My last blog, regarding the possibilities to live a full, rich life in these unusual and trying times, ended with an encouragement to reach out for help if you have a hard time finding your way. This blog picks up from where that one ended, touching on how important it can be to reach out, especially when it gets really dark inside, and we are filled with a sense of hopelessness.
Just three weeks ago, on a glorious Monday morning, I was reminded of what it’s like when it gets so dark that we can barely see the light anymore. It was an unusually glorious December morning with blue skies, no wind and the mighty Hudson River shone like a mirror. It was the kind of morning that left me in awe, simply looking out through my windows.
I had the day off from teaching, with no schedule, just doing whatever I felt like during the morning hours. Around noon I picked up my phone to check on emails, and there was the latest local news alert. I opened the email, as the headline caught my eye. A woman had just jumped off the Governor Mario M Cuomo bridge at 9am in the morning. The bridge, that I see from my house, is 3 miles long above water, and she jumped somewhere from the middle, hundreds of feet above the surface, into freezing cold water with strong currents. Someone saw her jump and an hour later a rescue crew found her in the middle channel. It’s rare that someone survives this, but she was found conscious with serious injuries.
I don’t know anything more about her, but as I read this my stomach turned. A mixture of emotions started to slowly fill my being. Sadness and compassion for this woman who thought this was the only solution, and emotions from memories of standing at the edge of the river myself, seriously considering stepping over the edge. It was an evening in January 2012. It was pitch dark outside, freezing cold, and I was all alone at the end of the pier in Piermont. It takes you almost a mile out into the river. There was so much pain within me. I wasn’t just surrounded by darkness, but also filled by it. I was at a crossroad in my life where I knew I could not continue to live the way I had for the last many years. I knew I had to leave the relationship I was in, but the pain it brought with it for my family, my husband at the time and my two sons, made it close to unbearable to carry.
I stood with one foot up on the edge for some time, while listening to my mind that was telling me that it might be the best thing I could do, to step over the edge. To trust that my ankle long winter coat, heavy boots and many layers of clothing would quickly pull me down, and keep me down. The reason wasn’t to escape the pain myself, but to reduce the pain for my family, by not taking them through a separation. I don’t expect anyone to understand how my mind made a really good case for this solution, but it did.
I can’t remember clearly what made me step down and walk back to my car with tears streaming down my cheeks, but I know the image of my two beautiful boys had something to do with it. I am grateful that I did return home, and that when I ended up at that edge one more time, just a few nights later, it ended the same way. I am also grateful for the family therapist I then mentioned it to, just a couple of days later. I had been seeing her for a few weeks by then, with the intention of helping my boys move through this massive, painful transition the best way I possibly could. But when she asked me how I was, I told her about my thoughts of removing myself from the picture to make it easier for them and their dad. I can still see her face as she paused, and then very calmly, and in a matter of fact kind of way, told me that losing their mom would not be easier on them, on the contrary. She added that they would be not just ok, but with time, they would be absolutely fine having gone through a separation. I already had a lot of trust in her experience and knowledge and she said this in a way I completely believed her. To the degree that I never questioned it again. I got the help I needed to know that my thoughts were not true. That I shouldn’t believe everything I think.
I am sharing this for two reasons. In case you might be struggling, know that you are not alone, and that there is always another way. There is always help to be had, you just have to reach out to someone you feel safe with. The human mind is extremely powerful, we all know that, and it can take us in the most amazing directions, but it can also bring us completely down. It’s part of being human, and there is no one to blame when the hopelessness sets in. So, please reach out, if you need help.
I also want to encourage all of us to check in with the people around us. In a way that there is space and time for someone to possibly let you know they need help. It rarely looks like it on the outside, so it’s easy to be fooled by what we see or hear.