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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wednesday Festival: Talk About It!

This Friday is World Suicide Prevention Day. Visit the website to learn more about the Take 5 to Save Lives campaign. At the website you can join the Facebook event and join the conversation on Twitter, too.

In this spirit, here is a recent post from Jan at Yearning for God that many have found very powerful. Depression and suicidal thoughts are invisible. We must talk about the warning signs of suicide, learn how to help, and spread the word as broadly as possible. Shine a light: It will make a difference.
Last Sunday a friend's husband committed suicide in his backyard. It was a shock to all concerned. His funeral was beautiful and well-attended. As my husband observed, this man may never have considered it if he'd known how many friends and family would come to honor him.

As I see the grief experienced by his wife and loved ones, I am thinking about suicide--mostly because I spent several years dwelling in a state of "suicidal ideation." I know I have a different understanding of suicide than most people, because I experienced the depths of depression and despair.
Looking back on those lonely times, I see how isolated and unreasonable I was. I imagined that no one in my family, from 5 year old MJ to 16 year old DC, would care if I was gone. In fact, I thought that my absence would make their lives more pleasant. If that isn't crazy, I don't know what is! My husband did not even know I was depressed until I told him a few days before I went to The Meadows treatment center in Arizona. For the past period, I was not sleeping; I was walking 6-12 miles a day; I had lost 50 pounds--but no one knew anything was wrong until I finally started talking to my therapist. Before that I would not tell anyone, because I did not want them to stop me.
From this and later times, I realize that there is no "type." This thought comes from my husband saying that this man "didn't seem like the type." Chemical imbalances that lead to depression creep up on someone so insidiously that depressed thinking seems "normal." Some people, like me, have such a strong will that we continue to do the expected until that becomes impossible.
All I can imagine about this friend's husband is that he kept going on being the person he was expected to be. The speakers at his funeral talked extensively about his giving and friendly spirit. Only the minister spoke of his despair.
I appreciated Rev. Gloria Lear talking about God being with him and that the man was choosing to be with God in the only way he knew how in that despair. God is with us whether we feel the Holy Presence or not. She kept assuring those assembled that no one was guilty; that their love was true.
I now see how irrevocably suicide affects those left behind; that thought never entered my mind when I was clinically depressed. I don't believe this man considered that either; he loved his wife and son too much to hurt them.
I have no answers about suicide. I was fortunate that I was not a man using a gun. Statistics show that men are more "successful" than women at suicide, because of the means used. I don't know why I am still here, and this man is not, or why Robin's son is gone. I just know that we are all with God, living or dying always with God.
"I can answer this question only after the fact, because in the midst of severe clinical depression I have never felt anything redeeming about it, spiritually or otherwise. But when I emerge back into life, several things become clear. One is that the darkness did not kill me, which makes alldarknesses more bearable—and since darkness is an inevitable part of the cycle of spiritual life (as it is in the cycle of natural life) this is valuable knowledge. Two, depression has taught me that there is something in me far deeper and stronger and truer than my ego, my emotions, my intellect, or my will. All of these faculties have failed me in depression, and if they were all I had, I do not believe I would still be here to talk about the experience. Deeper down there is a soul, or true self, or "that of God in every person" that helps explain (for me, at least) where the real power of life resides. Three, the experience of emerging from a living hell makes the rest of one's life more precious, no matter how "ordinary" it may be. To know that life is a gift, and to be grateful for that gift, are keys to a spiritual life, keys that one is handed as depression yields to new life."
Parker Palmer, Ph.D.


  1. Thank you for this Mary Beth. My nephew committed suicide three years ago, but it still is fresh for all of us in many ways.

    Indeed, addressing depression is tantamount, especially in our communities of faith.

    Thank you for the honest words fromt the blogger, too.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. Depression and suicide are so important for us to speak openly about. Gone are the days when the discomfort around the subject can be hidden behind the notion that asking someone if they feel suicidal will actually make them complete their ideation. It doesn't work that way. Lives can be saved by just one person asking "Are you thinking about dying, about taking your life?"

    The most frightening aspect (for me at least) of suicidal ideation is just how much *sense* it makes at the time. Clinically depressed people, like the gentleman in the post, do not see the pain they will cause or the life they will miss - all they can see is the perfect logic of their distorted thinking. Primarily, that is the idea that the people they love will be happier without them and that the world will be a better place if they are not in it.

    Even so, one person asking what may feel like a stigma-laced, uncomfortable question can make such a huge difference.

  3. I, too, have been touched by suicide. I wonder if any of us has not? I took an excellent training in suicide prevention called "Question, Persuade, Refer" through my employer. Information here:

  4. Jan, thank you for your honesty (speaking of pervious posts, which you linked to) about your own struggle. Honesty, communication, acknowledgement...all so criticially important. A few days ago I found myself pondering the fact that so many people I know, particularly Christian women, are taking some kind of antidepressant (me included) and wondering just what is happening that is maki8ng this particular form of mental ilness--whether short lived or lifelong--so much a part of so many lives. I don't know, but I know that since it does seem to be the case, we certainly better learn, talk, get informed and educated. Thank you for the blog post today, and to you, Mary Beth, for the link.

  5. This is a very helpful post and a great reminder... I am going to pass it along to others with caring hearts. <3


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