The Incessant Chatter


It’s funny, I go about my life taking care of myself and my dogs.  I go to church and bible study and work in the kitchen to help prepare the communal meal every Sunday.  I have even taken a job looking after a 91-year-old woman a few hours a week and like doing it. 

My house is clean.  I have food of sorts in my house. I don’t owe anyone a debt and I pay my bills on time.  Most mornings I hike in the foothills with my dogs for over an hour to give us exercise and help my mental state.  My guess is that I would be called a highly functioning adult.

Yet I have this fairly constant whisper in the back of mind that I am going to kill myself.  It is something I think about many times a day.  Sometimes I shut the voice up with the promise, “OK, I’ll kill myself this fall.”  

While I care deeply about others I can’t get close to anyone. I guess that isn’t too hard to figure out since my husband killed himself two years ago.  My final arrangements have already been made and paid for. There are no funeral arrangements since I have no family or close friends.

My dogs are what really deter me emotionally.   Would my plans for their care happen as I planned or would they wind up in the pound, frightened and eventually put down?

Not desecrating the life God has given me with suicide deters me spiritually and intellectually.  I pray as deeply as I can and I study the Bible.  While I pray I feel close to God but the whispers sometimes continue even then.

It is my suspicion that the people who know me best never dream that I am thinking about suicide most of the time.  In fact sometimes the thoughts are so insistent that I can’t really focus on conversation.  But I put on an interested expression and let the other party talk and no one suspects.

Medication doesn’t work.  It makes it worse.  I frustrate the doctors and psychologists and they quickly lose interest since they really can’t seem to help.  How many times have I been to a therapist or shrink in the last year and a half?  Often their solution it to have the police pick me up and take me to the hospital for a psych evaluation and then I am released with a referral to see a shrink.  So now I don’t go to the doctor or the shrink.  

This post has been all about me.  I know there is a greater world out there and I hate the fact that I am so self absorbed.  I do care about the future of our nation, about the persecuted Christians throughout the world, about hunger and children dying.  In fact the hopelessness of these issues when I think of them keeps me from reading and listening to the news since it increases the chatter.

I don’t know what to do.

Cleaning Up My Mess So Others Won’t Have To


Like so many people I have stacks of paper that I don’t know what to do with. In the last few days I have sorted through and thrown out unwanted paper work and miscellaneous stuff.    All this industry has had the effect of clearing out my head as well.  Getting my estate in order and not leaving a mess for others when I die seems quite important.

I am redoing my will and the Transfer on Death and Power of Attorney forms as well.  I did all this originally in the months following my husband’s death two years ago but my decisions were hasty and now need a thoughtful redoing.  Not having family means I am passing my assets to my church and a couple of friends

I don’t know if my death will be suicide or a natural one but in any event these preparations are just the usual course of events for any 72-year-old.  When my husband died two years ago he left nearly a thousand pages of writing much of which was personal to him.  But among those pages were a few important ones that made me glad I had sifted through it all and not just tossed it out.  I don’t want others to have to go through this when I am gone.

Since I have no family or old friends here in Albuquerque it has been especially difficult asking someone to assume my Power of Attorney in the event I can’t make my own decisions.  While I have tried to specify what interventions I would want taken if I am seriously ill or harmed in an accident, there are still situations where this person might have to make a life or death decision.  Since most of my friends in Albuquerque are older than I am and might not survive me, I decided to ask a young man (he’s 35) I have known for a couple of years to become the designee.  While our interactions have been casual they have also been honest and reached deep.  I shocked him when I worked up the courage to ask him but after he thought it over he agreed to do it. What a great gift to me.

As a hospice volunteer for several years I saw first hand the kind of messy paperwork so many leave behind.  So often people keep papers with the thought that they might need them someday.  In my case I have found solicitations for money from charities and political organizations that I thought I might be able to give to but are now months and even years out of date.  I found ads for concerts I would like to have gone to but happened months ago.  Also I found letters from former health insurance providers that were out of date or unacted upon.

So cleaning up, sorting out and updating is my gift to the living once I am gone.  Much as I wouldn’t invite someone to dinner at my home if it were a mess while I am alive so I also don’t want to leave a mess to those who must carry on after I go. I guess that this is a posthumous application of the Golden Rule.

Taking a Clue From Nehemiah


There have been so many responses to my blogs about depression and suicidal ideation from Christians whose symptoms like mine are not treatable by medication and therapy. I have had 7 years of therapy and I have tried almost all drugs for the treatment of depression.  Some worked for me in the beginning, even for years, but then the symptoms worsened.

This has made me wonder what God is telling me with this illness that seems untreatable by the methods of man.

While reading the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah, I noticed that his response to the news that in Jerusalem the walls had been struck down and gates had been burned was that of grief, he wept and he mourned.

But Nehemiah didn’t stay broken.  He turned to God.  Specifically he fasted and he prayed.  Well, first Nehemiah fasted then from fasting came prayer.  The nature of the Nehemiah’s prayer is interesting.  First he recognises God’s reality, his awesome power and might.  Next he confesses mankind’s sinfulness towards God.  He also recognizes how far short of the glory of God man has come.  Then he calls on the mercy and love of God to remember the promises He made to gather those who he had scattered.  Finally God told him what to do and made it possible for him to do it.

I have often fasted in obedience to church rules and I can’t say I have gotten a lot out of it.  I have also wondered why fasting and prayer are often linked in the Bible.  After reading Nehemiah and doing some praying and reading I think I have found an answer that makes me yearn to fast.

What I learned is that when we fast our weakness are turned into strength by the Lord.  When we fast we are demonstrating our complete dependence on God.  The purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world to focus only on God.  Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed understanding of our reliance upon God.  It makes me think of Paul who said “For when I am weak then I am strong.”

With this new perspective in mind I think that fasting must include a withdrawal from the things of the world.  Not just in praying but in not occupying oneself with distractions.

So I will fast and pray for everyone who has written to me about having depression and/or suicidal ideation.  I am not fasting and praying necessarily that this affliction be removed but that if it is not God’s will to remove it then we can better accept and live with it and be of more service to others.

How to Melt a Heart of Stone


The use of the Jesus Prayer began with the Desert Fathers in about the 5th Century.  Since then it has spread throughout the world. In Russia both monastics and lay people have prayed the Jesus Prayer for many centuries.  Some of them wandered the roads and forests while saying the Jesus prayer as a way to grow closer to God.  They lived in the countryside and people would give them a bit of food as a kindness and a blessing.  This has been a way of sanctification for many.

Eventually as a person persists in this prayer while living a holy life it is said that the heart prays the prayer at each breath even while asleep.

For me hiking has been a way to fight depression and suicidal thoughts and restore my connection with God.  I especially like praying the Jesus Prayer while I hike or walk.  It controls my wandering mind and brings it back to God.  It focuses the entire body and heart on God in one unified action.

Because when I am hike I get short of breath I simplify the prayer to:

Lord Jesus  (breathe in)

Have mercy (breathe out)

This provides a profound way to make hiking or walking a meditation on the key point of Christian life.  That we need God’s mercy  and that mercy was already given us through Jesus Our Lord.

The entire prayer which I pray when at home and I am not breathing hard is:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God  (breathe in)

Have mercy on me, a sinner (breathe out)

God promised in Ezekiel 36:26  that “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  This Sunday at Liturgy our pastor, Father Nicolay Miletkov, talked of the effect of the Jesus prayer.  He said that each time we say the Jesus prayer it is like a drop of water dripping on our stony hearts.  And just as the constant drip drip of water on stone eventually wears down the rock, so our stony hearts begin to erode and to reveal the flesh and blood hearts that God created.  It takes many years of praying this deceptively simple prayer to wear away the stone that surrounds our hearts.

Having tried this prayer when I was a new Christian I wasn’t able to appreciate its power or its beauty.  Now that I am old and understand that I can do nothing of myself I am so grateful for this ancient tradition which transforms the simple act of breathing into prayer.

Maybe It’s Not A Trial But It’s Sin


I haven’t been blogging for a couple of months because of an intense indifference to life.

Wanting to care I can’t:

Keep busy they say

Pray more

You aren’t trying hard enough

So-and-so’s  life is much worse than yours

Why can’t you be more like other people?

If you loved God you wouldn’t feel this way.

They are so right.  So I keep busy; I hike, I drive a friend to and fro, I take a child to the zoo.

And I pray.  I ask God to take this terrible indifference from me.

Only then do strange tears come.

I cry so hard I can’t see the Bible to read.

I wish I knew why I cried.  If I did then maybe I could do something different.

As evening draws close and I swelter in the 82 degree house I find myself plotting how to kill myself.

No.  I say.  No.  I will not do it.

I wonder now is this a trial?

Somehow I don’t think so.  It must be the consequence of sin.

So I renew my cry to God.  Tell me my sin and I will repent.

I will shout it from the mountaintop so the world will know.

But he doesn’t answer me.

But I feel his presence.  What does he want?

The only thing I want is to give him that.

Anti-Depressant Drugs Can Cause Suicidal Thoughts


Last week I went to a psychiatrist for help with a high level of anxiety . He prescribed  a low dose Lexapro, an antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug.  My appointment ran for 1 1/2 hours and covered my background.  He diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by the suicide of my husband a year and a half ago and by childhood physical abuse and neglect. 

I believe this is the correct diagnosis.  However the drug is the wrong drug.  I started having suicidal thoughts within 5 days.  I read the literature that says the drug can cause suicidal thoughts in people less than 24 years old.  The pharmacist I spoke with said that while it is rare the drug can trigger suicidal thoughts in older people as well. I sent an email to the psychiatrist who responded  with questions about what I had done to develop new interests.  I reminded him that I have plenty of interests and am well-disciplined in keeping up a daily regimen of activities.  I questioned whether he knew which patient he was emailing. He sent me another email which did not address the possibility that the drug was causing the problem.  Yesterday I cancelled my next appointment and went off the drug.  This morning I am already having fewer suicidal thoughts.  I believe that this is an example of a serious problem within the mental health profession. 

I went to this psychiatrist because he recommended by a psychiatric case worker who was sympathetic to my having been forcibly sent to the hospital by a doctor when I asked for an antidepressant drug a few weeks ago and although I admitted to suicidal thoughts I stated I had no intention of following through with the act.  The case worker told me that competent psychiatrists no longer take insurance and I would have to self pay.   Obviously this is not true of all psychiatrists who take insurance but the ones that I have had under medicare were clearly burned out and not interested.  They were unreachable in a crisis.  So I thought I would spend a precious $250 to see a private one.  I would have to say he was just as burned out as the medicare psychiatrists.

Perhaps the problem is that the profession is trying to treat a medley of problems with drugs.  I think that the primary cause of mental problems is probably spiritual.  Drugs may offer a bridge of support to the patient while therapy and spiritual guidance  have a chance to work.  However, in the last 20 years insurance companies have decided to reimburse psychiatrists for drug treatment only.  Any therapy is left to social workers who are much less trained.  These workers are perhaps competent to moderate in couples therapy and problems that are amenable to practical solutions.  This leaves people with serious disorders with no real alternative for help with resolving deep issues.

Since I am a Christian I have support unavailable to many patients.  Prayer definitely helps me through crises.  I just wish that I could find help in the mental health community that wasn’t outright hostile or simply concerned about avoiding law suits. This is realistic fear for mental health professionals since patients are often eager to sue and lawyers are certainly eager to oblige them. I think only a complete overhaul of the system can remedy the situation.

“Our Life Depends on The Kind of Thoughts We Nurture”


Elder Thadeus

Last week, while hiking in the Sandia Mountains, my blood sugar fell to really low levels. I would guess it was under 50. I became really shaky and weak and while walking a trail that was full of small rocks, called scree, I fell several times. My feet would shoot out from under me and I fell on my tailbone and lower back. The low blood sugar was caused by eating insufficient carbohydrates before and during the hike. Normally I carry a candy bar with me and some nuts but this day I brought only the nuts.
I was so weak I didn’t know if I could walk out. I had several miles of treacherous switchbacks to go. Making it worse was that I had my dogs with me and I knew that if called for help the ambulance wouldn’t allow me to bring the dogs with me. The dogs would probably end up in the pound. I was unwilling to put them through that experience.
I started to panic as I considered all these dire outcomes. Then I thought of what Elder Thadeus said, “Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture.” My mind instantly cleared as I thought of all God’s promises in his Word. I rememered that he is always with me and the panic left. I was able to continue walking out. Although what should have been an hour and a half walk turned into a very painful 4 hours walk. I kept my head. I told myself that while it was extremely unpleasant to be so weak and fall so often, I could survive it. And I did. I offered my sufferings to Christ and thought about his thirst on the cross. Certainly my ordeal was nothing in comparison.
This experience made me think about having worked with a cognitive therapist in the past. The main idea of cognitive therapy seems intuitive: Thoughts precede emotions. So to heal the emotions change the thoughts. I never understood why this process didn’t seem particularly effective for me. Over time my thoughts got no less negative.
So why was I able to change my thoughts this time where I was unable to in the past using the tools of cognitive therapy? The key seems to be that without God, fear of the world and future events is pretty realistic. Only if there is a God who is intimately involved in my life can I trust that no matter what happens God is with me. Without the knowledge of God’s love and good will toward me changing my thinking is just a form of positive thinking with no basis in reality.
I know that God works all things for the good of those who love him. It isn’t that bad things don’t happen to those who love God but knowing that no matter what happens God will use if for both my good and the good of others is what enables me to push on through. My experience in the woods was different because I knew God was with me.
Where cognitive therapy didn’t help, now I am able to turn my thoughts to the things of God. I turn to his word and to his promises and these change the negative emotions because they are founded in what God has said and promised. I believe it because whenever I trust his word and promises he comes through for me in a way I could never have foreseen. So it is reasonable to trust him because it is not presumption it is relying on his Word.
God has been teaching me that as I think so I will be. If I allow myself to feel defeated or fear the future my life becomes a boiling pot of confusion and I cannot focus my mind. If at the first moments of fear I turn my mind to the things of God then my mind calms down and lets me pray I am able to take a reasonable course of action that God gives to me.