One of the Many

This is a hard post to read and contains discussion of suicide. Please use your discretion.

His dark curly hair looked greasy and unkempt, and a scar marked his face. He walked with a limp I couldn’t figure out. Maybe a leg that bowed in the wrong place? His face did not reflect pain, but his gait was slow. Awkward.

The first time I saw Pete* was in the waiting. Waiting for someone to tell me they could take care of me. Waiting for a bed to keep me safe. He was waiting too. Pacing.

 

With exhaustion beyond what I could bear, tears spilling over, I sat in a chair next to the nurse’s station and waited again. I was closer to a bed and medication to help me sleep, but there were details to cover. Blood pressure that needed to be taken. More questions that needed to be asked.

There was Pete. He limped to the nurse from the other direction. He had a room and a bed, but he was looking for his medication. ‘What if I have a seizure?’ he asks. He was quiet but persistent. His face looked beaten down, weary. So very tired.

I was led to my room and finally fell into sleep I was desperate for.

 

With a new day, I sat reading a book in a room that had light and windows and quiet. Pete came in to use the phone. I asked if he wanted me to leave, but he said it didn’t matter. He called someone he was tender with, someone who brought out the child in him. He told her how he had tried everything, and the only option left was electroshock therapy. There was one hospital in town who could provide the right anesthesia and treatment.

He had gone. He had done everything he knew how to do. He was giving his all trying to stay alive. And they wouldn’t take him. 

They told him they only took patients who had been Baker Acted. In our state, that means a person who has been deemed a danger to themself or others. So he told the hospital—the only hope he had for treatment—that he was suicidal.

They did Baker Act him. But instead of treating him, they sent him to a different hospital.

 

The next day we sat in a group. Pete sitting right next to me. He shared another glimpse of his story. He was giving up. After trying so hard to get help, he was going to kill himself when he left. Living with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and depression, he had no friends left. 

No one who knew his story. No one who could drive him to a hospital or sit with him while his brain was shocked back to health. No one who cared whether he lived or died. I sat in horror as he shared his neighbor had offered to sell him a gun so he could take his life.

Pete had been in this crisis-treatment hospital several times before. The last time, he was there for 21 days. Crisis after crisis, hope remained elusive.

 

A few hours later, it was time for me to leave. The right medication had worked. My husband picked me up, and I went home to kids who love me and need me. I went home with hope.

Pete stayed, and I don’t know the rest of his story. I don’t know how long he stayed or if anyone picked him up. I don’t know if he found the strength to keep fighting for the help he needed. I don’t know how the story ends.

But I do know Pete will stay with me for years to come. His face, his hopelessness, his story. I wish I had the chance now, when I have the ability to think again, to tell him that I care. I care about his pain. I care that he was created by the God of the universe and is beloved. He has worth and value, and his life matters. I want to hear his whole story. I want to speak over him his right to hope and help.

 

I am a working mom doing this crazy thing called grad school because my heart grieves for Pete. It grieves that he feels so very alone. It grieves that he is trying hard to stay alive, and a broken system does not help him. It grieves that Pete is only one face of many stories.

Every life matters. Every life deserves love and hope. I do not want to turn my head away from Pete’s reality. I want to love him like Jesus would. I want to love him as if he were Jesus.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Matthew 25:35-36

Please think of Pete tonight. Pray for him when he comes to your mind. Pray for his life and for hope to come to him.

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The Spinning of the Fan

A week ago today, I was in the hospital.

Not entirely because my body wasn’t working. But because my mind wasn’t.

Sleep had eluded me for two weeks, and the weeks before that had been pretty rocky. Night after night, I would take my sleeping meds and then stare for hours at the spinning of the ceiling fan. Spinning and spinning and spinning. Hours into the night, I would get up and read. Sometimes I would write. Sometimes I would fill my tub with water and soak until I wrinkled.

Around 3 or 3:30 or 4, I would crawl back into bed and try again. Just a few hours would pass before my pseudo-sleep was broken by the garbage man. Or a kiddo. Or simply the sun coming through my window.

I have walked this road long enough to know my non-negotiables. They are what I have learned give me the very best shot of a good day or a good week: I need to get dressed and leave my house every day; I need to connect with someone on a daily basis and see my counselor every week; I need to live in relationship and not isolate; and I need sleep. Lots of good sleep.

What happens when sleep is stolen? When meds and oils and sound machines and cold air and heavy blankets aren’t enough? What happens when I try everything and still watch the endless spinning of the fan?

I broke.

The words of my hope-speaking counselor rang in my head, “Keep yourself safe.” Of all the answers I was hoping to hear, this is the only one I felt I had any control over. Try as I might, I could not make my body sleep. I could not keep thoughts of harm out of my head. I could not make my brain keep track of details to maintain conversation.

But I knew I could keep myself safe.

For weeks I stared at the question. How would I know when I was so sick I needed treatment? I had seen my doctor. I had tried new meds. I was doing my list of good. But it was only getting worse.

Last Saturday, I knew. I knew I was unable to take one more night of eyes wide open on the spinning fan. As physical as depression has been this summer, the mental onslaught finally came. It was pure desperation.

I do not know what makes a brain twist relief into harm. To say my brain does not struggle with ideations of harm would not be true. It would merely be an escape from the absurdity of explaining madness to one who has not walked the same road.

Please do not think less of me. Or of any other person who lives with a brain that speaks lies. Applaud the bravery, instead, of damning those lies with help. Of knowing there are limits and not trying to pretend we can respect them by ourselves.

I texted a friend who has also stood on the edge. He spoke what I already knew but needed desperately to hear. Go.

I am filled with endless words of the two days I spent inside those walls. They will come.

Today, I speak of grace. Of truth. Sometimes asking for help is the very strongest, most courageous thing you can do. I had nothing left from which to fight and yet I slayed. I fought by surrender.

I kept myself safe. That was all I could give, and it was everything.

Every story has peril and victory, pain and joy. Mine is no different, and neither is yours. Help is God’s tangible grace to us. Ask for it. Receive it. Give thanks for its expression.

I am home now, and I am sleeping again. New meds were God’s provision, and there is no shame. I can think clearly again, and the battle in my brain has lifted. My tribe has loved me well and with action. I am so grateful.

Keep yourself safe friends. Listen to your limits and be kind to them. Tomorrow needs you.

The Return of the Black Dog

It’s been awhile. Maybe it’s because when I feel well, I think clearly enough to put thoughts into words that can be heard. When I’m not, I need the space and time of a blank page to piece together coherency.

These words are for me. But maybe for you too.

It has been almost two years since I last felt the suffocating weight of darkness. Two years since hope seemed an illusion. Two years since I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be normal. Bad days showed up, but they also quickly passed.

The bad days have begun to linger again this summer. They have strung together instead of being sprinkled across a calendar.

After eight years of living with this brute, I thought I had the words to talk about it. It’s amazing how sterile those words sound now. Their cleanness robs them of impact. They are neat. And easy. And anesthetized. Try as I might, those who hear don’t seem to understand the cruelty of this beast.

So this is my attempt to describe what depression feels like:

It is physical. So very physical. It builds in my body and holds me with all the force of Round Up, the ride from Joyland, where the walls spun and spun until the floor dropped out beneath. It took every ounce of strength I had to lift my head during that ride. The Black Dog feels an awful lot like being trapped on Round Up. Every movement feels like I’m carrying 1,000 pounds.

Fog thicker than the clouds fills my head. Visibility is short, and it takes all my energy. I can not take in a room. I have to work hard to focus my eyes on the person in front of me. Even harder to not only see the person but process what he or she is telling me. I have very limited minutes to do both.

The fog also robs me of my ability to think. I hear words, but it takes an eternity for the sound to take meaning. When meaning does come, pieces have a hard time sticking together to make a whole. Connections and completed thoughts stumble.

My eyes literally begin to ache, and the middle of my brain physically hurts. Not every time depression visits does my head hurt. But when it does, it is my brain is telling me it’s sick. This summer it has hurt.

In the morning, I wake with eyelids that do not want to open. The fuzzy mind and fog bare down thick and paralyzing. My bed is the cocoon that protects me from the harsh stimuli of reality. With the comforting weight of my blanket and a pillow over my head, it doesn’t matter that I can’t think or respond or want. Reality can come and go. It takes so. much. work. to leave that haven.

Facing the day is overwhelming. So many minutes. All I can think about is when I get to re-enter the safety of my bed.

It is hard to find the words, the analogy, that carries the weight of loss in losing one’s ability to process stimulus. Every word requires monumental effort to understand. Every sound rings like a boom that never stops. Touch that is not constant and firm chafes my nervous system like nails on chalkboard.

Depression has been very physical these past months.

This summer has brought battle to my mind too, but I have been spared the worst of the dark I once knew. I want to hope it is because I recognize the lies depression tells–they come without warning and assault my mind like shrapnel. They dig deep into wounds still visible and remind me of pain long passed. They make me believe the bleeding will never stop. That is danger for me. In God’s grace (because truly it is), the battles for my mind have been brief. Respite has come quickly. Hope in the form of truth has been spoken, by me and by others.

As I crawl into the safety of my bed, I read the same words every night. In this season, they cover me.

The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. . . I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:3-10

Please hear these words: depression is a beast. It is relentless. Most of the time, it is not about anything, but it requires everything. Don’t take for granted that for some it takes a lot of work to stay alive. To keep fighting. To not seek rest in any form it’s offered.

Tonight, I spread out my hands, and I wait for the rain to fall. I hide myself in the One who made me, and I wait like the watchman for the morning light to bring word of his unfailing love. I beg for his good spirit to lead me to level ground.

Global Suicide Prevention Day

In 2014, 42,773 Americans died by suicide. One of those was my friend Robert. He is not just a statistic, nor are the other 42,772 represented by that number.

The suicide rate in the U.S. has recently hit a 30-year high according to an article in the New York Times. The overall suicide rate in America rose by 24% between 1999 and 2014. And more than 800,000 people die by suicide around the world every single year.

Is that not shocking to you? It’s shocking to me, and yet, I can understand the desperation of each of those numbers.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s be a part of the conversation.

semi-colon

Last Fall I got a semi-colon tattooed on my wrist. To many, it’s an odd little thing (especially my parents). But for me, it’s a victory sign. It’s a reminder that as dark as depression can feel at times, it is only a pause. Not a period. It is not the end of the story.

My story is not over.

I am huge supporter of an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms. To Write Love on Her Arms is “a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

The TWLOHA community was an incredible speaker of hope during days I felt were hopeless. I now join with them in speaking against the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. I want to normalize the conversation.

Each year TWLOHA picks a phrase to champion during Suicide Prevention Week. This year the phrase is “so I kept living.”

It is from a gem of a book called Reasons to Stay Alive, in which the author writes about his own journey through depression and anxiety. It is a must read for everyone who knows someone battling depression (which, statistically, is all of us).

In the book, author Matt Haig writes of standing on a cliff in Ibiza contemplating taking the last step to end his life. “I think life always provides reasons to not die, if we listen hard enough. . . And so I kept living.”

What a great exercise for me to share that I kept living because there are three amazing kids who need their mom.

Because my husband told me, “we’ll get through this together.”

Because I told people when I wasn’t OK, and they listened to me. 

Because a tenacious counselor told me week after week not to underestimate my resilience. He spoke hope over me again and again.

Because I remembered what it was like to love what I do.

Because I had words to share.

I kept living because I knew my life was precious to the God of the universe.

I kept living.

And here I am. I am alive, and I am speaking hope.

If you are struggling today, will you please tell someone? Depression lies. It tells you you are alone, but you are not. You are not alone.

If you want to help someone struggling, would you consider giving to the efforts of To Write Love on Her Arms? This week they have been working to raise $85,000 toward the cost of treatment and recovery for those who need it. One of the counselors investing in that effort is mine. The work is real, and it saves lives.

Join the conversation. Tell someone your story. Keep living.

A New Ending

The past several months have held light. Hope.

I have felt stronger and more resilient. Not completely myself, but I am catching glimpses of who I used to be. I can imagine again what it might be like to live in joy and experience that sweet place called thriving.

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Healing did not come in one day. It has come in hours, over months. Hours of friends showering me with grace as they listened to me share over and over again how I felt like the darkness was winning. Hours with my hope-speaking counselor declaring resilience when I could not believe it for myself. Months of me recognizing the need to make choices that are good for me, even if they are impractical or feel an extravagance.

Bad days come farther and farther apart. When they do come, I still have memory of the good. I know bad won’t last forever. I can rebuke the darkness that enters my mind because I remember the truth I had known just days before.

Health did not just happen. Every day I have fought for it.

I have listened to my body and sought relief for my worn-out adrenal system. I have learned to be grateful for medicine that brings the serotonin-stability my body is too taxed to create on its own.

I have gone to the gym when I didn’t want to because exercise is good for a depressed body. I have napped when I needed to nap. I have texted a thousand times over with my faithful people just to say, “I need to know someone sees my struggle.” I have scheduled lunches and appointments on days without commitments so I would have a reason to get dressed. I have sought out the sun.

And week after week I have sat in my counselor’s office to wrestle with my own brokenness. I have been more honest with myself than I ever have. I have sat with the hard. I have felt my disappointment. I have quit running. I have learned what mindfulness is, and I practice it. I fight to validate what I am feeling instead of telling myself it doesn’t matter. Slowly I am learning to breathe instead of panic. I am choosing to see myself as strong instead of the vulnerable curled up waiting for a fatal blow.

Health is one good choice at a time.

Over the days, the weeks, the months, the choices have added up. They have become habits of the healing kind. They are pieces of a puzzle being built to lift the weight of depression.

It was not long ago when I couldn’t imagine a future. Every single hour felt overwhelming, and I did not think I would make it. I could not fathom a day when depression would not rob me of life.

But here I am. The future has a new ending.

To the Well-Intentioned

I know you mean well.

Really, you do. You desire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.

But sometimes well-intentioned words can feel the very opposite of hope and encouragement. They can heap shame and condemnation.

I know my hard can be just as confusing for you as it is for me. I get that you don’t know what to say. I often don’t know what to say either. Most of the time I don’t need answers though. I just need your presence. I just need to hear you say you care about my pain.

CoupleBack

To the well-intentioned who said, “Thankfulness is the answer,” I know you were trying to help. I know you wanted good for me. A thankful heart didn’t make depression go away though. Your words made me wonder what I was doing wrong because as hard as I tried to be thankful, I couldn’t escape my darkness. They also made me question the validity of what I was feeling. Was I not suppose to feel that depression absolutely sucked? Was I to be thankful for the imbalance that made me feel I was going crazy? I can not bring myself to fake being thankful for that.

To the well-intentioned who said, “You’re over-spiritualizing,” I know you wanted health for me. The only thing I had at the moment was God’s presence with me. In saying I was putting too much comfort in that, you robbed me of the only strength I had. You made me question my experience of God and my utter dependence on him. That did not bring me health.

To the well-intentioned who told me, “Maybe God is withholding His presence so you learn to depend on people,” I know you wanted me to experience the joy of community. I know you wanted me to lean on the Body of Christ. But in saying that, I began to doubt God’s goodness. Why would he withhold his presence from me when I needed it most? I struggle still with fearing the emptiness of God’s silence.

And to the well-intentioned who said, “God must have a lot to teach you,” I have wrestled for years trying to learn my lessons to bring relief to what threatened to swallow me. I know you were looking for a silver lining on a dark cloud, but the pressure to get it “right” so the lesson would be over has pulled me even deeper into the crazy. Your well-intentioned words were condemnation to my desperate desire for the darkness to be lifted.

Simple answers rarely comfort complicated questions. If an easy answer made our hard better, hard would not bear the weight it does.

Please do not hear I am not grateful for your desire to lighten my darkness. I want that desperately too! I know your intentions were for my good. What I want to share is a caution against putting the hard of life in a box. It just doesn’t fit.

Our nature is to try to make life clean and pain contained. After months sitting with the relentlessly hope-speaking counselor, I am at peace with my boxes having been stripped away. I spent so much energy trying to shove my darkness into something I could understand I had no energy left to feel what I needed to grieve.

I know you might be uncomfortable with your own hard. That’s ok. Know that words can be powerful though. They can bring life or they can bring death. Please don’t risk my vulnerable mental health to protect your own fear of life outside the boxes.

I know you mean well. Really, you do. Sit with me. That speaks I’m not alone. Let me cry and rage against my own limitations. That speaks I’m not too much. Hold me when I fall apart and put your hand on my shoulder when words don’t come. That brings comfort I long for.

Be with me. Let me see your eyes feel. I need only to know someone sees my pain.

 

I Will Remember

Last Friday was a hard day. I have had two months of better days and even good days. With all-out abandon, I loved them.

Gratefully, I have been waking up in the mornings ready to face the day. I haven’t been driven by when I could nap or how to avoid social situations I didn’t have energy for. I have been able to think clearly again and actually enjoy parts of my day.

There has even been that magical word hope lingering.

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What a crazy thing depression is. It filters every thought so drastically. One day living in color and the next living a silent black and white.

I don’t know if it is a good thing or not that I have been in this long enough to recognize the monster tainting everything. On Friday I fought hard to remember the experience of joy. Even though its scent still lingered, it felt as if it had vanished in the quiet of the night.

My thoughts drifted to hopelessness. They went right back to the place I had spent months trying to escape.

“There is no point.”

“Life is just a purposeless passing of time.”

“Would anyone even notice if I wasn’t here?”

I felt invisible. Alone. Desperate. I felt it deeply. It totally sucked.

It sucked for many reasons. One is the fatalism it brought. Another is the absolute defeat in thinking there might never be an end to the darkness. One can not live without hope, and that defeat took all my hope with it.

I tried to remember. Even days earlier I had felt fully different. Days earlier there had been purpose and contentedness. I had felt the sun and colors made my heart skip a beat. I knew it was possible for me to live outside the darkness.

Darkness shades everything. Even in recognizing the monster at work, I could not change my perspective. I only hoped it would pass.

I had coffee with a friend. I got my toes done. I bought sunflowers. I texted those who know me and told them the day was hard.

And then I took a nap.

When I woke, the world wasn’t quite so heavy. Hope had not quite returned, but I wasn’t drowning. A full night of sleep brought more energy. A morning at church and afternoon on a football field brought even more. Three days later my heart is full and the sun dances again.

It was a hard day. That’s it. It wasn’t forever.

I will remember it passed. I will remember I chose to do things I knew were good for me. They didn’t make it all better, but they were good choices. Healthy, gracious choices.

I will also remember how my mind turned on a dime. I will remember how twisted my thinking became and how it passed. I will remember putting one foot in front of the other and coming to the other side.

I will remember my resilience. It is where hope dwells.