Living In A World In Which I Am Invisible


In my fifties I started to notice that I was becoming invisible to most people.  What I mean is that most people no longer met my eye when we passed in the street or had an accidental coming together in a public place.  I first noticed it with men and young people.  Even if they had to go to great lengths to not see me they would do so.  Then as I aged and lost the status of a profession this general non-recognition spread to most people. 

You may know what I mean.  If you go to someones house and they have teenagers, they don’t see you if you are an adult.  The parents may force them into some recognition of you but they usually make it quite clear that they don’t want to recognize your existence.

As an older woman it seems to terrify any man I meet to acknowledge my existence.  I have a feeling that men feel that if they acknowledge me I will then think they find me attractive  Having blessedly reached a point in my life where I agree with Gloria Steinem’s dictum that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle I would still like the recognition of my humanity.

It amuses me that when I am going into a store or walking down the street the one person who will meet my eye is an older women.  We acknowledge each other with a wry smile that allows us to affirm our existence to one another in spite of the world’s judgement.  I treasure these moments. 

So what is the point of this reverie?  It has made me more sensitive to others that don’t exist.  Who are they? People who are unattractive or handicapped or have mental problems or are of low status or like me simply old.  I have learned to try to acknowledge these fellow non-beings when we encounter one another.  Often times they are so used to being ignored that they don’t even realize I am trying to meet their eye.  Sometimes the destitute when recognized ask me for money which is a grace from God if I can help them.  What I give them isn’t enough to really make a difference and may even be used for drugs or alcohol.  None-the-less I hope they felt recognized in a simple friendly human glance and a smile.

One of the benefits of being invisible is that it can result in humility.  After my husband died my invisibility made me feel desperate to prove that yes I exist.  When I wasn’t acknowledged by others I despaired of ever being significant to anyone.  This contributed to my suicidal desire.  I wonder if Job felt that way?  Especially since he was the richest and most important man in the land.  I wonder if the most difficult thing for him wasn’t the loss of health, property or even his children but simply the loss of his identity?   He no longer was who he had been.  He was a man sitting in a garbage dump scraping his skin as it peeled from his body.  He couldn’t give lavish gifts to his children even if they still existed.  He had nothing.  Maybe he thought his children wouldn’t have wanted to know him if they still lived since he had sunk so low. 

The turning point for me was that moment when I knew that I exist even though the world may not care.  I exist because I was created by God who loves me and sustains me.  At that point my prayer became like those wry smiles I exchange with other older women, God and I share the recognition that I exist because he loves me and that is simply reason enough.

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.

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.

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.

How Prayer Helps With Suicidal Thoughts


Does God answer prayer about suicidal thoughts? Not in the way I wished he would. I wanted him to take away the anguish. I wanted him to stop the Whisperer when he was telling me to just go ahead and do it.

I imagine that Job felt pretty much the same. He also had to deal with friends telling him his problems were his fault. At least I didn’t have people sitting around telling me I am the cause of all my problems like poor Job. Or if I did I coud just leave. But Job had nowhere to go. His house was gone, his fortune was gone and his children who might have defended him were dead. His wife wasn’t on his side either. She just told him to curse God and die. Job was sitting on an ash heap which means he was in the city dump.

So, why pray when we are suicidal? First, to offer our suffering to God. He tells us we are to make up in our bodies that which is lacking in the suffering of Christ (Col 1:24). Now how could there be anything lacking in the suffering of Christ? There couldn’t be unless God intended to leave some aspect of redemption for us frail humans to make up for in our own sufferings. Therefore God is letting us participate in helping another person be saved or helped by our sufferings. Think of that. That puts my anguish in a different perspective. If my sufferings are somehow used by God to help some lost soul find his way to God then I will suffer more willingly.

Second, God allows us to go through trials and he does. Then suicidal thoughts are certainly a trial. To find out if my suicidal thoughts were a trial, the first thing I did was ask God if this suffering is because of sin. Each day I asked. I couldn’t just assume because they were yesterday that today my suffering is a trial. It may be. but It also might be caused by sin. Keeping a clear conscience with God is vital. I make sure I confess my sins every day and ask forgiveness. Then if I have suicidal thoughts I can attribute them to a trial by God. I have Abraham and Job as my heroes in this.

Finally our fidelity in trial gives God glory. This is hard to understand. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to his upcoming passion as giving glory to the Father. In Jn 21:19 Jesus refers to the future death of Peter, which was crucifixion, as giving glory to God. Job’s suffering without cursing God also glorified God. The glory is the faithfulness of the follower when there is no benefit for him, quite the contrary when everything seems to be against him and God seems distant.

So there are three reasons to endure the temptation to suicide. I found that I could just say no and the Whisperer was impotent. Praying helped me to endure the temptation. Once I understood that the temptation wasn’t punishment but it was a trial I God strengthened me to endure it.

Friend, don’t do it. Just get through the next hour, the next 5 minutes. Get out of the house. Go anywhere, call a friend. Send me your email with your phone number and I will talk with you. Pray and God will answer. He won’t necessarily take away the temptation but he will help you get through it.

A Hiking Meditation on Psalm 63


Oh God, you are my God,

for you I long,

My soul thirsts for you,

my body pines for you,

like a dry weary land without water.

So I gaze on you in your sanctuary

To see your strength and your glory.
 

See what I found in the drought-weary Sandia mountains this morning.

While hiking I saw tiny blossoms in dusty little crags in the  rocks,

Seeking the sun but being seared  by it as well.

Giving hope to all who pass

on the dusty dry trails that

the coolness and quiet still nourishes life.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

For your love is better than life,

My lips shall speak your praise,

So I will bless you all  my life

 In your name I will lift up my hands,

My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,

My mouth shall praise you with joy.

So I find in this dry land

the promise of future springs.

The hope of the monsoon rains

though some years only empty clouds pass on the desert winds.

Next week, the weatherman says we may have rain,

Even a few precious drops can keep

these fragile blooms alive another day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       On my bed I remember you,

On you I muse through the night,

For you have been my help.

In the shadow of your wings I rejoice,

My soul clings to you,

Your right hand holds me fast.

God’s Final Word to Job


Presuming on God is a dangerous business and I wish not to be guilty of it. By comparing my trial with that of Job I don’t compare myself to the great Job. But I believe we are given the story of Job to understand what it means to be tried by God. Right now, I wonder if my temptation to suicide is subsiding and may not continue. What am I to make of this trial? What lesson am I meant to learn? What is the meaning of this experience? Of course, this may simply be a lull in the Whisperer’s attack.

God addresses Job who is silent before God. Why? God hasn’t answered Job’s questions about his suffering. Yet God has satisfied Job because God has spoken to him and that was what job really wanted. God then asks Job who is more righteous God or himself based on the evidence.

In Job 40:8 God asks:
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

So what did Job gain from this trial? According to Fr. Patrick Reardon, “One observes in Job’s repentance that he arrives at a new state of humility, not from consideration of his own sins, but by his experience of God’s overwhelming power and glory. When God finally reveals Himself to Job, the revelation is different from anything Job either sought or expected, but clearly he is not disappointed.”

The modern world does not greatly value humility. Certainly it is rare for parents to stress humility as a virtue for their children. You need self-confidence is a common dictum to children. I am no different. I have valued my independence and self-reliance as much as or more than most modern people do. My husband’s suicide and the subsequent deterioration in my mental state with suicidal ideation has certainly caused me to reconsider my reliance on self. In my current state self-reliance seems delusional. In my temptation to suicide God’s power and my weakness are exposed to both me and all the world. Fr. Reardon says of Job’s trial “Instead of pleading his (God’s) case with Job, as Job has often requested, the Lord deals with him as with a child. Job must return to his childhood sense of awe and of wonder. It is the Lord’s last word in the argument.” Certainly as a result of my temptation and trial I am more aware of my complete dependence on God. Every breath I take is because he wills it. This is something I have always known intellectually but it now has an immediacy and actuality that is more real than all my human concerns.

In wisdom literature the doubling of Job’s fortune and life and God’s direct interaction with Job are definitive. In my life I learn more slowly and I must wait to see if this trial is ending or if it is simply an interlude. In either case I am grateful for the much-needed rest.