Inside Stories

Crossing the Bridge: A Reflection on Mental Health

On a cold night in December 2022, I found myself standing on the Richard P. Howe Bridge. Below me was the rushing Merrimack River and solid rocks.

The Richard P. Howe Bridge at nighttime.

Like anyone who lives or works in the area, I was no stranger to this bridge. Most times I’d cross it without a second thought. Sometimes in the summertime, I like to stand there during golden hour and see the way the sun illuminates the water.

But this was the wee hour of the morning, it was cold, there was nobody around, and there were no views to be had.

I refused to admit it, but I was in the beginning stages of a mental health crisis. I knew the reason I had come to the bridge that night, but after a few minutes, I told myself the feelings I had would soon pass.

As my life continued to spiral out of control, I found myself coming to the bridge habitually every so often, always late at night. I would stop at the same point, listen to the river rushing below, and close my eyes. The feelings I had were getting worse.

At those moments, I was at my weakest. All I could think about was freeing myself from the prison my mind had entrapped me in. Friends and family weren’t in my thinking. I had been actively pushing people away, getting defensive when people asked if everything was OK.

The habit finally broke a few months ago when I was no longer able to hide from the crisis I was in. It reached a point where I could no longer manage it on my own. In my case, I was fortunate enough to have somebody recognize what was happening and they refused to let me out of their sight until I came clean and agreed to do something to start the healing process. I was lucky this happened on the night I had been planning to make my last visit to the bridge.

This was not the first time I had struggled with my mental health, but it was the first time it had led me to the point where I felt completely hopeless. A large part of refusing to admit I was in crisis was because I was scared of what might happen if I said something and what the treatment might look like. Another part of me was feeling selfish about my feelings and that drove me to isolate myself more.

A big part of turning the corner required swallowing my pride and agreeing to take medication. Growing up there was a stigma around medication and I had convinced myself that it would have no positive benefit for me. Now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been to admit I was wrong. It turned out there was no shame in taking medication and it made a significant difference. The initial side effects paled in comparison to the thoughts I was having on an increasing basis.

The other part of getting better involved talking about my feelings and learning to be vulnerable. As a defense mechanism, I had put on a public face for so long because I didn’t love myself. If I didn’t love who I was, how could other people? Breaking down that facade led me to understand who I am, feel freer, and learn to love myself (even with my flaws.)

Feeling like I do now, months later, didn’t happen overnight. Now that I feel better, I know I have to stay proactive and make sure I don’t allow things to devolve to the point they were before. Things are not always going to be easy, but nothing feels insurmountable like it did before. For so long I had told others what resources were available for them and I had to learn it was OK to utilize them myself.

I consider myself lucky to have successfully crossed the bridge in one piece and I know that not everyone is as unfortunate as I am. Anyone can struggle with their mental health and that’s OK. But for those who are struggling, I can promise it is worth it to keep on walking and not succumb to the troubled waters below. It gets better.

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