For awhile now, I've been wanting to volunteer somewhere. Helping other people and being involved in my community are two values of mine and yet I haven't really been committed to anything for awhile. Yeah, I'd volunteer here and there, for specific events or non-profits, but never anything beyond a day or two. And while there is nothing wrong with that, I felt like I wasn't quite living up to who I wanted to be.
A month or so ago, I applied to volunteer with Life Crisis Services - a hotline operated out of Provident, here in St Louis. LCS is one of the oldest crisis and suicide intervention hotlines in the country, handling around 80 calls a day from all over Midwest. Having heard about crisis hotlines before, LCS felt like it would be a good fit for me. I've always been someone who has believed in the need for mental health treatment and support, and I'm someone who has always felt called to be a helper of some kind. Taking calls on a life crisis hotline really felt like something in my wheelhouse.
Over the last few weeks, I have been training with LCS. Training has involved classroom time (including a two-day ASIST certification), observations (listening to Crisis Workers on the hotline), and now I am wrapping up consultations (taking calls with a consultant to listen and help). And while it has taken a lot of time (81-hours total) to get to the point I'm at now, it has also been one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. Even though I have just really begun my time as a Crisis Worker, I already feel that this kind of training and exposure has taught me so much about other people, their stories, and how to interact with people in everyday life.
When you spend so much time listening to and learning about people in crisis, you see that they are you and me. You come to learn that anyone can find themselves pushed to the brink, thrown into crisis and considering suicide, under the right circumstances. When you've experienced trauma, experienced a loss, or are going through some kind of major life change, it can really challenge you and what you think you can handle.
Because of this experience and training, I've found that I see people differently. Where I once had social anxiety, I've now found additional empathy and compassion. It's helped me to get out of my own head and start seeing people with a greater sense of humanity; it's turned my mind away from myself and outward towards other people. Because you never know what someone is going through - whether it's anxiety, depression, grief, stress - I've found myself interacting with others in a more assertive yet gentler way. I am more likely to engage strangers in conversation, to ask them how their day is going, where I was not likely to do so before. Because suddenly they're not just the person bagging your groceries or the person pouring your coffee; suddenly they're your compatriots in a world that can often be difficult and it matters what you say or do.
That's the biggest takeaway of all of this for me: the urgency that exists for each of us to be more aware of one another and to be vulnerable. It's so easy to close yourself off to other people or to get so wrapped up in your own narrative that you treat others as mere objects passing through space. But if you can create that awareness in yourself to step outside of your own story and to bring others into it, it's surprising the interconnectedness you start to feel with the people around you.
If you or someone you care about is in crisis and lives in the St Louis area, you can call 314-647-HELP (4357). There will always be someone there to talk and help you to find resources. If you live somewhere else in the U.S., call Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and you will be directed to a crisis center close to where you live.