**TRIGGER WARNING: The content below contains discussion of suicide and suicide attempts**
Kevin Hines is in the less than 1% of people who have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. He sits on the board of many mental health organizations and associations. Kevin released his bestselling memoir titled Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After A Suicide Attempt.
You were kind of an underdog in life from day one. You were born premature, and to parents, both of whom had brain diseases (as a clarification, Kevin does not like the term mental illness. He prefers to communicate with the term brain disease). What do you remember about the early years of your life?
I was born with a shitty deck of cards. From my infancy, it was simply put...rough. I was born premature, but unlike previously thought and published, not on drugs. My parents were on drugs before, during, and after I was born, but thankfully my toxicity records at birth were clean. I don't remember much from my early years before being adopted. What I know about that time is comprised of various family members memories and very specific court documents. It was a rocky road that unlike my birth parents, I am grateful I got out of alive.
In your BuzzFeed video, you talk about how you believed you were a burden to those in your life. I believe that a very high percentage of people who attempt and/or die by suicide feel or felt that same way. I also think that losing hope is another part of the equation. You were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and were experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations. When do you believe you lost hope before your suicide attempt?
I lost it when I looked in the mirror every day, and the man or men I saw and talked to in the mirror consistent told me I was useless, worthless, and that my family would be better off without me. At the time I could not recognize that each and every one of them was still just me.
You have become a strong advocate for barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent others from jumping to their deaths. Where do we stand today with the progress to getting those barriers added? What do you have to say to critics of the barriers that say the barriers aren't worth it because they will change the aesthetic of the bridge and/or that people will just find another way to attempt suicide if the barriers are put up?
In 2003 New Yorker magazine published Tad Friend's essay on the suicide problem at the Golden Gate Bridge. At the time, there had been over 1,200 confirmed fatal jumps since the bridge opened in 1937. The essay provoked no action whatsoever from the bridge district. It did, however, spark others into action. One was filmmaker Eric Steel, who assembled a film crew and pointed his cameras at the bridge for a full year. Steel produced a documentary that captured 19 of the 24 suicides in 2004.
News of Steel's film exploded across the media in San Francisco, infuriated many in the bridge district and sparked the mobilization of an unusual coalition of suicide survivors, survivor families and advocates who coalesced around the Bridge Rail Foundation. The Foundation in turn began a concerted program of advocacy before the bridge district, in the halls of the legislature, and before the public. After almost 10 years—and the death toll now over 2000, the result was in. June of 2014 saw final approval and full funding for construction of a suicide deterrent net. Groundbreaking for the project was planned for this summer (2016). Currently there are issues with the construction bids being twice as high as previously anticipated. The bridge district and the Bridge Rail Foundation, which was co-founded by my father Patrick Hines, plan to move forward and will not give in until the nets are up, and not one more child, loved one, fiancé, husband, or wife dies at the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the documentary "The Bridge," you talked about how you wanted people to stop walking on eggshells around you. You said, "I just want to be normal again, but I never will be." Do you think you've now created a new normal for yourself? What is your "normal"?
Since being a part of that groundbreaking film, I have come to completely understand that there is no normal. There never has been, there will never be. I have come to completely accept my brain disease, but I no longer believe in "mental illnesses." An illness is temporary, what I fight is chronic. I battle this tooth and nail ery (purposeful misspelling) day! The other operative word "mental" has such a negative, nondescript, and derogatory connotation. Mine and yours are brain diseases. That's where they derive and that's what we must find a way to treat. Not to mention a malfunctioning brain would be so much easier to fund, it's real just like every other organ in the body. So to answer your question, I have good days, I have great days, I have terrible days, and I have monstrously pain-filled days that affect everyone around me. My normal is when I come home everyday, after work or a storytelling session, and hold my wife in my arms. Its grounding for me, and I know that no matter the battle of the day, I am home, I am safe.
As a part of your bipolar disorder, you sometimes experience auditory and visual hallucinations. For those who may not know what it's like, while you are in the midst of the hallucinations, are you aware that they are hallucinations? Are there any external triggers in your life that can contribute to you having the hallucinations?
Stress, stress, and stress can be and is a causative factor in my hallucinations. Today I am mostly aware of my brain's ability to distort reality. I see and hear them for what they are: a part of me. I fight them because mine happens to be intrusive, potentially dangerous to me only, and purely frightening. I battle them with grounding tools like grasping my hands back and forth while reciting "My hands are real, they are in all of our realities. The voices I hear and the things I see are in a distorted reality and they can't hurt me."
What does depression look like from the inside out?
Depression from the inside out looks grim. Dark, lonely, and tremendously painful. From the inside out, my head is throbbing, my food tastes bland, and the relationships I have with those I love falters, and it just hurts. Depression from the inside out looks like a terribly overcast, foggy, and drizzly day in San Francisco, then...the rain starts to pour, and it doesn't quit or lift until the depression has passed. I have lived through a 60-day suicidal depression in my life, it was in the year 2000. I was very lucky to come out of it alive.
Having a severe mental illness does not have to be a death sentence nor does it mean you cannot achieve goals and dreams. You developed a 10 point plan to not just survive this life but to thrive. Talk about what you included in this plan and how you are living mentally well.
My guide to better wellness overall consists of common sense steps that any human being can master one step at a time. My forthcoming second book is called The Art of Wellness: A Lived Expertise Guide to Hope. It is a collaborative effort between a few authors and me. Each of us imparts our lived expertise lessons on getting through the thick of life. A short book with an included handbook/journal toward being mentally, emotionally, and physically well. It's meant to be filled out by the reader regularly as a journal of their wellness progression. It will prepare you or anyone to live a more stress free, wellness focused, brain healthy lifestyle...and yes, there are pictures. Rather than go over all of it, here is an article I wrote for Huffington Post that sums it up, but certainly doesn't give the reader nearly all that is included in the book. The article included here is just the intro.
"Suicide: The Ripple Effect" is a crowd-funded documentary that you created with a great team of people from all across the world. Why is this documentary so important?
I am thankful to Indiegogo for kicking off a successful initial funding campaign. It definitely got our film off the ground. We continue to raise money to finish our vision to help as many people as possible through the medium of film. This film is so important and timely because it guides the watcher through a global journey on the power of hope helping people who are struggling to survive find healing. The message is clear: stay here, fight the good fight no matter your pain. It shares my story as I travel and meet some of the most amazing Hope Dealers the world has to offer. We share our pain, and our triumph. We never once say, "if I can do it, so can you." We ask you to see our life skill success and become inspired to change your own life. The ripple effect of suicide no longer has to be a negative saying, we are altering that notion with this film toward the ripple effects of survival and hope.
Jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge caused some pretty significant damage to your body. You were able to regain full functioning of your body, unlike some other jump survivors. I know that you have talked about the pain you experience on a daily basis. How do you manage the pain? What is the hardest part of having such pain?
The pain is not hard at all, it may be constant, it may make me cry sometimes on planes, but I get the privilege of having it only because I am still here. Bring it on, as of this point in my life, I am used to it. Oddly enough it can't hurt me more than I can hurt myself. As much as I have dedicated the rest of my days to living and never dying by suicide while fighting chronic suicidal ideations, it's really all about attitude and gratitude. I am so grateful to be alive, that the pain doesn't weigh in my general conversation it's just there, and I'm just here.
Can you share about your involvement with the Hope Helps Heal Tour and what that has meant to you?
I can certainly share my involvement with the Hope Helps Heal tours. I started them after going to a conference in Virginia headed up by the amazing suicide prevention strategist Amy Bledsoe.
She had a conference that my wife Margaret, my father Patrick Hines, and an amazing suicide prevention champion of change Stan Collins and I keynoted. [We] ran an entire day of presentations and prevention efforts. Her conference was called The Help Hope & Healing conference.
When I left so inspired by my fellow speakers and Amy and her crew for all of their hard work, the name had just subconsciously stuck.
I began touring with Team Ripple World [members], Lauren Breen and Joe Williams, both of [whom] hail from Australia. Together, we aptly titled our next 5 tours spanning some of 2015 and all of 2016 the Hope Helps Heal Tours because we know from experience that stories of hope do in fact have a life-changing effect on people surviving such immense brain pain, such brain diseases.
I then started a YouTube channel under my production company, 17th & Montgomery Productions Channel. The company is a formally founded Mental Health Media Company. We've just recently launched a daily show called The Hope Helps Heal Show: A Lived Expertise Experience. Each show is 1-3 minute episodes that follow my speaking, wellness speaking, and filmmaking journey while I interview some of the greatest advocates and activists in the field with lived expertise. It's mostly folks who have been through hell mentally and fight to help others triumph over adversity.
A lot of people, myself included, consider you a hero in the mental health community. Who is/are your hero(es)?
My heroes are my parents, both biological, and adopted. My father Patrick never let me go, in our darkest days he always picked me up and carried me to safety. His methods weren't always the kindest, a lot of tough love, but he never once gave up on me, he never let go.
My birth parents for having me in a world of their own mental pain. I love and miss them terribly. They passed from drugs, but they really passed from manic depression, and when it comes down to it depression killed them both. I've never known them, I've always cared for them, even though by definition they were horrible parents. I still love them unconditionally and will mourn them for the rest of my life. They are my heroes because they tried.
I believe you are a warrior for hope. Though you live in daily physical pain as a result of your jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and you have severe mental illness, you continue on day after day. Would you call yourself a warrior for hope?
I would just call myself Kevin, just a regular guy, who cares so much about the wellbeing of the world around me. But if you put Warrior for Hope on a t-shirt, I'd proudly wear it and post it on social media to support your amazing efforts.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the fellow warriors reading this?
You are still here, that means you've made it this far. Don't stop now. You don't know how resilient you all are, but there is the point. You are resilient, you can do this. Whether it be a brain disease, an abusive home, degradation or discrimination at school or work, past criminal activity, you can move forward. You can find better days, and you can remain here. The power of a warrior comes from within. You've always had it. When those suicidal thoughts creep in, it is your duty to reach out, to anyone, to everyone. It may be hard at first to find a listening and helpful ear, but dare I say not impossible, actually plausible. Speak up, speak out, and speak often, I do. I will, and you should too...you must.
**Please note, this blog is based on personal experiences and is intended for educational purposes. It is not to be substituted for professional counseling and medical care.**