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What Flipping Off the Golden Gate Bridge Meant to Me as Someone With Depression


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I had this entire post written out in my head last week, half of it written on the page, but now none of it feels right. I’ve been back in Ottawa now for about five days and I all I want is to fly back home, curl up with my dogs and never leave. But a week ago? A week ago I felt on top of the world. A week ago, I was in San Francisco, confronting a part of myself I didn’t know I would ever be able to face. I was walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, proving to myself that I could do it, and I was turning around before I was all the way, showing myself I didn’t need to accomplish some big bucket list task to prove anything. Because just getting to the Golden Gate Bridge was something I never thought I’d be able to do in the first place, let alone walking on it, alone. But I did. And I didn’t need to walk all the way across, because I’ve walked so much further. Just over halfway across the bridge, I realized I’d started crossing it a long time ago. Nearly two years ago, actually. And I’ve been walking across it every day since. It just wasn’t until I was there, physically, that I realized this bridge — which represented so much fear and sadness to me, wasn’t as scary and dominating as I thought it was.

I feel as though I need to explain this big long story of why I was fascinated with San Francisco and how important it was for me to go to, but I don’t think I have the energy to do that right now. So all I will say is that four years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever make it there. For many reasons, of course, but mainly because I was too intimidated by the amount of lives lost to suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. I had been living with depression and anxiety for a few years at that point in my life and I was completely entrenched in the idea that, not only could I never get better, I didn’t want to, either.

I don’t talk about this part of my life, at least not in very much detail. Sometimes, if I’m comfortable, I’ll provide little tidbits that hint towards this time in my life, but mostly, I keep it pretty generic. Obviously I live with mental illness and I am learning to be more open about it, but there is something very terrifying to me about opening up about the direct impacts of my mental health. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder when I was probably 12 or 13, although looking back, it was definitely something  I should have had addressed before then. Self-harm and suicidal ideation came into play somewhere around 14 or 15 and now I’ve gotten to a point where I can say that I am nearly two years free from self-harm. I still struggle and there are some days where I think I’ll break, but I’m also stubborn enough to challenge myself and not want to break my “streak.” Some days, the smallest victories are what get me through. This is difficult to write about so bluntly and openly, because I know family members and friends may read this, but I have made it a goal to be transparent and vulnerable on this blog, so here I am.

Back to the Golden Gate Bridge. Or well, not really. Because this isn’t really about a bridge, is it? When I got to the bridge, I was shaking. I immediately went into the coffee shop and hardly looked at anything other than the cappuccino I was drinking. Anxiety filled me and everyone around me was a blur. It was foggy, which I was glad for, and there was a slight chill in the air, which I definitely had not prepared for. Finally, I decided to go to some of the lookout points. And I stared at the bridge. And I felt so incredibly sad as I looked at this place where so many people have taken their lives. I watched all of the people around me taking pictures and looking at the bridge in wonderment and all I wanted was to scream.

But instead, I walked up to a lookout point where I had as clear a view as I could get, and I flipped off the Golden Gate Bridge. Such a small thing, but it was so important for me. This little action allowed me to reclaim some of the power that my fear had over me. So I started walking. I walked nearly the full way across, stubbornly telling myself that I needed to do it, to prove to myself that I could. But just over half way across, I stopped. and I turned around. Because I didn’t need to cross all the way. I had already proven to myself that I could get there. I had proven to myself a long time ago that I was able to keep going. I don’t have some deep passion and admiration for architecture, but letting go of the hold that the suicide rate had on me and instead, simply admiring the bridge for what it is — a bridge — was one of the most incredible moments of my life. Because seeing this bridge allowed me to realize I had already started that walk across it, nearly two years ago when I decided that life was worth living. That every day I get out of bed, every day I am able to walk a little bit further in healing and self-reflection and growth… every day is another step across this “bridge” I created for myself. Sure, it took me a physical trip to a strange city to really put this into perspective for me, but I got there. And I’m going to keep going.

This piece did not go as I planned, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I’m also learning to be alright with being unable to predict just what my brain wants me to write. Because sometimes, I have an idea of what I “want” to say and instead, what I “have” to say is different. But what I know I want to say and what I need to say is this: recovery is not linear. I need to remind myself of this often, and it’s something I’ve been needing a reminder of every day this past week. Being back in Ottawa has not been easy and I am really struggling to remind myself that I am allowed to have a bit of a set back. My best friend texted me this morning and told me what I needed to hear, and I’m going to share it with you, whoever you are: “There is no shame in falling back a little as long as you keep trying to move forward.” So keep moving forward. Flip off your personal Golden Gate Bridge, or something that symbolizes the fear and hurt that may be keeping you from recognizing that you have come far. and that you have further to go and that you are capable of doing it. Remind yourself you are worth more than you think, and that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You are enough.

Follow this journey on The Potential for Joy.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via contributor