Kristen Christy is America’s resilience coach. Resiliency is an attribute the co-creator of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline garnered from moving around as a military child, from losing her military husband to suicide 15 years ago, and from suicide attempts by her two sons.
The award-winning author and inspirational speaker takes her own lessons learned from hardship and helps people overcome their disappointments, insecurities and adversaries. She is their tutor for when people are learning tough lessons “because we are not meant to do life alone,” she said. Christy is this week’s special guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima Podcast, where you learn from the “emotional support human” how to be resilient, how listening gives purpose, and that HOPE is a stopgap to suicide.
Christy put her resiliency skills into play for herself and for her then 14- and 12-year-old boys when their father passed away. She too was resilient for her community, who showed up for her in the hard time. On the night of her late husband’s passing, she made one phone call and soon her house was full of friends who cared.
“As humans, we want to have the answers or say the right things,” said Christy, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 209 in Colorado Springs, Colo. “But a lot of times it’s just being there or doing something,” noting that her hairdresser came over to cut the boys hair before the funeral. When she now speaks about resiliency, “I talk about showing up and doing something. Not necessarily saying anything.” Noting that people said to her, “He’s in a better place”, it upset Christy, as she wondered why that better place wasn’t at the family dinner table. “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t have the words, but I’m here,’” she added.
The loss of her husband prompted Christy in 2010 to advocate for a three-digit suicide prevention lifeline. In 2022, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline went live nationwide. People can dial 988 and press 1 for veteran support, 2 for Spanish and now 4 for LGBTQ+. She said it’s up to us as a community to act if we notice a loved one is not acting like themselves.
“Are you thinking about suicide? We say it’s a tough conversation, but it’s just an untrained conversation,” Christy said. “I can ask that question with no hesitation because I’ve practiced. I wish I could go back 15 years ago and ask Don if he was thinking of suicide and have him be mad at me (a fear people have). I’d rather have him be mad at me than a 14-year-old giving his eulogy. So ask the question.”
Christy said research has shown that if you take 10 people who need mental help, eight just need someone to listen to them.
At 3 a.m., Christy received a phone call from an airmen who wasn’t in a good place. She asked the airmen what she liked to do, which she responded that she loved animals. The next day the airmen went to the vet on base and asked to volunteer to walk the dogs “to give her a sense of purpose. And to use your passion to find that purpose is so important. Your identify is not based on what you do. It’s based on who you are and what your character is.”
Christy said that while resiliency is found in purpose, it is also saying something nice to yourself and to someone else; fostering relationships “because when that test happens, you will have a safety net of people who know you and know that you need;” and having an accountability person who will listen in good times and bad. “When I couldn’t get my butt out of bed to take my kids to school, my friends came over and got me up (to take the kids). They weren’t enabling (by taking the kids for me). They were encouraging.”
Then there’s hope.
As a current military spouse, Christy uses a lot of acronyms. HOPE (hold on, pain eases) is one that’s on a military bade.
“I’ve heard hope is not a strategy (for ending suicide), but it can be a stopgap. We can be a stopgap in those few minutes,” she said. “I wish people would think about the aftermath. I know a lot of people attempt because they feel like they are a burden. Some say suicide is selfish. I thought that before Don died. But in one of his many notes that he left, he felt like he was burden. I wish I could have told him he wasn’t a burden. But we’ve got to be the one. We’ve got to be the collective. If we can help one person, it’s exponential. One person, one family, one community, one future.”
For resiliency, hope and inspiration, visit kristenchristycares.com/.
The Tango Alpha Lima podcast welcomes guest host Matt Jabaut of Maine, who is chairman of The American Legion’s Membership & Post Activities Committee. On this episode, Jabaut and co-host Ashley Gutermuth also discuss:
• An Army app that will connect military spouses with on base and nearby employment opportunities, along with child care resources.
• The Army-Navy “clash of uniforms” for the Dec. 9 football game.
• What was the military doing at the Anime convention in New York City?
Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 210 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.