As many of us are physically and psychologically exhausted from COVID-19 and the anxiety that has come along with an invisible threat as well as the unintended consequences of physical distancing, it makes tangible examples of how people in recovery are getting through the crisis all the more vital. Margaret and Kevin Hines, founders of the Kevin and Margaret Hines Foundation, offer just that—not only during the coronavirus pandemic but always.
Margaret is the CEO of the foundation, championing lived experience in suicide prevention. Her husband, Kevin, is a writer and mental health advocate who shares his crisis story with national and international audiences and leaders, highlighting the day-to-day challenges he faces and how he weathers them. The objective is to not only bring about awareness to the general population but also help people find hope in situations that may otherwise feel hopeless.
The couple provides for others what Kevin needed when he was a teenager and experiencing profound loneliness. In January, he shared with CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan that the loneliness he felt on the day he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge was intolerable, but he was unable to ask for help. “I could not reach out. I needed someone to reach in.”
A vital part of his recovery journey is Margaret. “There are days I’m not doing very well. Sometimes, I’m depressed, paranoid, and manic all at the same time. It’s a process, but she and I have accepted that we are always fighting to get to that better place.”
The couple is candid about Kevin’s good and bad days. While filming his YouTube channel, there are times when he experiences suicidal ideation, mania, paranoia, or delusions. They intentionally keep the footage in the episodes. “It’s important to be real about recovery and that it takes one day at a time.” Kevin also openly shares his wellness strategy, called “The Art of Wellness” with followers, which includes components such as therapy and medication, diet and exercise, coping mechanisms, and advocacy.
One of the protective mechanisms the couple has in place is unique. Margaret can sense when Kevin isn’t feeling well, even detecting when he is about to have an episode. She says it’s similar to an aura: a feeling that acts as a warning for some people before they have a tonic-clonic seizure. This isn’t atypical for people experiencing manic depression. Nina Leichter, who documented her life through audio recordings, can be heard on one tape saying, “Am I going to become manic this morning?” Except, in this case, it’s a warning Margaret notices in Kevin. She senses a shift and has an inkling of what’s to come. “Often, I’ll know if he’s not feeling well or about to not feel well before he does. It’s just this weird being in tune with him.”
Margaret says sometimes Kevin wakes up doing okay, but she has an instinct that in the next couple of hours, he will experience a dip. “I can’t explain it, but I’m usually right.” This is where their full honesty and transparency with one another plays a crucial role. She shares what she senses, and Kevin does as well. They respond to the warning by relaxing and putting measures in place because they know what’s coming. Other times, Kevin shares with Margaret when he’s shifted into mania, descended into a depression, or started having hallucinatory thoughts: seeing people who aren’t there. “We focus on one another and talk through it. Usually, within a half-hour, it’s gone.”
Margaret says a lot of what they do in these harder moments is to communicate. Sometimes, the conversations are difficult. “Kevin might be experiencing psychosis or some of what he’s feeling, if it’s depressive, is painful for me to hear because I love him and don’t want him to feel that way.” Margaret listens—occasionally asking questions, but mostly listening—so that Kevin can express himself. She says this allows him to bounce back, leading to a transition where he will say, “Why am I feeling like this? I need to go for a run.” Or Margaret will say, “You need to give me 50 push-ups.” Physical exertion has a positive effect on Kevin, and they both know it. “He’s really good about paying attention, listening, and doing what I’m asking because 100% of the time, he comes out of it after he does a surge of activity.”
Humor is another element that gets them through these more challenging moments. “It’s a comedy. We’ll sit and reminisce or watch something funny. Other times, it’s just us being together. I love him, and he feels safe. Different situations call for different measures.”
What Kevin knows for sure is that he is not alone.