The other day I called a crisis line. A volunteer answered: Hi, how are you doing? How can I help you?
I sat, legs crossed on my bed in tense silence for a whole minute. Tears silently trailed down my cheeks. I thought to myself, How can I possibly talk about what I’m feeling right now? How can I share with a stranger what I can’t explain to my closest friends?
Barely audible, I whispered, I’m sorry and hung up.
I’ve been blessed with a large community. There are many people who care about me, who I know I can reach out to in times of need. But often when I do, I’m confronted by a strange feeling that I can’t express myself. There simply are not words to translate perfectly what one person feels to another. All my attempts with language feel awkward and incomplete, and I become hyper-aware of this when I feel in crisis. The inner worlds of others, even our most intimate friends, are unknowable to us, and this can be a difficult thing to accept.
I want to learn how to be more open, how to share and express parts of myself to others, but some of the most unhelpful responses I’ve had to being in crisis are when someone asks me over and over: Just tell me what you’re feeling right now?
I don’t know. I sometimes think and feel things that don’t have any rooting in reality. Fragments of thought will appear in my mind like apparitions and wreak havoc on my mental health. Articulating myself in these moments often serves to legitimize these spectres – they grow less opaque, closer to me and more ready to cause harm.
It can be hard to know how to be there for a friend who experiences something like this. I’m only speaking for myself, and each person has specific needs and ways that they process difficult feelings. Unlike me, some people are much more verbal processors who find talking to crisis lines extremely helpful.
The only overarching advice I can give is to approach a friend who is hurting with humility. Do not assume that they can’t take care of themselves. Adjust your expectations of what care looks like based on what they ask of you.
Even though I am a person who often needs space or a silent presence for getting through these feelings, I have a tendency to overcompensate when I see others hurting. I try to offer every service and fix every problem because, from a distance, another’s pain makes more sense than my own. If I can focus on fixing something for someone else, then I can avoid confronting myself.
I have found it is not helpful to approach a friend in need assuming you can fix things, or that you somehow have answers that they don’t. All that can be done is to offer your presence, offer kindness and affirmation and also trust them enough to leave them alone if they ask for it.
At a concert, the day before New Year’s Eve, overwhelmed by how impossible and hostile the future seemed, a friend offered to let me press my tear-streaked cheek onto their shoulder, staining their white shirt with my black lipstick. Their arms swaddled me in silent comfort. Later, there was follow-up, but in this moment, there was no expectation for me to explain myself. This was a moment where care was expressed in a way which felt safe for me.
Jase is a queer, non-binary student and writer who lives on Treaty 1 territory.