I normally avoid the bridge after a jumper jumps.
While inconvenient, as the bridge connects the northern and southern portions of our small city, avoiding the long, sloping bridge over the train tracks is possible. A shortcut here, a longcut there, a roundabout, a “let’s explore this road we’ve never driven on before.” A purposeful, intentional avoidance; a subconscious, necessary avoidance.
After working a fourteen hour day, my eyes felt dry and scratchy; my mind, nothing but goo. The boys needed cereal, needed non-skim milk for their breakfasts. A mother’s work never done, never complete; I ran the errands in silence. No radio, the window down just a smidgen on an unseasonably cool June evening. Lost in thoughts and non-thoughts, I suddenly found myself on the bridge.
A sharp intake of breath. My foot pulled off the gas, a reflex quite the same as if you had accidentally walked on the fresh dirt of a newly covered grave. My hands gripped the wheel, white-knuckled. Don’t look over the side. Just look forward. Just. Look. Forward. Red light. Fingers tapping, deep-breathing practicing. Green light, go!
The wake of a public suicide always leaves me shaky, uneasy. The demons and ghosts and memories of my past — my present — begin to swirl and mix, dance and laugh, cry and poke at the places I prefer to keep hidden. I close my eyes and try to hide, but they remain in my vision, in my brain, in my soul. I feel the loss deeply, keenly, as I have been there. I have stood there, on that bridge that is any bridge, in that space that is any space, in that mindset that is deep and dark and empty and full and everything and nothing. I have wished and wanted and been there, in that place that we don’t dare discuss for fear of judgment, for fear of being labeled “unwell,” “unsafe,” or even insane.
We speak in hushed tones, if we even speak at all, about suicide. While the work that people like Cristi at Motherhood Unadorned did in the recent Overnight for Suicide Prevention shows that people do care, that people are talking about it, even she recognized the disconnect.
At one point halfway through as we casually discussed these typically intense topics, I noted “how wonderful is it to be able to talk about medication and suicide with so many people who really get it.” There were never judgements. Just love and support and no stigma.
It’s not that I expect the general public to understand what it’s like to stand on the edge, figuratively or literally. Once I step back from the edge, once I catch my breath myself, it’s even hard for me to understand what brought me to that point, what took me beyond the place of understanding to the dark, to the unknown. The judgments from others are quick, heavy. Selfish. Weak. We label, we point fingers. “I would never do that,” sufficiently silencing anyone struggling, anyone sitting in the crowd who might be struggling with their own thoughts, with their own fears. The venom of hatred toward suicide paralyzing those that need to be able to speak, to reach out, to ask, “But what if…”
I held my breath through the next light, only relaxing as I turned the corner and headed toward the light of the setting sun in the direction of our home. Toward my boys, toward my husband, toward everything that means anything to me. I slowly made my way through the emptying streets, dusk settling in and pushing people back to their homes, to what matters. I thought of the man lost this week — a husband, a father. I thought of the woman a few years ago — a mother. “How could they do that to their children,” people scoff, judge. Another way to silence those hurting, those most in need of having the safe place to say, “I don’t know what I need, but this place is scary. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I’m hurting.” We mock “cries for help.” We make jokes. We rant. We hate. My guess is that all of the lashing out is less about the person or concept being judged and more about not wanting to go there, not wanting to understand out of fear of admitting that, yes, we’re all human and flawed and hurting in so many ways, on so many levels.
Being human is scary and hard and real and painful and wonderful and amazing and fulfilling and squelching and everything in between.
— __ — __ —
The week before, I sent a friend a text.
“I’m not okay.”
And I wasn’t. A series of overwhelming life events and mishaps and even good things pushed me into a dark corner of self, of fear, of depression. I began to spew forth a series of everything weighing on me, the everything and nothing smashing into one another, into me. “I’m a failure.” “I’m the worst mother ever.” “I’ll never be a good enough wife.” “I don’t want to be a birth mother anymore.” “The house won’t sell.” “I’m just… tired.” Eventually emptying my soul, I set off on a run. Slowly — slowly — the right overtook the wrong, the light overtook the darkness. However briefly I felt lost, I found myself again a day or so later.
— __ — __ —
I pulled into my garage and shut off the car. I sat, silently, before the dog jumped up at the door, her pointy ears and nose visible. Sometimes knowing that people and pets and work and all of the things and and all of the people rely on you to make things happen, to make everything work can be overwhelming. Sometimes the feeling of pressure is constant, an indescribable weight. Sometimes the medication meant to quell the anxiety doesn’t quite cut it. Sometimes sleep evades. Sometimes life is too much, too big, too present, too past, too future, too everything, too nothing.
And sometimes the sight of your dog at the door, the sound of your kids’ feet thumping to the doorway to meet you, brings you back to the safe space, the quiet place.
I gathered the bag with the cereal, slipped my hand through the sweaty handle of the milk jug and stepped out of the car. Barking and little voices, hands and paws, greeting and asking all of the questions and licking the back of my knees. I gave a silent thanks for being here, in this moment — for being okay again, for being able to breathe, for a moment that feels normal. These are the moments that I come back from the bridge that is any bridge, the space that is any space.
If you don’t have a friend to text and you need to talk to someone, visit National Suicide Prevention Lifeling or call 1-800-273-TALK.