Note: Originally written for my journalism degree assignment in August 2018. However, I am so, so proud of this piece I decided to re-publish it here.
She has beautiful mermaid hair all fuchsia roots with turquoise ends. Her face is covered in acne, an indicator of her age. She’s only 19 and her coffee coloured eyes hold sadness. Her arms are covered in horizontal and vertical lines, self-inflicted scars echoing her many personal battles. She’s sitting in a wheelchair, pushed by her friend, but once we reach the bridge she stands up. Her name is Lucy and she is a suicide bid survivor.
Now she and her friend are here at the iconic Tyne Bridge to leave handwritten laminated notes of encouragement, hope and suicide prevention. “Don’t let a stumble in the road be the end of your journey,” one of the signs says.
“It takes hours to make these, but I don’t mind,” Lucy tells me as she grabs a sign and a bit of white string from the bag hanging at the back of the wheelchair. “It’s fun, I just want to make a difference, help people.”
I stare at her, blinking slowly, watching her standing and walking.
I ask her about the wheelchair. Lucy’s smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“I jumped off a balcony,” she says flatly. “That’s what people don’t realise, chances are you’re not going to die, chances are you will get injured. My legs and back still hurt. The wheelchair helps.”
In about 30 minutes, Lucy is now visibly tired and in so much pain, she sits down. She doesn’t stand up again while I’m with her.
“It’s not about us,” Lucy says. “It’s about the stories we hear from bypassers that tell us about their experiences with mental illness.”
As she’s talking, a young woman wearing a cream hijab stops, drawn to the signs. She even snaps a few photos. Lucy and her friends have been leaving notes all over bridges in Newcastle for several weeks now, inspired by the Bridge The Gap project, started in Manchester by suicide survivor Lisa Barnes.
“Once we talked someone out of jumping off a bridge,” Lucy said. “It was strange because usually we’re the ones being talked out of jumping. I was scared, I just wanted them to be safe.”
As we tie the signs and chat, Lucy tells me about a mother whose son took his own life by jumping off this bridge.
She says the woman is very nervous and wants to do a walk across the bridge on the one year anniversary of his death. “I promised me and my friend’s would be there for her. Walk with her,” Lucy says.
An hour and a half later, we’ve done both sides of the bridge and are on our way to grab a coffee, the bridge railings now decorated in a sea of rainbow signs fluttering in the wind.
“It looks so pretty from here, so colourful,” Lucy says.
I look at Lucy, at her mermaid hair and her scars ranging from purple to silver, and wonder if she’s left a piece of herself on that bridge. After all, she’s colourful and beautiful too.