The hope and the defeat of mental health …..
Written By (TSG Guest Author) Kelley Marie StClair
I recently visited the Foresthill Bridge in Northern California it was absolutely breathtaking. It’s the tallest bridge in the state and the surrounding landscape is a beautiful example of the California Gold Country. However, I soon learned that not only is it the tallest bridge in California, it also serves as a landmark where 87 people have jumped to their death in times of ultimate despair.
It was a smokey day in November. Our small Northern California town of Vacaville was being consumed along with most of the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley by the looming dark haze. The Camp Fire in Paradise California had completely burned the town off of the map. We hadn't even realized the amount of damage and devastation it would cause yet. My husband and I were looking online at an air quality map to try and escape the thick blanket of grayish smothering vapor that had settled in our valley. The map of mostly hazardous oranges, reds, and purples showed on a small patch of refreshing green in parts of Placer county. Fresh air! and off we went.
On the way we looked for hiking trails and places of adventure for the day. About an hour into our drive, when the visibility was no more than maybe a mile and claustrophobia fears began to set in, we started to see a lift in the smoke. Blue skies ahead. As we came into the quaint little town of Auburn we looked forward to the breathable sanctuary. Looking through the foothills for hiking areas a long stretch of bridge appeared. The Foresthill Bridge. Driving closer to it I began to realize that this wasn't just any old bridge. This bridge was magnificent in stature. The hills opened up and we were crossing the platform. I immediately said out loud to my husband, “Oh we are coming back to walk across this” selfishly forgetting his fear of heights, he surprisingly agreed.
We continued on to Penelope Trail and hiked to the Auburn Dam. If you like the outdoors and are in the area, I highly recommend it. Breathtaking. We had a great time in the clear air admiring nature in autumn. The smoke however had decided to follow us. We noticed it slowly creeping in during the later afternoon hours. It was time to go, but that bridge! I had to see it in all its splendor and we would be going through it right before sunset. I was very excited. We approached the bridge and parked on the shoulder, just before the entrance. It was getting smokier. We walked on the side of the road through the red dirt and brush. Cars seldom passed us but when they did they were fast and loud. Getting closer to the opening of the overpass we could see the colossal cement towers and green steel arches. It is one of those - “you really have to see it” experiences. I felt small. Taking the first steps onto the gigantic link between two hills we saw the sign.
Foresthill Bridge, the Highest Bridge in California.
This bridge stands 730 feet above the North Fork American River. Originally designed to replace a river-level crossing that would of been flooded by a reservoir if the Auburn Dam would not have been constructed. This explains its enormousness.
As we walked I came across a laminated sign zip tied to the 7-8ft railing. It was a letter addressed to “Daughter” with some loving and comforting words an then signed by “mom”. I looked down the bridge and noticed the railings on both sides of the bridge scattered with these notes. I am immediately enticed. My husbands said, “oh they are notes for jumpers”. I am instantly embarrassed that I didn't realize that already. My mood changes from excited and awestruck to sad and mindful of my surroundings. I become aware of more smoke, the dizzying height, and the roaring sounds the cars make as they occasionally speed by. I trek on and look down. My insides get topsy turvy and tingly. My husband begins to make sounds of hesitancy. He tells me he can't do it, its too high and assures me he will walk back and wait for me. I am enthralled in these notes frantically trying to read every one of them that I barely notice what he says. I am focused on the feelings in the notes. I am an empathetic person and sometimes that means I get caught up and absorb the energy around me. It’s something an empathetic person needs to learn to deal with because it can be a wonderful thing, and a sometimes damaging thing to one's mental health. I take turns scanning these notes and looking down. My heart gets heavy. I take myself to a moment that I create in my mind, maybe not so far off from someone else's reality.
How does someone get here? It's so scary, so lonely, so potentially harmful... so finalizing. I am so sad for these people who have stood before me. It is overwhelming. I know that right now in my life I am in a good place. So this feeling of trying to peer in someone's mind of darkness where they don't see a tomorrow and feel like THIS is their only choice is conflicting. But it's not a stranger to me. I have been hurt, I have been lonely, I have battled with bouts of anxiety and depression at times in my life. I would be lying if I said I never asked myself “what if “.... I am human. But I am lucky to have never felt such a compelling stagnant empty darkness that some people have. I have known people, friends who have taken their own lives. I have seen the devastation and destruction it leaves behind.
I am in the middle of the bridge and my mind is in a dark sad place. I look over to see my husband standing... watching... waiting for me. I force myself to keep reading the notes and focus on the positive affirmations - “You matter” “ We love you” “your family and pets will miss you”. “Call mom”,This one hits home. I am a mother of two. These notes of love, encouragement, hope, and faith create a small glow in my heart. They are what is good in this world. People who love. I again look at my guy and count my blessings as I begin to return to start.
I learned that 87 people have jumped off this bridge since its creation. That's 87 families and more friends left behind to pick up the pieces. These notes were inspired by 18-year-old Paige Hunter - a college student in England who placed 40 notes on Sunderland’s Wearmouth Bridge. Residents from Auburn followed in her path to spread positivity and togetherness. You feel a sense of celebrating life within these encouraging colorful and bright messages.
Leaving there I could of felt despair and heaviness, however I choose to look at this experience as a perspective one. I promised myself to try harder to be aware of friends and family’s mental state and feelings. Listening to someone is so helpful. Just letting them know you are there for them. Checking in on people going through challenging times. Encouraging them to stay healthy for themselves and their families. I will try harder to also make a conscious effort and be healthy and find happiness for myself. Canceling out negativity in others and replacing it with positivity could help them as well. A positive attitude is contagious.
I have included a link with more information on the Notes For Hope and the wonderful people who have carried out this act of compassion. It is them I want to thank to help me have this eye opening experience and motivate me to help others.
If you or a loved one need help, please reach out to one of the resources below.
Suicide Prevention Hotline -We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.