Tag Archives: suicide

The Lies of Suicide

F6C44347-CD36-4D8E-923D-14CB181AEF89Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain.

Two in one week. Add them to that terribly long, horrific list of people who have taken their own lives— people we have known or knew from a distance.

What scares me is that a report published just this week indicates that suicide rates are climbing all over the country. It’s evident of a medical system unable to adequately treat the number of people who have mental illness, the numbers of people who go undiagnosed, and especially this: the growing cultural acceptability of suicide. It’s glamorized and even rewarded when we say things like, “I’m glad his suffering is over. She’s in a better place now. He’s free. She’s flown away.”

Suicide seems to have an increasingly seductive allure as a final act of escape. In a culture that promotes and celebrates distraction, diversions and get-aways from reality, suicide lurches more prominently within the darker recesses of our shadowy selves. In our compulsive, overly anxious, self-obsessed natures in which we fear and glamorize death with a “who cares” kind of apathy, is it any wonder that more of us are tempted to listen to the “like sucks” “I just want to die” “screw it all” “forget you, world” voices in our heads? Listen to it enough, own it enough, and then we begin to find reasons to act out on it in highly destructive ways. Suicide is ranking higher as a mode of self-destruction.

But suicide is a devilish liar of the worst kind. I should know.
I’ve written before about my own struggles through suicidal thinking. Having climbed through that darkness by God’s grace and presence along with the presence of some loved ones, I know how powerfully seductive suicidal thinking can be.

“Nothing matters.” “I don’t matter anymore.” “If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me.” “I’m a failure and a disappointment to everyone.” “Everyone will be better off without me.” “Sure, people might be hurt when I’m gone, but they’ll get over it, especially me. They always do. They always have.”

Lies and more lies. Suicide doesn’t take just one life. It drains the life out of everyone else that one life touched. It’s a violent, most awful way to die, no matter how it is carried out. And suicide never delivers on its promises. No one is ever better off dead, and the world becomes a far lesser place without us suddenly not in it, not a better one. Suicide leaves nothing but death and tragedy in its wake. When we accept that reality, we can choose love and life over lies and death.

It could be said that suicide prevention revolves around the choices we all make. We either lovingly choose to make life-giving and saving connections, or we choose death. That is true for the one contemplating suicide and everyone else around him or her.

As I did in my most recent post on mental illness, I’d like to offer some essential ideas for those who might be considering suicide and for their loved ones:

1) As hard as it is, make the choice to reach out. Many of us know how it feels to be so bottomed out that the effort it takes to reach out for help can seem unbearably difficult. We don’t want to bother anyone. Apathy paralyzes us. When that happens— Just. Do. It. Call someone. Text or message someone. If it’s dire enough, Google “suicide” and there you’ll find the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Get yourself to an Emergency Room. Take one step at a time away from the edge and towards life. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Your loved ones are worth it.

2) Be there. Watch out for the warning signs of suicidal moods in other people- extreme withdrawal, any kind of loose talk of wanting to die or wanting everything to end, or sudden, unexplainable mood shifts. Don’t just say, “Call me if you need anything.” Go there and make the connection. Listen to your gut, and remember that accidental overstepping is better than careful sidestepping, especially if someone’s life is on the line. If you feel someone is in imminent danger, offer to make a phone call or to take them to the hospital. But don’t leave.

3) Make time. At any moment with anyone, making time to slow down and deeply listen to the lives and stories of our neighbors, to hear and non-judgmentally receive their thoughts and feelings, good or bad, to provide a safe place to talk, explore, and “get stuff out” may be the best mental health medicine and suicide prevention we could offer to each other. Many of us suffer from loneliness, real or perceived. The best cure for that I know is the connection of deep listening. It’s been said that the gift of listening is a gift of pure, unconditional love. You don’t have to be a therapist. You’re not there to fix anything or make it better. You’re there simply to be the presence of God who is love.

And love… love is what keeps us alive, healthy, and happy.

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Robin, You Are Never Alone

Robin WilliamsI was at band rehearsal last night when I got a text message from a friend saying that Robin Williams was dead. It about took my breath away. In fact, a few of my band mates had to chide me to get focused on our rehearsal. One of them said, “Jeesh, it’s like you know him or something.”

Strangely enough, I feel like I did. How? It’s not that I knew him as a whole person. Of course not. But somewhere inside me, I knew how he died, even before reading about it. It was depression-related suicide. I knew it because I’ve been there before, far too close to the edge.

Like so many other people of my generation, we were raised with Robin Williams- Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, and all those great movies he made. In my childhood home, Robin Williams was staple entertainment… well, at least the cleaner stuff he did. As I grew up, he never ceased to entertain me and later my children… again, sticking to the cleaner stuff.

I also knew about his struggles with depression and addiction, often devilishly dark conjoined twins. The part of me that knew Robin Williams knew that side of him all too well. I’ve never been addicted to any kind of substance or alcohol, but I do come from a family of addicts who struggle with depression. Through genes and upbringing, you could say I inherited my fair share of depression and addictive personality.

Depression is double shame. First there’s depression. It’s a painful, shame-induced inwardly turned anger, hopelessness, crushing low self-esteem, and soul weariness. Add to the shame of depression the shameful social stigma of depression and other illnesses of the mind, and you’ve got the double shame of depression.

It’s no wonder then that a good number of people who suffer depression are also suicidal. When you feel completely isolated from yourself, from God, and from others, why bother going on? When you live utterly alone under the smothering void of depression, what’s left?

Or so we think.

The healing balm of depression is presence- the presence of others and God through others. I keep thinking about Robin Williams. Had he allowed someone to simply be with him, even without saying a word– and actually for those suffering depression, that is preferable– he would still be alive today. Or if someone had noticed his condition and insisted on being with him, even against all of his angry protests or empty apathetic gazes, he might still be here.

I know that’s true because I’ve lived it. Three years ago after donating my left kidney, I suffered a deep depression. Coupled with the enormous physiological changes my body had gone through, I kept suffering from chronic feelings of inadequacy, being a burden and bother to my loved ones and church, feeling helpless and trapped, and more. All of that plunged me into a depression, so bad that I seriously contemplated suicide. I first justified why everyone would be better off without me. I began to say my quiet goodbyes to my wife and kids, and then I began to research ways of dying.

I’m here today because my wife Blairlee noticed a grave shift in my behavior and insisted on knowing what was going on. I said that nothing was wrong (a lie, but easier than talking about the truth). She gently pushed more. And then I spilled it all out. We decided that I would more openly communicate how I was feeling, especially if I had thoughts of hurting myself. Shortly afterwards I underwent a long round of medication and therapy.

I share these things because I’m not alone. So many other people suffer from depression and suicidal ideation, but we never talk about it. It’s a hidden disease. I could have cancer, a heart condition, diabetes, or any other disease of the body, and openly talk about it. But the moment I mention depression, I’m looked at differently as a broken, weak, unstable, even immoral person who obviously can’t manage his life properly.

Here are several facts about depression:

  • It does not indicate character, moral, or spiritual defects.
  • Depression does not indicate weakness. In fact, some of history’s strongest people suffered from depression. I’m in good company with the likes of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Depression is a medical condition to be treated like any other medical condition– therapy, medication, and self-care.
  • Depression does not have to define who a person is, but it can bring about the opportunity for tremendous growth, healing, and strengthening.

I truly hope that Robin Williams’ death will shed some more light on the reality of depression while sweeping away untruths and misconceptions. Robin, you are finally not alone. There are many of us who suffer like you did, and we will choose to live on together in hope, healing, and in God’s love and light. Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you.

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