• Ashley Rivard

Diaries from a suicide crisis counselor


Diaries from a suicide crisis counselor


“Hey Girl! I’m going to be in LA next week. Let’s shoot a Car Therapy video. I have a lot to

say on the LGBTQ topic,” Joda’s overly-chipper voice said. Now to be clear – I’m not a

therapist, but I like to play one in Car Therapy – my self-produced IGTV video series that is a

satirical send-up on therapy to help those with mental health challenges.


Joda insisted on renting my spare bedroom so he could spend more time in LA in the near future.

Being a type-A control freak who likes her own space I hesitantly agreed to give it a try.


Joda arrived in his usual attire. Neon fluorescent sweat suit, sequined hat, and a grin larger than

life. He offered me $1,111.11 to rent the room. He was very spiritual and the number 111 was his

number. Logical in his decisions? Not so much. But that’s why so many people loved him. He

lived in a different dimension where only love existed and he was determined to help everyone

join him there... Joda would be the perfect roommate. A gay, self-aware, loving man. Doesn’t get

better than that. Until it gets worse…


By the time Joda arrived at my apartment to stay, I had inconvenient scheduling that forced me

out of town. He assured me I had nothing to worry about. Three days into my trip, I received

numerous complaints from my neighborhood about Joda. Random screaming at the community

pool during the day, “inappropriate” attire, and strange conversations with neighbors – the

complaints continued as I grew frustrated at my friend. I finally asked Joda to leave. Hours later,

Joda was admitted to the hospital from an overdose in my apartment.


Joda understood my core and I understood his. As much as he expressed that he was free from

the world’s opinions, I don’t think he ended up being free from his opinions about himself. He

was in inner pain. Did I know? Yes and no. Yes, because his substance abuse was higher than

normal, but based on my training in suicide, I overlooked the common signs of isolation,

speaking of being trapped, drug use, grappling with depression and anxiety, sleeping too much

or too little, and expressing no purpose in life.


The next news about Joda I received was even worse. “He hanged himself, babe,” texted our

mutual friend.


My mind immediately flashed back to the end of our doomed, one-week roommate experiment.

“I tell you that I’m disappointed in you, and then you kill yourself?” I think in anger and

dismay.


That shouldn’t happen in my line of work. Not to the suicide crisis counselor who has staffed

the helpline for three years.


I know all the signs. I know what to say. This should not happen to the guy who was my

roommate four months ago, and I had to kick out of my apartment for crossing some clear

boundaries.


That should not have happened to the guy who was the only one excited about my dark

comedy suicide TV pilot and desperately wanted to help get it made.

Not to the guy whose last words to me were, “I messed up and I hope one day you can forgive

me.”


Suicide is a complicated matter – an epidemic that has turned for the worse this past year. Since

2010, The suicide rate has risen steadily every year since 2010. According to America’s Health

Rankings, males 65 and older have the highest rate of suicide, followed by men 45 – 54 years

of age. In addition, LGBTQ adults and youth rank higher than those who are not.


“Suicide crisis line, this is Ashley. Are you calling today because you want to kill yourself?” I

say this to every call I answer at the crisis line. Direct and to the point was something I wasn’t

used to. In America, we try to say everything except what we are actually thinking for fear of

disapproval. The phone never stops ringing. I remember when I started the crisis line how scared

I was. What if I can’t save them and they take their life because I didn’t say the right thing? This

thought ran through my mind over and over again. “I’m not capable, I have social anxiety, they’ll

realize I’m a fraud…” The list went on in my mind. The first two months were fueled by

insecurity and anxiety. I couldn’t even deal with my emotions and process them, so how was I

going to deal with others’ emotions?


The suicide crisis line is intense. People often ask me, “Why do you do this? Were you suicidal

at one point?”


“No. My dogs died and the loss hit me so hard I couldn’t get out of my own sadness and

depression,” I usually respond.


A therapist once told me that the fastest way to get out of suffering is to be of service to

others. So I chose something that rattled me to my core to see what I was made of and to see if

the therapist was right. I can now confirm from personal experience, this theory is true. It

healed me of my anxiety and depression because I didn’t have time to think about myself

anymore.


As I am writing this article, I received an email from Joda’s mother. She shared that she read in

Joda’s journal left behind, he wrote to God asking him to forgive him for betraying my trust.

Reading this brought me to tears and heartache. I know Joda did not take his life based on what

happened between us. He had years of pain. What I do know is he asked for me to forgive him

and I never responded. Our last conversation was not loving on my part. I felt entitled to my

anger and a deep sense of violation. Once we hang up the phone on a caller to the crisis line we

never know what will happen to the caller. They teach us early on in training that you can give

someone a life vest, but you can’t make them put it on. Joda lost sight of his purpose in life. But I

will not lose sight of his purpose in death. I knew one day I would forgive him and we would

laugh at what happened, but I never told him so. Now that day will never come. It will take some

time for me on my part to understand how Ashley as the suicide crisis counselor is also and

Ashley the one who has now lost someone to whose friend died by suicide.


Joda is now my teacher; schooling me in the power of forgiveness and compassion for us both...


 

Resources:


Suicide Prevention Crisis Line - 1(800) 273- 8255

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org


Teen Line - 1 (800) 852- 8336 - Crisis line for Teens

www.teenlineonline.org


Call 211

A free resource that connects you to the resources you need for support


99 coping skills for young adults dealing with mental health

challenges www.yourlifeyourvoice.org


 

For Spiritual resources in doing the work to connect to a deeper sense of self, these are some of

the people, books that I recommend:


Podcast:

Into the Dawn – Uncovering taboos while offering solutions

iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, GooglePlay


Books:

  • A Return to Love: Marianne Williamson

  • The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Self- Michael Singer


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