Tag Archive | Depression

A Thought And Invitation

It was during the summer after his high school graduation that 18-year-old Tyler Clementi began sharing that he was gay. Clemenit’s room mate during his freshman year at Rutgers University, Dharun Ravi, used a webcam in September 2010 to stream footage of Clementi kissing another man. According to the Tyler Clementi Foundation, the teenager learned through his room mate’s Twitter feed that he had become “a topic of ridicule in his new social environment.” On September 22, 2010, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. – “The Top 6 Unforgettable CyberBullying Cases Ever”, NoBullying.com, September 15, 2015

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In a interview with Complex magazine and her twitter account FKA Twigs stated, “I am genuinely shocked and disgusted by the amount of racism that has been infecting my account…racism is unacceptable in the real world and it’s unacceptable online.” – TK Quann, “Birth of the Social Media Bully; The Online Harassment of FKA Twiggs”, Urban Bush Babies, August 10, 2015

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These are not a bunch of teenagers screaming invective because they can or a bunch of fringe weirdoes who no one supports. These are men who have power, men who have families, men who have respect in their communities. So what kind of things did these well-supported, mainstream men have to say about a woman who has an image that is almost surely non-consensual being circulated around the internet for her humiliation?

  • She was out suckin dick prolly
  • Just look at the tange of her pussy.I’m gonna have to do something about it.
  • if was her husband i would have her nickers off by now
  • If it had been my ex wife she would have smelled like cock too
  • And her panties on backwards and smelling like lamb skins
  • Least she remembered to put her underwear back on before she came home.
  • Another bottled blonde tramp
  • I Like the View better then the story!!! :)
  • nice panties love to take them off
  • haha , it’s good !! The girl on the floor – love to hit that stuff
  • dang , love to hit that right there , just the way it lays !! No need to remove anything , it’s a small car cover . just push the cover aside , jump in and go for a ride !! ” you’re just dreaming gorgeous , stay asleep a little longer ” oh yeah !
  • Time for a new wife, lying drunken B
  • I would put it In her!!
  • Id wake her up the HARD WAY and later say it wasn’t me !!! ;) ))) lmao
  • She also would have woke up feeling sticky and used!
  • Whuts da ho’ doin on da flo’ ?
  • That’s so funny I laughed until I cried I see she made it home with some of her pants still on.
  • The picture was better than the joke….lol
  • And these are the type of females who complain that they can’t find a man.
  • been there…hubby should take advantage of this.. :)
  • I would of kicked the crap out of her
  • I would of hit it!
  • She made it home with her panties on
  • She’s a hoe. I’d dump her!!! Plain and simple
  • I’d love to wake up with her on my living room floor…
  • Looks like its one of them” hunny I’m help yourself poses haaahaaa
  • An found a used codom in side of her
  • Least she still got her nickers still on – inside out but still on LOL LOL
  • not one of my ex’s, she’s still got her pants on
  • Got any more jokes with pics like this ???!!!!
  • At least she is wearing panties. If not it would be a perfect picture
  • He needs to lay the smack down and not let her go out anywhere dressed like that. Nuff said…
  • perfect opportunity to have sex with your wife
  • any man worth his salt would fuk it now
  • What no thong (what a waste )

The main themes are:

  • Rape is awesome.
  • Women are obligated to give men their bodies.
  • Women who have consensual sex are disgusting people that deserve no respect.
  • Men are entitled to control women with violence.

Naturally, you’re seeing the inevitable attempts to distract from the most important thing here, which is that men who promote vile misogyny and violence against women rarely pay a social penalty for it. – Amanda Marcotte, “Online Misogynists Are Not Fringe Characters”, Raw Story, February 26, 2013

Few things fuel a depressives downward spiral like a sense of isolation and incomprehensibility. If it isn't enough to receive insulting, harassing online messages, believing oneself alone and that no one will understand you can lead to real dangers.

Few things fuel a depressives downward spiral like a sense of isolation and incomprehensibility. If it isn’t enough to receive insulting, harassing online messages, believing oneself alone and that no one will understand you can lead to real dangers.

Earlier today I wrote at another site about the ongoing harassment of Mia Matsumiya for having the audacity to expose the extent and variety of online harassment she’s received. Originally, I was going to write a post here about how the Christian Churches need to do something to help people who are victims of online bullying, harassment, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of verbal violence against themselves and their persons.

While teens and celebrities in particular are vulnerable to such harassment, the fact is it can happen to anyone. For any reason. Are you a Muslim unafraid to write or post about your faith? I can guaran-damn-tee you receive everything from ignorant comments about your religion right up to death threats. How about if you’re in a mix-raced relationship? Perhaps you’re the son or daughter of parents in a same-sex marriage. Shoot, you might be a gay United Methodist bombarded by the onslaught of posts and articles and comments about how God hates the way you love and you’re responsible for the deterioration of our denomination!

The fact of the matter is online harassment, particularly when it happens to people vulnerable to depression or other mental illnesses, can isolate those already feeling alone and misunderstood. That sense of isolation, combined with the conviction that no one understands me or will understand me or believe me, is a recipe for tragedy. Of course, there are all sorts of support groups, urgings to “get help”, call a hotline, and whatnot. Of course there are the less-than-helpful comments like, “Why use social media if it’s only going to invite harassment?” because nothing reassures someone like blaming them for violent, hate-filled rape fantasies and death threats.

Social media are here to stay. They are a crucial part of our culture, whether we like it or not. As such, it is up to someone to help make it a safe place for the vulnerable. Here’s my thought. If I get some positive feedback either here or on Facebook to the idea, I’m going to create a private group where people can gather, share their stories, and support one another. Most of all, someone might well discover that he or she isn’t alone after all. That person might well discover there are safe, supporting, loving places on the Internet.

My further thought is that this be open to anyone and everyone who is being harassed, bullied, threatened, or otherwise taunted in some way. You don’t have to be a Christian. You can even have been harassed and insulted by people calling themselves Christian! Thus, this isn’t specifically a “Christian” support group. It is just a network of people supporting one another, sharing stories, and lifting up one another.

Everyone from celebrities to people who believe they are nobody is invited. It’s A Safe Place. It’s private, closed, with membership by approval only. I’m thinking, if anyone actually signs up, maybe we could get some professionals involved offering help to those who might need it most. It’s all about help. It’s all about supporting one another. It’s all about A Safe Place.

What do you think? There are all sorts of reasons not to do something like this, not the least of them being I’ve never been the target of such acts. There might be such groups out there, or websites, or organizations, and all I’m doing is reinventing the wheel. I can think of a hundred reasons why this isn’t a good idea. So I guess I’m looking for some kind of feedback, positive feedback.

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Perfect Life

The only thing worse than being lonely is feeling that it will never end.

The only thing worse than being lonely is feeling that it will never end.

It figures I find out it’s been National Suicide Prevention Week on Friday evening at five o’clock. At the same time I’ve been enjoying – if that’s the right word – a solo album by British artist Steven Wilson entitled Hand. Cannot. Erase. Inspired by the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, the album explores topics of loneliness and isolation in our hyper-connected world. To say it’s not a cheery album would be fair enough; Steven Wilson is the guy, after all, who wrote a song based on Ted Bundy(“The Blackest Eye”) and titled one song “Heart Attack In A Layby”. Themes of alienation, loneliness, that fancy word anomie, and death pervade much of his music.

As someone who’s stared in to the beckoning arms of self-destruction and is still in the midst of recovery, I will tell anyone who asks that physical pain has nothing on the emotional emptiness of depression. Imagine the worst pain you’ve ever felt: I’ve passed kidney stones, which a woman who taught our birthing class told us is actually more painful than natural child birth; maybe you’ve been in a bad accident; perhaps you’re a wounded veteran and still remember the feeling of the bullets hitting your body or the IED shrapnel flying up at you. In any case, I can guarantee you I would gladly pass a dozen kidney stones if I was promised I would never feel like I did at my lowest. There’s not place where the pain begins. It pervades your body. Your joints and muscles ache. The hurt is so extreme you stop feeling anything else. That emptiness . . . it has teeth and claws. Crying doesn’t make any sense because usually after crying you feel better. The reason death seems so welcoming is the promise of an end to the pain.

Depression is an isolating disease. I still struggle with that. I am, for lack of a better word, a bit of a recluse. That this isn’t perfectly true across the board doesn’t lessen the fact that I am far more comfortable in my own space surrounded by my family. I make exceptions, of course. When I DJ, for example, I play-act like we used to do as kids. I pretend I’m this outgoing, happy, fun guy. Because that’s my job. It takes so much energy I’m usually a day or two getting over it. This past summer I went back to my hometown for a gathering of my high school classmates; that was a great time. It was also with people who, even though we are separated by miles and years, by and large grew up together. We all knew one another from very young childhood and so getting together was like slipping in to an old comfortable shirt.

The isolation brought on by depression becomes self-perpetuating. You feel down so you start cutting off contact with others. After a while, you notice all those folks don’t call on you, drop by, send you an email; you start to think you don’t matter to them. That degenerates quickly to feeling like you matter to no one. You could be surrounded by family who loves you, life-long friends, co-workers who genuinely like you and are concerned but don’t know how to say anything; this may be one reality. Your reality, though, is an enormous, empty space. The tag-line from the trailer to the original Alien was “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”. The loneliness brought on by and accompanying depression makes it impossible to scream because you no longer believe there is anyone to hear.

If you aren’t a depressive, odds are you know someone who is. Even if they’re medicated and in counseling, as I am, it’s important to remember depressives interpret the world differently from other people. A quick phone call to say hello, dropping by for a short visit, maybe talking them in to going out to a movie – showing them you are there – might make the difference between life and death. I know it probably isn’t fun to be around someone who’s depressed; fearing that someone will take their own life, or perhaps hurt others, or both is a terrible burden. These are people for whom the simple act of another human being noticing them, acknowledging their existence, telling them their pain is real are all things that might be the lifeline they need.

Be kind to others. That young guy who seems angry all the time, or the old woman who lives alone, or the teenage drama queen – these are all folks who might well be depressed and in need of help. When someone you know starts doing weird things, like giving away personal possessions, or withdrawing from contact, or abuses alcohol or drugs these are all signs that suicide might well be in that person’s mind. Check up on them. It might take only a few minutes out of your day. It might well give them the beginning of the rest of their life.

It Was More Fun In Hell

Graffiti In An Abandoned Mental Hospital

Graffiti In An Abandoned Mental Hospital

I once told a good friend of mine that I am someone who finds nothing uninteresting. And that’s true. Except for illegal and immoral activities, I enjoy seeing and hearing about and reading about and learning about new things all the time. We live this life just once, and there’s far too much in the world to settle for one’s immediate surroundings and personal interests.

I find madness interesting, both for personal and religious reasons. If you read the early chapters of Isaiah, there’s the prophet’s vision of the Divine throne room, with the four cherubim, etc. The book of Ezekiel is chock-full of visions, including the horrific image of a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel ate a scroll on God’s orders, and there’s so much more. Hosea took a prostitute for a wife on God’s orders. The apocalyptic books, Daniel in the Old Testament and The Revelation to St. John, have odd, coded imagery, some of it quite terrifying. In one of his novels – The Stand, perhaps? – Stephen King has a character muse that God drives mad those God chooses; sometimes, this character notes, it is possible some of those visions overloaded the circuits in the chosen ones. Which illustrates, yet again, my oft-stated insistence that while God indeed loves us, God doesn’t care that much about us.

As for personal reasons, well, I suppose you can understand, if you’ve been following along with my rather voluble confessions of living with depression. When down deep in that hole, the world just doesn’t look quite right. Colors are wrong, faded somehow, washed out. Sounds have an odd reverb quality to them, as if echoing, then suddenly dying. Brain chemistry is a funny thing. Messing it up in one spot has effects all over the place, which doesn’t help make seeking help easier. The world becomes a different place, unfriendly and uninviting. Even knowing the road one is traveling is no help; the mad-odd quality of perception endures no matter how hard you try to tell yourself it isn’t real. In the end, real is what we see, hear, taste, and touch.

Many years ago, I ordered a very special music CD.  The name of the band was Dead Soul Tribe, which probably tells you what you need to know. The CD, entitled A Murder of Crows,  is a concept album built around the idea that human souls have guides after death; sometimes, however, these guides fail, leaving our souls behind. One song in particular, “Flies”, offers the oh-so-cheery idea that our world is a thin veneer through which we can see, if we look closely, a truth more horrible than we can stand: We are already dead, in hell, with Satan a viper ready to devour us. I was listening to this particular song when my wife came up to me and asked me a question: Did I really see the world this way?

At the time, I said that in fact I did see much of the world this way. For all my protestations of faith; for all my attempts to be an easy-going man, a loving husband and father, and express hope in both our present and future; despite all this, as Devon Graves sings, “Sometimes it seems a laughing god has played its joke on me.” There is more than enough horror in the world to drive you mad if you think about it too much. As Albert Camus noted, the death of a single innocent child can break a person’s spirit if you dwell on it. To look around the world and see and hear and read things that should make you scream or cry or want to hide away could, if you’re not careful, leave you gasping for straws only to find all of them gone. What would be left?

Madness. The comfort of insanity, it seems to me in such circumstances, would be that the facade we build around our lives, from our parents loving arms through the fake security we try to provide our own families as adults can disappear. The allure of madness is just this pretense that St. Paul’s hazy mirror image will be the beatific vision is not only untrue; it’s that such a pretense is a horrible trick played upon us. To be able to scribble on a wall something like what appears in the photo above demonstrates, if not what seems both horrible and comforting, at the very least a familiarity with a way of seeing the world that creates a clever turn of phrase.

Most of the time, I remind myself that such things as the title to this post – another abandoned asylum graffito – are little more than people with a dark humor trying to unnerve the gullible and nervous trespasser. Sometimes, though, in the quiet, or perhaps when I’m wondering just what is and isn’t real, I see things like this and I wonder if I recognize a kindred spirit. Reality is far too porous to allow ourselves comfortable lies; even God can drive people mad, after all. These tiny windows in to the minds of others interest me if for no other reason than it seems there are many out there who, touched in some way – either through faulty brain chemistry or perhaps Divine intervention – what Ray Miland, in X:The Man With The X-Ray Eyesdiscovered at the end of the film. Miland rips out his own eyes, having glimpsed something terrible beyond the bounds of everyday reality, and screams, “I CAN STILL SEE!”

N.B.: I’m quite sure some are going to read this and think, “Oh my GOD, the guy is off his nut.” In fact, I’m offering nothing more than a perspective on particular things – such as graffiti in abandoned buildings – that occur to me from time to time. Is it a far-out perspective? I readily acknowledge that. Then again, my perspective on most things tends to be far out, so why should this be any different?

“Passing Tragically To Destruction”

Depression is a demon who leaves you appalled. – Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, p. 16

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No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief{\-}
Woe, w{‘o}rld-sorrow; on an {‘a}ge-old {‘a}nvil w{‘i}nce and s{‘i}ng —

Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked “No ling-
Ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep. – Gerard Manley Hopkins, “No Worst, There Is None”

Yesterday, Lisa and I were surprised by a package from Amazon.  The label said it was a gift for us.  Inside were two books.  Lisa received The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie.  I received the Solomon book.  I won’t embarrass anyone by revealing who was so generous.  All I will say is that each of us received something precious.  Lisa insists there is a reason “easy as pie” is a saying.  She says making pies, from the crust until it comes out of the oven, is a spiritual exercise.  Now, she has a new crust recipe – it’s all butter, no lard or shortening – and I keep insisting she needs to practice making it, because practice makes perfect.

For myself, reading Solomon’s book has been eye opening in so many ways.  His depiction not only of his own but other’s experiences of depression open windows that let me see myself through the eyes and words of others.  There’s comfort, in a strange way, coming to learn how typical one’s own experiences are, once set side by side with those of others.  That “typical” includes suffering, madness, and occasional horrors that I wouldn’t wish on anyone is, perhaps, neither here nor there.  Reading that others have said and felt and lived so much that has been my life for the past year pushes away the fear a bit.  Not just the fear, though: The sense of isolation that accompanies the inability to communicate how one perceives reality except through metaphor (Solomon notes this more than once; depression, like so many extremes in life, lacks clarity of definition which leaves us with poetry and its tools) lifts a bit in that moment of recognition.  There’s that sense that here is someone who knows what can never be known fully; here is someone who says what I have surrendered being able to say for too long.

Perhaps that is the worst part of living with depression.  It is impossible – really, it is – to communicate with clarity and specificity that through which one lives.  No one, of course, can see inside.  The outward manifestations of depression, at times, resemble everything from mundane sadness and grief, through physical ailments including stomach viruses, to social sins including laziness and (perhaps what is worse) a refusal to participate in the demands for happiness and hope that pervade our society like cancer, refusing to allow the healthy expression of failure and loneliness that too often accompany depression.  We cannot speak too much of our feelings because there’s this sense it is unAmerican to admit what feels and seems so much like personal weakness.  Solomon writes, for example, of the absurdity of depression: that sense that what destroys the self in the depressive can be something others around us accept as a part of life; that there are real problems in the world, from war and its attendant sufferings to poverty and the struggles of ordinary heroes to make it through each day.  These, so often, silence the voices of those who need to cry for help.  After all, who wants to hear the problems of others when one has one’s own problems?

While medical and pharmacological science has progressed much in the years since Solomon’s book was published, it is helpful not only to understand how fortunate are we who seek help now that the medications have improved, but to read again how important yet limited psychopharmacology is.  I know, without a doubt, that I am alive and happier today because of the ongoing use of medications to regulate particular chemical processes in my brain.  I also know that this is not the end-all and be-all of living with depression; talk therapy, for all its limitations, is essential as well.  Like Solomon, I detest having to rely on the daily ingestion of pills to maintain some sense of normalcy.  Unlike Solomon, the thought of not taking them fills me with dread.  Not because of any addiction or broken reliance upon them.  Rather, they are part both of the foundation and wall that holds back the tide of despair that, I know, is now and will always be a part of me.

That is the saddest part of reading Solomon, reading what one fears more than anything: That this creature that has invaded, then pervaded, one’s sense of self, has made itself comfortable.  However I thought of myself before all this, none of those categories apply anymore.  It isn’t just about adjusting to a course of action that has an end and goal – exorcising that devil – but coming to learn that the self, never a stable or simple concept, is completely different now.  Some, perhaps, are able to rid themselves of depression.  For myself, I have come to accept this is not just “a part of my life”.  It is a part of my identity.  It doesn’t “define” me, although no one thing does.  It is, however, a part of who I am, a part of how I understand the world, and myself – past, present, and future – that can be neither escaped nor denied.

Now, I wouldn’t brag that I had read what is, after all, a long, dense book in less than 24 hours.  I have so far to go, still.  All the same, the fraction I have read is such a revelation on so many levels that I refuse to put it down until I finish it.  The person who sent me this gift has done more for me than this person will ever know.

Oh, and if you or someone you know and for whom you care has lived through depression or is living with it, I would urge you to read this remarkable book.  To repeat myself, it says what too often cannot be said, or what one is afraid to say.  It opens a window – or perhaps, at least, pulls back the curtains – in the darkened room of living that is depression.  You do not have to be alone.  If nothing else, you do not have to suffer alone.  There is enough suffering communicated in this book the reader can plop one’s own down next to it, which might well be the first step toward something like healing.

“You’re In My Prayers”: A Postscript To My Annoying Personal Reflection

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  – James 2:14-17

This will be brief, the result of a conversation Lisa and I just had.  It is nice to hear people say, “Let your husband know you’re in my prayers.”  All the same, living with depression and severe anxiety brings with it more than its share of loneliness.  Living in a clergy household, people were always hesitant to stop by, always afraid, as they said, “we might be disturbing you.”  Now, we don’t have a church; those under Lisa’s pastoral care are scattered from just north of Marengo to the banks of the Mississippi.  I’m still just getting to know folks at my own church, and haven’t been completely open with them about my current condition.

Yet, we’ve returned to an area where we’re surrounded by old friends and former church members and even clergy who are more than passing acquaintances.  I realize all your lives are busy.  Ours are busy, too, between Lisa’s work and the kids’s various activities.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I might not enjoy someone stopping by, smiling when I open the door and spending fifteen minutes, half an hour, whatever time you might be able to spare, sitting and just talking.  Having the kind of anxiety disorder I have makes going out in public difficult, to say the least.  It doesn’t, however, mean I wouldn’t enjoy a quick “Hi” from those I call my friends.

If you’re worried what my illness entails, it’s really simple.  I have depression.  I’m not delusional (no more than usual, anyway).  Living with depression doesn’t mean I’m sad or a downer.  On the contrary, most of the time I feel quite good (thank you, God and Big Pharma for good drugs) and am only missing opportunities to share laughter and camaraderie with others.  Having anxiety disorder means I get nervous about some things – sometimes it can be paralyzing; sometimes it can make me look manic, as I find it impossible to concentrate, my mind moving a mile a minute over the same thing – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to freak out on you.  Especially if you get in touch with me and we arrange a time to meet, more than likely I’ll be so happy that anxiety will quiet for some time.

If you’re wondering what we’ll talk about, there’s always catching up on one another’s lives.  What we’ve done, where we are, where we would like to go.  Reminiscing about good times, old times, sharing old jokes.  If you’re afraid you might say something that will either make me sad (like saying something about suicide) or might trigger a panic attack, since I talk about it more than most people, it won’t bother me if you talk about it.  Furthermore, as what I have is a mental illness, while it is certainly impacted by external factors, the problem lies with my brain chemistry.  I’m not sad, or looking to depress others; I’m not sitting paralyzed, curled in a ball afraid to move, or running around like Miriam used to do after watching The Incredibles and pretending to be Dash.  I am affected, it is true, by the medication I take, but that mostly means I yawn a lot, move very slowly, occasionally drift off to sleep, and at my most alert resemble someone who has just awoken from a night’s sleep.

If all this sounds like a combination of guilt and begging, you’re right.  It’s also a plea for understanding; the hardest part of living this way is the separation from others any mental illness imposes.  Right now, I’m not quite able to take the step to overcome that myself.  So, I’m asking, if you’re in the greater Rockford area and find some free time on your hands, get in touch with me.  I can get you my email address and phone number in a private message on Facebook.  We can arrange something.  It doesn’t have to be much at all.  I’m not asking for a party, for dinner, or even a day-long companion.  Like I said, as little as fifteen minutes to sit, do some general catching up will, I can say without hesitation, do wonders for how I feel.

An Annoying Personal Reflection

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ – Luke 11:1

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes* with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26

I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name for ever.
For great is your steadfast love towards me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. – Psalm 86:12-13

Secret exhibition
Cure for loneliness
Life is much too short to be whiled away with tears
Secret exhibition
Cure for loneliness
I erase you now
I don’t need you now
I erase you now with all of my past – Partial lyrics, “Second Life Syndrome”, lyrics by Mariusz Duda

This is not a blog about me or my life.  At the same time, occasions might call for some reflection.  I have tried in the past to set that in a theological context, if for no other reason than to maintain some kind of integrity with this blog’s purpose.  Also, these personal reflections more likely than not come through reflection, prayer, worship, and are rooted in theological categories.  Today’s reflection is actually rooted in the Sermon preached at the 11:00 service at Christ UMC in Rockford, IL.  It was an extended meditation on Psalm 86, and how it can be a model for prayers of petition.  Perhaps it can be a model of prayer, full stop.

In any event, after the sermon and after taking communion, as is my wont, I went to the kneeler around the altar to pray.  I’m never quite sure what I’m going to pray, 0r how I’ll feel.  This is just my time to do that.  There was this flash in my head, and I think I learned something, or perhaps relearned it in a new way.  Why I feel a need to share it, I’m not quite sure.  Only that I was stupid enough to share my thoughts and plans on how I was going to kill myself, it might be nice to share with you where I am now, and how that all might have changed today.

There is no question I face every single day, whether from myself or someone else, that is more annoying or more unanswerable than, “When are you going to get better?”  Some time back, it occurred to me that this was not some incident triggered by a combination of a series of particular events in my life; rather, I’ve come to see that I have lived most of my life with depression, sometimes less so, sometimes more.  I am in the middle of re-evaluating the talk-therapy part of treatment, as I come to grips with all this.  Still, the psychopharmacology of mental illness is such that it renders it difficult, to say the least, to work.  I know some people who do.  I’m currently on maximum doses of two anti-depressants and the maximum dose of an anti-anxiety medication, so I spend most of my waking hours in a bit of a sleepy fog.  As much as I’d love to give this up, these medications keep me from sinking back to where I was; they help me focus and concentrate even while they usually push me to sleep, or at least want to, throughout most of the day.  I want to work.  I also want to live.  It’s a trade-off with which our family is still trying to come to terms.

Yet that question arises.  When will I get better.  Early on, I was more honest than I realized when I said that I had no idea what “better” might look like, only that I’d know it when I started to experience it.  All along, however, my secret wish – and I think my wife’s as well, for no one has been impacted more by all this than she, and she’s endured it like a real trooper, let me tell you – has been that I could or would just go back to the way I used to be.  Certainly not outgoing and the social butterfly but at least comfortable in social situations, rather than awkward and wary; no longer living with a constant undercurrent of nearly-paralyzing anxiety that is more set at bay by medication rather than eliminated; most of all, I just wanted to be the person I used to be.  Is that asking too much?

Listening to today’s sermon on prayers of petition, and thinking about St. Paul’s declaration that we do not know how to pray as we ought, and reflecting both on the plea of Jesus’s disciples to teach them to pray, and the Psalmist declaration of fealty because of the deliverance the LORD has given from the place of death, I was at the kneeler and I realized that I had, in all probability, been praying for and expecting exactly the wrong thing.  Whatever “better” might mean, it certainly would not be the status quo ante.  How would that even be possible?  Not knowing how to pray, wanting to learn to pray, and remembering my deliverance from the place of the dead, it occurred to me that, on a spiritual level, I had been yearning for something that I could not have: myself prior to the events of last winter.

To do so would be to ignore the reality of all I’ve been through.  To be who I was not only wouldn’t be growing; it would be regressing.  Asking through prayer for some kind of return to the past missed the point that I was in the midst of a process that might well create a far better person, a far more self-aware person, a far less self-centered person than I was before.  To arrest that, to reverse it, in some desire to be over it rather than through it, in the name of “better” would be not to recognize not only the reality through which I had lived, but the reality in which I was living.

So, that “you” Riverside sings about, that “you” with whom I do not need anything anymore – that is not only the extremely ill me from last winter.  It is the me who was there prior to that.  Things that do not grow die.  So, here I am – growing, even if that isn’t necessarily “better” (it certainly isn’t worse!).  I still don’t have a clue what “better” would be.  I do, however, understand my current experience in a far different way, spiritually, than I did before.  Perhaps even that is a sign of “better”.

Contemplating Suicide: A Practical Reflection

That darkness can be so inviting.

That darkness can be so inviting.

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

I spent the past hour reading through this post and the comment section and two pieces that are linked in the first comment.  It has occurred to me over the past several months as I’ve tried to fight my way back to something resembling healthy, and spent the past three or four weeks struggling just to maintain something a bit better than full-fledged recurrence of the depression with which I lived through the winter, that there are so many confessionals about depression and the emotional content – and the two from Hyperbole And A Half capture exactly how I lived in the months up to my decision to seek help – but very little detailing what it is like to work through the the decision to end one’s life.  I’ve heard a few, including one from a man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived, talking about how once he was off the ledge he instantly regretted it; that kind of thing isn’t really informative or helpful. It is, in fact, yet another desire to seek a happy ending to a story that may or may not have one.

What follows is deeply personal.  It is also difficult, if for no other reason than in revisiting a part of my very recent past in which I lived in near-constant interior agony that is impossible to communicate to others, it is much like battling Nietzsche’s monsters: I do not wish to do so because those monsters can take over your life way too easily.  It is also difficult to do because I have family members who might read this.  Finally, it is difficult because it is deeply shaming.  Ours is a society that does not tolerate sadness, let alone an illness like depression that makes sadness look like a small cloud briefly in front of the sun.  To advertise that one spent several weeks trying to work out the logistics of self-caused death is to exclude oneself from American society in a way that violates so many unspoken, unanalyzed taboos, it is frightening.  Yet, it is a reality with which I lived, and about which I have not spoken except in generalities –  “I’ve been contemplating suicide” – but should be talked about.  I’m not doing it in the hope or desire for sympathy; I’m not even doing it for understanding.  I’m doing this to help someone, even just one person, who may well be standing at the edge, looking in to that darkness below, thinking how wonderful that darkness will be, especially considering the hellish pain that is each living moment, and let them know (if it is possible; it isn’t always possible) they are not alone.

As February passed to March, I found myself more than once staring at Facebook, contemplating what to put as my status, and wanting to just shout out my pain.  Other times, I just wanted to type, “FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!!!”, and would start to giggle, thinking, “That’ll shock ’em.”  I backed away from doing either only because I wondered about the reaction I’d get: “He’s sick.”; “Something’s wrong with him.”  The last thing I wanted, at that point, was anyone to know just how lost I was.  Locked inside myself, reaching out even in some extreme way, was not what I wanted.

Once the word “suicide” entered my head and I stripped it of any and all negative connotations, it almost immediately became a matter of logistics.  As the father of two children, I only really has one rule: I did not want my children either to find me, or to see me in death.  Even in the midst of my depression, my love for my children was so profound I wanted to make sure they never had the experience far too many children of suicides have.  That ruled out a death at home, or at least a death at home that would be discovered by them rather than my wife*.  Since we do now own any firearms, I think I was fortunate, because a quick trip up Perryville Rd. to Rock Cut State Park, a walk off the path, and the whole thing would have ended quickly, messily, and far enough from home that in all likelihood a member of law enforcement would have found what was left.  At the same time, not owning a firearm forced me to be creative both in doing what I desperately wanted to do – end the pain that was my life without causing additional pain to those closest to me.  Such creativity led to experimenting.

My commute to work included a roughly 10 mile drive down one particular stretch of country road that is little used.  This past winter, much of that road was ice-covered, or pack-snow-covered, making it slick in a variety of places.  It would be easy enough, I thought, to make it look like I hit a patch of ice going a bit too fast, and that would be that.  All it would take is unbuckling my seat belt before doing so.  Sure, the car had an airbag.  An airbag without a seatbelt, however, wouldn’t be much help, especially if the car rolled, which I learned how to do by thinking about things like angular momentum.  With the front wheels turned in to a skid at, say, 65 or 70 miles an hour, hitting a large, packed snow embankment – or even better, a ditch full of snow – almost completely sideways, the car would probably have rolled several times, bounding me around inside quite nicely enough to do severe damage.  Being on a seldom-used country road would mean not being found right away.  In the deep cold of this past winter.  With help in the form of an ambulance crew, with a fire crew to help get me out of the tangled up mess of my car even further away.  Time, in cases like this, is always of the essence.  It would look like an accident.  Even if I survived, I was guaranteed weeks if not months of recovery time, during which I would have medications at my disposal that, if taken in large enough doses, would finish the job with the simple expedient of falling asleep.

It seemed like a clean enough plan.  I am a thorough person, however, so, about a week before I confessed to my wife and started seeking help, I did what I called “a trial run”.  I didn’t unbuckle my seat belt, I drove much more slowly, and on a spot on the road that was clear enough of ice that, if I wanted, I could regain control of my car.  Off to work I went, down the road I drove, I started to drift ever-so-slightly to the right.  Almost immediately, driving instinct took over and I forced the car back on the road.  Damn it, I thought.  A few miles further up the road, I tried again, and sure enough, driving instinct took over and I yet again regained control of my car.  I pulled over to the side of the road and started crying.  I couldn’t even do something as simple as this right, without my instinct to save myself taking over from my far deeper need just to end my pain, the misery of each moment of my life.  It served as an occasion to berate myself even more: I was a failure at all else in my life; I was now a failure at ending it, even though I had reached the point where death seemed so welcoming.

I spent a few days running through new options in my head.  I realized all I had left would violate the one rule I had set for myself.  Then came the moment when I decided to tell my wife what was going on.  One of the things I said was, “I do not want to hurt myself or anyone else.”  The first part of that sentence was a lie.  Not only did I want to hurt myself; I wanted to die.  The second part, however, was true.  Not in the sense that I would have killed the rest of my family along with myself.  No, I realized that the only suicide options open to me were to do so at home, always risking discovery by my daughters.  I did not want to do that.  In a very real sense, my love for my children saved my life, although at the time it felt far more like my existence as a failed human being – I couldn’t even do suicide right, for Christ’s sake! – was the reason I had that talk with my wife and ended up seeking help.

In the months since then, I have replayed those last couple weeks over and over in my head. When I told my wife and my doctor I was “no more than a week or two away from a suicide attempt”, it was the thought that suicide had become my goal and I might just say, “Fuck it,” to my rule about my kids finding me and do something at home that explained that phrase.  I had been contemplating suicide, in a practical way, for weeks.  It was the reality that I couldn’t do so without my kids probably being the ones to find me that made me realize I had to do something.  Not some desire to live.  Not a desire to get better.  Not some inkling that I had something for which to live.  It would be weeks before I thought I wanted, or could, get better.  It would be weeks before I had any desire to live.  No, my seeking help was not from some spark of hope in some part of my psyche.  It was a sense of utter failure, even at killing myself, that prompted me to confess in general terms, about my condition.

I am on the far side of the worst of all this.  I no longer think about killing myself, at least not much.  The past month or so has taught me that recovery is neither linear nor, despite what both my physician and therapist have told me, within a reasonable time frame.  Depression, like cancer, can go in to remission only to emerge again, insidious and violent as ever.  The difference now is I want to live.  There is still a lot of pain.  I am fighting it now, though, because even though I’m not sure what the word “hope” refers to, I do want to continue living, even with the pain, to watch my daughter graduate from high school next spring; to go to Disney World again next spring; maybe – just maybe – to see something I’ve written get published by someone else.  I want to wake up next to my wife, feel her warmth, the softness of her skin.  And of course there’s music; for me there is always music.

Which reminds me.  I was going to post a video for Metallica’s “Fade To Black”, but that’s really more a piece of juvenalia.  Then I considered Lunatic Soul’s “Summerland”, a song about that supposed twilight zone between life and what comes next.  Then, I realized, no – that’s not where I’m at.  Instead, here’s Felix Medelssohn-Bartoldy’s setting for Psalm 100, which begins: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. /Worship the Lord with gladness;/ come into his presence with singing.”

*Yes, I know, allowing my wife to find my dead body would have been horrible.  I rationalized that by insisting that, as an adult, she would recover from the experience in a way my children would not.  Being depressed is not rational.