By Jen James
It was April 5, 1995.
As the sun started to come up that day, I was still awake, beating myself up for the things I had done the night before, “Did I really make out with 3 random guys at the bar last night?” I hadn’t even known them – they were just guys who gave me the attention that I had needed at the moment.
I was an insomniac, so like most nights, I had barely slept. I took a shower before my roommates woke up, got ready, and headed out to class. As I made my way to the Student Hall to snag a coffee (about the only thing fueling me that day), I ran into an ex-boyfriend. It was awkward. I could feel his sadness when he saw me. I knew I hadn’t been a good girlfriend to him. He deserved so much better.
I tried to shrug off the feelings as I headed to class. I wasn’t feeling good, I felt ‘off’. I still had my classic “perky Jen” smile that everyone expected from me, and I made sure to make people laugh, but something inside was just not right. My brain was flooded by thoughts of all the things I had done wrong – not just the night before, but ever since I started college. (It was a lot.)
I ducked into the ladies room to try get it together. But when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, in my denim overalls and flannel shirt, all I could think was how ugly I looked, and what the hell was I thinking. I noticed a girl crying in there, I went to sit next to her and asked her what was going on. Her boyfriend just broken up with her, and she felt lost. I started to cry with her. I remember feeling her heartbreak like it was my own. It physically hurt. I hugged her, and I told her that everything was going to be okay. But inside, I thought, “Would it, really?” I could feel my own loneliness, so heavy, and I was faced with the truth that I was just faking it when I acted like I chose to be single because I was such an “independent woman.” Sitting there crying with her, I knew it was just a lie – I was a lie – and I was living every day as a lie.
I hoped that going to my favorite class would help, but I still felt off. I was a top student and always paid attention, but my mind kept wandering, and the professor called me out. I made an excuse – it was lame, but it seemed to work. After classes, it was time to go to my job at the local video store (typical college job for someone who is majoring in film). As I was driving to work I kept hearing, what I thought was my subconscious, telling me that I’m no good, and I should just run my car into a tree. I managed to shake it off and ended up at work without even knowing how I got there. Of course I acted like nothing was wrong. I joked around with the staff, and joined in as they laughed about the lonely guy who always came in to browse the ‘adult’ section. I was laughing at him, but, honestly, deep down inside, I could understand him…I felt lonely too.
And being there at work just made the loneliness more obvious. I had a huge unrequited crush on one of my co-workers. Every time I worked with him, it would hurt because no matter what flirtatious moves I tried, nothing changed. I always ended up feeling like the ‘funny fat friend’. I was stuck in the ‘friendzone’, and it felt dreadful.
I got home about 10 p.m. and started watching TV with my roommates. I acted like nothing was wrong. They went to bed around an hour later, and there I was – alone again. Infomercials started (back in 1995, shows weren’t on all night). I remember sitting there watching the Ab Roller and the NordicTrack infomercials thinking, “I should just lose weight – that will help everything.”
And that’s when the voices started:
“You’re no good.”
“No one would care if you were gone.”
“You’re so ugly. No one wants to be with you.”
“You should just kill yourself”.
The voices kept getting louder and louder.
I’d had suicidal thoughts many times before, but this night was different – this time, I wanted to silence the voices.
So, I tried. I did something drastic, hoping it would kill me. I know for certain that I wanted to die that night. I remember closing my eyes and hoping this would finally be the end.
I woke up to my roommate shaking me. I was confused to be alive. I’m not sure if she realized that I had actually tried to kill myself, but she had figured out enough to know something was up. She knew I needed help. Thankfully, she encouraged me to talk to my parents and get the help that I deserved.
Soon after my suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, among other things, which explained a lot of the issues I was having. Looking back, I can see that my struggles also stemmed from being an empath and not knowing how to handle it. Basically, being an empath means that my sense of empathy is in overdrive – I take people’s feelings on as my own. The day I tried to kill myself, so many of the emotions I was feeling weren’t even mine. The ex-boyfriend, the crying girl, the lonely customer – I felt their emotions. Their feelings overwhelmed me, then got twisted around and amplified my own self-loathing till it was all I could hear.
Since then, I’ve learned what it means to have this powerful sense of empathy and feel all the feels – and I’ve learned how to use it. These days I use my “super power” at my job as Founding Supervisor at Crisis Text Line, where we provide free, 24/7 support to people who are facing some of the same horrible thoughts and voices that I did. My strong sense of empathy helps me to provide support to our crisis counselors – since I am able to really feel and understand their anxiety, I can help them through tough conversations. And when I’m taking a counseling shift myself and handling crisis texts, my empath powers help me relate to texters’ stories, get right in their shoes, and lead them out of crisis and into a calmer state of mind. The empathy that used to make me feel like I was drowning, now helps me to throw a lifeline to other people. It’s pretty cool!
So, all you empaths out there thinking, “This is so like me!” – it’s okay to ask for help.
To those who may be thinking about suicide, know this: You are not alone, someone is always there to listen, don’t be afraid to reach out. Text 741741.
And you, yeah you, thinking “Wow, that sounds like such a cool way to give back and help others”, come and volunteer at the Crisis Text Line and feel your soul fill with goodness.
I’m thankful that that April day wasn’t the end of my life. I’m glad I’m still here. Because I finally realized that I’m kinda fabulous and this world needs me as much as I need it.
Jen James is the Founding Supervisor at Crisis Text Line and oversees the work of over 3,500 crisis counselors who handle as many as 2,500 texts a day. Jen’s work at Crisis Text Line has included creating the volunteer curriculum and training, hiring and training the original supervision team, and serving as the voice of the community. Prior to her work at Crisis Text Line, Jen created the first chat and text crisis service available in Michigan. She is certified in Trauma-Informed Care, LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skill Training, Critical Incident Stress Management, CPI-Nonviolent Crisis Intervention, and CPR/FIRSTAID/AED. Her areas of expertise, from lived experience, include crisis intervention, bullying, anxiety, depression, and facilitating trainings on self harm. She lives in Michigan with her husband Kevin, 2 sons, and 3 dogs and spends her free time obsessing over unicorns and sloths.