My crisis was in October of my freshmen year of college. I was living a life I knew wasn’t right, spinning lies to fulfill false fantasies, and worrying constantly that someone would find out I had a secret. More than anything else, I felt alone – incapacitated by fear.
In one of my most anxiety-ridden moments, a friend noticed I was hurting. With gentle support, nonjudgmental tones, and a calming presence, I slowly became ready to talk. In coming out that night, I emerged from a paralyzing cloud of anxiety, fear, and self-loathing, to a calmer, cooler state. Although the real journey of coming to terms with myself was just beginning and would take many months, my moment in crisis had passed.
A month ago I came across a story in the New Yorker describing a groundbreaking new service: Crisis Text Line. The article described an anecdote of a young woman responding to a text message sent out by DoSomething.org in 2011. The non-profit had been using a text-line to notify young adults across the country of altruistic volunteering opportunities in local communities. However, the woman’s message was not an inquiry, it was a call for help.
“He won’t stop raping me, he told me to not tell anyone.”
And a few hours later, “R u there?”
Stephanie Shih was on the receiving end of those messages. There was no protocol for responding to such a conversation. She did the best she could to engage the woman as the conversation continued, referring the woman the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), but she was only capable of doing so much. Without closure or a sense of what might happen next, the woman stopped responding to Shih’s messages. Soon after, Shih showed the conversation to her boss, Nancy Lublin the CEO of DoSomething.org. The two decided something needed to be done; in that moment, Crisis Text Line was born.
Two years later in 2013, Crisis Text Line, the nation’s first 24/7 crisis intervention service conducted entirely through text-messaging was launched. With over 11 million messages sent to date, Crisis Text Line has transformed the way people of all ages can reach out for support in moments of need. Texters use the service to discuss feelings related to depression, anxiety, suicide, sexuality, social pressures, etc. with trained crisis counselors. Text messaging as a platform to provide crisis counseling has enabled greater privacy, care, reflection and accessibility to some who may feel uncomfortable with or unable to afford traditional forms of outreach (i.e. phone lines, therapy). Volunteers operate on their personal computers and exchange communications received by people in crisis as text messages.
I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this cause. Feeling alone in a moment of crisis is terrifying. I have been lucky to have a support system that helped me through my most difficult times; many people are not afforded such a luxury. As fate would have it, the application deadline for the next cohort of volunteers was only 24 hours after I first came across the New Yorker article. I completed the necessary requirements just in time and was accepted as a volunteer a week later.
Over the next three weeks I completed more than 34 hours of online training that included video lectures, independent role-plays, and live observations. Fundamentally as volunteers, we are focused on empowering texters and supporting them to move from a “hot moment” to a “cooler calm.” We try to accomplish this by building rapport, exploring the texter’s concerns, identifying potential goals and collaboratively problem solving.
My volunteering commitment entails counseling for one four-hour shift every week for one year (roughly all of 2016.) We adhere to strict confidentiality regarding our conversations; however, let me say that training to speak with people in crisis and actually having those conversations in real life are two different worlds. We classify conversations on a scale of “low” to “high” based on the texter’s risk of imminent suicide. My first shift I had a “high” risk conversation that tested my training, composure and resolve. As I counseled I had moments of confidence, flashes of anxiety, and a steady pulse of empathy. After logging off, I was emotionally and physically drained. However, with each successive shift I have gained greater confidence and assurance in my ability to handle conversations of all topics and temperaments. I anticipate the shifts will always be taxing; but, when I finished my four hours yesterday I was consumed by an overwhelming feeling of energy. The only way I can describe it is as some form of emotional detoxification.
But here’s the amazing part. I’ve found that emotional detoxification isn’t selective. In those moments of revitalization, I have shed many of my own shadows that follow me around each day. With each shadow I shed, I feel myself walking lighter, thinking clearer and smiling a little longer. Yet stepping back, I still vividly remember where this all began for me three years ago. I can imagine most of you, too, can think of a time you neared your breaking point. Crisis is inherent to the human experience. However, it does not define us; we are shaped by how we choose to respond and set forth anew.
If you or a friend is ever in crisis, text 741-741 to be connected with a compassionate counselor. If you’d like to learn more about Crisis Text Line and its operations or are interested in becoming a volunteer, please visit their website at:
Thank you for listening to my story and indulging the “Life” section of this website.
All the best,