I’ve been a volunteer for as long as I have for a lot of different reasons. At the end of the day, my thought is that I can’t imagine not doing this. As if my life wouldn’t be as fulfilled, though I do have a life outside of IMAlive. It’s just part of my week and very much part of me; it’s the second thing that comes out of my mouth when people ask about me- “yeah, I’m suicide/crisis responder on Wednesdays.” It’d be strange if one day I wouldn’t be able to recite that line.
This line of work doesn’t come easy but I love it. It’s a morbid subject that can weigh on you heavily but it’s more rewarding than anything else I’ve done in my life. The longer I log in every week for a shift, the more I feel I’m giving back to my community and my fellow man.
The first time I logged into my computer, I was nervous and excited. That night, I was babysitting my niblings at my brother’s house. I got them to bed, closed the door, and sat awkwardly in a wheely-chair that was too short for my height. My knees ached but it didn’t matter. I remember a tingling in my spine when I greeted the supervisor and told her that it was my very first shift and how she comforted me that there was nothing to be nervous about.
It was 8pm and the chats were flying in with the constant ding! going off in the background and seeing the other volunteers grabbing them as they came in. I was surprised and the supervisor chuckled as she said that everyone fights over chats when it’s slow- I didn’t think it was slow at all. The chat that was meant for me idled on the screen as my finger twitched on the mousepad and watched as a new tab opened and the page loaded.
Before I could even greet them, the chatter barraged me with information. Their whereabouts, how life was unbearable, and how they were ready to die by suicide if I wasn’t able to help them in that instant. Seconds away from their means and somehow, Alex was the one who held the checkered flag and kept them from making that permanent choice. Thankfully, one part of my brain that held the training still functioned and responded to their urgency and cry for help. And as quickly as it started, it ended. How the last message read “it’s your fault”. Immediate tears slipped out of my eyes because it was only my first day, first shift, first chat and how I had somehow failed this person.
The supervisor tried to apologize and explain that that was not how a typical chat goes and how it rarely happens but it happened and it happened to me. The joyful but daunting sounds of incoming messages continued to go off on my computer while I practiced a grounding technique I still use to this day.. I briefly checked on my sleeping niece and nephew and came back to another message from the supervisor asking me if I was alright. Using the arm of my sweater, I wiped those premature tears away and typed “I will be. I’m ready for the next one.”
What a bittersweet feeling that was. Because the next chatter was someone I spent two hours talking to and thanked me for keeping her alive another night before closing our chat. I was amazed by the highs and lows I’d experienced in a mere two hours. Because it had started with someone who faulted me for what would inevitably happen to them next to someone who credited me for another day they got to see sunshine.
It’s been almost four years and I still remember their names, what we talked about, and closing my laptop at the end of that night. I remember being surprised at myself that I didn’t panic or quit after that first chat. I remember instinctively knowing that though the first chat was difficult, there were other people out there looking for help so of course, I was ready for another one. Of course, I wanted to be there for someone again and again. And of course, I still feel that way today.