over 60,000 calls per year, ranging from anything as simple as a referral source for a local food bank, to serious crisis calls with people who are having suicidal ideations. And needless to say, it can be a lot. As a newly (not-quite-but-almost fully) oriented volunteer, these numbers and facts are seriously overwhelming to think about at times. Ultimately though, and at least at this point in the training, I know it’s where I want to be. My desire to help others grow, achieve and overcome far outweighs my self-doubt about whether or not I think I can be brave enough to actually take a real crisis call. Through these few trainings (about seven so far), I’ve learned so much about what the Crisis Center is all about–who they help, why there is a need for their help and where my role as a Crisis Line Counselor comes into play. Our trainings have consisted of Crisis Center volunteers and speakers teaching us about the various topics that affect clients on daily basis and areas they need support in: losing housing and needing resources on finding new placement, talking to someone after losing a child, being on the brink of a psychotic episode, and even actively thinking about taking one’s life. The list actually goes on quite a bit, as there is such a need for support services in the Contra Costa community–many more than I had ever thought about.
Out of all of the topics, issues and lessons I have learned so far in my training with the Crisis Center, one of the most important pieces of advice I’ve gotten so far is, “Sometimes our callers are just calling to talk to a real person. They feel like they have no one in their life who is willing to take the time to really sit and listen to them. The greatest gift you can give someone who’s calling our hotline, is to listen to them”.
It’s funny because, after spending a day training on the heavy topic of suicide–what it is, how to spot it and what to do once you detect someone is at risk–the first thought that comes to mind, at least for me, is how do I make them feel better? How can I make this pain that someone is feeling just go away?
And the truth is, you can’t.
Like, you can’t make someone’s pain of losing their 2-month old child six months ago to SUIDS, just go away. Or their pain of living a life filled with nothing but seemingly never-ending mental health visits to hospitals and therapy offices, medications that don’t work without horrible side effects and the feeling that no one’s ever going to understand them–that doesn’t just go away.
Nothing is simple in the realm of mental illness, I’m learning. It’s unique to everyone–and it affects each person so differently. No two diagnoses are the same.
You might think, well then what the heck is the point of all this–the trainings on grief and trauma, the example crisis calls, the steps of assessing for suicide risk–what’s it going to change? Well, I haven’t figured it all out yet myself, but one thing’s for certain: listening to others, is both a privilege (for us) and a gift (for them).
When we first practiced taking crisis calls, at first (and sometimes it still is) it was tempting to bombard the “caller” with questions about if they were safe, what they were doing, who they were with, etc. Not that those aren’t critical pieces to taking a call, but sometimes we just missed the point of it all. We (I) forget that sometimes, all the caller wants is to know that there’s someone out there listening. Letting them talk about their day and how their boss is such a jerk, or how they used to love it when their husband played guitar and sang along really off-key, or how much they missed their son’s laugh or how they really just can’t seem to get out of bed today. Sometimes, people just want to be heard. And that’s the point.
You think to yourself, I don’t know what to say. Let your silence be okay, and let it not be filled with anxiety, worry and thoughts of I wish I knew what the right thing to say was or I wish I could do more. Instead, let it be filled with compassion, warmth and hope. I hope that I can bring this into my own relationships, outside of the Crisis Center and learn how to listen actively, speak less and really be there for someone.
Because I’m learning that being there and listening, is just enough.