Finding a Sense of Purpose in Crisis Counseling
I was sitting in an infusion room at a hospital in Boston when the nurse, who was trying to insert my IV, asked me about the Crisis Text Line sticker on my laptop. Infusion rooms in hospitals are not fun places. Basically, they’re a bunch of sick people trying to get as comfortable as possible in reclining chairs, while medications are fed to their blood stream: all in hopes of recovery, or, at the very least, remission. I come to this place often. I am a regular in the lab and know the techs by name.
I have a rare autoimmune disease that, at times, leaves my immune system so broken, I have to wear a mask to be in public. Or, more likely, admitted to the hospital under isolation. Today though, as I waited for this new medication to get my white blood cells moving, I used the staff’s printer and, with the nurse’s help, printed out Crisis Text Line flyers and rolled my IV down the halls of the infusion unit, posting our info for all who need us to see.
My Crisis Text Line story started the winter before this. It was a particularly difficult time, as the medication that had been keeping me stable began to fail. I was ordered to stay inside, limit visitors, and keep all germs away until the doctors could come up with a new medication regime.
My husband travels for work, my two youngest kids are teenagers, so they’re not home much, and my two oldest children are away at college. I was experiencing a time of incredible isolation and uncertainty with my health. I was scared and dependent on the help of my kids and friends to get food bought and disinfected before coming in the house. It was like Groundhog Day. Every day: wake, shower, read, watch Netflix, try and gather energy to eat, sleep. Wash-rinse-repeat.
Then one night, my oldest son called me to check in. He was in his senior year of college and was looking for volunteer opportunities to buff up his résumé for medical school. He started telling me about Crisis Text Line and the incredible work they were doing. As soon as we hung up, I Googled Nancy Lublin’s TED Talk, and applied to become a Crisis Counselor on the spot.
I dove headfirst into the training and finished the course weeks before it was due. I loved what I was learning, and I was excited to be able to do something from my limited, sterilized world.
My very first texter was difficult. They were so stuck in their head that it seemed nothing I could say would help them shift their fatalistic thinking. But I stuck with what I had learned in training, and leaned in harder to help them. It took a while, but we were able to find them a safe place and solid coping skills to get through the rest of the night.
I finished that shift elated! Yes, I was still stuck alone in my house for an unforeseeable amount of time, but now I had a purpose beyond keeping my white blood cells happy. I was at one of the lowest moments in my life, yet with each texter I touched, I could feel healing. With every “thank you” I received, I could see my purpose becoming clearer and clearer. Every time I helped a person in pain, I felt less ill and stronger. These lost, beautiful, and real human beings helped me heal by allowing me into their lives. Helping people in crisis became the ultimate gift I have ever given myself. As my texters healed, so did I.
My very first high risk situation was, astonishingly, with a person who suffered from an incurable illness. Hitting so close to home, it was an agonizing conversation.
Listening to their story I soon understood that it was not my job to “fix” their situation or convince them that everything was going to be okay. What I could do, though, was support them and help them consider every angle and outcome possible. I was going to find a place where they were able to cope with the first and loudest issue in front of them: saying goodbye to their children. I learned that night that as a Crisis Counselor I am called to meet the texter where they are; not where I want them to be.
Ironically, this is exactly what Crisis Text Line had done for me. It met me where I was. In my house, in isolation, living in fear. And it followed me into that infusion room in a Boston Hospital, where, I am happy to say, the medication worked.