“Thanks for calling the Trans lifeline. This is Nikita. What’s on your mind?”
The caller says nothing. I hear them shuffling about, perhaps adjusting their position.
“Hello..” The caller speaks, clearing their throat. Their voice sounds strained. “I was hoping for some company.” She adds, sounding hesitant.
“Of course!” I tell her, with equal parts enthusiasm and restraint. Being too enthusiastic can be off putting for some callers. “How are you?”
This is a question that triggers many who call. For many it’s the first time they’ve been asked that in so long, where they felt it sincerely. She begins to cry.
“It’s ok. Take your time.. “ I gently tell her. There’s no time limit in calls, and the free-flow of people’s emotions can take some patience.
“I have no one.” She informs me, and I hear the restraint in her voice. She’s trying really hard to talk.
She’s a trans female caller from northern California. She’s in her early fifties and lives alone in a house left to her by her deceased mother.
She lives in a smaller community and, like many smaller communities, resources, whether medical or social, is limited in scope. Like many of the middle aged to older callers, she has no friends. Family have mostly abandoned her. She has two children, now adults, both estranged.
It’s been about three years since she last had a visitor.
I asked if there was a reason she didn’t go out more – to people rather than they, to her. She said she’d suffered some leg and hip injuries some time ago which really restricted her mobility.
“I just want someone to keep me company sometimes…”
I had Googled the town while in the call, looking for local resources for her: social and otherwise. Not much at all, I saw and, with lament, I closed my browser window, returning my full attention to her.
“I’m so lonely. I don’t know what else to do…” A plaintive cry for help and the theme for the remainder of the call.
She begins crying harder, the depth of her sadness permeating every breath she took.
“I just don’t know what else to do…”
She’d not even been hugged in those years. Not one visitor.
“I just don’t know what else to do…” She starts crying uncontrollably now.
These are tricky moments for an operator because words mean little when someone feels that level of despair. I opt to listen instead and, like many callers, I simply and consistently remind her I am here, holding space.
“I just don’t know what else to do…”
“I can only imagine, Darling.” I say affectionately, hoping they hear the deep empathy in my voice. “This has been so hard for you..” I add.
When you think someone was already crying their hardest, they sometimes surprise you by crying even harder.
But it’s good, for as long as she’s crying, it means she’s feeling, and expressing this to someone. For too many, and for too long, their feelings go unnoticed, unrecognized, not validated.
“I just don’t know what else to do!” Her sobs are nearly choking her and I’m hoping she can’t hear the muted sniffles on my end. Intermittently I mute my mic so I can let out a cry.
I spend the next ten minutes or so hearing her devastatingly sad mantra, over and over.
“I’m still here with you, Darling…” I remind her. “Still here…”
I’m feeling helpless and want to say so much or simply hold her in my arms but it’s just not an option. All of the sadness and defeat in the world I hear in every heaving breath she takes, each wail more defeated than the previous. I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed, my thoughts racing.
I’m hoping she feels safe, but in emotional panic I also wonder if she’ll do something drastic, something permanent because these sobs aren’t letting up – at all.
After some time the sobs lessen and she’s able to talk more.
This is the break in the clouds. Even the smallest cracks in the clouds permit the sun to shine through and pepper the ground in it’s radiant glow.
She’s stopped crying now. We’re both sniffling and I hear her blowing her nose.
We discuss strategies to try to work with what little she has, a possible location change, funds permitting. We discuss some ways of doing self care, self compassion.
She thanks me for listening to her, for keeping her company. Her voice is so small, so fragile and at once I’m overwhelmed with emotion.
With tears coming down my cheeks in rivulets I let out a small laugh and thank her for keeping me company, for we’re not so dissimilar. I thanked her for entrusting me with something so powerful, so real, so surrendered.
In the end she’s me and I’m her. We were a gift of time to each other.
I hope, for anyone who needs it, that they too receive the gift of your time.
Your loving, healing, life-affirming time.