If someone had told my seven year old self that I would become a time traveller when I got older, my daydreaming imagination would have soared. Could I go back to the periods my American Girl dolls were from; could I go on adventures in the future? Could I visit people who were no longer with me or could I visit my own self? Would I travel in a machine or could I just teleport at the snap of a finger? Having a superpower in my 20’s doesn’t sound too shabby.
What I struggle to comprehend is the power my time travelling has over me sometimes, and it isn’t super. PTSD can bring me back to a traumatic moment in time almost instantly, and lying on my couch late at night tosses me into the worst night of my life, the pain and helplessness charging at me from every corner of my apartment until I am a sobbing, shrieking ball on my bathroom floor. I did not ask to be taken there. I didn’t plan the trip, nor did I see it coming.
I cannot control the places my PTSD takes me, but I can control where I go from there. When I had the worst panic attack of my life fresh out of the psychiatric hospital, I knew I couldn’t turn to self-destruction like I would have in the past. I have a huge arsenal of coping skills yet the mental and physical lists felt like a foreign language to me in my moments of panic. The only thing I could think was, “I cannot be alone,” so through my swollen, wet eyes, and my shaking fingers texted a few friends: “Are you awake?” At about 1am on a weeknight, I got no response, so I texted Crisis Text Line, then quickly realized I needed something more. I called a local mental health resource which also didn’t have anybody available to help at that moment. I needed something immediate. I knew that beyond anything else I may have needed to help me feel safe, I needed somebody. I took a big gulp, googled “Lifeline,” and clicked the number: 1-800-273-8255. I knew this number by heart. I gave this number to many people many times. I write for this number’s blog. I have never called this number before in my life. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In the moment, I couldn’t remember the number (that I now have saved as a contact in my phone); I couldn’t remember anything besides the despair of the night I tried to take my life. I did not feel suicidal while having these flashbacks, but I did feel like I was going to die. I wish I could recount the entire experience I had calling the Lifeline, but I mainly remember the feelings: comfort, safety, worthiness, unity. I don’t remember the woman’s name on the other end of the line, but I remember the power of hearing her voice: new yet familiar to me like hearing a song for the first time that you feel was written just for you. I remember the power in the quiet moments, too: the moments I didn’t feel the compulsive need to fill with chatter, but felt safe just being. While the counselor and I came up with great ideas to combat my intense panic during flashbacks which I now can turn to almost automatically, the most valuable part of the phone call was feeling accepted.
Calling the Lifeline, I felt safe being myself. I did not have to pretend or sugarcoat; I did not have to filter my words; I could just be. I could express myself the way I truly was at any given moment and I knew I would not be rejected or deserted. I could bawl into the phone and not worry about upsetting the person listening. I could stumble over my words like a child taking their first steps, unsure of whether I could hold myself up as I moved forward but having the reassurance that there would be a pair of hands to catch me if I fell. The acceptance from the counselor on the other line gave me the freedom and permission to accept myself in those moments, to accept the struggle I was facing and remind myself that it is okay. To remind myself that I was okay.
In the past I would always debate with myself over whether to call the Lifeline, and even on the nights when I deemed myself worth the help, I would retreat into my anxiety and decide against it, afraid simply of hearing any of the words coming out of my mouth. Afraid of conversation itself. The night I called for the first time, the hardest part was honestly dialing the number. The rest of the exchange was fluid: a river dispelling my fears and baptizing me awake, bringing me home to myself. I didn’t hang up the phone until I felt safe and confident in the moments ahead of me, and the counselor reminded me that they are there whenever if I need them again.
What terrifies me most still is being alone in my apartment at night, the parallels to the night I thought would be my last roaring loud in my ears until it is hard to hear anything else, so the comfort in knowing the Lifeline is here if I ever need someone and the rest of the world feels unreachable is a true blessing. It is the difference between feeling hopeless and feeling human, having that unconditional support available no matter the crisis, even if I am not suicidal, even when I just need a friend to get me through a particularly thick fog of pain. The Lifeline helped me see clearly the road toward the sunrise and I would like to remind others that if they need a map to find the light, too, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always here for you.
I may not be able to completely control my time travelling at this point, but it fills me with confidence to know that there is an immediate way to open up the space between a flashback and the present: that I have more say about where in time my mind decides to go than I initially thought, that there is a way back and I am not stuck there forever, that the familiar new voice that can help take me there is just a phone call away at any given moment. I just have to take the first step.