Of the estimated 1,500 people to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, only thirty-four are known to have survived. Kevin Hines is one of them.
Kevin’s story first came to national notice in the controversial documentary The Bridge. An internationally recognized speaker on issues of mental health and suicide prevention, Kevin now travels year-round, addressing colleges, high schools, and mental health conferences. He has, more recently, been a frequent guest on military bases, as military suicides have spiked. And he is often a radio and television guest and has had a song written about him by the Irish band, Friends of Emmet. He is also my brother-in-law.
Here, I’ve generously been allowed to do the kind of interview with Kevin I haven’t seen before. Upon the publication of his memoir, Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, I wanted to hear him talk not just about his experiences, but about his book as a book. It’s a taut, focused work that very often surprises with its rich humor.
The Rumpus: You obviously do lots of speaking around the country—and the world—about your experience of attempting suicide and coming back to health. Your anecdotes must be pretty polished by this point, but did you find the transition from spoken presentation to writing a book difficult?
Kevin Hines: Yes. When I finished the first draft of the book proposal, my great friend Eric Steel [director of The Bridge] wrote to me and point-blank said, “You need to write it, not speak it.” After several rewrites, I finally found my writing voice.
Rumpus: Had he read some of the writing—or just the proposal?
Hines: He actually read the first three chapters, including the introduction, as well as the proposal. He took what little time he had to walk me through my rookie mistakes. I have been so grateful for his aid.
Rumpus: What was an example of a rookie mistake you were making?
Hines: It was as if my writing voice almost sounded like me speaking in public when read. You also helped me further augment and restructure the book, and for that I am eternally thankful.
Rumpus: My pleasure! I think what struck me, even in the draft I read, was the humor in the book. I wasn’t expecting humor.
Hines: I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “The writer must write what he thinks, not speak it.”
Rumpus: Good quote.
Hines: One of the things that has always been a part of my life is comedy, or humor. Both of my parents are very funny in their own right, and I attribute my speaking and writing humor to their comedic personas.
Rumpus: The series of events leading up to meeting your wife is like a bit of slapstick in the middle of your excruciatingly hard recovery.
Hines: Definitely. I was in my third psych ward, and ended up serendipitously meeting the future love of my life after she was in the ward, visiting a loved one.
Rumpus: A loved one who wasn’t too fond of you.
Hines: He was incoherent, and I would talk his ear off day and night. Finally, he told me to shut up—in so many words. We would later become great friends. Brothers of the Ward.
What she [Hines’s future wife] did not realize was that when I met her—literally the moment I laid eyes on her—it was, for me, love at first sight.
Rumpus: I can see why she’d be surprised—she probably didn’t think she was going to meet any eligible bachelors on that visit.
Hines: And certainly not someone with my severely difficult mental background. As a matter of fact, when I first asked her out, it was in the ward, and instead of her saying “no way!” she let me down easy. She said, “Honey, you’re too young, and I am practically married.”
Rumpus: You were twenty-three.
Rumpus: You’ve since become a leading advocate for mental health, and lately have been delivering frequent talks on military bases. What’s that been like?
Hines: During my very first military presentation, at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, I was called to the stage with my father. That day we spoke together; him first, then me. When I ran up onstage, a Commanding General yelled out to the crowd of 2,000 eighteen-to-twenty-four-year old Marine officers: “I want you all to listen to this young man. THIS MAN IS A GIFT FROM GOD! SO PAY ATTENTION!”
I was already unusually nervous. At the front gate, each of the sentinels had what seemed to be the largest guns I had ever personally seen. Then when we entered the theater, there were guards standing at nearly every doorway with guns at their sides. I looked out at this crowd sitting at attention to hear my supposed words of wisdom. I remember saying something like, “This is quite a bit intimidating. I know that each and every one of you could literally destroy me, probably with just your pinky toe.” Some laughed. But then they all listened attentively and after the speech all 2,000 Marines stood up and yelled “WHOORAH” in unison. It was palpable!
The general came offstage and shook the hands of my father and me, and as he did, he slickly handed us a medal each: the highest commendation of its kind. He said, and I quote, “I only give out one hundred of these in my entire military career. Don’t lose it.”
Then there was another time at Camp Lejeune. After one presentation, a young man, a Lance Corporal—meaning he’s been in the military four to five years—approached me, stood at attention in front of me, removed his Lance Corporal Chevron, and placed it on my lapel. He said, “I was going to kill myself today. You are the reason that I will get help. I will not die by suicide.” Then he shook my hand, said thank you, and went and told his CO. That was a life-changing moment for me.
Rumpus: Tremendous. Stepping away from that public side—were there stories that you included in the book that you hadn’t publicly told before?
Hines: For sure. In the book, I wrote of a psychotic episode that led me to my sixth psych ward stay. I told this portion as it was occurring. I did not wait for a clear head. I had been in the middle of rewriting the book for the second of four times, and it happened to land on a very traumatic mental relapse. I just kept writing. A very raw and real part of the book.
Rumpus: In that traumatic relapse, we get to see, almost in real time, your paranoia creeping up. You excerpt what you wrote in your journals—the way your thoughts are all turning against you. It’s a terrifying moment for any reader (especially for your brother-in-law) to see how you can know that you’re being paranoid, but are still essentially helpless against the paranoia:
. . . Chronicles of My Psychotic Mind . . .
She [my wife] will kill me, eventually
Or, they will kill me, Or, Dad will kill me,
A sniper will kill me; Buildings will come alive & kill me
A car will burst into flames, explode, and kill me
“THEY ARE COMING!” [A constant thought in my head.] Or, “They are here”
“Constant feelings that I have to die by my own hands,
“Call my wife” I think the “They” is actually “ME”
I feel like a total burden,
Like I don’t deserve to exist
My family hates me but pretend to love me
Same about my wife’s family
My wife & Dad are plotting to kill me sometime in the next few months….
I know none of this is the “Real Reality”
But only my “Distorted Reality”
In the last 4–6 months thoughts of suicide have increased not decreased
Zoloft not working, still depressed most days
Wake up in mild psychosis
Feel like I’m going to die very soon
Probably before I’m 30 years old, 2 years to go
So confused, trying to hold it together externally
Bad movie need help
If it doesn’t get better might have to go to the Hospital soon
Don’t want that, don’t want Hospital
I feel like I’m stuck in a fucking recurring nightmare.
When people look in my direction they are trying to kill me,
or they are talking bad about me.
My father loves me He would not kill me, why would he want me dead I’m so tired of all this emotional/mental stress
“SUICIDE IS NOT THE ANSWER” “PERMANENT SOLUTION
TO A TEMPORARY PROBLEM” “I WILL NOT DIE BY SUICIDE
Why is this happening to me, most likely pills not working?
Hines: That part of my life has become the most difficult. Every single day I deal with moderate to extreme psychotic paranoia.
Rumpus: Obviously it’s hard for me to understand it truly and deeply, but I really began to see your experience through your writing.
Hines: That is part of the crux of this book: to get those who previously do not comprehend, or even fully understand, the power of the human brain. I was born premature. I was introduced via my biological parents to drugs before I was born. This book’s goal is to reach out to anyone struggling in any way, and show them that they, too, can rise above such mental, emotional, physical, and detrimental life pain.
People who die by suicide, in my opinion, do not want to, but find themselves believing they have to die by suicide. I believed I was horrible, useless, and a burden to everyone around me. I thought I had to die. Had I only spoken up and asked someone for help, my life may have taken a very different path.
Rumpus: What was the hardest part of this book to write?
Hines: The chapter while in psychosis. That was physically draining and difficult. But [as far as just getting the story right] I’d say the second-to-last chapter. I was on my usual nine-mile run, when some construction workers driving by starting jumping up and down in their quad cab truck because they recognized me. They were astounded that I could even walk let alone run. I was listening to my favorite song—I’m a bit biased, seeing as it’s “Coming Apart,” by the band Friends of Emmet, and is about my life story. It is one of the most moving tracks I have ever listened to, and every time I run I put that song on repeat. Anyway, while I ran on a busy SF sidewalk, these workers I had no prior connection to followed me along the road, shouting and cheering me on. They were obviously so glad I was mobile and okay. They cared. It was epic.
Rumpus: Your life story is really based in San Francisco—and those guys were San Francisco dudes. Did you think consciously of how you wanted to capture the city in the book?
Hines: You know, I did quite often actually, and truth be told, I do not know if I did San Francisco justice. I do know that I tried.
Rumpus: Were there any stories or events you wanted to include but couldn’t?
Hines: I wish I went deeper into the life of my birth mother. She was a beautiful human being that I never got the chance to physically know. I am adopted, but consider myself to have two moms and two dads. Sadly, my biological mother and father were not long for this earth, and by the time I sought them out, they had passed on. I wish I could have dedicated ten more chapters to their life stories. Maybe someday I can find a way to tell their tales, doing them greater justice.
Rumpus: Well, this certainly isn’t your one and only book. That’s clear while reading it.
Hines: I hope to have a long and fruitful career as a writer, as a message-bringer. I hope my body of eventual work reaches people all over the world, changes minds, and helps to guide people to safety in dark times. Frankly, I hope it saves lives.
Rumpus: It will. It has. You have.
Author’s Note: If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal right now, please call 1-800-273-TALK (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). For more information on bipolar disorder or mental wellness in general, please check out Kevin’s website.