Trigger Warning for talk of death and suicide.
“I almost jumped from a bridge into the Mississippi River last night.”
It’s not something I imagined myself ever needing to tell my husband. But on May 22nd, that’s the call I made. I’ve been open with Steve about my suicidal ideation, but I’d never had a plan. Never come so close.
I was maybe ten when my parents climbed the stairs into the kitchen, my step-dad’s hands wrapped around each of my mom’s wrists, guiding her like a sleepwalking toddler. My step-dad tied dish towels in place of his hands and shuffled my mom out the door. He called to me over his shoulder that he was taking her to Emergency.
I stood alone in the kitchen wondering what had happened to my mom’s wrists.
I wasn’t sad when I left the bar on the east side of the Mississippi that night. I was still tingling from fun with friends. I didn’t want the night to end, so I suggested we walk to our hotel. Google Maps said it was only half an hour, and the warm night felt custom made for us. No one was interested, so I set off on my own.
A few blocks into my walk, I tripped on familiar thoughts about how I never really belong and all of the very scientific reasons it will always be so. Thoughts about how I make everything complicated and weird. Down we spiraled, my thoughts and I, on our well-worn descent.
And then there was the bridge, offering itself up as a solution.
We saw her before she saw us. She sat alone at a table in a hospital robe, fidgeting with the white plastic bracelet around her wrist. She smiled when she saw us. Relieved. Tired.
My mom kissed my head and we held each other. “Hello, my little chicken,” she whispered.
At the center of the bridge, I leaned on the railing, resting my chin on my folded arms. Was it high enough? Maybe jumping would only mean dragging myself back to the hotel in wet jeans?
I swung my legs over the railing and lowered myself onto a thick nylon cable and then backwards onto the outer metal beam that spanned the length of the bridge. I stood for a long time before sitting. I looked down between my dangling feet and watched small dark waves follow the current. I imagined myself sliding off the edge and disappearing.
What would it feel like? How long would it take?
As a teenager, I’d get ready in front of the mirror at the end of our hallway. I’d sit criss-cross applesauce beside the skinny, rosewood table that held our Sears catalogues and National Geographics. I’d dry my hair and flip through magazines while I waited for my curling iron to heat.
One evening I was alone, waiting for my mom to come home and shuttle me to a sleepover. I plunked myself on the floor, plugged in my curling iron, and pulled out a magazine. It flipped open to a folded piece of paper tucked between its pages. The paper matched the familiar green, coil-bound scratch pad from the junk drawer in our kitchen. I unfolded the note and recognized my mom’s writing. As I read, the hallway narrowed. My heart pounded in my head, drumming out the beat of my panic.
It was a goodbye letter. It was all the reasons why.
Before I could wonder when it had been written or if it was too late, my mom came through the door, cheery and chatty. Alive.
As she drove through the darkness, I studied her profile from the passenger’s seat. I looked for the sadness she carried. I thought of all the hours I’d spent in teenage angst, angry about everything. And nothing. Was this my fault? I love you mom. I’m sorry. Stay with me. She caught me staring. She squeezed my knee and smiled. I covered her hand with both of mine and squeezed back. I didn’t let go.
My conference roommate was up before me. “Morning!”
I sat up. None of it seemed real. “Bekah. I almost jumped off a bridge last night.” I hid my face in my hands and sobbed.
I could hear her quietly weeping in the bathtub while I watched The Golden Girls in the livingroom. I pushed the bathroom door open without knocking and began collecting every razor I could find.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“You’re scaring me.”
I felt the danger I had been to myself. I felt silly and small.
Bekah hugged me while I settled. “I’m glad you didn’t jump, Shan,” she said.
Later, I sat five feet from Anne Lamott as she discussed the problem with the mind, failing better, and finding our voice.
I almost missed this, I thought.
When I arrived home from Minneapolis, I googled Hennepin Avenue bridge to see if I had been in danger. The answer was yes, yes I had very much been in danger. I wasn’t the first hurting person to find her way there. I wasn’t the first to stand on that metal beam and think the river below was an answer. The only answer.
I can’t tell you the time since the bridge has been all sunshine and clarity. Things stayed dim for a few days.
I know it would be soothing to hear that my experience shook me into a new state of being. Cleared up the brain jumble. But it didn’t. The truth is, I may always be fighting to stay alive. I may always be too close to the edge.
But I’ll keep working. Keep trying all the things. Keep confiding. Keep seeking out the quiet moments and listen hard for the small voice that says, I am enough. Keep taking my meds. Keep going to therapy and keep surrounding myself with love.
And I’ll keep talking. Talking away the shame and loneliness of depression. Because shame is the deadliest, friends. Shame keeps us from sharing. Keeps us feeling broken, embarrassed, silly, and it keeps us believing we are too much work, unloveable, unfixable, unworthy.
I hope you’ll keep talking, too.
I hope you’ll listen for those drowning in shame and create spaces for us to be deeply seen. To be good enough.
If you are depressed, wrestling suicidal thoughts, or need someone to talk to, please call 1-800-273-8255. For international readers, use this database of crisis centres listed by continent.
If helplines aren’t your jam, arrange with a trusted friend or two to take your calls—anytime. I have two pals who’ve set up private Facebook groups and filled them with people keen to share the very best, most true truths when called on. Those groups are beautiful examples of asking for what you need and then letting your people show up.