A few months ago I had a man email me and ask if suicide was a sin.
I messaged him back with some thoughts. But I suspected there was probably more to the story and asked why he'd asked. Of course, there was more to the story, more and more spilled into a small box on a screen, scrawled and sent to me, a stranger. He told me about an affair, about a ruined marriage, about broken dreams and a heavy heart and a life that didn't seem much like a life anymore. He told me he wanted it to end.
And I stared at that email wondering what to say. And I waited too long and said nothing.
Which is, I think, the worst thing I could have done.
Today is World Mental Health Day.
It's a special day for me because it's something I've striven for years to achieve and maintain, and because I've watched so many friends, family and readers grapple with the pain and hardship of mental illness.
My personal journey with depression (more precisely bi-polar II) began in middle school when, more and more, I began manipulating my parents to let me stay home from school. I told them I felt sick--which wasn't a lie, but also wasn't the whole truth. Since then, I've watched myself again and again sink into deep holes of inexplicable sadness, apathy, and acedia.
When I tell people what depression feels like to me, I say it's like going through life with a giant boulder strapped to your back. Or like living underwater. Everything is harder. Getting up is hard. Showering is hard. Making a phone call... The boulder isn't unliftable. As a mostly "high-functioning" depressive, often I can summon the strength. It's just SO heavy. In a depressed state, very rarely do I feel light or free.
A few years ago someone told me they'd had a suicidal thought, not an intention at all--they'd just had the fleeting thought, "Maybe I should kill myself." This was a person who'd never struggled with depression before, and he was clearly terrified. I told him not to worry so much (after I made sure he was seeing a counselor). I'd heard that voice before, too, I said. I'd heard it a lot actually. I knew by then, it's not so much that you want to die--you don't. It's more that you want to drop the boulder or come up for air.
Tonight I'm thinking of that man who asked if suicide was a sin, that man so ready to give up. And I'm wishing I'd said this:
I wish I'd told him how tired I feel sometimes, how I just want to quit trying, quit striving, quit reaching for the perfect life that always seems out of reach. I wish I'd told him his thoughts weren't weird or unnatural. That they made sense to me in the face of so much pain. I wish I'd told him, "I'm sorry life is so hard."
I wish I'd told him about the chalkboard in my room with the words "Stay Alive" in lovely cursive and about the ring I wear that says "Rise to Live." I wish I'd told him I'm choosing life. I wish I'd told him how glad I am to have chosen it. And how hard I know it will be to choose tomorrow.
I wish I'd told him what it's like to seek and find abundant life in Christ, how I've hitched myself to Jesus' promise, how I pray for it and ache for it and how I've seen God deliver it in full measure.
I wish I'd told him how good it is to pray and read scripture, how I've found those things more healing than medicine, how a word from God can lift the boulder and make you feel for the first time in forever like doing things is possible.
I wish I'd told him about my battle plan, about how I take my thoughts captive and force them into ranks, how I grab the liars by the neck and choke them out, how I give microphones to the voices speaking truth. How I welcome God into my mind and ask Him to take over when I feel like I'm losing my grip.
I wish I'd told him choosing life is about choosing more than living--about how it's a commitment to practice joy--to celebrate and discover, to be silly and excited, curious, eager, and fun. I wish I'd told him joy doesn't have to come naturally. It can happen supernaturally for the dependent and the disciplined.
I wish I'd told him to find his people, to look for others who understand and love him. I wish I'd told him to share his story and listen to the stories of others. I wish I'd told him to ask for help.
I wish I'd told him, I'm rooting for you.
I wish I'd told him, things don't always have to be this way.
I wish I'd told him, with Christ there is always hope and always a reason to live.
Tonight, if you're feeling like maybe you'd like to give up, I want to pray for you...
God, our Father, Sustainer, Giver of life, be close to us. Walk with us through dark places and times. Lift our heads. Fill us with your Spirit growing joy and peace and hope in our hearts. Lead us into relationships with people who love us, people who want good for us, people who understand us and appreciate us just as we are. God lead us into disciplines that lead to mental health. Draw us into prayer. Call us into Your word. Plant us in the rich soil of community.
God, help us not give up. Empower us to choose life again and again and again. If it's possible, lighten our loads. If it's not possible, make us strong enough to carry those loads for as far as You need us to go.
God, give us life to the full just as You've promised.
In Jesus' life-giving name we pray...