I wrote my July blog post about our Pathways Vermont Support Line and shared it with a friend who expressed concern about how it might make me look. She was apprehensive that people would be worried about me, and question my leadership.
Her concern is what many people might feel, and it is also I believe emblematic of what is wrong with the way we think about challenging thoughts and feelings.
Depression, loneliness, despair are all rampant in America. The number of people taking their own lives is at an all-time high.
What I have found after decades of working in the mental health field is that above all else: talking about our pain and our experiences without being judged or assessed – holding the space for the pain, for the experience to see the light of day– helps.
All of us know pain and dark times. All of us do. And you can experience those things and still be functional, still be good at your job, still carry on having a life. As so many of us know.
Our silence is killing us.
I was sitting at my dining table a few weeks ago looking out the window. I live on the 5th floor of an apartment building that looks over a courtyard and a street. I started to imagine what it would be like to remove the screen, open the window, and jump out. The image was very clear. Almost as if it had already happened and I was reviewing the memory of it. How I didn’t go feet first but launched myself off the window sill as if diving into a pool. How my clothes flapped against my skin with the sudden rush of air as I fell. How everything went black before I hit the ground.
I have bouts of what I call “feeling blue.” A blue bout will show up out of nowhere and pass through me like a fever. It is awful when I am in it, but I know it passes. Recently at a training about suicide when we (the participants) were asked if we had ever wanted to kill ourselves, I reflected that I have never acted on any thoughts I have had because when I have those thoughts I generally don’t have the energy or interest in taking any action at all. The thoughts come and go, and can even be comforting.
I have been in therapy, all different kinds, most of my adult life. I have tried multiple tools, including medication. I have come to know my blue bouts and recognize them when they appear. For me, weighing all the pros and cons of different options to help, the most palatable I have found is to not suppress or “treat” them, but to ride them out. So far, they have never lasted very long. Knowing what I do about depression, on the spectrum of depression, I suppose I am on the lucky end.
There are many mental health tools and they all work differently for different people. Getting to know yourself and finding the mental health tools that work for you is a part of our journeys.
The other day, when I was at my window, having my blue thoughts, I wanted to talk to someone. I have found that sometimes (not all the times) talking can help. I thought about how the conversation would go with my therapist. I knew as soon as I mentioned the window she would do two things, she would start assessing my suicidality and she would start problem-solving. If you have ever spoken to a mental health professional about thoughts of killing yourself, you will know exactly what I mean.
Instead, I spoke with a friend who could hold the space for me to talk about the window. Someone who wouldn’t assess me or try to problem-solve. Someone who understands what I was feeling.
Not everyone has friends like that they can call. Having someone to talk with who can open up the conversation, who can hold the space for very dark thoughts, who have been where you are, is an essential tool in everyone’s mental health toolbox. It is the reason we started the Pathways Vermont Support Line seven years ago.
The Pathways Vermont Support Line provides anonymous, non-judgmental support and connection for all Vermonters by phone. It’s staffed by local peers who’ve been through tough situations themselves. They listen, talk with you, provide insight, and help you face life’s challenges. The line is available 24/7 via text or phone call at (833) VT – TALKS and is free for all Vermonters.
As part of the federal COVID 19 money that has come to Vermont, the Support Line was given $200,000 in order to remain open 24/7 until December 30th, 2020.
Life is hard. And harder for some more than others. Trauma impacts so many people and manifests in complicated ways in our lives. I know it has mine. Having someone that I can call when times are rough is essential. Everyone deserves to have access to a non-judgmental, supportive, empathic person to talk with whether you are struggling with the pandemic, having financial problems, relationship woes, experiencing anxiety, anger, confusion, panic, loneliness, or sitting looking out a 5th-floor window.