An insider’s view of the struggle with suicidal depression
When I read Fr Nicholas’ article about suicide in a previous edition of New Directions [October 2003] I found myself getting angry. It is not so much that the theology was wrong, but his theology was devoid of humanity, devoid of the brokenness of spirit, or soul, or mind, devoid most of all of God’s loving compassion (literally ‘suffering-with’). If you are someone who battles daily with the urge to commit suicide, it was certainly not a helpful article.
I asked someone from my parish to write a piece not so much in response (though that is certainly part of the motivation) but to give an insider’s view of what depression and suicidal feelings and urges feel like. It was a painful exercise for this person to undertake, and for obvious reasons both myself and the person in question will remain anonymous to preserve their identity. Please read this prayerfully and pray for those who struggle with these feelings and urges.
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness : in your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt : and cleanse from my sin.
I don’t know if it is like this for everyone; all I can write is my own experience. When people discuss death it can be a little awkward, but when suicide is mentioned it can become an uncomfortable taboo subject. How could anyone take his or her own life? How selfish, how stupid, they must have been mad. A few of many responses.
I always thought it would be impossible for a Christian to take his or her own life, and I always wondered how someone without a belief could take the only life they thought they had. There are people dying every day. As I write this, the television is reporting yet another bomb in Iraq, a lot of people have died. How could someone be so self-centred, so defeated to give up a life when so many others are fighting to keep theirs? There are many levels to this and I have explored a lot of them.
For many reasons that I do not totally understand, I am giving up the will to live. Who am I? Could I be the one who sits on the pavement in town with the sad-eyed dog and the empty hat? Could I be the one returning to the cold bedsit with a small packet of white powder set to take away life’s confusion? Or could I be the one with ten children to feed, an insurance policy and a redundancy note? If I were, would this justify my thoughts? Could anything justify the taking of one’s own life?
I am a church volunteer and attend mass daily. I am in my thirties, have a home, friends and a dog I love very much. So how could I possibly be one of those people who think daily of ending her life? Looking from the outside you cannot see that someone is broken on the inside. You can see if someone has a broken arm. You see the sling and the plaster and you know. When you see the broken arm, do you try to categorize the person with it? You may wonder how they did it, but you accept it; humans are fragile creatures and are prone to breaking, so you couldn’t possibly judge someone for having a broken bone. Yet it is easy to categorize and judge someone for just being plain broken.
I am broken, I feel broken, I think broken thoughts. My eyes see only the hurt around me and my ears hear only the negative. Something is filtering out the good, the sunshine, the kind word. The things I am so desperately wanting to see and hear, I don’t – I can’t – see or hear. Heartache is no longer just an expression on a sympathy card, it is a fact, a real feeling. Your heart truly can ache as it is compressed in a vice of despair.
I remember a time when I sat with a friend and told him I wanted to die. I once read that, ‘Physical pain though unpleasant can be forgotten. You remember you were in pain but not the sensation. Emotional pain is different; you don’t forget what it is like.’ It’s true, I remember every detail of that moment, every feeling, all the pain. I can’t forget no matter how much I try. My heart was imploding under the pressure of the vice of despair; my arms were so heavy and lifeless, my stomach churned and if my cells were little people they would have been pulling their hair out screaming, all of them as one chorus. Yet my exterior was silent, motionless. It was an overcast day, so the sky was grey. I could see the leaves blowing on the trees; they were all the same olive green drab colour. I really didn’t care that I would never see the sun again. This was the day I was going to stop all of the above. It had to stop. Selfish? Yes I totally agree.
I have a list of people whom I would hurt if I went through with it – suicide. My parents, it would destroy them, I do not want to do that. My friends, they mean so much to me and I would not hurt them for anything. The children I know, I would be such a bad example of a Christian, I try so hard to be a good example for them. There are others, they are all on my list and I carry the list with me to stop me, to get some perspective back in times of temptation. But the most frightening thing is, at my most desperate moments, the love I have for them and the love they have for me disappears, it is gone; like the sunshine and the kind word, it does not exist. It is like they never existed, it is just me and the darkness. I do not want to hurt any of them, I don’t remember them.
My offences truly I know them: my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned: what is evil in your sight I have done.
It is these times I fear the most, when the line between life and death is so fragile it becomes like tissue paper and it would only take a second to break it. At these times I have sat with a knife in my hand, images of the pain bleeding away, longing for that last breath of relief. I have run my car along the hedge, just to catch the hedge or a hidden rock and for it all to be over. It is times like this, when I have not braked on a slippery corner, there is only the corner, nothing else exists.
So for someone without a faith and a belief in an after-life, how can they take their own life? Well, I know now, not that I don’t have faith, I do, but I know where they are coming from. You see, it’s not so much that they want to die, they do not want to live. What they want is nothingness, a total end, a cessation of the pain. There is a scenario that often goes through my head. I am in a multi-storey car park and I see someone about to jump. I have to talk them out of it; this is what I say, ‘You don’t want to die.’ They do not answer. ‘But you don’t want to live either.’ I have their attention. ‘Look at this logically, if you jump now there are three options.
‘First, you die, and because you took your own life you feel you must go straight to hell, what have you gained? Is not living a hell anyway, why would you want to doom yourself to an eternal living hell? If you die and go to hell, you lose the hope of it one day ending, if you live and stay in the living hell you have that hope, the hope that one day it will end.
‘Second, you could die and go to heaven, but could it ever be heaven for you? You took your own life and left everyone else to pick up the pieces, there could be no heaven, not from this. Finally, if you have no belief, do you think you would cease to exist, could you truly take the chance that you won’t? So it’s options one and two that are the only real options. Are you going to put it to the test, and give up the only hope you have left that one day it will be over.’ They do not jump.
As I said, broken thoughts. Where am I going with all this? I am not sure myself. Maybe I just want to speak up for those who have gone before me, those who have been judged unfairly by society, the losers, cowards, misfits. Who before one desperate act of a broken soul were called lawyers, doctors, Christians. Maybe I need to give a voice to the broken people who are still left. Who will carry their brokenness with shame and in secret for fear of judgement and rejection? If we need a voice, then I will be it.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness: that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face: and blot out all my guilt.
How will this end for me? I don’t know. I want to die. I think it every day, it is not an easy thought to live with. I am wracked with guilt, children are dying the world over, I would save them if I could. I want to save them. I want to die, I say sorry to God daily for it and try to think of a future but it is not there, just not there.
I want to die, but I am living, living with the hope I gave to the imaginary person in the multi-storey car park, living with the hope that one day it will end. Until then I try to move forward, one day at a time, one hour at a time. I will never give up my faith, never. That would be a step too far and a pointless one. I have to remember that God weaves a pattern I cannot see, and I am just another thread. (I wouldn’t mind being a brighter colour for a while though.) So please do not judge me or those for whom I speak, and do not reject the broken. We did not break ourselves, and I pray one day we can be fixed as easily as a broken bone.
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a very frightened sinner.