As many of us struggle on through the Covid 19 London lock down, it’s a good time to pause, and reflect and truly see that good can come out of bad.
I’ve chosen to re publish one of my earliest interviews with the inspiring and Jonny Benjamin. This is his very dramatic personal story from the depths of despair to being awarded MBE ( service for mental health).
I hope you find this amazing yet true life story of ‘The Stranger on The Bridge’ a motivation that things will get better soon. Just keep believing.
On a bitter cold winter morning, you’re walking across Waterloo Bridge—on your way to work. As you reach the midway point over the grey, fast flowing Thames, something unusual catches your eye. You notice the figure of what appears to be a young man holding onto the railings…on the wrong side. Hundreds of busy commuters pretend not to see what’s right in front of their eyes. Some know what is going on, but don’t know what to do, or internally question whether to get involved or not. One man stops to see to see if he can help. This is the story of “Stranger on The Bridge”—of how two totally unconnected worlds collided and changed both forever. This is Your London Legacy.
“Looking back it’s strange, I almost believed it was –it didn’t feel like me that was causing this disruption. It felt like it was this toy that was in control, but again I guess at that age I couldn’t articulate what was going on.”
Jonny first went to a psychologist at the age of 5. While hard to express his emotions and reasoning at that age, he was acting out and being destructive. He was irritable, couldn’t sleep, and becoming violent. What he couldn’t express was that he was seeing things that weren’t there. This theme of shielding his family and friends from what was tormenting him ran through his early years all the way through uni. Jonny constant felt like something was off and bore into his studies as an escape—finding a particular interest in drama.
Things started to come to a head when Jonny was 17. He’d given into a delusion that he was in a “Truman Show” type situation where he was being watched all the time. Coincidences seemed preordained, planned, and he liked it—if he was being watched then it must mean that everyone liked him. But after a friend vocalized concern he went to see a doctor and was put on a waiting list for a specialist. After time though, Jonny gave up waiting and headed off to uni where he hoped his problems would solve themselves.
While his studies in drama continued to be a godsend and escape, outside of his studies his life was crumbling. It started with self-harm and abusing alcohol and getting into a minor car accident that threw him into a temporary psychosis. Jonny was scared, and to complicate things further he was beginning to struggle with his sexuality as well. He ended up going to group therapy and finally his secret was out, his family was clued into his mental struggles. Jonny felt like he’d betrayed them.
“This might sound awful, but there was a kind of relief in making that decision—because I thought finally, there’s a way out.”
It is at this point that we arrive at the poem Jonny reads at the beginning of our interview. On a freezing cold day in January, he ran to the Waterloo bridge—as he’d planned the night before, deciding to end his life. He’d been in the hospital for a month where his family visited every day, and he felt like this was doing them a favor, taking the burden of himself off their shoulders. But it was on the bridge the stranger came. Calm, empathetic, and very, very human compared to the sterile clipboard environment of the hospital. This stranger was invested in Jonny when he didn’t have to be, and it ended up saving Jonny’s life.
Jonny’s recovery took years, taking a large chunk out of his early twenties. He finished uni but at that point his heart was no longer in his studies. Still finding it difficult to talk about his experience directly, he started talking to the camera and uploading his thoughts online. He started getting an outpour of responses, others that felt so alone and confused in the world. Jonny’s story just got larger and larger and ended up in the Find Mike campaign—a push for Jonny to find the man who talked to him on the bridge 6 years after it happened.
Now Jonny is an award winning mental health campaigner who has spread his reach across film, writing, and the internet at large. He will be soon launching a charity foundation which will allow more mental health education for youth and give aid to smaller projects across the UK.
You can read Jonny’s first book The Stranger on the Bridge and his next book currently titled “The Book of Hope” will be released in 2019. You can find out all the work Jonny is doing at JonnyBenjamin.co.uk and @MrJonnyBenjamin.