My hand shook as I picked up the receiver for the first time. My heart bashed against my rib cage. Even the most experienced Life Line telephone counsellor will tell you that every call is an unknown, and the anticipation before each call is almost the hardest part. Who is calling? Will I be able to help?
Two minutes into the conversation, however, my heart rate slowed. I sat back in my chair, and at once, all my training, the notes I had taken, the fears I had had subsided, and I glided through the call. I was at one with the caller – hanging on every word, and knowing when to interject, focus the call, and politely point out contradictions the caller was not seeing.
After 26 minutes, I sat back, and breathed deeply. My first call had been answered. The caller had left with a thank you, and praise, and I felt content. As I suspected, I realised I love counselling.
The following three calls were “Unwelcome calls” – abusive, unwanted. I had been most afraid of these calls, and yet my body didn’t respond as I thought it would…I remained calm. Two significant hurdles crossed.
The rest of the calls were from people living alone, possibly with a mental illness, just needing to connect with humanity. These too are crisis calls.
Forever an “Agony Aunt”, as my dad would say, I have always loved to listen to people, and be with them and their concerns. People interest me. As a kid, I would be caught out for staring at older children, watching their interactions. I was 6, I think, when a 12-year-old came towards me in the bus queue and threatened to bash my head in because I was staring. It wasn’t malicious…I was genuinely interested in her, and all her subtleties. And my favourite thing in the world is sitting down with a friend, hearing her out. My door is always open, and my kettle freshly boiled.
As I plug my way through a long and arduous psychology degree, tonight I remember why. I think of people like our dear friend Heidi who so tragically ended her life last year, and I realise how important it is that there are people who will answer a phone to someone who is needing help.
Today feels like I reached a milestone.