It Took Me 43 Seconds to Hang up on a Suicide Prevention Hotline

Illustration for article titled It Took Me 43 Seconds to Hang up on a Suicide Prevention Hotline

Last night was the first time I’ve ever called a suicide prevention hotline.

At some point around 2:00 a.m., the chorus of, “Just kill yourself, just kill yourself, just kill yourself, just kill yourself, just kill yourself,” had grown loud enough to drown out my hastily muttered mantras and the white noise app on my phone. Meditation and refocusing and wise mind were well beyond reach—each of the tools I’d carefully cultivated to deal specifically with this exact worst-case scenario seemed woefully inadequate bordering on ridiculous. “I am loved, I am valuable, I am safe,” began to mimic the futility of taunting a tsunami.


I’ve struggled with anxiety and major depression for most of my adult life. I’ve occasionally been medicated, but rarely with any success. I’ve fidgeted on bad and worse therapists’ couches and have several times considered voluntary in-patient treatment. Self-medication, generally, has been the only beacon of light, albeit fluorescent and shitty, in a decade of relentlessly dark self-loathing. I won’t say alcohol has made it better, but it’s often given me a measure of peaceful forgetfulness.

But I’ve never tried to kill myself. I’ve never really wanted to—it seems like a lot of work, to be honest. For the most part, my depression has managed to function like a hybrid form of fibromyalgia mixed with chronic fatigue. In the worst moments of my illness, I lack energy, willpower, and the seemingly simple ability to recall hope. My body hurts. I get sick. I sleep for hours upon end, waking at odd moments to gaze at a clock that no longer holds much meaning, before rolling over again and retreating into an abyss of my own making.


So it was with great surprise that I stared, furiously awake, at the ceiling of my new apartment in a new city at such an unreasonable hour. This was not the devil I knew. This was a new and improved star of the morning, with greater arts of persuasion, a backup chorus, and an ill-timed dearth of alcohol on hand. Just kill yourself, just kill yourself, just kill yourself.

At first google, there are an overwhelming number of hotlines from which to choose. It feels like walking into Costco in the middle of summer—it’s air conditioned, but there are so many fucking people trying to buy fans you can’t even breathe. And the language is so precise. Prevention, crisis, distress. It’s impossible to differentiate between services when the guided nomenclature is all the same.


I went with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, mostly because it was the first result, but also because it sounded vaguely familiar, like Rita Ora.

And here’s where things went a little sideways. First, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is clearly federally-funded because they mention veterans and the option to opt into Spanish at least three times in the first thirty seconds. Which is perfectly fine and wonderful, but also I don’t speak Spanish, nor have I served in combat, so once seems like enough? More than once seems accusatory.“Don’t you care about our country and our way of life and our freedom?” “You’re such a typical lazy American, you only speak one language, and it’s Spanish for fucks sake, you took that in high school.” It’s impersonal and automated and it basically sounds like you’re calling the DMV, which is enough to really make you double down on just shooting yourself already.


And then... there’s this clicking noise while you’re on hold. The only thing I could equate it with is the sound a wind up set of teeth make as they clack across the linoleum in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. It’s awful. I actually held out my phone and stared at it, hoping I had bypassed depression and moved straight into hallucination.

So I hung up and was saved. The clicking and federally-funded bureaucracy had done what all my mantras and my emotion identification and my deep breathing had failed to do. It had fulfilled its purpose—it annoyed me into life.

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