By now, you may have heard of the death of Rick Warren’s son by suicide at the age of 27. This is just the most recent of several people I know, or know of, who have made this choice.
Because of the high profile of this man and, therefore, of the tragedy of the death of his son, I decided it was time to speak out on Facebook. This is not what exactly what I posted, but it is basically the same. I wanted people who don’t deal with mental illness to grasp what it’s all about in the hope that it would dispel some myths and grant a measure of understanding. And here I want people who do deal with mental illness to find hope to hang on to when they see there is someone who does understand, in fact, there is a whole community that cares and wants to offer help.
I want to make it very clear that, in spite of my comments regarding compassion for any person who takes his/her own life, I am in no way endorsing it. God knows the number of our days, and He is perfectly capable of knowing when it is time to call you out of this life. He does not need our help!
I am in recovery from dissociative identity disorder. The PTSD is a remnant of the abuse I lived through as a child. This sometimes causes me to be gripped by the memories of the past, unable to find my way back to reality. I relive the awful events all over again. Sometimes at night I awaken, heart beating rapidly, “feeling” the presence of one who is attempting to attack me, his hand clamped around my arm. I swing at the empty air trying to claw my way free from my invisible assailant, attempting to scream as no sound escapes, only to wake up still trying to determine whether the dream or the waking is reality.
I also have bipolar disorder II. This means that, at best, I’m only slightly depressed. I’ve learned to accept that that is just the way I have to live my life. On rare occasions, I have felt good, which is what most people would call “normal.” Others, I experience what is known as hypomania: times during which I become irritable and sometimes can’t turn off my thoughts, my constant activity and find myself thinking of doing things I would not otherwise consider. However, like most people who have bipolar II, I live most of my life depressed. Medication and therapy make a tremendous difference and are the only reasons that I am even close to the self I was born to be. Without those, I would either be impossible to live with, permanently in an institution or dead.
Those are the facts of mental illness. Those of us who deal with this are not weak, lacking in faith, demon-possessed or oppressed or anything else but suffering from faulty brain chemistry. Our disorders are no different in essence from diabetes or the disease with which I am most familiar, cystic fibrosis. Our family and my friends need to understand this and offer us grace and understanding.
The disorder affects my daily life: my ability to work, interact with other people, activities of daily living to the point of sometimes being unable to get out of bed or leave my house. I hate it. I hate that God has chosen this path for my growth and sanctification. Depression is my nearly constant companion. I rarely get a break. I wake up with it. I work with it. I go to sleep with it, knowing that tomorrow I’ll wake up and live it all over again.
Our disorders and illnesses affect every aspect of our lives. I have, at times, considered taking my life. In fact, as recently as a few weeks ago, I felt the temptation for days. I fought it day and night until I realized that fighting it alone was too risky and called friends who truly “get” it. I made a commitment to God, my family and myself on May 18, 2001, that I would never again try to take my own life, and I was determined to live up to that promise. My friends picked me up and let me stay with them until I made the decision to go into the hospital, where I spent a week getting daily therapy and adjusting medication. I came home much improved.
Why am I telling you all this? I am doing it, because you all may deal with similar issues. There are so many of us who suffer silently, because it is not acceptable to discuss mental illness. Cancer is OK. People have sympathy and understanding for that. CF, diabetes, MS and the multitude of other terrible diseases and disorders are acceptable. Mental illness is considered taboo. The stigma attached to it prevents people from getting the help they need, from picking up the phone, from asking for prayer. I’m telling you about my struggles to be part of the movement to de-stigmatize the many conditions that fall under the umbrella of mental illness.
Many, many people, especially Christians, negatively judge people with mental illness and especially those who have made the awful decision to take their own lives. A common statement is: “It’s the ultimate selfish act.” I have, in the past, been completely and thoroughly convinced that if I loved my family, especially my children, as I said I did, I would remove the evil (me) from their lives, so I would no longer influence them for evil.
These are the kinds of thoughts that people who choose suicide experience. Yes, it is an unspeakable tragedy that leaves those left behind with the worst kind of pain. A pain that I can’t even imagine as they believe that the one who died didn’t love them enough to fight. I know those are the thoughts, the feelings of those left behind, but they are not the actual reasons suicide was chosen. In fact, just the opposite is likely true.
However, those of us who are here and dealing with our problems must realize that there is hope, and there is help. I hope that through this blog, I can be a beam of light in a world of darkness that many of you inhabit. I seek to be the hand that reaches out for you to grab and hold onto as you climb out of the deep hole of despair.