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In Crisis

Trying to help others help themselves

  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, returns home for the first time since attempting suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and a 40-pound bag on his back. Following the attempt, he spent three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon, of Franklin, returns home for the first time since attempting suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and a 40-pound bag on his back. Following the attempt, he spent three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, returns home for the first time since attempting suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and a 40-pound bag on his back. Following the attempt, he spent three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Lance Dixon, of Franklin, attempted suicide by jumping off Franklin's Ward One bridge with a rope around his neck and wearing a 40 pound bag on his back. After spending three days at Franklin Regional Hospital and a week at the New Hampshire State Hospital, he returned home.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Lance Dixon kissed his wife goodbye on a warm, sunny day.

He walked a mile, to Franklin’s Ward One bridge, strangely calm after decades of inner turmoil that he never quite understood.

He had what he needed to commit suicide. He had the rope to hang himself, 40 pounds of weight in a backpack so his body would snap hard before hitting the river, and the idea that killing himself would, finally, unburden his wife and three children.

“They’d be better off without me,” Dixon remembered thinking. “I was totally worthless and sad.”

Dixon lived through his suicide attempt that day, earlier this month. Neither he nor officials know if the rope broke or if someone cut it to save his life.

What’s clear is this: Dixon spent three days in Franklin Regional Hospital, a week at New Hampshire Hospital and then a recent morning with me. He wants his story told, the one about depression and hopelessness eating at his spirit, through grade school and high school and college and work.

Maybe it’ll help someone avoid what he’s been through. Dixon lived in denial, tried to be tough, tried to beat a serious illness by himself. He did all he could to smile and raise his children and be a good husband, and when his mental illness knocked him flat, he took a walk to that downtown bridge, around noontime, with cars humming past and the water rushing below.

Now, Dixon finds himself unemployed, deemed too risky to receive the insurance he needed to maintain and repair HVAC equipment. He still has a pink circle around his neck – a label, if you will: suicide try. He knows people will find that troublesome.

Dixon, 42, fears he won’t be able to find work worth having, a job with responsibility. “I was making a grand a week and looking for houses to buy, and instead of snuggling with my wife at home, I jumped off a bridge, and so I’m branded as crazy.”

Crazy? By coming forward so others struggling with mental illness might benefit from his story? Crazy? By facing the stigma attached to his recent behavior and wondering aloud why a man with much to give can’t find his niche?

“I want my story told,” Dixon said. “I think it’s important.”

Off balance

It started long ago, with panic attacks as a little kid. Dixon ran the hurdles at Pinkerton Academy, and he never stopped running or trying to clear obstacles through every aspect of high school.

He felt lonely, isolated, different. He played chess and other board games, loved Dungeons and Dragons, carried a leather briefcase, read Stephen King. His twin sister, Stacey, was outgoing and popular, leaving Dixon with the ID, “Stacey’s brother.”

“It was difficult socially for both of us, as he was quiet, often picked on and called names,” Stacey, who lives in Melrose, Mass., wrote in an email. “And I would try to stick up for him, but the damage was already done.

“As early as I can remember, he was physically hurt, from the school bus to every day at school, from third grade to senior in high school,” Stacey continued. “It was just his quiet demeanor and insecurities that these bullies could smell, and (they would) seek out the weakest.”

He married, had a son and continued his inner fight against sadness, pushing it aside as best he could while working as a sales consultant.

Then, at age 30, his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The doctor lowered her glasses and told Dixon and his wife, Christina, that the behavioral disorder was hereditary.

Had they experienced symptoms?

“She profiled us and I said yes to all those questions,” Dixon said. “She asked if I’d taken Ritalin. That’s how I found out I suffered from depression and ADHD. I’d been dealing my whole life without taking medicine. It was an epiphany, but a dark one.”

Armed with prescription medication and the truth, Dixon and Christina had two more children. He felt better more often than he had in the past, but his depression was never far away, never totally pushed aside.

“A constant fight,” Dixon called it.

Coping

He attended a technical institute and acquired his gas-fitting license. He worked his way up, settling in Franklin recently and establishing himself as an HVAC technician. He says he earned $1,000 per week.

When his illness got the better of him, Dixon would call in sick. Maybe he’d say he had the flu, maybe a headache.

“I had to fight depression, try to keep a job, fight the side effects and raise a family,” Dixon said. “And I worked in a very macho subculture.”

Christina tried to persuade her husband to seek treatment. The medication was helping, but something more was needed. With no health insurance at his job, though, and with something as misunderstood as depression, Dixon continued to fight alone.

“He knew he needed help, but it was a problem of finding the right help and finding how to afford the right help,” said Christina, a part-time pastry chef in Derry. “And once your employer finds out, you’re screwed. If that’s not enough to make you depressed, I don’t know what is.”

Worse, Dixon stopped taking his medication more than two years ago. He longed to feel normal, on his own, and he thought he could fight the illness, on his own.

“I thought I was managing my depression without it,” Dixon said. “I found out I am not stronger than my depression.”

Three weeks ago, on a Saturday night, Dixon and Christina went to a friend’s house for a barbecue. They had fun. “A pretty good time,” Christina said.

Two days later, Dixon lost the fight, moving into an area he says he’d never felt before. Curling up into the fetal position and crying would no longer work. Within a day or so, he had decided. He was through.

“This was deeper and darker than anything I had experienced before,” Dixon said, “so I decided to do something about it.”

The jump

He packed his work backpack with 40 pounds of tools to add violence to the end of his fall. And he packed the noose he’d made.

He kissed Christina, dozing in the living room, and left. He told her he was going out, like he had done hundreds of times in the past. His kids were playing downstairs.

While darkness and sadness engulfed Dixon’s mind, the day was perfect, bright with no humidity.

“Finally,” Dixon says he thought to himself, “this will be over.”

He walked halfway across the bridge and wasted no time, measuring the rope so his feet would dangle close to the water, then tying the other end to the bridge, on a bar running horizontal to Route 3, below the top rail.

Dixon climbed on top, turned his back to the water and pushed away. The rest is fuzzy.

Dixon says he noticed a white car pull up moments before he jumped, and an unknown man got out and yelled, “Don’t.” Did the guy cut the rope and save Dixon’s life? Did the rope break?

Whichever, Dixon landed in the water, the noose still around his neck, the other end of the rope still attached to the bridge. He allowed the current to carry him downstream, dazed but largely unhurt.

“There was an intermediate period of blackness, then I regained consciousness underwater,” Dixon said. “I don’t remember hitting the water. I just bumped and rolled around the rocks for a little bit.”

He says once he got his footing, near a boat launch, he stood up and removed the noose.

The police and rescue personnel were on the scene. The Franklin police report says an officer and a firefighter pulled him into a boat, took him to shore and put him in an ambulance for the drive to Franklin Regional Hospital.

Next, Dixon spent the first of three nights at the hospital, locked in a small room, under observation. Christina didn’t show until the next day, unaware through that first night that her husband had tried to kill himself.

Didn’t Christina wonder where he was? Wasn’t she concerned when Dixon never came home, after his lunchtime walk?

Turns out, no. Dixon’s depression meant lots of midday exits. He’d go to a friend’s house and come home the next day, and although this episode seemed different because Dixon left his car behind, Christina never panicked.

Except, of course, the next day, while working her part-time job delivering the Monitor. A nameless Franklin man had jumped from the local bridge, a story said.

“I pretty much knew it was him,” Christina said.

She called the hospital. Soon she was holding his hand and asking what they should tell his boss this time.

The flu? A virus?

Dixon had had enough.“I said we don’t have to lie,” Dixon said. “I said I’m done.”

Facing facts

Dixon spent three days at Franklin Regional Hospital, on a waiting list for admission to the state’s specialized mental health hospital in Concord. There were nine people ahead of him, despite the nature of his crisis.

He then spent a week at the state hospital. He said the staff was professional, the accommodations clean, the activities plentiful.

He checked out on a Wednesday morning, wearing a drab gray sweatsuit, as lifeless as his eyes, and the unmistakable red ring circling his neck. “Good luck,” a patient said in the reception area, before hugging Dixon.

Then an employee with a raspy voice unlocked the door, and Dixon walked to the parking lot. I took him home to Franklin, a half-hour drive. On the way, Dixon explained why he went to the press.

“Now that I’ve done something so public and I feel so grateful for being alive, I feel obliged to not hide it,” Dixon said. “If people want to discriminate against me and make it so I can’t work or raise my family, and they take away things that I should have, I guess I have to stand up and say, ‘Yep, I have depression, and I deserve to be able to live my life.’ ”

At the time, Dixon was unsure whether he’d keep his job as a technician. Initially his boss seemed hopeful and helpful, but later that very day told him the bad news: The company’s liability insurance provider would no longer cover him. With that, he lost his job. His family’s fears instantly deepened.

“We’re in crisis mode,” Stacey said that day. “It’s too much for him to handle. I worry about his future.”

There is no storybook ending here. Dixon hasn’t begun looking for work yet, but fears that his illness will scare employers away. He has filed a claim with the state, saying he was wrongfully terminated.

“Involuntary commitment is not a crime,” Dixon said, referring to his time in the hospital. “There’s no reason I can’t get insured, and there’s no reason I can’t get a job.”

He’s collecting unemployment and disability. He’s waiting for his medication to start working. He plans on seeing a psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, he’s not hiding from his past. It’s embarrassing, sure. As Dixon said, “When this article is published, dozens of people I worked with will know.”

They’ll know that their former colleague suffered from depression for decades. And that’s the way Lance Dixon wants it. He wants you to know he jumped off a bridge on a warm, sunny day.

“I think I’m a good spokesperson for this,” Dixon said. “There are people in your community who suffer from depression. They should not have to lie about it.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

Legacy Comments2

Thank you Mr. Dixon, for sharing your story. Thank you.

I wish Lance the best and hope someone has the courage to hire him. I thought you could not discriminate against someone with a disability if they can do the work.

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