A week ago, a random comment on a seemingly random Facebook status lead to a conversation via inbox between myself and a Facebook friend. We’ve never met before and our interaction was based on our common interests has creatives. It was a lengthy conversation that started out as ordinary laments about daily strife. But, at some point, it took a dark and disturbing turn. As she spoke more and more, I realised she was not just running the mill of complaining about life. Her tone was morbid and her speech desperate. What she was saying to me, at that very moment was that she had reached a point where her depression had depleted her all her reasons for living and, she had decided to end her life. Just like that, through social media, me and her were ‘standing on the bridge’, and she was about to jump.
At that moment I realised that I was terribly ill equipped to help a person with depression. By depression I don’t mean the hashtagged nonsense you read incessantly about online, imbued with boredom and too much data. I mean the abyss that you cannot even fathom unless you have been to its depths. If you’ve never suffered from depression and you encounter someone who has it, your first thoughts sway from fear, confusion to asking, ‘how can you possibly be this sad and…what is it that you are so horribly sad about? Aren’t we living the same life? Why can I snap out of it and you can’t? Are you mentally weak? What’s wrong with you?’
That is how I’ve always viewed depression. That is, until I had a friend who was hospitalised for it. In that experience I learned that no matter how strong you are as person, your bones can break. You may not have even seen it coming. The pain is excruciating, the healing will take a long time, at times you will have to relearn how function as a normal person. And, the scars will stay with you for life. So too can your mind, no matter how strong you are as a person, you can break. As is with your bones, true too with your mind.
Here’s the strange thing about standing on the bridge with someone; on the face of it, it seems that the worst outcome would be the person taking the leap. What if the person dies? But, deep down that’s not all that petrifies you. What you know, on a basic human level, is that if this person dies, a part of you will die with them. What you are – in effect – facing, is your own death. This may seem selfish or self- centered, but the truth is that, at that basic human level, we know we are connected.
When you are ‘alone’ with a person who is contemplating taking their own life, a person who has summed up their life and find no amount of value to carry on living, then what must happen? Well, the movies tell you that you must tell them that it’s going to be ok and all those contrived notions that purport that you should try to be a hero. In reality, what happens it that before you can even say anything to the person, you have to, in that very moment, evaluate your own life and determine if you have enough reasons to justify living. If you want to say, to a near total stranger, that ‘it’s going to be ok’, how do you know? Do you know if You are going to be ok? How?
When you reach this point, you will grasp two idiosyncrasies about human nature. One, you fear being hurt. I say you ‘fear’ being hurt instead of you ‘do not want’ to be hurt because it is from this fear that we develop traits such as hate, discrimination, bullying, violence, abuse and such. That is why we are so horrible to each other. Why we come to the internet to undermine and vilify each other. We do this because we are afraid of the pain that, sadly, we already carry within us. So, contrary to what we believe, we are more afraid of people seeing our hurt more than them inflicting it.
Secondly, you want to be happy. This means you want to feel fulfilled, to belong. You want to care and be cared for. You want to matter. This is why we come to the internet, because no one wants to be alone. You want to be seen beyond your scars, your mistakes and your shortcomings. You want to love and to be loved and to share in love and to be in love.
When I realised the seriousness of the conversation between me and her, I actually remember looking around the room to see if I could ask someone else to ‘take over’. I literally went through my phonebook to see if there was someone I could call who would be better suited at handling this situation. I mean, why me? But, the reality is that as much as I didn’t ask to ‘catch’ her that very moment, she also did not ask to go through what she was going. It was cruel serendipity but neither of us could just walk away. When your are standing on the bridge with someone, you realise that these two human traits, fear of hurt and desire for happiness, are what got the person to stand on the edge, wanting to jump and why you are standing next to them, trying to get them of.
So what happened? Well…
Photographer: Palesa Motsomi