Is suicide a problem, or a solution?
For most of us, the thought of digging a hole and lying down in it to be covered up with dirt is terrifying. But there came a time for Dawn when it was a solution she longed for.
[photo by ill.have.another via Flickr]
Let me tell you about it…
In 1983 I met a sweet pastor’s daughter in Minneapolis. I thought she was too young; she thought I was a jerk. But, at the prodding of friends we got past those first impressions, dated, fell in love, and married in January, 1986.
Like any marriage, ours had its ups and downs. I really was a jerk and caused many of the downs. But I wasn’t the only trouble. Dawn suffered with mysterious panic attacks. I was unfamiliar with them before I met her, but I quickly learned that they were not “just in her head.” She experienced frequent stress headaches and neck stiffness. Often, she would awake from a deep sleep in an adrenaline rush of fight-or-flight panic, convinced she was about to die of a heart attack. Then, the day after such an episode, she would be in a fog of exhaustion.
Over the years her panic attacks waxed, and waned, and waxed again, like the return of the tide. Then in December 2001, Dawn had a medically necessary hysterectomy, which, for some unknown reason, triggered a mental tsunami.
A flood had been released and Dawn was drowning in a sea of depression. I watched her become more and more withdrawn, and less and less able to function. The eyes that used to smile when I arrived, gave way to a blank stare. Soon, intervention became necessary.
Dawn’s first prescribed meds left her numb to me and the world. When we “celebrated” our 16th anniversary in January 2002, she slept almost all day and all night for three days. During her few waking hours, we walked together slowly, she hardly present, me supporting her by the arm.
Soon after came the hallucinations. Her doctor had ordered an adjustment to the meeds, which sent her mind reeling into a nightmarish land, terrifying her and me, and our young children (ages 11, 8, and 2) who witnessed a few episodes. We did get the meds straightened out, and the hallucinations stopped. But, she could no longer function on her own. And for the next six months, I became a kind of life-coach:
“Morning Dawn, it’s time to get out of bed.”
“I can’t. I’ll die.”
“Here’s your toothbrush sweetheart, brush your teeth.”
“I can’t. I’ll die.”
“Eat your breakfast, Dawn.”
“I can’t. I’ll die.”
Every morning, I’d coach her through a light weight work out so she’d have a positive accomplishment to draw upon for the day. Then I’d remind her about how to spend the day with the children, telling her she could do it, that I believed in her. And then, I’d leave for work, and pray everything would be okay.
One day during all this, Dawn told me how she fantasized about digging a hole in the back yard, about how she would lie down in the hole. She told me how warm and welcome it would feel to lie down in that hole, and die.
I was afraid I’d lost her. I was afraid I might have to put her in a hospital. She was terrified, and begged me not to.
Eleven years later, my love is still here and was never hospitalized. She has been off medication since 2004, but has never been quite the same. She may never be. I describe her as cycling between greater and lesser degrees of fragile.
Early in our Christian lives people told us how awesome and glorious and wonderful the Christian life is, how great it should be. Jesus came to give us abundant life, after all. But He also said we would have many kinds of troubles.
So, hard experience and tender mercy has taught us that God is great, even when life isn’t. The abundant life is starting to break into our present lives, but trouble rules the day. Our hope for great lies in God alone, and He has reserved most of that for the next life. The hope of heaven is great, yes. But that hope is both sharpened and tempered by the reality of living as brittle glass people in hard iron world.
Average Us, indeed.
Why have we shared this with you? –
Because reader, we want you to know what to do when someone you love wants to lie down in a hole and die. Here are some constructive things you can do for that loved one.
1. Reassure him/her of your love.
Dawn once said about herself, “I’m such a mess.” I told her, “But you’re my mess. And I love you.” Christianity teaches that love is a commitment to another’s well-being. It’s primarily a verb – an action, a decision; not a noun – a feeling, or state of being.
2. Reassure him/her you won’t leave.
Dawn knew she was a mess, and often felt guilty about how her depression effected those who loved her. I don’t remember this conversation, but Dawn recalls telling me I could leave her. She remembers that I smiled and said, “You’re sick and I married you in sickness and health. I’m sorry you’re sick. But I’m thankful for this opportunity to love you as Christ loved the church.”
3. Keep a routine.
When Dawn was fighting her deepest depression, she needed to be able to count on regular things, happening in regular ways at regular times: meals, chores, family times, bed times, etc.
4. Create memories.
Part of keeping to a regular schedule is that we still celebrated all the family events: birthdays, vacations, anniversaries. We still went to the beach each spring and went camping in the mountains each October. Dawn says we didn’t treat her like she was sick, like our family life had to be on hold because of her.
5. Smell the roses — literally.
I often came home after work to find Dawn asleep or staring blankly. To get her outside of her mental prison, I’d take her by the hand and we’d walk outside to look at the flowers, or the trees, or grass. Even though the world was largely colorless and silent, even without a scent for her at that time, it still helped her to remember the possibility of feeling and smelling the green earth again.
6. Get help.
God gives us helpers, friends, counselors, medication, and hospitals. Use them incrementally, and cautiously as needed. But, don’t be afraid to use them.
7. You need help too.
Don’t try to support a suffering loved one on your own. I don’t know if I could have handled that time without the support of my friends and men’s group. They never judged. They were full of compassion. I pray you would experience the same.
8. Ignore the stigma.
If you tell someone your spouse has cancer, the world will weep with you. If you tell someone your spouse has depression, many will cast a side-long glance, as if to say, “I wonder if that’s real, and if it is, I wonder what they did wrong.” Ignore them. They haven’t got a clue.
9. Read Scripture on Suffering and Hope.
Many people treat faith and hope like wishing because they don’t have a biblical understanding of suffering. But despair grows best from the seeds of false hope. And you can find many false hopes offered in the name of Christ today. So, fill your mind with what Scripture truly teaches about suffering and the hope it promises. Then, set your mind on the hope of heaven. This will be your best source of strength and courage in the darkest moments of the now.
10. Hope in God.
If you’ve read Average Us long enough, you know that by this I mean, hope in God through Christ. If you trust Christ Jesus for heaven, then trust Him for today. Let your trust be from moment to moment. The valley of the shadow He leads you through may be longer and darker than you could imagine. But He is there in the darkness, and there will be light for you, even if He reserves most of it for the next life. There will be abundant life, even if not fully yet. You will have trouble now, but never apart from His providential care.
If today is your darkest day, Dawn and I urge you to hope in God through Christ. He alone is great, and great for your well-being, even when life isn’t.
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