In light of National Suicide Prevention Week and To Write Love On Her Arm’s “We’ll See You Tomorrow” campaign, I wanted to share the story behind a personal piece I did about one of the voices on the other end of a suicide hotline. Not only a reminder of the fragility of life, but also that it is truly okay to ask for help.
Mental illness and suicide are often spoken about with hushed tones, but what if your job was to simply talk about it for hours each day? I had the pleasure of spending a day with Daisy Matthias, one of the hidden heroes behind the peer operated warm lineat the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF) .
I sat across from Daisy, wearing a black shirt with a thin line of red along the collar that seamlessly matched her illuminated red hair; my notebook of questions ready on the table. A subtle smile balanced between small talk as we talked about the warm weather and our favorite places to get coffee. Instantly there was this feeling that I was sitting with a long time friend, someone I could trust, someone who genuinely cared.
Getting into the interview, my first question was what is the difference between a crisis line and a warm line?There are two main points that separate one from the other. First, at MHASF, every counselor who answers a call has their own history with mental health, thus using that experience to help those who are currently struggling. When you call, you are not getting a trained professional, but rather a peer who has been in similar situation and is also still working through it.
The second reason is, you can call the warm lineif you just need someone to talk to about everyday life stress. Before Daisy found MHASF, she tried calling other hotlines, seeking solace from high stress levels fueled from her current job. She felt like she was talking to a robot, and was often dismissed, even hung up on, because she wasn’t to the point of committing suicide. The warm lineoffered a sense of relief; a place with no time limit or specific qualifications to get an answer from the other line.
“It helps both sides. They don’t kow how much they are helping me, by me trying to help them and their inspirational stories. It gives us both the feeling that we are not alone in this fight. We have all survived something.” – Daisy Matthias
Earlier, while the fog still rested over Oakland, Daisy introduced me to her life outside of the office. Her house, although decorated loudly with various art and old books, was quiet with closed doors alluding to sleeping roommates. Daisy’s room was painted bright red, matching the color palette of her personal style. A small collection of photos, books, and memories sat on a chest in the corner, illustrating a history of struggle, but a future of hope and optimism.
As we strolled around the neighborhood I learned of Daisy’s past and what eventually brought her to the warm lineat MHASF. Daisy grew up in a very traditional Mexican home in the United States, where opinions on liberal ideas, such as sexual orientation, were not openly accepted. Large accomplishments, like studying at UC Berkeley, were not acknowledged because Daisy was bisexual. This sense of disappointment led her toward developing anxiety and depression.
Always having been a good listener with friends, Daisy realised how much she loved helping others by simply talking and listening through her past position as a sex worker. She was paid much more often for company and conversation, than sexual offers. Getting out of that industry she foundMHASF, a place that not only helped her personally, but also allowed her to offer help to others.
Sitting at a bus stop, Daisy checked her phone for top news stories in between goofy faced Snapchats too far away friends. I had one last question that had been building up since I first met her. When I asked how she was so strong to answer calls for the warm line,her response was without hesitation, “how are you so strong to call?”
The Mental Health Association of San Francisco’s warm line is open Monday through Thursday 7am to 11pm and Friday through Sunday 11am to 7pm. Call 1.855.845.7415 or chat at http://mentalhealthsf.org/.