Right now I am not having suicidal ideation. Well hardly any. It is a great gift from God and I believe it is a result of some changes that he led me to make in my life. I know that many people who are dealing with suicidal ideation feel as I did that nothing less than a miracle would help. When my PTSD and the accompanying thoughts of suicide started to ramp up at the beginning of this year I couldn’t understand why since it was over a year since the precipitating cause of the PTSD, my husband’s suicide, had occurred.
Earlier this year while praying it occurred to me that I hated to go to my church. I felt that I had worn out my welcome, that people couldn’t understand why I didn’t just get over my husband’s suicide. Richard and I had originally started going to the Baptist Church several years earlier because a neighbor recommended the woman who was teaching the Sunday school class. Having stopped attending an Orthodox Church several years earlier and having become functional agnostics I knew we needed to return to our faith. I also knew that I needed to immerse myself in the Bible. This seemed more important than liturgy or the sacraments so we began to attend.
When Rich took his life the Baptist Church really helped me through the ordeal of the first few weeks. They helped me with the funeral and the practical issues following Rich’s death. God bless them, they were there for me. But my not getting over Rich’s death just became too much for them and as I prayed I felt that God was prompting me to leave so I am attending an Othodox Church. I am still going to a Bible study taught by Pat the Sunday school teacher from the Baptist church but it is being given at a retirement home and because they know nothing of my situation it is non-threatening.
Another change I made was to begin to seriously study the Bible on my own. I am spending at least an hour and often two studying and praying over the Bible with good commentaries. I returned to prayer with more discipline and while I can’t say that I always see great benefit I know that it does help over the long-term.
Finally, after no longer being able to work as a hospice caregiver because I injured my back I felt I was able to volunteer again. I had several unpleasant volunteer experiences early on after Richard’s death and was afraid that I wasn’t capable of doing it. But after I had a very positive experience as a hospice caregiver I decided to begin volunteering at a Christian homeless shelter and I feel God’s presence there. The clients are people who are at the bottom and every little thing we can do for them helps. None of the workers or volunteers is interested in me, we are simply focused on the people who so desperately need the basics of life. Food, a shower, clean clothes and a place to get mail. Some of them are able to get counseling and are transitioning out of homelessness but most are either too mentally ill or are too dependent on drugs and alcohol to find those services of benefit. But we treat each of them with kindness and respect. Volunteering there has helped me feel that my life makes a difference in other people’s lives and that is something that I badly needed.
God has blessed me. I think that the prayers of many good people have made me able to move on and make changes that have improved my life. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner but I think that it is all in God’s time. The PTSD remains. I expect to have relapses but I hope that I will remember how kindly God has dealt with me and know that he will do so again.
The subject of suicide and Christianity is very close to my heart so I will probably continue blogging about these issues. So many people visit the site seeking help with their own suicidal impulses or the loss to suicide of a loved one. If they can get any comfort from this site that would be a great blessing to me. Thank you all who follow this blog and write to encourage me. Please continue your prayers for me as I so desperately need them.
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.
What the mental health professionals call isolating is withdrawing from contact with other people. This is often the first symptom of depression. Whenever my depression deepens I begin isolating from others. It becomes increasingly difficult to make contact with people just when I need that contact the most. There are several reasons for my withdrawal.
First, many of my friends are uncomfortable with any discussion of suicide or depression Most of them know that my husband killed himself two years ago but generally they find reference to it conversationally difficult. If I admit to my depression people change the subject. Naturally I don’t want to cause them distress so I no longer bring it up. I understand their feelings because most of them are older woman whose lives have been much more settled than mine. As a result only one friend knows about this site. I find it easier to blog than talk in person with the people I know. From what I have learned from other people who have depression and suicidal ideation this feeling of rejection is common problem whether real or perceived.
Second, one of my primary symptoms of depression is confusion. I can’t explain myself coherently. When I try to express what is going on my mind becomes mush. Recently the one friend that wants to help me in by discussing my condition with me and who knows of this site tried to offer some suggestions and discuss my mood. I became so confused trying to explain myself that I fled her house. That happened last week. This week I apologized and explained about the confusion and we agreed that we wouldn’t try to talk about my depression in-depth when I am in the throes of confusion. I really appreciate her understanding and sympathy.
Third, some of my friends believe that since I am a Christian I shouldn’t be depressed. Certainly most Christians with some life experience don’t believe this but enough do so that I am constantly on the lookout for this particular land mine. I am not particularly cogent when depressed so instead of speaking coherently about what I am experiencing I often just become defensive which is counter productive. The belief that a believing Christian is a happy person at every level is a common misconception. Certainly my faith gives me happiness and joy but that is often at the deepest levels of my being when my brain goes into a depressive episode.
So what does a depressed and suicidal person need? I can speak for myself by acknowledging that what I need most is for someone to express that they care and that they do not judge me or my faith by what is occurring during my depression. My first priority is to keep in mind that this is a passing event. That it is a trial by God, deserved or not. Next, I need to do the things which I know will help me come out of the mental fugue as quickly as possible. So I need to pray, exercise and do my best to keep in touch with others. That I may express doubts that I am not normally afflicted with is just part of the package. Certainly Job questioned why God allowed him to go through his trial.
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.
The suicidal thoughts are gone so I am not battling them at the moment. But I almost wish they were back. Now I am dealing with rage. Call it anger, at least anger is more socially acceptable but it is really rage.
I took the dogs for a walk along an arroyo this morning which allows mixed use of bicycles and pedestrians . If I hear a bicyclist coming or someone calls out “on your left”, I step off the trail with my little dogs who like to jump up on people. I keep them on tight leash anyway because I don’t want them to run up to other pedestrians. Usually when I step off the trail the bicyclist acknowledges my gesture with a smile or a thank you.
One woman glared at me when she rode past. I felt rage rise in my throat and before I could catch myself I yelled “you’re welcome” like a complete jerk. She stopped her bike and gave me a lecture about walking my dogs on the trail. I felt a murderous rage at this. I really wanted to hit her.
Just before going for the walk I decided to use the count to ten strategy with my anger. I also realized I feel the anger/rage in my throat just before I vocalize it so I decided to watch for that cue. Well these strategies were not even in play. I lost it before I even remembered them.
I’ve been thinking about the rage all day. The picture in my blog is of my family when I was about five. You can see I was angry that day. I don’t know why. But I have a hunch that anger saved me in a very dysfunctional and violent family. Even at five you might not have wanted to mess with me.
Well I have figured out what I am so angry about and it is ridiculous. I have written before that I went to a therapist for the better part of two years before and after my husband killed himself. As you can imagine a lot of transference took place in those two years and I guess you could have called Brad my good Father. He always seemed so caring and kind. But when I became suicidal nearly a year after my husband’s suicide, I definitely had issues with Brad and acted out with him. On the day I threatened to kill myself he had the police pick me up and hospitalize me and told the hospital he wanted nothing to do with me. I was the names of an incompetent therapist and psychiatrist when they released me and had no one to turn to. Brad never called the hospital to see how I was doing.
What I have come to terms with today was that Brad had no committment to me. I had assumed that by becoming his patient he had a reciprocal obligation to me. But apparently he felt ok to desert me in the middle of the worst psychological event of my life. He said he was doing it for my own good . Of course. There seems that there is no ethic in the profession against deserting a patient. Now I understand. It is what it is. I guess I wanted to believe that Brad was a good man in spite of the evidence. And that, my friends is my responsibility, not his. And now my rage is gone.
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.
Today a release in the Albuquerque Journal Staff Wire headlined “Brother, Sister Die in Likely Murder-Suicide.” Police identified the victims as Kenneth and Shirley Robson, both of whom were in their 60’s. The brother was a caretaker for his sister and they lived in a mobile home. Police detectives speculate that either health or financial problems prompted the murder-suicide.
Perhaps their problems might have been spiritual. I wonder if loneliness and fear were the motivating factors. Our society is one that promises a “safety net”. But what is the safety net for despair? Did the brother in seeking help for his sister get handed a lot of forms with stern admonitions about qualifying for help. Was he met with hard faces at the agencies where he went for help? Did he belong to a church? Did the church look beneath the surface to see the despair? Or were they just overlooked by all these organizations of help as a an unnecessary impediment to their mission.
People over 80 have the highest rates of suicide in the country. Why? They are too often left alone to cope on insufficient incomes and illness without people who befriend them.
While there are many people genuinely trying to help people like the Robsons, I don’t think that government agencies or even churches are the best way for them to get help. Neighbor’s who look out for warning signs, who visit even though they have busy lives, who try to understand the neglected and desperate are the foundation of help. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to the desperate.
How often when I have tried to help someone who seemed needy have I been rebuffed or perhaps my help was abused; the need was feigned. As a consequence I have found myself looking away from problems and letting myself grow cynical. When I do this I miss the chance to help someone genuinely in need that God is calling me to help. I am sure that what I have done is a terrible thing in th<a
Let's look around us and notice those in need. Those who aren't visited, who remain alone day after day and remember what our Lord said about helping our neighbor and the widow and the orphan. Let's not wait for the agency to step in but get them the help they need.
Please let me know what you think about the Robson's. It may be that nothing could have been done. Yet again something might have been done and wasn't. God forgive us if that is true.