Several years ago I experienced a break up that utterly destroyed me. That sounds dramatic, but anyone who has been through a break up they either didn’t see coming, came off the back of a particularly long time together, or had a relationship that shot their self-esteem to bits will know what I mean. There’s a reason they call it “heartbreak” and I felt the full brunt of it at the demise of this particular relationship.
For me, it was a toxic on/off boyfriend, and this was break up #2 for us. I had just lost my virginity to this guy, and weeks later he freaked out and ended things. Because I was new to sex and still loved him, I wound up in a very destructive “fuck buddy” scenario in which I’d call him drunk, go and have sex with him, then sneak out before he woke up. The fuck buddy relationship is fine if it makes you feel good, but it made me feel like hot shit. I hated myself and my self-esteem was in the gutter.
I also suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder (fun combo!). This means where someone with a healthy brain might feel shitty but be able to cope with it, I can spiral into deep panic troughs where I’m actually not functional. I found myself at rock bottom, crying on my bedroom floor at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, feeling desperately alone, completely at my wit’s end with my situation, having a panic attack and just feeling really, really broken hearted. I wasn’t suicidal. But I was feeling hopeless and like nothing would ever get better for me.
I felt like I’d exhausted my quota of shoulder-cries with friends and family. At the very least, I felt like they were sick of seeing me complete the cycle of feel shit/have sex with the ex/feel shit. So I called Lifeline.
I was fucking terrified of calling Lifeline, to be honest. For some reason I considered it something that was only for the suicidal. You don’t call LIFELINE over a breakup, right? That seemed so self-indulgent and ridiculous. It also, if I’m brutally honest, seemed weak to me. I’m ashamed I felt this way but I can’t deny I did. I thought calling a crisis helpline was pathetic. That it made me a weak person who couldn’t manage my own life. That needing some external party to talk to me was the most embarrassing thing in the world.
But there I was, weak and broken and willing to give it a shot.
Even dialling the number felt weird, because it’s one of those 13-XX ones that seem so strange and impersonal. I remember being put through to a counsellor. She sounded like she was in her late 30’s or early 40’s and had a kind voice. The kind of voice a nice aunty would have, you know?
“What can I help you with?” she asked me, making me briefly feel like I was on a telecommunications call with someone to fix my internet, except they were really nice and had a warm disposition. I felt INCREDIBLY stupid saying I was having sex with my ex and it was making me feel shit, but I still loved him and didn’t know how to stop. But she was a) calm as hell and b) never once made me feel stupid for having this problem. It immediately made me feel at ease. All thoughts of being an idiot for calling a crisis helpline went out the window – this woman sounded like she cared about my shit, but also like she validated my feelings and struggle.
We talked for about 30 minutes. It was mainly me talking and her asking me “how did that make you feel?” which I’m sure some people would take issue with. But for me, it helped. I see a psychologist regularly these days and honestly? I find half the benefit is verbalising my internal thoughts and feelings to objective party who isn’t going to load a bunch of terrible advice onto me. For me, this woman encouraging me to keep talking, to explain how actions of my own and of my ex-boyfriend’s made me feel, helped me to climb out of my panic pit and see things in a more level-headed way.
I can’t actually recall how we ended the conversation, but I do know I never felt pushed off the line or shut down. I think I may have said I felt a bit better and thank you for taking the time to chat to me, or she may have said it sounded like I had a bit more of a hold on my situation. I honestly couldn’t tell you, but at around 30 minutes I hung up.
Did it fix my problem? No. The thing is, crisis hotlines aren’t there to give you the key to life. In fact, no one can do that – not even the best psychologist in the universe. As anyone working on anxiety or depression, or any mental health issue will tell you, you’re never free of it. You just learn to manage it. You continue to work on yourself and find ways to minimise it’s effect on your life. Similarly, when you’re at rock bottom it’s not going to take one nice convo to hoist you out of there and back into happier times.
Did it help at all, though? ABSOLUTELY. In that moment I felt lost, completely alone, and had no idea who to turn to. Being able to call and speak to someone who had empathy and compassion, who didn’t make me feel like an idiot, didn’t trivialise my problems, and allowed me to verbalise things and just WORD VOMIT was invaluable to me at the time. It didn’t hoist me out of rock bottom but it gave me a leg up, for sure. And that’s sometimes all you need to get you through a day or a week when you’re forcing yourself down a dark tunnel toward the light at the end.
My advice? USE THESE SERVICES. Call when you feel shitty. Call when you feel completely alone. Don’t assume your situation isn’t worthy or that you aren’t feeling “bad” enough. Ask for help when you need it, because fuck knows we all need it from time to time.
If you are contemplating suicide or having suicidal thoughts, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.Image: Lady Bird