A couple weeks ago I felt an intolerable urge to jump off a bridge. I even had a specific bridge in mind, the oldest still-standing bridge here, one of my favorites in this “city of bridges.” It’s especially beautiful at night
though the image that looped in my mind was of jumping off the side (specifically, the west/downstream side, the side pictured above) during the day.
In other words, while everyone around could see me. Performance of a lifetime.
This was the week that Allgood visited. I hadn’t confided my urge to jump off the bridge to Allgood because, at the time, the desire was so weird, so true, that I hardly recognized it was happening. Just like the bleeding—I’d been bleeding for three weeks before life forced me to recognize that I was actually bleeding OUT.
I’d confided other things to Allgood, because he cares about me, and because I thought that if I talked to him, the pain that I thought maybe was making me think about jumping off the bridge would ease. But I also told a few other people about my urge. For example, I called my sponsor. And I told a therapist, who fortunately recognized how much trouble I was in and asked me to guarantee my safety to her—to promise that I would commit myself to a psychiatric facility rather than waiting for someone else to do it. (Or, of course, jumping.)
These acts—telling other people what I was thinking and promising someone else I’d take care of myself first—are the same as telling someone before I use. Because, as a commenter said here recently, what we’re all engaged in doing in recovery is “keeping from killing ourselves”—whether it’s jumping off a bridge (quickly) or drinking/using (sometimes, though not always, more slowly).
I began to be suicidal on a Wednesday afternoon, and I don’t know why it was that the act of jumping off a bridge was the one that overtook my imagination. There are less painful and messy ways to die. It was only two days later, when I found myself looking at a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website about what happens to the body when it hits the water, what the Coast Guard has to deal with, what the medical examiners usually find inside, that I knew I was really off my rocker. By then I’d been crying most of the day for two days and unable to work much.
I was also unable to make the simplest of decisions. I couldn’t decide what to have for lunch. I couldn’t decide whether to accept my friend P’s weekend invitation to join her and her daughter and another friend, with my dog and three other dogs, at her house in the country. It seemed like a massive decision, an un-scalable mountain.
“You know, P,” I said over the phone, “I’m not really doin too well.”
“I hear that in your voice,” she said kindly. “L and I don’t mind. You can just sit all weekend and watch the dogs.”
“But what if Flo doesn’t get along with the big dogs,” I asked. There would be Ginger and L’s two adult male dogs, Cooper and Simon.
“She’ll be fine,” P said.
In fact, she was fine. Here she is, being fine:
For most of the weekend we sat and watched The Dog Movie. We also ate—the four of us women cooked for each other. We cleaned up. We rested. It was very hot, in the 90s, and the puppy and I would go into our dark little room and she would laminate her belly to the cool wood floor and I’d lie down on the bed and turn the fan on my body, and we’d nap.
Sunday the tide turned, I could get through the day without weeping, I began to laugh again. I brought Flo home Monday.
And when I got back, I realized this is what happened to make me nuts: I’d stopped, on schedule, taking the massive dose of progesterone prescribed to me to make me stop bleeding. I’d read Ayelet Waldman’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine about her desire to top herself when her progesterone began crashing in perimenopause; I spoke to my doctor about it, she confirmed my analysis. I’ve put safeguards in place to help me through this month.
But it was a shock.
I began speaking about it in meetings. To make it real. To avoid hiding it out of shame. And I was amazed by the responses I received. My 73-year-old friend Martha (who is one of my surrogate mom figures) told me, inside a meeting and with tears in her eyes, that she wanted me to stick around because I was very important to her and she couldn’t do without me. My friend Big Daddy, also 73 and six-foot-four, put his arms around me and let me cry on him. “I want you to learn to be more permissive with yourself, Baby,” he said.
But you have to exert discipline around these thoughts. They are unacceptable.
My friend E called me and listened while I told him what happened. Which humbled me because E, also in his 70s, is having chemo for cancer. He sees himself as being in recovery from two life-threatening illnesses. And here I am, comparatively “healthy” and engaging in this thinking.
Then there was Allgood, who I eventually told over email that I’d been in real trouble. I got a series of replies, among them this one the other night while I was at my son’s graduation from middle school:
Dear G—you have helped me enormously. Promise me you will call me before you visit any bridges …..please. Love, A
Always strange to hear I’ve helped someone. But why shouldn’t I be able to help someone?—it’s selfish to think I can’t.
It’s also selfish to beat myself up for having these thoughts. Or for any reason, really.