In April, I celebrated my 43rd birthday, which was also the third anniversary of my afternoon on suicide watch in the emergency room of a VA hospital.
I know what it’s like to not want to be.
There were times I wanted to figure out a way to drive over my own head with my big SUV because it seemed the only way to make the roiling thoughts stop spinning. I understand how people start using and abusing alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate. Please. just. make. it. stop.
My thoughts of crushing my brain, somehow, weren’t as serious as other thoughts. Although my suicidal ideation is atypically violent for a woman, even at my worst, I didn’t want to leave a mess for anyone to have to clean up. Why inflict PTSD-worthy images on an innocent somebody, particularly someone who knew me… not mushed or in pieces or with parts blown away?
But I couldn’t stand myself. I felt no hope for the future. I honestly believed my family would be better off without me, because I would never get it right, so could only damage them.
Lamotrigine now keeps me from falling over the edge.
But then? Then, months before my suicide-watch birthday, I had a plan. And a date.
For the severely depressed, it is a relief to develop a plan. Did you know that? The days, weeks, years no longer line up in an overwhelming vista of black with no discernible edges. It’s easier to endure something when you know it will end.
My end was in sight.
No matter how skewed my thinking was, it did not change the fact that my children would have been irreparably changed by my suicide. They may have deserved better than I was during those times, but I am better than I was during those times. Perfect parent? No such thing. The best I can be? Not yet. But I can keep getting better.
I am the mother God gave my children.
Last week I started reading Gillian Marchenko’s Still Life. Although she never took seriously the thoughts of killing herself that popped into her mind, her bouts of major depression were more debilitating than mine. Her book is helping me better understand, accept would be the better word, that I don’t have to go digging for deeper, hidden trauma to explain my hopelessness. I don’t need a “better” reason when I feel like my darkness is out of proportion to my experience of trauma.
My brain is what it is.
And I need to take better care of it.
If you’re struggling with the darkness, or have fallen into hopeless apathy, know that you really aren’t alone. You’re not the first person to fall into the pit, and you won’t be the last. It feels utterly alone. But it’s not.
Here’s some truth:
You’re not worthless.
It’s not hopeless.
You’re not helpless.
The darkness will lift.
You are not beyond grace.
Crushed by Grace
It would all be over.
My kids would be better off with one big trauma than enduring a childhood suffering an endless series of small traumas with a mother who would never get it together.
The darkest lie I believe during the worst times is that I am beyond grace. Suicide is not automatic condemnation to hell, but I stood condemned because I consistently chose to turn my back on grace. I refused to be grateful. The faith thing was just too hard. I’d never be good enough, never be able to live the truth I had longed for others to understand and embrace. I had nothing but inexplicable misery in this life, so why not cut it short and stop inflicting it on others? I had the power to stop myself from being…
But I didn’t.
Before I could get my plan together, God crushed my backward hope.
I set my face and headed in a new direction toward deeper darkness that looked like light, steps more confident than they’d been in a long time.
The impact shook me to the core. Knocked me flat on my back, unable to catch my breath. Like walking full-force into a glass door. I couldn’t see it until I felt it. Hard. Immovable.
Truth is funny that way. Even when you can’t believe it, it’s still true.
I ran so hard into the wall I lost my grip on my confidence in my chosen path. God snatched it as it flew through the air, threw it to the ground beside me, and stomped on it. My deepest desire… He. crushed. it.
I felt a new despair.
No matter what I did, I could not stop being me.
For a rational Christian, the Truth of eternity is a beautiful blessing. Life on this earth is temporary. Eternity is… eternal. I thought I was rational, but, well, thinking hell is preferable to life, that’s not the, um, sanest belief. I’d made my peace with impending never-ending suffering. What I hadn’t considered was that in order to suffer forever, I’d have to be.
Ending my physical life would not end me.
In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis, in a less fatalistic frame of mind than mine, put it this way…
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
It may sound overdramatic, but I am immortal. Not a delusion of grandeur. Just fact.
My delusion? That I was beyond grace.
I couldn’t rest in the sure hope that at the end of this life, I would be transformed into Christlikeness. I could only be left with all that was worst about me. I hadn’t even gotten to a C.S. Lewis immortal horror thought; just me was more than I could bear.
Why must I be cursed with existence…
The Weight of Hope
God took the only thing I wanted so I could reenter the painful process of getting back to wanting other things.
Why must You take even THIS from me?!? I’m DONE. DONE. DONE. I can’t do this!
No, you can’t.
But in my weakness, He is strong…
I was alive. I wasn’t happy about it.
I couldn’t stop being. My existence came with responsibilities I did not feel up to. Life had to go on, and God was letting me know that other things than I’d been feeling lay ahead.
Have you ever regretted the lighting of a spark of hope in the darkness? I resented the action that hope required. I didn’t particularly want to make the long, hard, slog uphill. The downward slide was all I had the energy for.
I love Jason Gray’s Without Running Away on his A Way to See in the Dark album. This resonates…
But where I thought hope had ended
I always find a little bit more
It’s not like I’m trying
To be optimistic
If the truth be told
I’d rather dismiss it
And be free of the burden
Of the living that hoping requires
To bring my heart
To every day
And run the risk of fearlessly loving
Without running away
My Thorn, My Responsibility
I can’t fix the glitch in my brain. It’s not something I can just read-the-Bible-enough, pray-enough, go-to-church-enough believe away. God can heal, but that’s not what He has chosen for me. At least not in this season. It’s not how He can be most glorified. It’s not what would help me grow to be more like Christ. It’s not how I can best share His love with others.
It’s not God’s place to arrange things to my liking. It’s up to me to align my will with His.
Being human stinks sometimes.
My grace is sufficient for you…2 Corinthians 12:9
Really?!? It’s not feeling very sufficient right now.
Regardless of how I feel, I am surrounded by grace.
When I lose the ability to believe, Truth is still Truth.
I can’t fix my brain, but I can give it its best chance to be healthy. My best chance.
You’ve heard it before; you’ll hear it from me again… Drink enough water… Eat healthy and regularly… Get enough sleep… Exercise… Don’t isolate… Take time to be creative… Be careful what you feed your mind… Think about what you’re thinking about; take control of your thoughts… Immerse yourself in Truth by reading your Bible and practicing spiritual disciplines…
I have kids. How I deal with the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful matters. Even if you don’t have kids, your walk matters, too. We need each other in the body of Christ, and the lost world needs us living the Way, the Truth, the Life. Whether or not our lights look the way we thought they would or think they should, we’re called to shine them in a dark world.
Whether or not you can see light right now, you’re not forever lost in the dark. You don’t need to see the light to begin seeing by it.
Grace is awesome like that.