Above: from Wikimedia Commons
Content Warning (CW): This article discusses depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide in detail. Readers with sensitivities may wish to stop reading at this point.
If you struggle with suicidality, we urge you to tell someone you trust. If you do not feel comfortable talking to friends or relatives, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for confidential support.
Best of luck, and be well.
– Ben Szioli, Copy Editor
and Jeff Epstein, Editor-in-Chief
The author is anonymous.
I didn’t jump off the Harvard Bridge in January of 2014.
I did go check it out – not just once. The first few times, I scouted out which side of the bridge would be best, observed the patterns of pedestrians walking across it, and looked down into the water, wondering if such a short fall could kill me.
I did some research.
On average, to kill yourself, you need to fall around fifty feet on concrete or two hundred feet into water. I could cite that claim, but I would never want someone else to read the kinds of sources I’ve read.
I considered going to the Zakim Bridge, which is way taller, but you can’t walk across it. Same thing with the Tobin. The Harvard Bridge isn’t even twenty-five feet from the top of the railing to the water’s surface, but it was close enough to my dorm to be enticing. During my research, I learned that less than a year prior, a man had jumped from the bridge and succumbed to the frigid water as he tried to swim to shore. In 2011, a woman had jumped from the bridge and was found in the river. A Harvard Summer School student would later accidentally jump to his death from the similarly sized Weeks Bridge (just two and a half miles up the river from where I stood that day), long after I walked away from the railing and went home.
On average, people tend to defy averages.
Over the course of a few weeks, I visited the bridge again and again until I felt ready. What began as an occasional, passing thought steadily evolved into a fantasy, and then a plan. I began to think of death every day, until I was certain the thoughts would never stop. One can only pine for suicide for so long – hate oneself most of all – before finding someone else to hate more.
I smouldered over petty slights, grumbling that no one ever seemed to give me the cooperation or deference that I needed to succeed. Over time, I had grown more and more frustrated with the people around me. I was so sure that I knew everything; that I was doing it all right and everyone else needed to catch up. It became easy to direct my hate at others instead of myself. It became easy to blame, and persecute, and dream of destroying the people who, by my paranoid calculations, had reduced me to the point of suicide. I wanted revenge, or death.
I believe that’s when I lost all hope.
Filling out a depression inventory, I reported that I was thinking of suicide and violence an upwards of thirty times a day. More than one psychiatrist had dismissed me as a lost cause, too combative to accept treatment. I had stopped eating and was beginning to lose control of my actions, flying into fits, feeling as if I was watching someone else pilot my body.
Each unwilling step, I truly believed, was bringing me closer to my fate, and my fate was to jump off that bridge before I hurt someone besides myself. The only control I could wrest – the only choice I could make of my own volition – was to die. Otherwise, there was no telling what I would do.
As I walked to the bridge for what would turn out to be the last time, I was completely calm and, for the first time in years, I couldn’t feel the empty pang of depression in my chest. I had read that some people finally feel happy in the hours before they kill themselves. I thought I understood what was happening to me: It was fate. It was textbook psychology. It was the doctors’ prediction. I was a dead man walking, and no, I did not decide that I would turn around if someone said hello on the way to the bridge.
This is not a suicide story like the ones you’ve heard before.
To paint a picture, if you’ve never seen a New England winter, essentially, it gets obscenely cold in October and doesn’t warm up until May. Meanwhile, wave upon wave of snow piles up and ices over, covering everything. The winter of ‘13-‘14 wasn’t bad from what I remember, but a modest layer of hardened snow had covered the Charles River by the time I found myself peering down from the top of the bridge.
That, I realized, was my opportunity, on that freezing, sleeting January afternoon.
My body would hit the ice, fall through into the river, and the shock of the icy water would cause me to hyperventilate and drown before I could try to save myself – long before some poor schmuck of an MIT student could phone Boston Police to fish me out. I had already tested the railings. They were slippery, but they would be easy to vault over.
I shivered; not from the cold, but because for the first time in my life, I had that priceless choice laid out. I could end the death spiral I was trapped in. There was a choice – not a fantasy; not an up-the-wall shot. I could jump, and then I would die. Death was in front of me: not in the limitless future or in obscure theory, but in my immediate reality. Droplets of sleet, as real as can be, bit my fingers as I ran my hands along the metal railing.
I didn’t jump off the Harvard Bridge in January of 2014.
There were patches of slush floating between sheets of ice in the Charles, so I knew I would break through the surface with ease. I was at peace with my friends and family. I had no responsibilities and no obligations. I was as empty inside as the cabs that passed with their signs lit bright, tempting me back home to Boston. I was as tired as a cabbie at the end of his shift. I asked myself if there was any reason to delay the jump by even a few seconds.
Were it not for the bag of weed in my dormitory desk drawer and the fact that I’d never tried magic mushrooms, this is the point in the story where I would have jumped off the Harvard Bridge, and you would be reading a shitty obituary about the man they pulled from the Charles River – in January of 2014 – with my name omitted out of respect for the dead.
There was, however, a bag of weed in my dormitory desk drawer, and I had never tried magic mushrooms, so I didn’t jump off the Harvard Bridge in January of 2014.
I called my parents right there on the wind-whipped bridge and announced my leave of absence from school. I still had my dorm room for as long as I wanted, though, and no one could force me to go to class, so I decided to make the most of my time before leaving New England. Leaving the bridge for the last time, I turned away from the railing that overlooked the river and walked back toward Boston’s Back Bay, disappearing between narrow rows of brownstones.
The weed got me through the first day. It was probably the only activity that I would have preferred to dying – a short-term fix. Sure enough, though, once the weed was gone, I wanted to eat. I filled my belly and walked around Newbury Street until I found something else that I wanted to do, and then something else. I said to myself that I could always go back and jump once I ran out of things to do.
Today, as I’m writing these words, I have yet to run out of things to do.
The magic mushrooms then got me through the rest of the struggle. You might not believe that two baggies of drugs could save the life of someone who’s looked into the depths of a river from the top of a bridge and felt nothing. You might not believe that I was saved by those two baggies of drugs. Maybe I wasn’t; maybe I saved myself. It can never be known, but after I finished the weed, my next step was to try magic mushrooms.
It took around ten days for me to track down some shrooms from a guy I knew, who knew a guy that knew a guy. Wrapped in Ziploc, the mushrooms were shockingly light. The dried stems had been knocked to hell and picked clean of all their precious golden caps, leaving nothing but sticks and roughage. It was good enough for me.
At my nearest opportunity, a Friday night, I forced down four grams of shrooms on a stemmy, prickly open-faced peanut butter sandwich. As the drugs began to take hold, my stomach groaned and churned to welcome the dry fungus. Within minutes, I felt as if my head were full with some kind of force that pressed on my eyes from within, and an invisible weight sat atop my shoulders, crushing me.
However, as I peaked, the pressure and weight faded, and I felt relaxed for the first time in a long time. I felt logical, open – untouchable – as I stumbled into my bathroom.
All was right.
In realization, I asked myself: If all was right in that moment, then what had been wrong two hours earlier, before the psilocybin had hit? What had been making me so angry? What problem had been ruining my life for those past few months? The answer was “nothing.”
Nothing was wrong with my life. I had a comfortable lifestyle and a family to support me. I had the opportunity to prove myself if I just snapped out of it and resumed the life I’d put on pause.
No, I did not hate the days as they passed, or the people I met, or the place I lived. I just hated myself. The only part of my life that I couldn’t tolerate was the person I believed myself to be.
I turned to the mirror over my sink and looked into my own sunken eyes, dilated wide and drooping from starvation. It suddenly was so obvious, like I was seeing myself as someone else would see me, instead of how I wanted myself to be seen. I was an embarrassment. I pitifully overestimated my own talents and twisted every challenge into an excuse.
Everyone could see it but me: it was always someone else’s fault in my eyes.
That was why I was miserable: because my own disappointment with myself had been sitting squarely in the back of my mind for weeks, hidden fearfully from my own introspection. Something had to give. I was so ashamed that I wanted to permanently hide myself – no, eliminate myself.
It wasn’t my body that I wanted to eliminate, though. It was my personality: my habits. It was my behavior that was driving my misery, and it was me who was pulling the strings of that behavior, not anyone else.
The answer, in the peak of the mushroom trip, was that my unhappiness was caused solely by problems that I had created for myself – through my own free choices and my own perspective.
And in that moment, it was clear: just as my anxiety had faded for no reason with the coming of the shrooms, the person I used to be could fade, too. I could kill this person who I hated so much without throwing him from the Harvard Bridge. I could be someone different if I merely accepted that it wasn’t someone else who needed to change – it was me.
I was free.
I sobbed in my bed until my vision went back toward normalcy, then got up and went to watch Pootie Tang at a friend’s apartment, ready to start living like I’d never been alive before.