Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Live

Have you ever read suicide statistics?  Probably not unless you work in a field where this information would be relevant.  It’s not that I’d expect you to read them since suicide is not something most people in society are comfortable with even thinking about, much less talk about or researching.   About six months ago, I posted a link on my Facebook wall about 1-800-SUICIDE, the hotline at the Kristin Brooks Hope Center which was created to help those in crisis.  I challenged people to repost the link on their own Walls since we never know who in our lives may be hurting worse that we can imagine.  Only two people reposted to their walls.  Two. 

Now I know that no one likes to think that someone they know is contemplating or has ever even considered suicide.  In 2007 (the most recent reliable statistics I could find), suicide was the 7th leading cause of death among men and the fifteenth leading cause among women.  Even worse, it was the third leading cause among young people age 15-24.  And this doesn’t count those deaths that were not reported as suicides.  It is also estimated that for every suicide, there are eleven nonfatal attempts.  So if you consider those who have taken their lives, those who have attempted and those who have seriously contemplated suicide, chances are you know someone who has been affected by suicidal thoughts. 

I grew up being told that suicide is the unforgivable sin since the person committing it not only destroys God’s creation but also cannot ask for forgiveness. I never understood the rationale behind this belief, especially since I can’t find anywhere in the Bible the specifically says those who commit suicide go to hell. People will quote the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not kill/murder.” However, there are numerous prison ministries who reach out to violent criminals and even murderers can supposedly receive forgiveness and redemption from God after taking a life God created. And while a person who takes his own life cannot ask forgiveness, how many other people die with unconfessed/unforgiven sins? Each day people die suddenly in car accidents and from heart attacks, without even a moment to repent. Are their sins automatically excused since they didn’t take their own life? What if the man in the car accident was drinking or driving at a reckless speed? Didn’t he in a way contribute to his death? What if a heart attack is the result of years of unhealthy living and bad habits? Is there really a difference between putting a gun to your head and killing yourself slowly with cigarettes? Why is it that suicide becomes the one sin that negates everything that came before?

When I hear people refer to suicide as a “selfish act,” it makes me angry. I believe that suicide is the result of the most extreme form of mental illness. Humans—and every living thing—are born with certain basic instincts, the strongest of those being self preservation. We are born to live, to survive, to further our species. Our body forces us to eat, to drink, to sleep. We are wired to avoid pain, whether it be physical, emotional or mental. Certain mental illnesses that go against this instinct to live and be healthy illicit our sympathy. Parents worry about teenagers who cut themselves. Friends worry about the woman who remains in an abusive relationship. Television networks invite us to watch shows about drug addicts and hoarders and those suffering with OCD. We don’t call these people “selfish” but instead sit on our couches and play armchair psychiatrist, grasping to understand their mental illness. 

Imagine someone reaching the point that they override their deepest basic instinct—self preservation.  How broken must someone’s mind and spirit be that they instead see self destruction as their best or only option.  How much must they be hurting to lose the desire to see if it gets better?  People often refer to someone committing suicide taking the “easy way out” and perhaps in a sad way it is.  Perhaps something inside is causing them so much pain that day to day life is just too much.  I do not see suicide as a selfish act, though.  I believe these poor people are so mentally ill that they can’t grasp the concept of selfish anymore, at least not as we see it.  Time after time, people leave letters saying that they feel “everyone else will be better off without them.”  What if they truly believe this?  Just as the anorexic sees a fat girl in the mirror despite what her own image and everyone around her tells her, what if the severely depressed can no longer feel their family’s love or see the possibility of life getting better?  

Suicide is a painful, often personal subject and it’s understandable why it’s so rarely discussed in our society until it happens. There are television shows focused on the more “bizarre” (for lack of better word) mental illness, but you don’t see anything on TLC called “Depressed.” Despite the advances in mental health, so many people still don’t consider depression a real disease. No one tells someone with cancer to “Get over it” or “Try harder to get better.” A person suffering with MS won’t be encouraged to “Get out of bed and get on with life.” Alcoholism is a disease. Drug addiction is a disease. Now even sex addiction is treated as a disease. But people with depression are still so often seen as just weak or lazy. I’ve encountered this especially within the church where people are so often encouraged to avoid anti-depressants and pray more. If people are avoiding and ignoring the disease, then of course they will also ignore the sad symptom to which so many people succumb.
I suppose it is hard for people to understand if they’ve never experienced depression themselves or lived with someone who has. I can sympathize with someone with cancer, but I have no idea what they’re going through firsthand. The same goes for someone going through a divorce or mourning a miscarriage. But while I can’t understand their pain, I can be sensitive to it and be there for them even if it’s uncomfortable or difficult. Everyone feels pain, but not everyone experiences excruciating pain. Similarly, everyone feels sad at some point but not everyone experiences true depression. Someone who is clinically depressed isn’t just “blue.” The normal things that cheer us up on a bad day—a hot bath, a long walk, an ice cream cone—don’t make true depression go away. 

Since people are not comfortable with depression, they ignore it. And in the worst case scenario, they alienate the person who is suffering. Not all depression leads to suicide, but all suicides begin with depression or some form of mental illness.

By this point—if you’re still reading—you either think this is the most dismal thing I’ve ever written or you’re getting ready to call my cell phone because you’re worried about me. Please understand, dear reader, that I do not write this as a “call for help,” at least not for myself. This is actually an introduction to another blog I’m writing about a current issue that I think about on a daily basis: the crisis facing many families in our country as our men and women return from war. For two years now, more soldiers have taken their own lives than have died in active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these soldiers have taken others with them.

I will talk about this more in a future blog. For now, I beg each of you to remember that there are people hurting around you. Some of them hurt quietly, alone. Never assume that everyone will be okay. There are two national hotlines: 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. I encourage you to post these numbers on your Facebook. You never know who might need them or who might repost them on their own Wall for a friend to see. Perhaps someone will think you’re morbid or weird for even mentioning suicide in any context. If so, direct them to this blog and let me explain why you did it.

Ben Okri once wrote, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” For most of us this is true. Most, not all.

(all pictures from Postsecret)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. My family has a history of depression, and my grandmother, mother, and me have all taken antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs for at least a while.

I'm dealing with the issue with my husband, too, who is a veteran. He won't seek help because of the stigma and the feeling that no one else can ever understand him. I hope he will find help.

I'm glad you posted this, as it's an issue very close to my heart.
Mary D.

Anonymous said...

I know what it's like first hand to live with someone going through extreme depression/suicidal tendencies. There is a long line of depression on my fathers side of the family, when I was 8 he was hospitalized for attempted suicide, and again when I was in college. I don't know why these things happen, it does make you wonder what you've done wrong, have you contributed to someone being so broken that they want to take their own life...it changes you, and it forever changes the way you interact with that person...i.e. "walking on eggshells". It's hard having that kind of childhood, but I'm sure it's much harder being that deep in depression.

Anonymous said...

My husband has battled depression for many years. Never have I felt more helpless and useless than when he's in the grips of depression. It's like one day he wakes up and his whole world--and then ours--has turned upside down. All I want to do help him, to take his hurt away, but I struggle to even understand how he's feeling. Anyone who says depression isn't a disease is dead wrong. It's a devastating disease that affects not only the person who is depressed but everyone in their lives, especially those in the same house.

My husband has never attempted suicide, but at the darkest times, it was a very real fear for me. There were times that I was afraid to leave him alone and dreaded coming back home. And once you've let your mind go to that place, things are never the same. After that, you will come back to that fear over and over, even when things are good. Something as simple as not being able to get in touch with him will set off panic bells in my head. I tell myself it isn't rational, but there doesn't seem to be a way to "unflip" that switch.

I am thankful that not everyone has to experience any of this firsthand, but I do wish people would educate themselves so that they don't stay stupid, hurtful things. I have actually had people who encouraged me to leave my husband. No one would ever suggest that if he had a disease that they could SEE.

Depression is so real and can be so devastating.

Anonymous said...

6 years ago I swallowed 47 Hydrocodone and lay down to die. Obviously, I didn't-something that pissed me off immensely at the time. (a worried family member found me and carted me off to have my stomach pumped and a week inpatient treatment). To this day that whole time period is a blur. I remember being very angry I wasn't allowed to be left alone. I remember lying in the hospital wondering if injecting an air bubble in my IV would do the job. I wanted to die that badly.

The thing is,everyone does assume your being selfish, And maybe you are. I have children I would lay down my life for, and family I love, but everyday was filled with so much pain it was unbearable. I felt I was hurting everyone I loved with my worthless presence. So if it was selfish to want the pain to stop, then I was selfish.

I began therapy, mostly because of my mom and husband begging me, and discovered how much hurt I actually had bottled up over the years, and how much anger. For a while it was the anger that kept me going- if only so i could wake up one more day to tell people exactly how pissed off I was. After a while- and some pharmaceutical assistance- I am in a much better place. I can see now how much it would've hurt my children and everyone else, but I needed some breathing room and distance from the emotional burdens I was carrying in order to say that. I can honestly say that i have many genuinely happy moments now, and i am insanely in love with my husband and kids. I guess the point of this whole rambling mess is that you CAN find your way out of even the deepest hole. Don't give up!