Bryan Keller is a volunteer Helpline counselor on The Trevor Helpline. He volunteers at The Randy Stone West Coast Call Center in Los Angeles.
Not everyone who calls the Trevor helpline is perched at the edge of the abyss, contemplating or taking steps toward suicide. As a helpline counselor, I hear from young people struggling with a variety of crisis situations and personal challenges. One Tuesday evening, I answered a call from 19-year-old Alex in rural Arizona. Alex arrived home from work to find his room ransacked, his furniture broken, and his clothing strewn about. His cell phone and credit card were missing, and his social security card was in shreds. Many of his personal papers were gone, and his laptop computer was smashed. I asked Alex who he thought was responsible. He answered matter-of-factly: "My parents."
Alex came out to his Mormon parents two years prior at age 17. He had to apply for a credit card because his parents refused to purchase any clothing or school supplies for "an admitted homosexual." Alex was eager to finish his last semester of high school, but his parents refused to enroll him. The Mormon school Alex attended refused him admission without his parents' approval. Motivated to change his circumstances, Alex found a job in a nearby town. Finding transportation to work was a constant struggle. When his parents refused to help him, he was forced to walk to work. At night, the walk home was especially long, dark and dangerous. As I listened to Alex tell his story, I reflected on my own experience growing up in a large Catholic family in North Dakota. I listened with empathy and sadness as he talked about familial pressure to conform and the crushing weight of religious-based hate.
I confirmed with Alex that the destruction of his personal property was a crime, and suggested he consider filing a police report. He expressed concern about involving the police. He felt that, in his small community, the police would not be helpful, and that he could face discrimination from local authorities.
After listening to Alex talk about the serious challenges he was facing, I asked him to think and talk with me about his options. What gave him hope? Who in his world was on his side? Who cared about him? Alex identified two allies: his boss, Marina, and his best friend, Tasha. Tasha was leaving for college in two weeks, and this motivated Alex to plan and think about his next move. He just needed to save a little more money. When his boss, Marina, heard about the theft and destruction of his personal property, she loaned Alex a camera and advised him to take photos of the damage.
Alex worked at a social services agency, although he had not thought of himself in need of service. I reminded Alex that we all need help along the way. Alex was a kid with a big heart, working every day to help others while quietly struggling with his own daunting obstacles.
I will always remember my conversation with Alex, and wonder how he's doing on life's path. He wasn't on the verge of suicide when he called us, but he was isolated and hurting. He needed to tell his story and to confirm certain things in an otherwise uncertain world. He needed help thinking about resources and positive next steps. I'm glad we were there to take his call.