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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Land of the Living

Last week I shared my story with the team I work alongside. They are a grace-filled and safe place. Though answers are few, it is good to be known. It is good to let others help carry my weight. I am grateful for the opportunity to borrow hope.

One who has walked through similar darkness shared a word that challenged me deeply. And planted hope.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

I needed to hear this. I wish I would have heard it six months ago.

Hope feels to be a magical word when in the world of depression. In fact, my best description of depression is the absence of hope. That is what makes it so, so dark.

One of the places I have struggled most is in what my hope should be placed. I thought my hope should be in the resurrection (and in part, it should). But I also desperately need a hope that isn’t an eternity away.

On my darkest days, I longed for the rest heaven would bring. I didn’t want to die as much as I didn’t want to live. Glory is a great hope, but it is far away. I remember the days glory consumed me. I longed to be relieved of the world. I wanted it all to be over.

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During this season, I have clung to God’s word. I have poured over every verse that speaks joy and hope and strength. I have prayed them when I felt the very opposite. I have tried to believe when nothing in me experiences their validity.

When darkness chokes out hope, it is hard to believe there is goodness in the land of the living. It is hard to believe there ever will be goodness in the land of the living.

It is hypothesized several figures from the Bible struggled with depression. David, the author of Psalm 27, is among the most prominent. The psalms read like his ancient blog posts through a darkness of his own.

This verse does not just speak to the hope of glory. It talks about goodness this side of eternity.

So today I am seeking something other than resilience. I am asking for more. I am asking to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

May the day hasten when I can declare it with the confidence of David.

A Parting of the Fog

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The clouds outside were dark, and the rain fell and fell until puddles claimed more than not. Grey threatened to invade and take up permanent residence in my psyche. Every hour felt hard.

As I wallowed in my own melancholy and loathing of the darkness, I had coffee with a new friend who has walked a similar road. There were not answers, but there was rest in knowing I’m not the only one. I welcomed the relief of hearing someone else share the same struggle of doubt and fear.

Depression tells many lies. One I hear often is that nobody sees me. I struggle to believe my little story is of any consequence.

On a day that same week, I was at the office later than normal. Another new friend found his way to my space. He reads my words and knows my longing for freedom. He recognizes it because he once had to fight for his own freedom. He is a speaker of hope, and he took time to speak hope to me.

The day that follows brings lunch with an old friend. A friend who knows brighter parts of me. She asks about the hard places because she wants to see them. She is not afraid. She has heard about the darkness for years, and yet she still asks. She speaks light and beauty and grace and hope.

My heart reflects the grey and gross outside my window, but my fog parts for awhile. This is grace. This is God caring deeply for me.

He sent one after another until I relented and could do nothing other than acknowledge His tender care. The lie that tells me nobody sees was crushed for a time. And the dark outside my window did not completely invade. Light came repeatedly through the words of those He put around me.

He is caring for me. Often I can only see the faintest glow right in front of my feet, but with every step I take, it is there. He continues to provide, despite my anxiety and dread otherwise.

This is hope for me. It wavers, and it comes and goes, but I will remember the week it pulsed strong.

It was good.

Hiding

I’m diving deeper. It is so, so hard.

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I sat with the hope-speaking counselor today and spoke things I’ve never spoken before. It shocked me. I have spent years burying those thoughts. I did such a good job, in fact, it startled me I could even say them out loud.

For 20 years I have been running from desire. My home taught me feelings are optional. They don’t change the facts. A logical decision is always the right one. Well-intentioned mentors instilled in me the danger of desire. The heart can’t be trusted.

So I got really, really good at ignoring desire. It worked great until the hurt became too much. Disappointment overwhelmed me. I moved from not acknowledging to outright numbing.

Just in case you’re wondering, depression is a great game of numbing. Numbing the bad sounds appealing until you realize it sucks the joy too.

Part of my healing lies in tackling this beast haunting me for two decades.

Last week I told the hope-speaking counselor I was beginning to feel a little brave. He replied with, “Then take a risk.” Today risk is slapping me in the face.

This is risk. This. Choosing to dive into the murky and dangerous black of desire.

What if it spins me out of control? What if I sink in discontent so deeply I’m not able to climb back out?

What if desire cuts even the few thin strings on which my faith is resting?

I write, and I hear, “Nothing is too big for God.” Take the risk.

Last week I listened to a podcast with Dan Allendar and John Eldredge. They were talking about the restoration of the heart. Do you know what Dan Allendar said?

“Hiding is the only thing standing in our way of restoration”

Ouch. I have not only been hiding this place, I have been trying to even forget it is there. I am filled with fear. I am so very afraid of what lies within desire.

There is no good in darkness. It has to come to the Light. I want restoration even more than I want to not expose what I have been hiding.

Help me, Lord Jesus, to be brave.