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Ray Duckler: Inching back to normalcy

  • Lance Dixon relaxes with his dog Cleopatra before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon relaxes with his dog Cleopatra before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon puts his coat on before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon puts his coat on before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon leaves his Franklin home to head to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon leaves his Franklin home to head to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon fastens the ladder strapped to his car before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lance Dixon fastens the ladder strapped to his car before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lance Dixon relaxes with his dog Cleopatra before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Lance Dixon puts his coat on before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Lance Dixon leaves his Franklin home to head to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Lance Dixon fastens the ladder strapped to his car before heading to work on Saturday morning, November 30, 2013. After a suicide attempt earlier this year, Dixon feels like his life is back on track with his job back and counseling with his family. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

The rope is in his van, the bridge down the street.

They remind Lance Dixon of the dark place he once occupied, the sadness he hid from view. They also remind him of how far he’s come since jumping off a bridge in downtown Franklin last summer in a failed attempt to hang himself.

“I think about it all the time,” Dixon said last week.

Now, though, he also thinks about the job he got back, repairing and maintaining HVAC equipment, a job he had lost after word spread that his depression had, literally and figuratively, pushed him over the edge.

He thinks about his wife and three children and their trip last week to visit family for Thanksgiving.

For Dixon, normalcy is inching back, through counseling, medication, part-time work and a burden removed after years of heavy lifting.

“It’s been pretty humbling and scary,” Dixon said. “But everybody knows and it’s out there and it’s that whole hidden part of it that is gone, so a whole layer of stress is gone, and if I have a bad day, I can tell my boss about it.”

Once, Dixon had a lot of bad days. In August, the Monitor documented his fight against mental illness and his leap from the Ward One Bridge.

He grew up in Derry wondering what was wrong with him and why he was different. Many years ago at a party, Dixon remembers the other 9-year-old kids smiling after each received a ball of ice cream with a cone on top.

Dixon?

He had bad thoughts.

“It looked like a clown, and they served it to me and I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s just the head,’ ” Dixon said. “I didn’t look at it in a positive way. I was sort of a macabre child, seeing the severed head of a clown.”

Pushing aside his anxiety the best way he knew how, Dixon married, fathered three children and settled in Franklin.

But last August, two weeks after he stopped taking his medication and decades after he first noticed his balance was off, Dixon had enough. Planning to jump from a bridge within walking distance from his house, he stuffed his

work backpack with 40 pounds of tools to add violence to the end of the fall he assumed would kill him.

Instead, he landed in the river, and neither he nor the police could figure out if the rope had ripped or been cut by someone passing by.

Whichever, Dixon landed in the water, the noose still around his neck, the current moving him downstream.

He ended up at Franklin Regional Hospital, then spent a week at the state mental health hospital.

When he got home, he was out of a job, deemed too risky to receive the insurance needed to work with heavy equipment.

He agreed to tell his story to me, and said last week that he has felt people’s eyes looking his way.

“I’ve gotten some strange looks from around town, but I can’t directly connect them to the article,” Dixon said. “Maybe I’m just weird looking. I imagine some people have recognized me in town, but being typical New Englanders, they haven’t said anything.”

His family told him not to go public with what he’d been through. “It was going to be doomsday if I did this, according to a lot of members of my family,” Dixon said. “You’d never work again and you’d be branded. That’s what they thought.”

The deep pink scar circling his neck did, in a sense, brand him, but Dixon, through a lawyer, sent his boss documentation of his illness and the steps he’d taken – mediation, counseling – to better himself. So a meeting was held.

“I told my boss let’s be reasonable about this and that I could work,” Dixon said. “It turned out to be very cathartic and nice.”

He’s working 25 to 30 hours per week, but he hopes for and expects full-time work soon. He speaks at his Toastmasters International meetings, where he’s open about what he’s been through and where he’s going now.

Dixon is so confident, in fact, that he made it through two rounds of a Toastmasters’ competition in which members’ verbal presentations were graded by a panel of judges.

Also, Dixon attends family counseling with his wife and three children and says he’s grateful he never turned to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate during those dark days.

He realizes that some will always look at him a certain way, that they’ll view his background as an indication of weakness or selfishness or something negative, something unattractive.

Overall, though, Dixon is relieved over the treatment and understanding he’s received, from officials at his children’s schools, his boss, his family and friends.

“All positive, and I didn’t get any negative reactions from your column at all,” Dixon said. “I am totally flabbergasted by that.”

As for reminders from that day last summer, the river and bridge, so close to home, Dixon says, “I cross the bridge every day. It’s just very close and very far, all at once.”

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

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