by Kevin Hines, Guest Blogger
Carefully maneuvering to grab the third plane of the day, I reached the line to board. Dressed in royal blue, the gate agent made his first announcement: “Anyone who needs assistance, extra time, or has a disability may board now.”
I approached the front of the line. “Pardon me”, I said to the older fella next to me. He wore a bright white tee, black khaki shorts, black socks, and a perplexed look upon his face. While I was well in ear shot, he aggressively proclaimed, “you’re not even dragging a leg…that ain’t right!” Pre-board rules are clear: if you have a disability or need extra time (like I do), you may enter prior to any of the first tier boarding sections.
What the gentleman who made these remarks did not know, could not know, was the copious amount of physical pain I was in at that very moment. What he didn’t know was the momentous pain I live in daily. How could he? I didn’t visibly appear to be in tremendous pain, aside from my furrowed brow.
The pain is a cross I must bear for the suicide attempt I made at 19 years old. I hide it well. As he said, I don’t walk with a limp. I take my light pain meds and muster through it. I don’t complain about it to anyone besides my better half. Nor should I, it’s a mostly private reality. When I am flying anywhere, it is exacerbated. Let’s face it–no airline I know of has ergonomically correct seating. Sometimes I am in so much pain, it brings me to tears. So I just sit there balling. For those who don’t know me, my physical suffering is rather invisible. This fact, however, does not make it any less of a reality.
I would love to place this guy, and all like him, in my shoes for just one fly day. My guess is, he wouldn’t last 5 minutes.
The injury to my formerly broken and shattered back was extensive after my attempt. My lower back was fitted with a great deal of titanium. Not only am I blessed to be mobile at all, but clearly blessed to be alive. In the year 2000 while struggling with mental illness, I leapt off of the Golden Gate Bridge in order to die by suicide. That day, my brain was trying to kill me as I desperately fought to stay above water.
Today, I travel across the United States and the globe. I speak publicly about my experience. I talk about my survival and my ongoing recovery. I do so as I continue living with chronic pain and chronic suicidal thoughts. But that’s ok, because I AM ALIVE! I get the amazing ability to be a part of this world every single day.
I am not alone in this regular occurrence. People like me come from all over the world. We have what most call “disabilities”. We are those whose suffering is not apparent, and thus the constant discrimination ensues. No matter our strife, people who live this life cannot let others determine our emotions.
I know how lucky I am: I still have the gift of life. In a moment it can be taken away. I get to kiss my wife every morning that I am home. I am allowed the opportunities to speak about my brain disease, Bipolar Type 1 with Psychotic Features, to foundations, hospitals, universities, conferences, and the military, etc.
There are so many people at airports around the globe who look on in judgment as I board. From the gate agents to the flight crew. The passengers especially glare on. They screw their faces at me as I board. Others peer on with nasty stares and clearly spit out sly comments.
They do so as if those living like me have just committed some heinous air crime. They are the apathetic, without the ability to hold concern. Theirs is a sad life, cynical, judgmental, angry. I hope this blog opens some of their eyes. But at this very moment, as I key in these words, I cannot continue. The pain is too much to bear. Tears are beginning to flow. You get the point. Love on, live long, and find wellness, because mental health matters as much as physical, and emotional health.
More about our Guest Blogger:
Since its construction in 1937, thousands of people have ended their lives by jumping off San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Only 34 have survived the fall. Kevin Hines is one of them. Since his suicide attempt when he was 19 years old, Kevin Hines has become one of the most prominent suicide awareness and prevention activists in the U.S. Through presentations and his memoir “Cracked, Not Broken,” Kevin’s message of striving to live “mentally well” in the face of mental illness has reached and inspired millions.
Read other guest blogs by Kevin here.