San Francisco native Kevin Hines began his talk in Worcester State University’s Blue Lounge on Wednesday, February 15 by asking his audience to observe a moment of silence for those who have committed suicide and those who are struggling with depression.
Next, he said: “Are you OK? Is something wrong? Can I help you? Those are the only words I needed to hear when I found myself standing atop the Golden Gate Bridge.”
They were also words Hines disregarded during his early struggles with bipolar disorder (type 1) and psychosis—until he jumped into the San Francisco Bay on September 24, 2000.
Hines’ first severe bout with paranoia caused by his bipolar disorder happened when he was about to take the stage as the lead in a high school play. He became convinced that someone in the audience was going to kill him and ran out of the school.
That marked the beginning of his treatment as well as the long series of lies he would tell family members and friends to mask his intense struggles with his diagnosis and mental state.
“I didn’t want it. I was an eclectic, overactive kid who liked all activities at school. And suddenly I was labeled…” he said.
“Crazy,” the audience finished.
He graduated from high school and enrolled in classes at City College of San Francisco. He took his medicine sporadically. As his “paranoia grew consistently worse,” Hines said he managed to keep something intact: “My lies.”
“When it wasn’t death, I would see an old man who was holding a knife, and I was convinced that he was going to kill me,” he said.
He became afraid of the eagle logo on the side of the United States Postal Service trucks. “Every time I saw a USPS truck, I would run in the opposite direction, dropping everything in my arms along the way,” he said. “I’d run and run and run until I found myself suffering from an asthma attack. I’d find myself in neighborhoods I didn’t recognize. Each time, I would find my way home, crawl up to my room, and put my nebulizer on.”
He was living with his father at the time, but never confided in him what was going on in his life. His father was extremely worried, but Hines led him to believe he was attending classes at City College.
Truth was that when Hines “wasn’t depressed or paranoid or hallucinating,” he was suicidal. And he was convinced that he was unloved.
The bond Hines had with his father wasn’t enough to stop him from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on September 24, 2000. His father was open about being very worried about him, and tried to convince him to spend the day with him at work. Instead, Hines lied once again about needing to go to City College that day. After his father dropped him off at the school, Hines went in and dropped nearly all his classes, thinking that he should do this so his parents wouldn’t have to after he had died.
As soon as Hines jumped, he regretted his decision. “I felt instant regret for my actions. It was the greatest mistake of my life,” he said.
Hines’ renewed will to live enabled him to react quickly when he was 70 feet underwater. Although his back was broken and he could no longer feel his legs, he was able to swim up to the surface using only his arms. Meanwhile, a bystander called a friend in the Coast Guard, who came to Hines’ rescue. Before the Coast Guard arrived, “something slimy” kept Hines afloat on its back until human help arrived. “I thought, ‘Oh, great, a shark is going to eat me,’ ” he said. (He has since speculated that it was likely a sea lion.)
Today, Hines shares his story in hopes of being a bridge between those who have attempted suicide or are struggling with mental illness and those who can help them.
“I appreciate everything I get to do and everyone I have the privilege to meet each day, he said. “I’ve built a network of individuals who care. I call them my personal protectors.”
In addition to taking his medicine regularly, Hines said he exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet, and educates himself on bipolar disorder to manage his condition.
After receiving a standing ovation at the end of his talk, Hines asked anyone who needed help to stay behind in the Blue Lounge.
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