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2022: Hopes, Healing, & Reminders

Here we are, several days into 2022 which can be daunting and overwhelming. New Year’s typically start off with lots of hype;  “what are your resolutions?”, “what are you hoping to achieve in 2022?”,what are your goals?”, and the list goes on……. 

While for some people, these questions may be eye opening and motivating, for many of us, they can be overwhelming and stressful, especially in a time of unknowns; Will the pandemic ever end? Will leaders begin to tackle global warming? Will mental health support become more available? It is easy to be bogged down by everything happening around us that is so far out of our control yet affects our lives immensely. How are we supposed to look forward to a new year, when we’re still recovering from the past couple? 

Instead of focusing on what we have not accomplished or the things so far out of our control, what should we put our energy into? Should we be making a goal for the entire year and hope announcing it at the beginning of the year will carry us through? This year, the way I am tackling New Year’s goals and resolutions are a bit different. Each day there will be a new goal, sometimes the goal may be getting outside or seeing/calling a friend and other days, it might be getting out of bed and taking a shower or eating a well balanced meal. Alternatively, in the current state of mind, some days the goal itself may be staying alive until tomorrow. Whatever the goal may be.. at the end of the day throughout 2022, we should work on being kind to ourselves. 

Change doesn’t happen overnight, you don’t set an intention for the year and it magically happens. It takes time, effort and perseverance. It takes remembering the goal, thinking about how we can achieve it, and continually working towards it. It can be a lot to focus on one goal, with everything going on around us. However, instead of looking at the entire year ahead, let’s focus on each and every day, let’s be easy on ourselves when the weight of the world is feeling heavier than usual and let’s strive to become the best versions of ourselves on days we feel like we can tackle anything! 

Give yourself kindness in 2022. Allow yourself to set small goals and if you don’t tackle them on the day you had hoped – try again tomorrow, next week, or next month. Don’t force yourself to make unrealistic goals that feel too far out of reach and don’t fall into the expectations of what others want you to change. Make goals that will make yourself even the slightest bit happier, fulfilled, relieved or whatever you need to feel to remember you are more than worth being here with us as we begin 2022! 

Below are some ideas that may help you setting a goal, depending on how you’re feeling that day: 

Overwhelmed: Take 5-10 minutes to breathe, give yourself space, and reflect on why you’re feeling this way – and remember it’s ok to feel overwhelmed; there is a lot going on! 

Lonely: Call a friend, chat with somebody online, write out what you would say to somebody else. Remember that at times we all feel lonely, but we are never truly alone. 

Sad: Watch a funny video or movie, look up funny memes, eat some junk food – do whatever you need to in order to make yourself feel even the tiniest bit of relief. Remember this feeling will not last forever, and it is not a bad thing to feel sad or down (we are human, after all!). 

Tired: Give yourself space and permission to rest and recharge, whatever that means to you. Remember that we all have days that we feel off, and we don’t need to be going at 100% all the time. 

No matter what mood you wake up in each day of 2022, remember to do something kind for yourself, to allow yourself to feel things, to grow, and remind yourself that you are human and some days will be tougher than others. 

And of course, on days where you are feeling down, lonely and feel like there is nobody on your side, reach out to IMAlive because we are rooting for you in 2022 (and beyond)!

Volunteer’s of the Month – *November* Morgan and Kellie!

Morgan from Alberta, Canada

When Morgan first joined the live shift team at IMAlive in December of 2020, we knew they were one to watch for all best and brightest reasons. A natural fit to the role of crisis responder, Morgan came into volunteering with the “hope to develop new skills to serve people most effectively when they are in need of help.” Backed by boundless patience, authentic interest in people, and a desire to understand them, Morgan excels in “creating a safe conversation space in which conversation partners have ample time to express themselves fully.” In creating this space, in really hearing what they are feeling and experiencing through empathy expressed with little outward effort – a feat of which we as a team recognize often requires exceptional inward energy of perception to achieve clarity amidst the chaos of what a person in crisis is feeling – time and again with Morgan’s willingness to embrace and face the challenge with them, the path clears for the person chatting to work on ways to get safely through and overcome their crisis. Morgan’s background in the medical field means they bring to the table great ideas for approaching the intervention process from a slightly different angle of view, but one still bent toward helping people to heal and one to which chatters respond positively. Morgan, we are so grateful for all you’ve done and continue to do as a shining star of team IMAlive – congratulations on being a Volunteer of the Month!

Kellie from NY, USA

As 2021 winds down, Kellie’s dedication to crisis intervention has only increased as she approaches her one-year milestone since becoming a certified responder with IMAlive in January. Resolved to put the qualities of “a lot of empathy” and “the ability to hold space for people” to positive use, Kellie wanted to volunteer for a crisis service because she understands oftentimes “people don’t talk about their mental health struggles … and many have them” and need that empathetic space to find support. Supervisors praise Kellie’s combination of competency of skill and genuine thoughtfulness when she engages with people in crisis; her well-thought-out reflections about their unique struggles and the pain they feel have a way of consistently creating deeper connections that draw out details that shine a light on hope. Confident in her ability to help, and with a will and enthusiasm about doing so that shows in her unending empathy, readiness to face any crisis head-on with the chatter, and an unflappably positive attitude that always seeks the silver lining even in difficult situations, Kellie rarely needs assistance, but welcomes any thoughts offered in the service of the person struggling in that moment to stay safe. Unafraid to ask for help on those occasions she does need it, Kellie proactively works to improve her abilities by honestly acknowledging individual limits and openly searching for ways to improve. Kellie, you are a pleasure to have on the team, and we are overjoyed to honor you as a Volunteer of the Month!

Volunteer’s of the Month – *October* Jennifer and Elaine

Jennifer from New York, USA

Jennifer completed certification as a crisis responder and joined the IMAlive team in February of 2017 via a Random Acts sponsorship. Rooting her crisis response skills in an “ability to relate to people from all walks of life,” and nourishing those skills over the years with a desire to “improve upon my ability to help others,” since that time she has shared over 960 hours with our chatters – that’s hundreds of lives touched, heard, and helped to keep hope in bloom. Supervisors praise Jennifer’s cool and collected demeanor; she shows empathy and remains calm even in stressful situations in order to stay focused on the person on the other side of the screen who needs help. Supervisors say she knows her stuff when it comes to crisis intervention skills, always going with the flow, and using the ebb and tide inherent in conversations to facilitate finding constructive outcomes for chatters. Pleasant company on any shift team for her motivation and compassion, she works hard to help every person in crisis she connects to while maintaining good communication with her supervisors and asking questions when in doubt. She also possesses the confidence to advocate for different approaches and her perspective on a situation as she hears it and sticks up for what she thinks is a good way in circumstances where she believes it will benefit the ultimate goal of a chatter’s safety. Jennifer – your dedication to volunteering truly shines on every shift! Congrats on being named a Volunteer of the Month!

Elaine From Java, Indonesia

A Random Acts training sponsee, Elaine just celebrated her 1 year milestone with IMAlive, having given over 200 hours so far to supporting people in crisis since November of 2020. Self-assured, inquisitive, and grounded are just three of the qualities Elaine brings to the table; add to these a natural empathy and openness, and you have not only a skilled crisis responder able to engage chatters where they are in their life at that moment they reach out to us to help them to identify means to cope safely through their current crisis, but also a volunteer who embraces feedback from supervisors during shift and folds it into her own style in an effort to continue to grow and learn and build upon the basic fundamentals of crisis intervention. Supervisors remark that in their interactions with Elaine it’s evident she cares deeply about the work she does, and that warmth and compassion resonate in the rapport she fosters with her chatters. Recently, with mere minutes to go before a 4 hour long window of connecting with chatters seeking support was set to close for her shift, Elaine did not hesitate to take a last late chat that appeared; she let her supervisor know she was prepared to stay with that person who desperately needed space to vent their struggles, and she made certain they got that chance, concluding shift and the chat in a meaningful final hour. It struck her supervisor then – as it does all of us on the IMAlive team – how entirely natural it is for Elaine to surrender parts of her time and herself to help when it is needed most. Elaine – for your selfless service in the work of helping others through their most critical moments we are pleased to recognize you as a Volunteer of the Month! 

Volunteer’s of the Month – *September* Brooke and Jennifer

Brooke S. From Ontario, Canada

Brooke hit the crisis response ground running, bounding from training into live shifts in September of 2020 and bringing along a bubbly personality, persevering energy, and a deep empathy for others to each and every IMAlive shift take. A self-described “people person through and through,” Brooke’s care and desire to help shines both in her interactions with those who come to us in crisis seeking help and in the background of shifts in conversations with her supervisors. Her intention in aligning with the organization is one shared by so many of our volunteers, “…to be a light to anyone who is suffering,” and to do so by showing them understanding through active listening, engaging in safety planning, and by extension helping them to see a perspective where people do care and there is hope for better days to come. Supervisors appreciate Brooke’s cheerfulness and describe her as a joy on shift. A positive attitude and presence is only half of it, and she rounds out the rest with a capable skillset and ability to clearly communicate even under challenging circumstances. She has a great grasp of what to expect of herself with regards to handling chats, and never hesitates to seek a second set of eyes on a chatter’s situation to be sure she’s covered all the bases. Her style of chatting is simultaneously pragmatic and warm. She also doesn’t gloss over painful aspects of what is going, which is something a person in crisis may not have experienced from their existing supports who perhaps led them to feel their problems were being diminished. This willingness to embrace their pain quickly gets most chatters feeling like they have a down to earth and understanding ally who wants to support them, isn’t afraid to honestly talk about tough topics, and who is more than willing to work with them as they find solutions to stay safe. Brooke, for your outstanding contribution to the IMAlive team, we are overjoyed to honor you as a Volunteer of the Month!


Jennifer D. from Georgia, USA

Jennifer joined the IMAlive crew in August of 2020, with a desire to serve as a volunteer founded on two beliefs: That “each of us should give of ourselves to others and that we are enriched by doing so,” and “that volunteering will help me become an even more empathetic and understanding person.” It’s evident Jennifer approaches each shift and each chatter with an open heart, a willingness, and the crisis response skills to offer them support, and these two beliefs resounding behind every heartbeat and thoughtfully written reply sent out in pursuit of establishing that support and affirm a sense of hope for them to safely overcome and navigate the crisis at hand. Supervisors praise her positive attitude and an ability to give 100% to a person in crisis in every chat, no matter the challenges they face, or how their challenges may in turn challenge the empathy experienced as a responder. Jennifer is a great communicator on shift, never hesitating to ask for help in being the best helper to the person in crisis, and exuding patience for the person to whom she is connected to, and also for herself as she works through the oft complex – and changeable based on the individual in need – a process of crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Thank you, Jennifer, for your steadfast service to others and for continuing to grow with us to best assist our chatters in crisis! Congratulations on being a Volunteer of the Month!

Permanence

As I write this, the headlines of the news in recent weeks have talked about climate change, the evolving and adapting virus, the rise and fall of the stock market, and so many other changes occurring every day.  Social media is an overwhelming cascade of change highlighting new jobs, births, engagements, marriages, divorces, new homes, deaths, and everything in between.  Despite the constant swirl of the world around us, we often think of our own situations, particularly our mental health or state of being as permanent.  

The definition of permanence is “the state or quality of lasting or remaining unchanged indefinitely”. Even though we intuitively accept that every day is a new day and SOMETHING has changed, we often struggle to accept that the change of the day, the hour, the week, the minute, or even the year can bring something new for us.  Yes, things are changing for other people, yes, their worlds are evolving and often getting better but that doesn’t apply to us.

In this frozen state of perpetuity, people in crisis adopt the language that comes with permanence…a language of absolutes and finality. 

“NOTHING will EVER change.”

“It’s ALWAYS been this way.”

“It DOESN’T matter.  It WON’T EVER help.”

“That has NEVER worked.”  

“I’m going to feel like this FOREVER.”

The absolute statements and the thought patterns that accompany them leave no room for movement, progress, or hope. This state of darkness often becomes a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.  The lack of belief in a solution, often causes that solution to fail, and that failure only reinforces the thoughts that NOTHING WILL EVER HELP ME!

The work of the volunteers at IMAlive is to try and help people in crisis find that small crack where some light can come in and disrupt the darkness.  If even a small bit of light can pass through it helps to lift the illusion of permanence and starts to reopen the realm of possibility.  

Put another way, the goal of an interaction with a person in crisis is to agree on MAYBE.  

MAYBE writing in a journal didn’t help yesterday, but it might today.

MAYBE talking to my mom will help this time.

MAYBE if I take a walk I will feel a little bit better.

MAYBE the coping techniques I used to use would be helpful here.

Personally, I have experienced the state and language of permanence as both the person in crisis and as the guide or companion on the journey back to MAYBE.  Sometimes when darkness closed in on me and my own mental health struggles threatened to overwhelm me, I used a coping technique that pictured my heartbeat as a flash of light.  (If you’ve ever seen the movie ET, it’s like when ETs heart lights up, only a bit smaller to begin.). I try to picture the light growing stronger and moving through my body a little bit more with each heartbeat. If my thoughts intruded or moved back towards a state of NEVER, the heartbeat might reset to just a little blip in the dark, but as long as it was there MAYBE was a possibility, change was a possibility, and it could help battle the darkness with me.  

The technique that someone chooses isn’t important, what is important is moving from the frozen state of permanence and darkness into a place where some change, any change, is possible. Realizing that the change of the clock, the change of the seasons, the changes in the world can signify change for us as well.  

I’m not sure that this post will ever help anyone or that anything will change…but I like to believe that MAYBE it will and sometimes MAYBE is good enough.

From Both Sides

  Crisis Intervention is about encouraging individuals to take small steps towards a lighter, brighter future – to reach out to someone they love, make an appointment with a doctor, or simply take a walk. But what about problems that cannot be fixed? How do you solve a pandemic, or grief, or the new painful knowledge that life is fundamentally unpredictable? 

      This past Septmber was World Suicide Prevention Month. Talking about depression and suicide, we seek to take away the stigma of talking about suicide and to encourage people to reach out for help. But accessing this help is often an uphill battle. For some, therapy may be unaffordable, or not an option on insurance, or something they can only access after getting to the top of a six months’ waiting list. 

Here is a conundrum: how to work with individuals to get the best from themselves, to reach forward and take a tiny step towards some kind of better future in a world where there may be little support, financial stability, or hope that things will get much better. We want to help people. People want to help themselves. We must seek to find the balance between helping people to feel better in their own lives with the resources they have available, and fighting against the poverty and discrimination that causes so much anguish and suffering in the first place.     

        No one is safe from depression, just like no one is safe from cancer or breaking a leg. But prolonged exposure to intense stress – the kind of stress that comes from worrying about whether you will have enough money to feed your kids and pay medical bills, the kind of stress that comes from trying to judge if you will be safe walking down the street when you can see a police car – increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Individuals are more likely to thrive when they feel safe, connected to others, and hopeful about the future.       

     Without a bedrock of safety, mental health is under strain. According to statistics, LGBTQ+ teens are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non LGBTQ+ identifying teens. According to the British organization Mental Health Foundation, the poorest children and adults (those in the lowest 20% income bracket) are two to three times more likely to develop health problems than those in the highest. The Washington Post reported early this year that anxiety and depression among Black Americans after George Floyd was killed by police officers. 

It can feel overwhelming to think about just how much the world needs changing and how on Earth we can begin to do that. I still feel continuously flummoxed when I think about how unfair the world is. How are people supposed to get on with their lives when life keeps beating them down? What can they do about it? And what good is telling someone who’s lost everything to try and take better care of themselves? 

          These things are all true. Most of the time we can’t fix things. Perhaps we can take tiny steps to feel a little better. Cuddling your cat or taking a walk isn’t going to save the world, but it may make someone feel a little better – enough to get them through to tomorrow, and then hopefully the next day, and then the next. We can look for ways to be kind to ourselves, and to be kind to others. We can nurture what gives us meaning: friendships, relationships, hobbies, anything that makes us sparkle. But ultimately, for individuals to flourish, we need a society where we have a support net. Where getting sick doesn’t mean bankruptcy. Where individuals don’t face discrimination and hate crime. To make people feel better, we need to make the world better. And, perhaps, the opposite is also true – to give people the strength to fight for the world we want, we have to look for small ways we can feel better. However, focusing on individual resilience is not enough. We also need to understand depression and suicide as a symptom of discrimination, poverty or the extreme day-to-day stress that come with worrying about survival as whole. Mental health is an individual, societal, and ultimately, a global endeavor. Let’s start now.

Volunteer’s of the Month – *August* – Gwen and Luyolo

Gwen from Maryland, USA

Gwen began her volunteer tenure at IMAlive in August of 2017, coming to us as a self-described “patient listener” who “allows people to express everything they need to.” In that open-hearted endeavor to give people in crisis the space to truly be heard as they seek safety from suicide and support through their crisis, she has shared 800 hours of time, her bottomless well of empathy, and an ever optimistic attitude to touch many lives with a measure of hope during their most painful hour. Gwen’s strength as a crisis responder stems from her understanding of herself as “very perceptive” and possessing a natural ability to “quickly analyze and pinpoint core issues during a moment of crisis in order to begin the process of working towards the best solution.” This description may sound overtly analytical, however it is merely the stalk upon which Gwen’s empathy toward others blossoms. Identifying and encouraging a person to speak about those issues most contributing to their pain, gaining understanding and reflecting perspective while highlighting those shimmers of hope she hears in what they are saying and their situation, lets Gwen and the person she is connected to naturally come to a place where the focus shifts from their pain to how to safely help them survive what is happening. Supervisors agree Gwen absolutely shines during shifts. Each chat in which she is a part is played to the chest, but once it’s over her perspective is bright and positive, always looking forward to the future and the next person she can help. Over and over supervisors observe that sunny disposition shed light in the darkest of crises and assist the person toward embracing the resilience and hope they have within their reach. Gwen, we are so very glad the flower of you and all you have to offer has come to bloom here with IMAlive, and are happy to honor you as a Volunteer of the Month!

Luyolo from South Africa

With the kindness to “offer my time and compassion” in the service of helping others who face life’s challenges, in search only of “the satisfaction of being part of something worthwhile and possibly contributing to someone’s life,” Luyolo joined our team in December of 2020. During the application process for becoming a certified crisis responder, asked of her interest in pursing what can be difficult and challenging position, Luyolo explained that: “A friend says I ‘have a way of looking at things’ and ‘the gift of listening and advising based on who the other person is and their situation rather than expecting them to do what I would do in their situation.’” In saying so, and with simple eloquence, she hit upon the very heart of what it is to be a crisis responder. Supervisors agree the empathy integral to crisis work she embodies make her a joy and asset on shift. She shows a deep compassion and understanding of people and has a way of communicating that makes them feel heard but also highlights the hidden hopes and optimism in their situation and encourages them to look at their challenge(s) differently or to look at other options to overcome them. Luyolo’s determination often means her chats can go a little longer, with the extra time taken spent really thinking through and effectively wording responses in an effort tofind the smallest things that can make the start of a huge change in someone’s life, and to then express those details in a way that deepens the chatter’s connection to the process. Virtually standing in the shoes of the person in crisis, she sees past their pain to where a reachable goal can be found. Speaking of shoes, in downtime the topic of footwear is a favorite; although it might seem pretty far away from assisting another person to find their way in life, it’s not so far at all if you consider this: Walking your own path in life is so important and hard enough as it is, why not wear the right shoes for such a big occasion? With sincerest thanks for walking your path with IMAlive during this past year, we congratulate you on being a Volunteer of the Month, Luyolo!

Fear of a Name Increases Fear of the Thing Itself

SUICIDE – the scary word that seems to be hard, awkward, and taboo to talk about but why? Why are people scared to bring up suicide and why are others scared to have it brought up to them? Is it because talking about it makes it seem more real? Or is it because we are genuinely afraid that talking about it will increase somebody’s chance of dying by suicide? Regardless of the reason, we don’t talk about it when the reality is, we need to! Suicide is not and should never be a subject to shy away from. 

I often think what society would be like if we discussed suicide openly. Sometimes I reflect on my younger days and ask myself: What would have happened if I was able to open up about my suicidal feelings earlier? What if instead of suicide being taboo, suicide was openly discussed – where would I be now? What if, instead of being terrified to confide in somebody, I was repeatedly met with open arms and ears? What if I didn’t even need to bring it up to somebody- what if somebody asked me how I was doing and if I was feeling suicidal? What if suicide was a part of our daily conversations?

Let’s take a moment to think about what those struggling with suicidal thoughts may need: A hug? A place to lie their head? Somebody to listen? Somebody to believe them? Somebody who will take the time and be there? People who are thinking of suicide are not looking for you to solve all of their problems; they want somebody to hear them out and believe them—somebody who is open to listening, caring, and not being judgmental. 

Now, let’s think about what people who are having suicidal thoughts maybe don’t need: Somebody ignoring them? Downplaying their feelings? Somebody timid to discuss because they may think it will increase the risk of dying suicide (a myth, by the way..)? Somebody thinking it is an act of seeking attention? Somebody changing the subject because they find suicide too uncomfortable to talk about?

What if instead of trying to avoid discussing suicide – we went all in. We asked the person what they needed. We were supportive and assisted in finding further support. What if we were always ready to listen to or hold the person. What if we all realized, that talking openly about suicide does not increase somebody’s risk of dying from suicide. What if we realized that having conversations about suicide may relieve somebody’s pain, validate their overwhelming feelings and prove they are not battling their pain alone? There’s a strong power in that. 

When I reflect back, I always wish I had ONE person to truly listen and hear me out, without judgment or disbelief. Somebody who realized I was not reaching out for help for attention, I was reaching out because I needed support and somebody to be there, listen and believe these awful feelings I was having. I needed somebody to validate my feelings and be a rock when everything seemed to be going wrong. What if you were that person for somebody else?

I understand that suicide will not magically be a causal conversation had today, tomorrow, or next week for everybody, but with time, openness and empathy, suicide can be a normal, everyday conversation. And that starts with all of us. It’s going to take time, effort, commitment, non-judgemental spaces, but it can happen. Think back to what was a taboo conversation, five or ten years ago: Sex? Sexuality? Racism? Politics? Global warming? As we start talking openly about other areas of the world and our lives – let’s add suicide to the list! 

After all, is it really a “tough” conversation worth having if it saves a life?

Volunteer’s of the Month – *July* Komal and Veronica

Komal from California

Komal stepped into the role of Alex beginning in January of this year. Nurturing the belief that everyone “deserves a chance for their thoughts and feelings to be heard,” Komal has done just that and more to this date by dedicating nearly 300 hours to talking with those struggling who reach out to IMAlive. In demonstrating deep understanding via active listening for their experience, feelings, and unique needs, she guides those seeking help through the process of identifying options for hope and support, empowering them to create a plan to get through their crisis. Supervisors note Komal is a winner of a responder when it comes to that balance of being able to stay true to a solid set of skills, her overall dependability, the seriousness with which she commits her attention to each chatter to give them her all, and her ability to stick to the fundamental structure of crisis response while working toward an actionable safe plan or steps available to the person in crisis. She has a way of getting directly to the heart of a person’s struggle, both quickly creating a space where they feel understood in a way they maybe haven’t been before, and also helping those who feel lost or confused clarify to themselves the reason or reasons for feeling the way they do as a step toward finding hopeful solutions. Komal navigates even tough situations with an element of calm, acting as an empathetic anchor in the storm of crisis where the person seeking support can find respite and hope as they gather courage and resources to keep fighting on. She never hesitates to ask a question of the supervisor or reach out to brainstorm ideas to foster the best outcome for a person in crisis. Komal, you are a genuine pleasure to have on the IMAlive team, and an asset to our chatters – congratulations on being named a Volunteer of the Month!

Veronica from Illinois

January of 2021 saw another all star Alex join the IMAlive team; volunteering an amazing 200 hours and counting so far this year, Veronica’s easy going nature, ability to confidently and independently engage people in crisis with her empathy and crisis response skills to address any situation they face, and go get ‘em attitude mean she’s always alert, ready, and eager to help, and is often the first to pick up a chat on a shift and the last to leave in her perseverance toward our mission of suicide prevention and crisis intervention. Supervisors agree that whenever she is on the shift roster, they know the people in crisis with whom she interacts with that day will be in capable and caring hands. Veronica stands out as a solid and dependable volunteer; ever in-tune with a person’s feelings and needs, she knows just what to say to keep them talking and where to go next in the conversation in order to explore every avenue of their situation and past and future resources, ultimately relaying that framework of perspective effectively to guide them toward a plan to get through their crisis whilst staying from suicide. Universally appreciated by supervisors as a delightfully affable volunteer in their interactions with her, Veronica’s happiness and optimism even when faced with her own life challenges and stressors behind the scenes is contagious. Veronica, we thank you for all you’ve done and all you will do as Alex and beyond, and are happy to honor you as a Volunteer of the Month!

Bad, Bad Times & How It Got Better Again

     I still remember the summer my life fell apart. 

       I’d been living away from my home, the UK, to teach in South Korea for about a year. My fiancé was about to move in and I was ready for another spectacular Korean summer: day-drinking, sight-seeing, and the kind of luscious heat we never get in the UK. Other people hate it, but it makes me feel like I’m living a perpetual holiday. Then my dad called me up, crying.
        ‘Your Nan is dying,’ he said. ‘You need to come home.’ 

         About a month later, my friend called me to tell me that another friend – a friend we both loved, the kind of person you never want to stop writing about – had killed himself. 

        I thought she’d have happy news – the kind of wonderful news that’s so special you have to call in the middle of the night, as soon as you can. Maybe she was getting married or had a new job. What a terrible cold shock it was to find out, out of nowhere, that someone we both loved so much was gone forever. Two people I loved had died in a very short space of time. 

With my friend, it took me a while to understand what she was saying. Then I sat very still and said nothing for a long time. In my memory, we were sitting up late, laughing about something I couldn’t remember but……  what happened to that happy ending? What about all the other things I was forgetting? I wondered how he had died. Probably alone, maybe frightened. I couldn’t bear to think about it, but it was all I could think about. 

I didn’t want to go out anymore. I burst into tears for no reason. I just wanted to stay home and try to hold all my thoughts together. Around the same time, my fiancé moved in. This was something we’d been very excited about but the housing we’d been expecting fell through and we ended up in a tiny damp apartment. The shower didn’t work. We were trying to organise a wedding. It felt like a lot of people thought the wedding was a bad idea. 

           A lot of bad things were happening at once. 

           I thought I was going crazy. I was not a lot of fun to be around. I cried and stared into space a lot. If my fiancé was a little late, I thought about all the reasons something might’ve happened to him and he might actually be dead. I texted him a lot. I was easily hurt. I found it hard to go to work and carry on being aggressively enthusiastic to my students. I was too embarrassed to call up my parents and tell them that my life was falling apart. It was very hard to try and explain this all over the phone to my friends back home – I didn’t know how to make sense of it. I didn’t recognise myself anymore. I was hurting so much but I couldn’t begin to explain it. 

  But I got better. 

  A lot of time in the media,  we only see the unhappy ending. We hear a lot about people dying but we don’t hear much about people getting better. If you’re hurting, it’s important to know that things can and do get better. Sometimes I felt like I was radiating pain and sadness and it’s hard to know where to begin. 

Firstly, I think going to therapy was the first step I took in getting better. I didn’t want to go to therapy or, more honestly, I didn’t want to pay for it. After all, part of the reason I was stressed was because we were already strapped financially. HOW WAS SPENDING MORE MONEY EVER GOING TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER? When a family member was depressed, she was told she didn’t have real problems and she should cheer up. Did I even have real problems? Even if I did, what was the point in talking about it? He was dead, and no matter what I said that was never going to change. But I got to a point that I was desperate enough to try anything. 

So I forked over the cash and met a lady who told me that if I wanted the grief to get better, I needed to talk to my friends about it. I was aghast. Wasn’t that the whole point in paying her? So she had to sit there and listen to my slow, meandering, incoherent ramblings about all the things that were too late to change? Now she was telling me to talk about it to someone else? Didn’t she understand that when I talked about it, it was like there were glass shards choking up my throat? 

However, looking back, she was probably right. Therapy is helpful for different people for different reasons – the main way my therapist helped me was reassuring me I actually wasn’t crazy and there was nothing wrong with me.

Something detrimental that I’ll always contribute to my healing was my wonderfully supportive group of friends. When our shower didn’t work, I spent nearly three months showering at my friends’ house. They never minded. In fact,  they showered me in love and support, accepted my random bouts of tears, kept inviting me even when I had very little to say. They sat and listened to me even when I was mostly repeating myself. When my Nan died, they had me over for dinner every day of the week. They helped me work through things and sometimes, they just sat with me. They made a huge amount of difference. 

In our crisis chats, a theme that comes up time and time again is the importance of friends. It can make an incredible difference to someone who is really hurting,  if they have someone they can talk to about it and if they feel like someone cares about them. That was definitely true for me. 

You wouldn’t think but moving out of my subpar apartment was a relief to my suffering mental health. Wow, what a difference! To be in a light open mould-free space! To have a shower that worked! To unpack my stuff and not be wearing the same three dresses over and over again! Your environment can have a staggering impact on your mental health. And now we had the internet in our new apartment, which led to-

Taking classes to learn Korean….Yes, this might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about feeling better again but taking small steps working towards something that was important to me and slowly getting better at it, made me feel like things were possible again. It made me feel smart again and more like myself.  Sometimes, we expect to be disappointed but if we take a chance, things can go better than we ever imagined possible. Being good at something made me feel like my life was less of a train-wreck. 

Lastly, volunteering. Sometimes when we feel powerless and overwhelmed by all the things that can go wrong every day, it can be hard to know where to start. Volunteering made me feel like I was doing a small part to make the world better.  I was proud of myself again. It was a huge boost to my mental health feeling like I could make a change in the world. 

Time passed. I still missed my friend every day, but things were getting better. I started enjoying things again and as time went on I realised a lot of the things I’d been completely certain of were just not true. I wasn’t a boring miserable person who was never going to be happy again – I had just loved two people I loved in a short time and life was different now. I was not paranoid and crazy – I just couldn’t bear the thought of losing anyone else and therapy helped me realise that most of the time, the worst thing didn’t happen. I actually enjoyed going out and seeing my friends and trying new things – there had just been a time I needed to tread slowly for a while but it didn’t last forever. 

What I’m trying to say is things get better. Sometimes in ways you never would have expected.  The same things don’t always work for everyone but it’s more important that we be kind to them and to ourselves this year.

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