Many years ago I did my college internship at a Suicide Prevention Hot Line. I went through a basic orientation and a training session prior to beginning my first all night solo shift. I was young, confident and fresh out of the gate—-Talking someone out of suicide ought to be a breeze. I quickly learned (after my first 3:00 am phone call) that I was in over my head. I immediately realized that the voice on the other end of the line belonged to a living breathing person who was suffering. Their pain was beyond my life experience. To this day, I’m not sure if I really helped anyone. I tried my best to be an empathetic and patient listener. I bore witness to unrestrained sobbing and screams of horror cried out into the phone’s receiver. There were stories of godless depression and anxiety beyond ones ability to remain fortified.
I had no rehearsed script, no prescription pad or the luxury of providing a client with a series of on going counseling sessions. I had just that moment to “try and reach” the person on the other end of the line. I did my best to listen attentively and to interject support. When appropriate, I’d provide input or referrals to community services. In spite of my lack of training and limited life experience, there we were, in the middle of the night fumbling with ideas of why it’s worth holding on for one more moment or for one more day.
And sometimes, by holding on for one moment longer than you’d think is possible, the suffering would pass——at least for a while or until the sun would rise once again.