What would you do if you came across someone ready to end their life? Here is what I did.
Supposedly you are crossing a bridge and you notice someone ready to end their life by jumping into the river – what do you do? And to complicate matters you are cycling with your 2-year-old child on the back of your bike – again, what do you do?
Do you persuade yourself it’s none of your business and go on your way, or do you turn around and go to speak to them? What if they’re on drugs or high, or hallucinating, what if they’re dangerous or aggressive or worse… what if they jump while you and your child are watching? And even then… what do you do? Do you leave your child at the bridge, strapped to the bicycle and follow him in? Do you let him die without trying to save him and carry this for the rest of your life? What do you do?
Well, I’ll tell you what I did.
On the 29th of April 2019, I was cycling home with my son after his morning activity. It was a beautiful sunny morning and as usual we were singing on the way. I always urge him to look at the river because I love the water and that day was no exception. As we were passing by, I noticed a girl looking out at the river too. Nothing unusual, it is a common scene. I can’t say exactly what it was, but there was something that caught my attention and I remember thinking, “I don’t like this”.
Immediately I told myself to stop being silly and seeing signs where there are none – it was a wonderful day just after 11am. All I wanted was to get home to cook for my son and put him to bed so I could catch up with some work. Fifty metres further down I couldn’t let my thought go and I turned around to look back. This is when I saw that she had climbed up onto the wall with one leg hanging down the other side of the bridge.
I turn around and cycled towards her as hard as I could. A narrative had started in my head. “What if I don’t get there on time?” “If only I get a chance to talk to her, I might get her to step down”, “I care, here is someone who cares for you, don’t jump!”
I arrived with a smile on my face, I looked down to where she was looking and, shivering, I made a light remark about how cold the river would be, to which she just nodded. This is when I noticed next to her the pill box, the bottle of water, and a razor. As I looked up smiling at her I saw her bleeding arms and the black circles around her eyes. The narrative in my head continued “Hope, hope, give her hope, find something to give her hope.” I remember clearly visualising her falling in and went through possible actions in my head.
“This is Johnny, what is your name?”
“(…) So if she falls, should I leave Johnny strapped to the bicycle, should I just call for help, what will I do with Johnny, I should take my jacket off before I jump in so I can swim better, I’ll stop a car and ask them to stay with Johnny (…)”
“Johnny say hi to Ellie*.”
“(…) But I don’t know how to rescue someone in the water. Never mind, I’m a good swimmer, I’ll manage. I have to try, I’ll find way, I have to try. I need to keep talking to her, I have to engage her. I should stay on the bridge if she jumps and call the ambulance. What number should I call? What if she dies, I am her only chance right now. Oh good, someone else is coming our way – oh no, he’s just walking past us! Will Johnny be alright, Mark will be so mad at me if I jump in, but there is no way I can live with myself if I don’t! It’s okay, I’ll try to explain to him later, he’ll understand – I hope he will. Keep talking to her. Oh God he’ll be so mad. Okay take the helmet off too, everything will be fine. She has both old and new cuts on her arms. Don’t worry, I’m here for you Ellie, I am not abandoning you. I care. Johnny will be okay, he is too young to have a memory of this, right? I will swim to the right side of the shore (…)”
I can’t remember everything I was telling her while these thoughts were playing in my head, but I do remember noticing something that was somewhat out of character. All the rush was in my head, my heart was not beating fast. I do not recall being stressed or scared. I knew I could help or at least I really wanted to, and I was just trying to be ready to act in case I needed to. In the meantime, all I had to do is stay smiley and be chatty. This somehow was clear to me at the time. To this moment I am writing this, I do not know why or how this happened.
Then, there was an instant in which I saw a flicker of a smile on her lips. And then there was this moment; she slowly turned and slid down onto the pavement. As her feet hit the ground, I felt my heart soaring. She wouldn’t get up on the wall again because I knew I could stop her, so she was safe now. But this is when everything sunk in for me and I realised how rationally irrational my thoughts were. “Oh my God I would have dived in!” I asked her to come for a hug and I burst into tears as I held her tightly. That was when I told her that every morning she wakes up from now on, she should ask herself, “what would someone who loved herself do today?” She nodded and sat down on the ground giving me the chance to call an ambulance.
“You saved her life.” I remember a policeman telling me and I replied, “My son did.”
Nikos Kazantzakis, a Greek novelist and philosopher, wrote that “We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life.” It is in this interval that the sufferings and illnesses of Pandora’s box exist but so too does the last of its content, hope.
Ellie had lost hope. I was holding onto hope to help Ellie.
I saved Ellie and Ellie saved me right back.
How did she save me, you wonder?
Since then I have gone through so many thoughts and emotions and the truth is that I am still processing the meaning of this event for me, which is why I decided to write this blog. There is one thing I am sure of though. Had Ellie jumped off that bridge my life would have changed forever and for the worse on that casual sunny Monday morning. It would have changed for the worse, even if I had managed to drag her alive to the shore. That is if I had survived the fall myself, of course. Because the thought that I had left Johnny on the bridge alone would have haunted me for the rest of my life.
The ‘luminous interval’ with which we are all blessed is full of different challenges for each of us – Pandora’s box makes sure of it. Nobody has an easy life from start to finish and this is the simple truth – nobody even if they appear so. Yet, what if instead of ignoring, rejecting, disparaging, disregarding, belittling, demeaning, envying, prying, attacking, insulting and criticising, we consciously try to:
- be open
- embrace – different colour, size, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, financial status, intellectual and physical ability, mental resilience
- be kind
We should act these ways with ourselves, as well as everyone else around us, with no exceptions. I have written this before, I am writing this again, and I will never stop writing this.
It’s okay if we do not always get it right, but can we at least keep trying?
Just consider how many lives, including our own, may be saved in the process.
Be kind. Give hope.
* Her name has been changed to protect privacy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli founded My Psychology Clinic where she gained her reputation working as Clinical Psychologist with clients on one to one basis in London and worldwide via online therapy. She specialises in adult mental health and couples therapy. Studied at the universities of East London, Oxford and Cambridge and trained at the Institute of Psychiatry where she worked across world-renowned NHS Trusts.
Click here to book an online session or in person with Dr Patapia Tzotzoli at My Psychology Clinic.