Have You Ever Talked A Jumper Down from Her Ledge?
May is Mental Health Month and I have been tweeting(#mhm) various article links to raise awareness. Today, the American Psychological Association is hosting a blog day(#mhblogday). The following post has been written, in part to support this effort.
I have a dear friend from college who suffers from debilitating schizoaffective disorder. We had developed a fast but close bond during undergrad but by the end of our Sophomore year she was gone. Years later, I learned why. Many years after that we reconnected after having fallen out of touch. Though many states separates us, we generally talk about once a week so I was not surprised when I received a call from her. Unfortunately, I was not fully prepared. The drama of a person standing on the ledge of a skyscraper contemplating suicide is often too compelling for Hollywood to pass up, but I suggest in our daily lives, we might find someone on a ledge. While there is no skyscraper and imminent danger may not be immediately apparent to us, how we choose to respond to our own person on the ledge may be just as important as the Hollywood hero called upon to save the day.
I had talked my friend, Mia (not her real name) through an emotionally trying event in the past, but the following are a series of email to cell phone messages I received a mere week ago and the ensuing phone call. Unfortunately, I didn’t read the first message before I called Mia back. I wish that I had.
May 8 10:12 pm
Howdy...how r u ???...hope u r well...thanx 4 calling earlier...sorry I missed u...when r u headed 2 boston???...I wish u safe travels...I do not want 2 burden u anymore than I already have...I don't know who else 2 turn 2...I cannot even think of any crisis helplines right now...I suppose I should have something in my contacts list...I have been trying 2 put up a fight 4 a while now...I feel like a nervous breakdown has been looming on the horizon 4 quite some time now...the walls r closing n...I don't know what 2 do...I am trying 2 hang n there...I am n the middle of a panic attack/losing my mind right now...I cannot remember any coping skills...all elements r pulling at me from every direction...I don't want 2 go 2 the hospital...my roommate is such an ass...he has no idea what I endure on a daily basis...he thinx I am selfish and all I do is lay around all the time...I refuse 2 attempt 2 explain my plight 2 him...over the years he has stated that I am not crazy..
Here’s a little background. For the past two months, Mia has been living far away from her home. She’s staying with a former roommate and paying him rent on a weekly basis. Sadly, she made no provisions with her doctors before leaving town to have extra prescriptions to refill once she finished off the first bottle. We had been playing phone tag. This message began very casually but you can quickly see that she has fallen into a crisis by the end. Mia has become more and more decompensated. The simplest of task, such as looking up a telephone number has become overwhelming to her. She can’t remember any coping skills because she’s been without group or individual therapy for over two months (some but not all of this is through no fault of her own) and without medicine (which she only takes sporadically) for nearly a month and one half. Why doesn’t Mia want to go to the hospital? In all honesty, on this day, Mia doesn’t really have the ability to make a rational decision. Oblivious to the contents of this message, I return her on call and we connect.
After some small talk and lots of apologizing she becomes more forthright, “I just don’t know if I care enough to stay here. I’m just so tired and I can’t seem to do anything.”
“But you can’t just wait to die. You have to decide you are going to take care of you. There are things that you know to do but you refuse to do them.” I was doing exactly the wrong thing and I knew it. You cannot get angry with someone who is suicidal. You must show empathy and compassion. I believed her threats were real. From our conversation, I knew she didn’t have a real plan at the moment but she had attempted suicide in the past and she had access to knives and prescription drugs in her current home. Mentally, I backed up and looked down at the notes on how to talk to a suicidal person that I had pulled up from a website as we were talking.
“I know you are tired. I know you are so very tired. But I need you to try.”
The tears began to fall. I was crying and then she began to cry.
“But I don’t want you to die Mia. I hate so much that you have to live with this much pain. I need you to just focus, focus on breathing. Just think about that. I need you to try just a little bit. Try just enough so you can get some help. You can get just enough help so you can get some hope. Just focus on the breathing until you can get some hope.”
“I’m so sorry, I don’t want to burden you with all this. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to talk to someone.”
“What would be so bad about going to the hospital? At this point, that’s all you can do. We talked about DBSA (Depression-Bibolar Support Alliance) groups but that still won’t help with your meds. It definitely isn’t an option right now. If you go to the hospital, you’ll get away from your roommate (who is being so disrespectful), you’ll get back regulated on your meds, and you’ll go to group and learn some skills again.”
“You’re right. I should go to the hospital.”
I had to act quickly. I’d pulled up a website to order a cab in her city. She would not give me the house phone number. We stayed on the phone, we stayed on the phone as she cleaned herself up and packed a bag. Too much time had passed. Ultimately, I had to check on the cab. The cab had come and gone. Had the cab company really called? Did she just ignore the call waiting signal? There was nothing (productive) I could do to address that, so what now? I tried to pursued Mia to call 911 for an ambulance. She refused making excuses about “cops” and “being mean”. I was spent. It had been two hours and I’d done all that I could think of and now my anger was returning. My own drama here was not going to resolve neatly in one 42-minute-television-hour. My would-be jumper was not backing off of her ledge.
“I have to go. If you are not going to listen to me, what more can I do? I love you. I care about what happens to you. There is nothing else I can do. Take down this number, it’s for the suicide hotline. Use it when you need it. I’ll call your mother and tell her what is going on but I cannot stay on the telephone.”
“I understand. Thanks for listening as long as you did.”
I hung up the telephone and immediately called her mother, only then did I look at the clock. It was after midnight. I left a message when the voicemail ended. Then, I called the suicide prevention hotline to make sure there was nothing else I could do. The counselor on the line gave me the phone number for two mobile crisis units local to Mia. I sent those numbers to her via text message and hoped for the best.
May 9 1:06 am
U were there 4 me and u tried..that's all any1 could ask 4...thanx..I am sorry 4 being such a fuck up andburdening u...I know u have your own plights 2 deal with...I will try not 2 bother u anymore...I will try 2 get 2 the hospital on my own...I am going 2 let my phone charge a lil more...I will find a way 2 get there...I luv u very much...thanx soooooo much 4 caring
May 9 1:56 am
Thanx 4 everything...I appreciate u being there...I looked up some other cab companies after we got off phone...none were available at that time of morning...finally calmed down and stopped crying by 4a...had aterrible headache and stomach discomfort...really weak and exhausted so opted 2 lay down...fell asleep off and on til now but still tired...thanx 4 calling 2 check on me... did not hear phone ring
May 10 7:10 am
I tried 2 go 2 hospital but stayed on sofa exhausted instead...roommate forced me 2 talk about stuff whenI did not want 2...says he tried 2 understand...he could't deal with it ...I am morbid and having a pity party...told me he gets depressed 2 and wants 2 give up but he pulls self out...says I should snap out of it like it's so easy...I tried 2 tell u it was not a good idea 2 tell him anything:-(
May 10 8:56 am
I am at the hospital now...I have some battery left...not sure how long will b n ER...call me when u can
It took two exhausting days, but Mia finally got herself to the hospital. She has stepped back from the edge of her ledge but she’s struggling in this strange place of not dead but not living. I hope once Mia’s hospitalization is over, she will begin to finally accept that she has a condition for which she must take drugs and receive treatment. Depression (and the other forms of mental illness) is real. For some, it is a chronic and persistent possibly debilitating condition. There are treatments. No one should suffer in silence.