Jennifer Green just wanted to feel “normal.” She wanted the stomach aches and headaches, the second-guessing and self-loathing, to stop. She wanted to return to college, to imagine her future.
But on a February afternoon in 1990, 20-year-old Green decided that she’d never have those things. Tucking her identification card into her pocket, she sneaked away from a mental health facility in Faribault, Minn., stepped onto a bridge and jumped 25 feet into the frozen Straight River.
Green remembers hitting an embankment near open water and falling forward. She remembers experiencing “the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt,” as her wrist shattered and her back broke in three places.
And she remembers filling up with something unexpected: a profound desire to live.
Twenty-five years later, Green wants to thank the mysterious person who made that wish possible.
“That person saved my life in so many ways,” said Green, now 45 and working in Chicago as an author and inspirational speaker. “I’m here. I’m alive. I’m on my journey to wholeness.”
Green grew up in a suburb of Chicago, the middle of three girls. Looking back, she remembers many good times. But darkness gripped her in junior high school.
“I was like … I didn’t know what it was called then, but I felt awful,” she said during a telephone interview from her Illinois apartment.
She talked with a school counselor but froze up when asked about her anxiety issues. She redirected the conversation to one about classes she might sign up for in high school.
“I always was good at having a game face on,” Green said.
At 13, she attempted suicide for the first time. She lied to her doctor, telling him that she had taken seven aspirin, when she had taken 47.
She “got through” her freshman year of high school, but began self-injuring with a razor during her sophomore year. She quit drama and choir, both activities she loved. She quit seeing friends, too, and stayed in her room. She overdosed a second time, which led to a six-week hospitalization.
Diagnosed with bipolar depression and bulimia, she was put on antidepressants and began seeing a psychiatrist.
By her senior year, Green was on the honor roll. She was doing so well that her doctor took her off her antidepressants before she headed to college. Within months, she spiraled down again. After her third overdose, her parents picked her up from college and took her home.
“They were terrified,” she said. “There was not a lot of information out there. My dad doesn’t talk about his feelings, but he was there. And my mom was always, and still is, there.”
“I never thought about giving up on her. Ever,” said her mother, Rosemary Green, who talked openly about her daughter’s struggles in order to help demystify mental illness.
“Everybody has these problems,” Rosemary said, “but they didn’t talk about them.”
Together, the family journeyed through a revolving door of hospitalizations and treatment centers in Illinois and Wisconsin. In August of 1989, Jennifer Green’s parents brought her to the Wilson Center, a now-closed psychiatric treatment center in Faribault.
“People told me, ‘This is a great place. We really think it can help you,’ ” Green recalled. But she was housed with a bunch of “15-year-olds with problems with the law,” she said. “I had nothing in common with them.”
Everything started unraveling. Green made her exit plan.
‘This is going to kill me’
She doesn’t remember “going AWOL” on Feb. 7, 1990, but somehow she ran away and ended up on Faribault’s 14th Street Bridge, where she sat down for a long while. She doesn’t think she was wearing a coat. The high that day was an unusually warm 55 degrees; plus, grabbing a coat might have clued in others that she was about to run away.
“This is it. This is going to kill me,” she told herself, as her legs dangled above the ice. “Do I really want this? I said yes.”
After her brutal landing, Green yelled for her parents and for her doctor. “I remember thinking, I want to be alive and someone needs to save me,” Green said. “But I could not move. I could not crawl. I just laid there.”
She prepared to die of hypothermia. Then she heard, “We’re coming.”
Green was rushed to the hospital, where her first memory is of waking up 10 days later, on Feb. 17 — her mother’s birthday.
“I said, ‘Happy birthday’ and then passed out,” Green said.
She spent three months in a wheelchair, wearing a back brace. “I couldn’t go to the bathroom for myself,” she said. “All humility was lost. I had to give it up.”
Little was published about her suicide attempt. A news brief in the Faribault Daily News, dated Feb. 8, 1990, reported that rescue workers had responded a day earlier to a woman who had jumped from a bridge.
“Someone, obviously, saw me on the bridge and called for help,” Green said. A counselor told her that it was someone riding by on a bicycle. That person must have rushed to a nearby house to call for help.
A slow but steady climb
Green’s life since that dark day has been a slow but steady climb. There were other hospitalizations, “but I don’t think I ever really wanted to kill myself again,” she said.
She had back surgery in June 2014 and will have surgery on her left foot March 16 to lessen arthritis pain caused by the jump.
She’s writing a book and has made a YouTube documentary titled “Advocacy 2 Recovery.”
She speaks at charity events and recovery conferences about the importance of finding the right medications and staying on them and also about nutrition and finding your authentic self.
Green came out recently as a lesbian, which “lifted a big weight off my shoulders. Most people in my family were very supportive,” she said. “Part of my depression was not accepting who I was.”
Her parents live nearby. In their late 70s, they both have health challenges of their own. Now Green takes care of them.
She plans to return to Minnesota in June or July, whenever she can get the funds together. “My plan is to buy a special rock and inscribe something on it. I want to go to the bridge and put the rock on the embankment where I landed, to make peace and let go of my anger and pain, and to put to rest my suicidal feelings. I want to have closure in a positive way.”
One thing would grant her complete closure.
She plans to contact alumni from the high school and community college, maybe even walk door-to-door near the bridge, “and explain who I am.”
Maybe somebody saw something. Maybe somebody recognizes himself or herself as Green’s “hero,” riding a bike on that February afternoon 25 years ago.
“But I’ve also thought, and some of my friends have told me, that maybe they don’t want to be found,” Green said. “Maybe they know I’m OK and happy.
“But I would love to find that person and thank them,” she said. “I would love to tell them, ‘You changed the course of my life.’ ”