crisis line


I don’t carry a cell phone in my pants pocket any more, unless it’s in airplane mode or turned off. Several months ago I read and agreed with Tim Ferriss in The Four Hour Body that you probably don’t want a radiation emitter cuddling with your testicles. He apparently tripled his motile sperm per ejaculate during an eleven-week program of no phone-testicle cuddling, cold treatments, and eating Brazil nuts. So I carry my cell phone in my breast pocket if I have one and in my hand if I don’t.

The problem is, I also care about my heart, lungs, muscle, bone, and lymph nodes which my cell phone is now cuddling with. And I don’t care for the phone-strapped-to-arm look. I often just keep it turned off or in airplane mode, which is fine. I don’t mind not being on call to everyone who has my phone number.

But now I am actually  and professionally on call. My work has a two-week rotation for therapists to be on call 24 hours a day for crisis intervention and I’m on until next Monday. My work cell has to be on and it has to be on my person or I will likely miss a call. So now I’m carrying two phones.

Oh, what to do?

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I’m settling in for my second shift for my university’s crisis line, and my first overnight shift. It was a beautiful day, and it was difficult to drag myself into our underground lair, but here I am until 8 tomorrow morning. It’s a pretty nice little room, painted earth tones and with lots of nice nature photography framed on the walls. I have my own bathroom, TV, computer, fridge, microwave, bed, and, of course, coffee maker. I don’t plan on drinking any coffee. If no one calls, I’d like to be able to get to sleep tonight. I’m anticipating being able to sleep fine. It’s very quiet here, and the room gets very dark with the lights off. That is, unless someone calls–the phone rings very loudly. And it’s also possible that the possibility of getting a call will keep me up–I haven’t had a call yet. We’ll see!

The first thing I do is make sure the phones are working. We have two, one for crisis calls, and one backup. I have a backup colleague and two supervisors that I can call or text if I get in over my head. I can also bring them in on a three-way call, if it seems the right thing to do. I don’t anticipate that, but it’s nice to know I can. They are all very experienced at this job.

The next thing I do is look over the call sheets since my last shift. Every call gets its own sheet. It’s been pretty slow in the last week–only a few calls. It’s tempting to think that that means it’s unlikely I’ll get a call tonight, but I have no idea. I also looked back a couple months to see if there was any easily recognizable pattern for Friday shifts, but there wasn’t. Just in our current call sheet book we have calls going back about a year, and I believe that we have sheets for many years around somewhere. This line has been running for about 40 years. (And, unfortunately, the administration is shutting us down at the end of this term, for beaurocratic reasons.) I would love to enter all this info into a stats program and look for patterns! I don’t believe I would be allowed to do that, though. There would be no way to get consent from our past “research participants.” The line is totally anonymous.

The next thing I do is look at our “regular caller” book. I didn’t know this about hotlines, but there are people who use them regularly, mostly very isolated individuals, taking advantage of a free, professinal listening service to help them deal with their troubles. Pretty smart thing to do, really. It had never occurred to me. We have extensive files on these folks, sometimes going back decades. They have “contracts,” too–agreements they’ve made with us about how often and what times they can call, because they don’t tend to be in crisis, just needing some listening. The regular caller book has all the regular caller call sheets, a record of their current contracts, and a list of their calls with how much time they have left until a certain date.

Then I wait for someone in crisis to call. We define a crisis as a situation where a person’s stress overcomes their ability to cope. This can happen a lot of different ways. Our call sheets have the following categories, in addition to “other”: academic, alcohol/drugs, anxiety (popular one), bereavement/grief (another popular one), depression (popular), domestic violence, eating disorder, harassment/descrimination, homocide, information/referral, interpersonal/relationship (popular), loneliness, medical/somatic, psychosis, sexual abuse/rape, sexual concerns, sexually exploitive (this is where a caller tries to use us as a masterbation aid), sexual orientation/gender ID, and suicide (also popular).

When someone calls, I am to go through a six-step process with them. 1) Assess for immidiate danger (“Are you in a safe place to talk?”), 2) establish communication and rapport, 3) assess the problem (keep it to one–the biggest problem–and make it specific, as vague problems are almost impossible to solve), 4) assess strengths and resources, 5) formulate a short-term (tonight) and long-term (tomorrow) plan, and 6) mobilize the client, obtaining commitment to the plan and contracting for safety if they have been thinking about suicide. Throughout the process I am to be assessing the potential for suicidality, listening for clues like “feeling overwhelmed,” “worthless”–any indication that they might be thinking about hurting themselves. If that comes up, I have another process to go to. Maybe I’ll write about that in another post.

Well, wish me luck. I’m not sure what being lucky would be. It’s easy to hope for no calls–“no news is good news,” as my dad likes to say. On the other hand, if someone is out there in trouble, I really want them to call. I’d feel lucky to get to help someone out of a jam. That’s something to know. Crisis line workers want you to call if you need help. We’re not particularly doing this for the money. I make something like $85 per shift. Not a lot.

If no one does call, I’m planning to study until I get tired and then go to bed. I’ll let you know what happens. I won’t be able to tell you the details, of course, but I can say if I got a call.

Or one in four, if you prefer a less “conservative” definition of rape.

I learned this in my training for the University of Oregon Crisis Hotline. It makes me sick. The statistics are from the US Department of Justice. Here are three others, from the USDJ as reported in my training manual:

80-90% of these rape victims know the perpetrator.

Though it meets the legal definition (basically, forced sexual intercourse, vaginal, anal, or oral, with a body part or object, though it varies some by state) half of rape survivors do not label their experience rape.

Less than 5% of rapes are reported.

My parents forwarded me an email from a family friend, Lauren (musician and poet), who is going off email for six months. She’s concerned about distraction (including in her email the quote “It’s commonly believed and understood that it takes about 4 minutes to recover from any interruption. If the computer dings at you and you look 30 times, that’s 120 minutes of recovery time. That’s the crisis.” —Marsha Egan, Author of Inbox Detox), concern over what seems like addictive behavior, valuing face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice communication, and this article about a study which found that emailing reduced productivity more than pot.

She had a series of questions about it email and her project, which I answered. By email. I think she’s starting on April 14, but if she’s already started,she can read my answers in six months.

1.     How many times a day do you check your email?
I don’t know. It varies between one and many–20?–depending on the style of my day. There have been days that I don’t check–camping, procrastinating. If I need to concentrate, I do not check email or even keep a browser open until I’m done.
 
2.     How many times a day do you send or receive a text?
Zero. I sent one text in my life, just to try it out, and I strongly encourage my friends not to text me. It doesn’t appeal to me. I’m also vaguely offended by the use of “text” as a verb.
 
3.     Have you ever had a miscommunication via email or text?
Yep, at least a few. It took a while to realize that the pragmatic (i.e. non-verbal) context of communication really does not come across in email.
 
4.     Do you feel anxious over the thought of not having email for
six months? Do you feel anything negative at all? Happy? Just tell me
how you think you would feel.
Hmm. It would be tough. First of all, I’m in grad school and email is how all of my profs and peers communicate important info. We often get our reading over email, and turn in our papers, too. Second, I’m in a long distance relationship, and email is helpful in keeping a sense of connection. We depend mostly on Skype, which is allowed in your plan, but I wouldn’t want to give up email before Reanna and I are living in the same house. Plus, she emails me mp3s of her reading articles I’ve been assigned, so I can “read” while cleaning my kitchen. Plus, she edits my writing over email. Third, I’m so busy that losing the super quick, no-strings-attached communication ability would mean isolating myself even more from my geographically dispersed family and community. Last, as I understand it you are going off of Facebook, blogging, texting, messaging, and chatting as well as email. That all sounds fine except for blogging. I’m pretty attached to my blog. It’s my most consistent form of creative expression these days.
 
On the other hand, I feel relieved and relaxed when the power goes out, and a big part of that is losing the computer. I went to a lecture years ago by a woman whose name I can’t remember who said “You’re not ‘connected,’ you’re ‘tethered.’ She recommended taking vacations from the leash–phone included. That appeals to me. When I climbed Mt. Whitney, ten years ago, two behaviors really confused me, seeming to miss the point: At the summit, a few people lit up a cigarette and many people immediately called home. It seemed like in sharing their moment they were also missing it. At least they weren’t texting, I guess.
 
 5.     Do you think there is anything important to be learned/gained
by not having email for six months?
Yes.
 
6.     Do you use email more for work related messages or for
family/friend correspondence?
Mostly school. Family and friends second. Work a distant third.
 
7.     How do you feel about me not emailing you for 6 months?
Well, we haven’t communicated in years, so I don’t feel much about it. If we were close I might have feelings.
 
8.     Are you sitting with a Bluetooth in your ear, reading and
sending a text with one hand, eating soup with the other, glancing
frequently at your To Do list, all on your twenty minute lunch break?
Don’t feel bad. While writing this letter I checked my email 3 times,
ate handfuls of dry Panda Puff cereal, and listened to my sweetheart
talk about his online class.
No, actually, I’m sitting at my first shift on the University of Oregon Crisis Line, waiting for someone with a crisis to call me. I do have my cell phone with me (and will almost certainly use it at least once), I am (obviously) using email, and have a to-do list that you wouldn’t believe, but I doubt that I’ll check my email more than three times today. Mostly I’ll be reading about counseling gifted children, assessing families, and conducting group therapy.