CALL OF THE DAY: I’m not a therapist, but today I wish I were…
He really doesn't like himself. I would go so far as to say he loathes himself. He hates his fantasies, so much so that getting them out of him is major excavation work, and some days he doesn't even want to talk about them. He might ask me for a narrative, and let me talk for five minutes—in this careful, feeling-my-way-through-the-dark way that I do with him, because I just can't tell what exactly is or isn't working—and then he'll say meekly "thank you for listening" and abruptly switch the subject over to something less threatening, like my thoughts on best action-film directors of the '90s or some obscure political conspiracy theory. He hates his fantasies so much that he will call a phone-sex line, and then pay a lot of money to avoid them.
And he seems to hate himself so much that he is talking about killing himself.
Stupid as it seems, getting the operator's pity is part of the fantasy for a few guys; this could be happening. On the other hand, there is a certain section of our client base that probably does spend a significant portion of their interpersonal interaction budget talking with us, and if things go pear-shaped, we're going to be the most likely point of first contact for these people. But I don't have coworkers to ask, to get a reality check.
Neither do I have crisis-counseling training. All I could do today is listen and ask clarifying questions. I asked if he had a social worker or something; he said he only gets in to see her once every six months. I asked if he takes psych meds, and he said he used to, but they gave him seizures. He says he just recently got out of the hospital; he seems angry that they just let him go back to his apartment without checking in, like, they should know from looking at him that he's not ready to be on his own right now. He doesn't feel safe talking to counselors about his depression, I suppose because it's being exacerbated by how much he hates his sexual fantasies.
It's not imminent, what he's talking about. He said today, "I'd like to just pass away. I'd like to just… not keep going," as if even the effort to do something more definitive about it would be too much work. He's tired of it. He doesn't like going outside and seeing people; he says his hygiene is really bad and getting worse. I tried to clarify what that meant by "hygiene", but didn't get anywhere. He wants to stop eating. He ate some pizza, but that might have been a couple of days ago. He said maybe Monday, when he got some money, he might go get something to eat, but maybe not. "Don't worry, though, I'm going to make sure to deposit the money for you ladies. You all have been so nice to me, I would never leave without making sure you're paid up." And more of the same, for a half-hour.
I called the dispatcher/my boss after the call, and told her what he had said. Shouldn't we call emergency services? I asked.
"I don't know," she said, "I don't know. I can't call the police. If they ask how we know, how he told us, and I tell them that we're his phone sex company, they won't believe me. They won't do a damn thing. I'm going to ask a friend what she thinks, but I don't know what to do."
I don't either. In my head, I flinch at outing a non-criminal as a phone sex client. Bad. Bad, bad, bad, in our culture, very bad.
After I hang up, I walk downstairs to get some coffee and run into my billet host getting ready to leave for the weekend. This billet has an open floor plan, and he has, of course, overheard some of the call: "That sounded like a therapy call." Yeah, and I don't know what to do, and my boss doesn't seem to know what to do either. "Your boss should call a suicide hotline and ask for their advice."
YES. Of course. I google "suicide hotline" and get the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, then call my company back and leave the lifeline number on the machine. I hope you will call soon, I say in my message, and then let me know what you found out. We should have protocol. I don't know what to do. You don't know what to do. We need to know what to do.
That was where I was going to end this post, but I just heard back from the owner. She got the number I left, she's going to call, but she doesn't think it'll do any good, and she doesn't think he's telling the truth anyway; he's been calling almost every day for weeks. I can hear her clicking through his record, and she names off the dates. Yep, right back to the beginning of the month. Besides which, she says, he's gone through periods like this before, last year and the year before that. "If he's been in the hospital, if he's seeing a therapist, they're the ones seeing him face to face. And if they're releasing him, then they obviously don't think he's in danger."
The most we can do is tell him to see a counselor, she says. "If he calls back and talks to you again about this, you can give him the suicide hotline number. He won't listen to me, he doesn't want to talk to me about this. But he might listen to you." She'll let me know what the hotline says.
"We're not therapists," she says, when we're getting ready to hang up. "We're a fantasy line. All we can do is tell him to get counseling. If he doesn't do it, I don't know what else we can do."
I don't feel good about it, but she's right.