Monday Musings: Dialogue with the Door - I'm on My Way!

The phone rang. It was 10:20 p.m. and I still had 3 and a half hours to go on my shift. “Hey Lady! I’ve got a knife to my throat! What are you going to do about it?” I calmly asked the caller his name but he refused, so I called him “Bob”. “I’m not Bob! I’m _____!” “Alright ____, what’s been going on that makes you want to slit your throat?” I spoke his name. I spoke his language. And so began one of the most incredible interactions I’ve had as a crisis intervention worker.

When you are feeling down or when things are feeling hopeless, what is it that you need? Everyone is different and so only you know the answer. And it’s only when you voice your need that your friends, family, co-workers, or classmates can truly help. The problem is most people rarely express it. We keep a ton of thoughts in our head space, maybe hoping we can solve our own problems. Or we think that we are beyond help. Or that we don’t want to burden other people with what’s going on. But I think I know of another reason: it’s the belief that people just don’t care. If you’ve ever taken the risk to disclose that you are struggling, only to find it ignored or forgotten, it makes you ten times more unlikely to ever talk about your problems again. And then it doesn’t take long to escalate to a crisis point.

I waited until almost the end of the semester to ask this question on my door: “If I were a really good friend of yours, and I took the risk to tell you I am sinking with all of the pressures in my life, and don’t see a way out, what would you do or what would you say to me?” I secured it to my door and wondered if anyone would respond. Remember, the authors and I are strangers as we have this relationship of anonymity, so I had no idea what would happen.

Well, the responses came in and covered the door! I was really moved by their responses. The level of concern and care and creativity to give someone hope increased my faith that there are still some selfless people out there who are willing to help a stranger.

As I read the responses, I kept hearing the plea that everyone’s life matters. That things can better. That life is a battle and to not give up the fight. Many offered to listen. Others offered practical advice to stay focused on the moment. But I think the one that resonated with me the most, and one that would definitely work for me, and I think for you too, was this: “Let’s do your favourite thing in the whole world. I’ll be wherever you are in 5 minutes.” This was a clever response. It is in fact a three parter.

First, the person said they would be willing to stop what they were doing and make me a priority. In our busy lives that rarely happens. Sometimes when we reach out we are greeted with an unread notification, an unreturned email, a call sent to voicemail, and so the silence fills the void and the despair grows. Interesting fact, this spring I had a student call some national helplines, as we had some information-gathering questions to ask, only to be greeted by a pre-recorded voice saying the lines were all busy!? We both thought how terrible this was especially if the person was calling in crisis. This just didn’t happen with one line; it happened with all three that we called. I know for myself that if I was truly in distress and finally got the courage to call, but was put on hold or sent to voicemail, I’d say; “Forget this!” I wonder how many people have that very same thought every day… It really speaks to the fact that when we are struggling, we need help in the moment. It’s hard to delay or defer our thoughts and emotions. When we need help, we need it now. And so, the writer on my door is not putting me on hold. They are on their way!

The second part builds upon their quick jump into action to help – the writer on the door is going to come to me, wherever I am. It’s hard when you are struggling to muster the energy to go out to a friend’s house, or go to the doctor. The tendency is to isolate and withdraw, not eat, not shower, just cocoon in some comfy pajama’s...for days. So this person thinks enough about me to meet me where I am at, no matter what state I am in. That is pretty cool. I don’t have to go out for coffee, they are coming to me.

But the third part is really impressive and pretty insightful. They are thinking about not only what I need, but more than that – what I enjoy! Instead of telling me what they think would make me feel better, they are asking me what my favourite thing to do is. They are forcing me to think outside the funk I’m in, to a happier time that brought me joy. On top of that they are willing to make that very thing happen! It may or may not cost much, but it will cost time. It will also require sacrifice if it’s not an activity they themselves enjoy. But that’s not the point. This friend is willing to do whatever it takes to turn my frown upside down. It’s a message of incredible thoughtfulness.

Taking the time to make others a priority. Meeting them where they are at. Asking what will restore that hope and desire to live for just one more day. We are all first responders in a crisis. And I believe that as friends we can do these three things. This is what we need.

And so, I went out to the young man with the knife. I called him by name and put his soiled and crusted hand in mine. His face, so weather worn, matched his clothing that hadn’t been washed in weeks and barely covered the sores that oozed openly on his skin. But underneath his crumbling exterior lay a heart and soul that was hungry for hope. He took his other hand and clasped mine tightly in a vice grip while he talked and I listened for what had brought him joy in the past and how we could work together to help him out of this pit of despair.

In the moment, I answered the call. In the moment, people wrote on my door. The basement of the college is full of crisis intervention workers and they don’t even know how good they are!

This week's song is none other than the classic "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers!

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