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What ever happened to the man in black? All the things I wish I had said
This has been one of this posts I have re-written countless times. I am not sure if I have the words powerful enough or meaningful enough to explain what happened a few weeks ago. It started off as a normal day for me, with a heavy dose of public transit and getting lost. The places the Toronto District School Board can hide schools amazes and confuses the heck out of me. When I finally found the school, I was nervous, as I always get nervous before my speaking engagements. What if they don’t connect with me? What if I come off as a spoiled white kid who can’t possibly understand the students? I met the amazing stop the stigma committee, heard some amazing stories of resilience and felt a little calmer. They even had introduction music for me (my favorite song: Inner Ninja by Classified), which was a secret dream of mine. I always wanted to pull a stereotypical “run on stage to pumped up music” so I was really excited. As my speech came and went, I had amazing conversations with the students and the counselors. I found the subway with ease and was reflecting on my speech and listening to my music loud enough to get funny looks from other people on the subway. When I had to transfer subway lines, my thoughts had wandered to…. I don’t even remember… probably something about guys.
I just remember going down the escalator, looking up from and connecting eyes with a guy not much older than me. He looked unassuming, dressed in all black, and frankly kind of cute. Than I realized how close he was standing to the edge of the platform.
The realization washed over me. He was going to jump.
I held eye contact with him for a while, he smiled at me and moved to the edge of the platform. His smile was one of relief. I have given that smile too many times before. It’s misleading; many assume that it’s the smile of finally feeling better. But it was a knowing smile, a smile that knew that soon all his pain would be gone. The train was going to take the pain away.
The next thing I know, I hear the rumble of the approaching subway and my instincts took over. Without realizing it, I had ran to where he was, placed my arm over his chest and pushed him away from the train. All I can remember was his weight against my hand, not realizing someone was there. When the train was in the station, he looked at me. I don’t think I can place the expression, but the closest was probably confusion.
I felt the need to say something.
All I could manage was, “you shouldn’t stand that close to the train, it will knock you over”. He nodded and walked into the train. My legs were weak and I wasn’t sure what quite to do with myself. I sat in a seat with my brain just repeating: “Did that actually just happen?”
Then I looked up
He was standing there. Looking at me again. I looked up with probably with a fake smile, usually reserved for family gatherings. He spoke.
“You know I was trying to jump right?”
I nodded. Thinking… crap? What do you say? How can I have gone through so many years of this training and not know what to say?! Find the right words!!
I spit out “I didn’t want to call you out on it” … cue internal face palm.
He nodded and said “ thanks”.
I sat there looking up. Looking at this guy, trying to find any words to make this better. My mind was blank.
The train stopped and he ran out of the train at a speed that would even usain bolt proud.
I rode the train in a haze. Nothing mattered. Nothing from my day, none of my previous worries, nothing. My mind was a constant re-run: “Did that actually just happen? That could not have happened..” I was shaking and crying. My stomach felt like a roller coaster drop that would not end. Why couldn’t I remember everything I was supposed to? Why did no one else on platform see what I saw, or even noticed what happened?
I had to get out of the train. I got off at a stop that wasn’t even close to mine. I stared at my phone, not even knowing who to call. How would they take it? I am trained in suicide prevention, and nothing I did there was what I was taught.
I spoke to friends, but no one could really understand why I wasn’t celebrating. I did what every person in mental health hopes to. I saved a life, didn’t I? Why on earth did I feel like such crap? They dismissed how I was feeling, and started ranting about what was happening in their life.
It was the first time in a long time that I felt like no one understood my feelings. I spent the next few days feeling heavy and confused. I couldn’t feel anything. I am usually able to feel music, if nothing else. But it was just words. There was no song for this feeling. No poem. Just confusion as what the heck was happening. I forced smiles and laughter; I acted like how I thought I normally did. None of it was real.
I reached out to the program director at mindyourmind. She helped me realize that what I saw was someone not preparing to die, but in the act of dying. That my mind was torturing itself with images of what might have happened … and all the things I could have said. The police that should have been called, the help I should have gotten. Everything that should have happened.
Her idea was for me to write. Write all the things I want to have said.
So, after probably what is the longest introduction to anything ever, here it is:
“Dear the man in black,
I want to tell you how awesome life can be. But I know you don’t feel that right now. I want you to know that I have been there. Felt like there was no hope, no change possible, felt that I was too crazy or too broken to be helped. I have felt that my problems were too much to bear and the world would be so much better without me. I want you to know more than anything that help is out there. Good online and telephone crisis lines are life-saving resources. I want you to know that there is something to stay here for. Whether it is an overarching change you want to see in the world, or the fact that no one will feed your goldfish. People, as much as they suck sometimes (read: most times) they do care about you. I care about you. I want you to find out the happiness that the world offers. There are amazing groups of people out there who have felt just like your feeling right now. Recovery happens. I hope that my one act has made even a little bit of a difference. I hope you know that people can care, notice and want to help. I hope you find more people like that in travels, if you don’t already have them. I hope you know that people want to know how you are feeling and want to help. I want you to realize that it isn’t you that’s broken, it’s the situation or the illness that drove you to think this was the only option. Lastly, I sincerely hope, the next time you smile, it’s because you realize how awesome you truly are. “
I wrote that in tears, but it does make me feel a little better. I hope my journey through text can help someone one day. I know now that my training in suicide prevention, if anything, gave me the confidence to move. To intervene. But, please recognize how dangerous what I did was. Please always try and talk to someone if you think there might be a problem.
Every day that passes, I am getting a little bit of me back. I am coming to terms with what happened. I am riding in the subway again and begin to worry about silly boy problems. I have started to feel again. I have felt true laughter and happiness again. I have had moments where I don’t think about it. The walls I put up when I am scared are slowly coming down again.
Part of me will always wonder…
What ever happened to the man dressed in black?
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Alicia is a mindyourmind volunteer and public speaker. Because the whole cat whisper thing didn't work out. She loves to write, speak and just finished her undergrad at uwaterloo. One of Bell Let's Talk campaign's Faces of Mental Illness, Alicia works to reduce stigma and open up the conversation on mental health. Read more of her blogs on Mental Health Superhero.
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