Hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide impulse.
Karl A. Menninger
Hope is a necessity for normal life and the major weapon against the suicide impulse.
Karl A. Menninger
I’ve had training in suicide prevention. I know the statistics.* It is the tenth leading cause of death. Firearms are the number one method. Men complete suicide more than women. Men over 80 years of age and those between 15 and 24 are at the greatest risk. White men kill themselves more than any other race. The Golden Gate Bridge over San Francisco Bay is the most popular place to end one’s life. Reasons vary from loneliness and illness among older people and relationship troubles among the young. Only about 30% of people leave a note.
I know something else. All these statistics are sterile. They are gathered from death certificates annually, calculated by people who like numbers, and published for public consumption. There are no faces to go along with the stats. No mention of the psychological pain that would cause one to make such a permanent decision. No names of friends and family left to grieve, forever accompanied by the unsolvable mystery of WHY. No impact statement about the immediate and lasting effects. They are boneless, fleshless numbers that mean nothing to most and are too late to do any good for suffering survivors.
I cannot show you the face of someone who has completed suicide; their voice is silent. But, I can show you the face of someone who has seriously thought about suicide. It is my face. As I write this, I am fighting back tears as I think about the only difference between them and me is, I didn’t pull the trigger.
I have walked beside a river fighting the strongest urge to jump in. The thought of my brother, who was walking with me, drowning trying to save me was my only restraint. I have heard the whistle of a train speeding through town and wished I could stand in front of that giant diesel-electric locomotive, and be released from my pain.
I have looked at a pistol I owned, held it in my hand until I knew the feel and grip of the gun. Purchased ammunition, loaded the clip. Over several weeks I practiced with the unloaded gun until it felt comfortable against my temple. I got as far as putting in the clip, but before I chambered a round, I called a friend for help.
For four-and-a-half years, from the spring of 2000 to the fall of 2004, I thought about suicide every day. I prayed earnestly for death to release me from my physical and emotional pain. In the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, I drove too fast for the winding, twisting, climbing, and falling narrow roads. Sometimes, in the back alleys and lanes of Appalachia, I entertained the silly notion of being hijacked. The scene rolled through my head something like this: the perpetrator would force me to drive. Along the way I gained speed and slammed into some unmovable object that results in both our deaths. Thus, intentionally ending my life, but leaving my family and others to think otherwise. It was a boyish fantasy, but I was searching for some way to die in a way that appeared legitimate.
As I have written before, my melancholia turned to clinical depression in the summer of 1999. By October of that year, I was in agonizing pain from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I didn’t have constipation or diarrhea, I had incapacitating pain. For the next 12 months it was relentless. Some days it was moderate, other days it was severe, but I was never without it. Two trips to the hospital, multiple med changes trying to find relief, a referral to a Gastroenterologist, and participating in a clinical trial for a new IBS “miracle” drug resulted in no change.
Pain was the direct cause for my thoughts, but the consequences added to my despair. For 26 years I did nothing but prepare and serve as a pastor/teacher. I didn’t want to do other things. I had planned to be in full-time Christian service for life. I was poorly prepared to work in the secular world. However, it was plain to see by my worsening condition that I wouldn’t ever pastor or teach full-time again.
The church I pastored was virtually trouble free and growing rapidly. We were quickly running out of space and had recently purchased 12 acres for relocation. When the IBS and depression sidelined me, it all came to a screeching halt. My wife tried to hide the stagnation and decline from me, but on the rare Sundays that I was able to attend the evidence was all around. I had become a roadblock to progress; resigning was inevitable.
At some point, we decided my wife needed to get a job. My pain and depression brought an air of uncertainty into our family that never existed before. At 17 our daughter announced she was pregnant. I blamed myself for causing the family to destabilize and fear. The tight father/daughter relationship we had became strained. Eventually, my depression became too much for my wife and she pulled away from me, too.
By the spring of 2000, I was having suicidal thoughts, but it wasn’t until a summer family camping trip to a southern Indiana park that I told my wife. The two of us were strolling along in the camp grounds on an evening walk when I told her I wanted to die and was thinking about killing myself. She told me how hurtful and harmful it would be, but neither one of us spoke about it to anyone else. It was our family secret.
The longer the pain and depression lingered and the more loss I experienced, the more I wanted to end my life. My wife was taking me to another doctor’s appointment when I told her that I had reconciled in my mind leaving her and our children, leaving my aging and ailing parents, and leaving all others. The only thought preventing me was the spiritual destination of my soul.
Again in 2007, 2008, 2013, and 2014, I had briefer, but as or more intense suicidal thoughts than before. I voluntarily hospitalized myself four times.
Today, I can say I have had no suicidal thoughts since November of 2014 – the longest period I have gone since 1999. IBS hasn’t been an issue for several years now and I am at peace with my depression. For years afterward I grieved the loss of the church I pastored and my full-time ministry, but I have come to accept it. God answered my prayer to die with a, “No,” and I am very thankful. Life is worth living.
I taught my wife to ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” when I appear deeply depressed. She had to ask it a few weeks ago. I thanked her for asking, gave her a hug, a kiss on the check, and gratefully said, “No.”
If you are contemplating suicide, please call someone or go to your local emergency room. Give hope a chance. I am alive today because of hope. Sometimes it was as thin as a spider’s silk, but it never left me.
The LORD is with you.
*Some of the statistics were verified from the CDC. All statistics are for the United States.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Expect much from yourself and little from others and you will avoid incurring resentments.
“He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.”
― Robert Jordan, New Spring
I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth.
I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values . . . then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.
Don’t lower your expectations to meet your performance. Raise your level of performance to meet your expectations. Expect the best of yourself, and then do what is necessary to make it a reality.
“Expectations” can be defined as the belief that certain things are going to happen.
Expectations can be negative, positive, or indifferent.
We all have expectations. They can be elementary like Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.” They can be grandiose and complex or small, underwhelming, old, and ordinary.
Expectations can be goals and dreams for the future. The lack of expectations can be an admission of defeat.
You can manipulate the outcome of your expectations in a negative way by sabotaging your success. All of us have a way of bringing about the results we expect.
Expect poor results, and the odds are you will get poor results.
Manipulation does not have to be a bad word. Dr. Keith Drury said,
“The person with the plan is the person with the power.”
Expect good results, and the odds are in your favor to get good results.
You are disappointed when your expectations are not met. When I married, I expected it to be easy. We both were from Christian families and reared in church in sister denominations, attended the same Bible college, shared the same belief and value system, loved music and performance, and were devoted Christians.
What could go wrong?
We soon discovered we had many and significant differences. She was a spend-thrift, I was a saver. She was an emotional thinker, I was a logical thinker. She was always on the go, go, go, I was a homebody. She was spontaneous, I was a planner. She was gregarious and recharged her batteries by being with lots of people, I was an introvert and recharged my batteries by being alone.
Our adult daughter observed, “Everyone can see you have nothing in common.”
There was frequent conflict.
She wanted a gentleman, I wanted a wife who could play the piano and sing alto. We both got what we wanted, but from the beginning to the end it was not what we expected.
I have learned something about expectations:
Before my second marriage, I remembered the words of a former pastor,
“Do not have any expectations of her.”
That is exactly what I set out to do. I wrote down the expectations I had of myself and read them frequently. It is working thus far.
If you are measuring others by your expectations, you are using the wrong yardstick. Use the one closer to home.
The LORD be with you.
The following is excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I edited and arranged the material for readability.
Began on 05/18/2013
It is my first opportunity to write; I had no paper until now. It is in pencil because that is all we’re allowed – they are those little golf pencils that are too small for big hands.
My first few days have been uneventful. The dorm holds ten men and has one restroom and one shower. I can change my clothes and bed sheets once a week. With that, I’m not sure what the point of a shower is, but I guess some semblance of civilization must prevail.
There are eight other guys in here. One is a reader, cites and writes poetry, and appears very intelligent. Another controls the T.V. remote, changing the channels frequently. The rest sleep much of the day. If I could record the variety of snores coming from this room of men, perhaps I could produce one of those Jingle Bells recordings – you know, like the dogs barking. I can’t lay in the bunk all day, reading and writing have become my refuge.
The tedium is suffocating – three meals, morning and evening medication calls, and a midnight walk down the hall to get my blood pressure checked. The only break in the monotony of the day is when the guards come through the dorm on their hourly bed check. I hope to get involved in work, church, and/or Bible study.
After midnight blood pressure check, the dorm comes to life with activity. Showers, T.V., visiting with each other, card games, and reading. This goes on until 1:30 or 2:00 AM or until the guard in central control turns off the T.V.
One of the men gave me a Bible until the chaplain sent me one I could have for myself. It’s an NIV (New International Version), which was what I was reading at home. Reading is tough amidst the constant noise of the T.V. Prayer is even tougher. Sometimes God seems close, but most of the time He feels far away. I’m trying to read a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs each day. I’m also reading from Mark.
I’ve been writing a list of events and happenings over the past 35 years for which to repent of, ask forgiveness for, and to forgive others for. The act of writing them all down gives me an opportunity to pray about each one and to release any anger that I may have about them. I need forgiveness, a sense of release from my guilt, and peace in my heart, mind, and soul. Pray with me that “no root of bitterness” will spring up in me. I don’t want to hate or despise anyone.
My mood yesterday was depressed. It seems I overcome one battle of forgiveness only to face another. Two more things came up in court. I didn’t contest either one, although I thought parts of the first were unfair; and all I can say about the second is, “Good luck!” (More was disclosed here than I feel free to share for the sake of others.) You see my struggle to forgive when hurt keeps coming, but forgive I must. Yesterday morning I felt free, today I am attempting to break free of these chains.
Why can’t it be easier, but then again, if forgiveness was easy God would not have required the blood of Jesus. Battle must be part of the victory. In battle you discover both your weaknesses and strengths. What can I say? I must march forward. I dare not go back or stay stagnate. I’m reminded of what Jesus told Peter, 70 times seven. Seventy times seven, Jay.
I don’t know how I got here. I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – don’t fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang onto the loaves and fishes and missed the message of Jesus as He passed by. It begs the question; do we own our possessions or do our possessions own us? Help me pray.
It is the Lord’s Day and I just got back from church. There is no singing, but one man gave a really good testimony. I’m not sure where the chaplain got his training, but he leaves a lot to be desired. Today, he had The Lord’s Prayer at the end of Matthew and Pentecost on Thursday. I feel sorry for the men in here if that’s all the spiritual instruction they get. Whatever his faults, though, he appears to have a good rapport with them.
My brother came to see me today. If we’d had a gavel it could have been a real business meeting. There are so many things to do. So many decisions to make.
Goodbye for now. Pray for hearts to be softened towards me and that I would forgive and be forgiven.
July 15, 2017
Today is starting well. It is 5:30 and I’m ready to get up and start my day. But for the sake of Charity (my wife), I will read the news and check out the posts on Facebook until 8:00. Although my night was short, it was five hours of sound slumber without any PTSD dreams to disturb my sleep.
9:30 finds me in the shower getting reading for the day and anticipating brunch.
10:00. On the weekend, Charity almost always fixes a nice brunch on Saturdays. Today it’s pancakes and bacon. While I’m eating my breakfast a cloud of darkness descends and engulfs me in its blackness. I finish the meal with my head in my hands. My plans of putting baseboard down will have to wait.
Why am I suddenly sad? Every reserve of energy has evaporated like the morning mist does when introduced to the sun. My strength is failing as an abyss of sorrow overpowers me. Any will I had mustered for the task ahead, any determination and resolution, and any excitement and joy is being replaced with paralyzing fear and disabling weakness. Why is this happening? Is my tendency toward perfectionism causing me to question my ability? I have been undaunted about taking on projects that I previously had no experience doing. Why has my confidence left me now?
10:30 The night of restful sleep is consumed by my dragon of gloom until I am left chained to the desire for isolation and helpless against my eyelids forcing out the light.
2:00 Nearly four hours have passed. As I slump in my chair in various stages of sleep and wakefulness, my sleep is not deep enough to escape from Saturday’s normal house noises – our grandchildren playing, and Charity coming in to check on me and ask a question or two. Yet, my wakefulness is not enough to move beyond my four-legged dungeon. Only the call of nature makes the foreboding door open, but freedom is not within reach. A tether of sadness does not let me stray far.
2:30 Trying to chase away my dragon with numbing noise, I turn on the T.V. For a few moments as a story unfolds I climb upward, but with each commercial or the end of a story I fall off my ladder of escape. This repeats itself for the next eight hours.
4:00 Charity comes in again as she has done throughout the day. She comforts me with an engulfing hug, a tender and empathetic kiss, and a reassuring, “I love you.” Her kindness and supportive gestures are appreciated far beyond my ability to reciprocate. The bars of the dungeon are too strong and I remain trapped in the dragon’s lair.
Could it be a crisis of confidence? I wonder, looking for answers where there seems to be none. Has my fear of failure reduced me to inaction? Are my perfectionistic tendencies crippling my mind with a fog of mistakes? Bedtime releases me from the dungeon to walk two steps to my bed where the sense of gloom and sadness has me ensconced still.
10:00 As I prepare for the unknown night, the 25th day of my battle with the dragon comes to an end. It has won the day and gained ground. What will tomorrow bring – more defeat, a draw, or a little victory?
As I settle into the bed and pillow my head, I see a ray of light. It is the same Light that has always been there through nearly two decades of battle with the dragon. It is sometimes so dull and faint the darkness threatens to shut Him out; sometimes bright, shining rays of hope into my despair.
Hebrews 6:18 reads, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . .” Hope is the best medicine for despair. If all of the things I treasure are suddenly gone and I still have a dose of hope, I can survive. I can thrive. Someone said, “There is nothing left but to bury a man when all hope is gone.” But, for the Light, however dim, I would be that man. Hope has kept me alive. It is when hope is fed that the shadow of death must give way.
A second thought entered my mind before I went to sleep. What can I learn from this depression episode? Here I confess my independence and the efforts to conquer my dragon by my own power. I need help – the help of God, my family, and my support network. When I humble myself and admit my weakness, that is when I grow in strength. May the lessons I learn be put to good use to help family, others, and myself.
11:00 Sleep joins my hope and willingness to learn, which together provides a peaceful slumber. My last thought of the night is that tomorrow will be a better day.
May the LORD be with you.