My Unforgettable Suicide Prevention Hotline Call

Before PostSecret, I was a volunteer on a national suicide prevention hotline called, Hopeline.

One Hopeline call I’ll never forget began deep in the night with a polite conversation between a young woman and me.

The early part of the call sounds like the friendly back and forth that happens during a first date.

We develop a strong rapport.

She tells me she is hurting after a recent betrayal from a friend and feels alone.

I listen.

That’s the most important thing we learned during Hopeline training:
don’t judge,
don’t try to be a problem solver.
Create a safe space where a person can feel free to say anything,
Speak with a voice of compassion, and listen.

Then she tells me, like she’s whispering it in my ear,

“I’ve been thinking about killing myself.”

Do you have a specific plan, I ask.

“Yes,” she says.

I hear her walking around her apartment.

She tells me she’s not drinking or taking meds, but her words are slurring.

Suddenly, I hear a loud thud.

I ask her about it.

She tells me she just slammed her sliding glass door shut and now she’s on her balcony, sitting on the ledge.

“How many floors up are you?”

“Seven.”

I try to keep my voice calm and reassuring,
but my vocal cords are tightening and my pulse is racing.

“Will you promise me you won’t take your life tonight?”

She doesn’t answer the question.

I write down a request for my hotline partner to call our shift supervisor and 911.

Minutes pass, and I feel like we’re making progress when suddenly she sounds scared and angry–someone’s pounding on her front door

I tell her it’s probably the police.

“I sent them to help you. Is that okay?”

She stops talking to me.

I feel like I’ve betrayed her and lost her trust,
like I’ve lost her.

My partner is in direct contact with the police, and tells me that because she isn’t opening the door, the police are going to force their way into her apartment.

I tell her what’s about to happen.

I hear them pounding . . .

I hear her sobbing . . .

I hear muffled voices that I can’t understand.

My hotline partner hands me a note that reads;

The police are in the apartment looking through a locked sliding glass door at the girl sitting on the ledge.
She’s jammed the door from the outside.
Get her to open it!

I can no longer hear anyone on the line but I start talking on faith.

“I can feel the ledge you’re sitting on because I’ve been there too.
I understand why you don’t want to unlock the door.”

I tell her about the insomnia that pushed me to plan my death.
I describe how hard it was to open up to a psychiatrist and share my secret.
I explain how I was able to find my way through the pain.
And that talking to her, right now is, part of my healing.

I tell her, “you’re saving me.”

I ask her to stand up off the ledge, and as I say it I feel myself standing up from my chair.

My partner relays the information from the police that the girl is standing too, facing them, and walking back to the glass door.

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