Posted in Mental Health

When suicide is a way of life

At around this time last year, I attempted suicide. I was facing too much pressure at work, my anxiety attacks had kicked up a notch,  nothing was making sense in this life and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Objectively speaking, it probably wasn’t all that much pressure. But there is nothing objective about anxiety — especially for someone already on medication and therapy for clinical depression. What matters in the moment is the feeling that the weight of the world is bearing down on you and you can do nothing to stop it from crushing you.

So I attempted suicide.

No, I didn’t take any pills, or rat poison. Neither did I tie a noose on a rope that could bear my weight. It never even occurred to me to jump off a building or onto a busy highway. My suicide was less typical than the episodes that make headlines online.

I quit my job.

Suicide is not a moment

With no plan B, no savings to fall back on, no side-gig to bring on the occasional bacon. When I tendered my resignation, the only thought on my mind was not “how will I make a living?” but “I have to leave this place or I will die.” To me, leaving the workplace was a matter of life and death.

So why do I characterize as suicide, my decision to torpedo my career? Because for all practical purposes, it was. In fact, I believe that by the time people carry out the physical act of ending their life, they have committed a thousand suicides leading up to that moment. Suicide is not a moment, or even the last moment in the life of people dealing with mental health challenges, it is usually a way of life.

Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day and I figured I should bring to our awareness a type of suicide that many of us dealing with and campaigning about mental health rarely think about.

According to WHO, nearly 3000 people on average commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. About one million people die by suicide each year. But these numbers are only a shadow of the real tragedy.

Invisible suicides

What I did when I left my job may easily be considered “career suicide”. This is especially if it was done in a way that would make sure you never get a reference for future jobs. You see, many people who leave their jobs due to mental health issues rarely leave it on good terms. They are often not sober enough to give notice, let alone serve it.

Many departures are explosive, with the leaver sometimes creating a ruckus on their way out. They may shout about the toxic work environment and, for those dealing with ( for instance) bipolar disorder, some may even be physically violent and hurl insults at bosses and colleagues on their way out. Their future work prospects therefore largely depend on how much awareness they and the people around them had about mental health issues.

But there are also the other invisible, more subtle suicides. For instance, there is the communication suicide. Many people dealing with depression often stop picking calls and replying to text messages. They ignore and shun all attempts by others to be there for them. They just want to be left alone.

Ironically, when people give up on them and stop calling or texting, they end up worse. Some may see and dismiss this behavior as attention seeking, but it is often more complicated and deeper than that.

Relational suicide

There is also the general relational suicide. People dealing with depression start cancelling appointments and stop showing up for social events. They prefer staying by themselves, locking themselves in the house and shunning all social interactions. In doing this, they deprive themselves of the human contact that is critical to the psychological health of all human beings.

Relational suicide also manifests itself in broken friendships and divorce, severed family ties and social club no-shows. All these are suicides. What makes us human is not just the fact that we have a beating heart or air flowing through our lungs; animals have that; what makes us human is the meaning we find in relationships, in being part of a community, doing and making sense of life in relation to others.

So, as we reflect on the statistics of physical suicides on this day of awareness, I hope that we will also make an equally concerted (if not more so) effort to be aware of the suicides that lead to the final one.

More than a metaphor

I also hope that we will not make the mistake of dismissing things like “career suicide” or “relational suicides” as mere figures of speech. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the physical taking of one’s life is the real tragedy while the other suicides above are mere metaphors.

Everything that makes life worth living can easily be reduced down to a metaphor: God, religion, purpose, vision, meaning… all these can easily be dismissed as mere metaphors. But these are the very things that make flesh and blood worth more than that of animals.

People end their lives because they have already ended all other aspects of life that make physical life worth living. We cannot simply focus on the edge of the cliff and ignore the road the led us up to that cliff. We cannot just secure the window ledge, fence the bridge, or keep ropes out of reach, and think we have solved the problem.

For many of us dealing with mental health challenges, suicide is a way of life as much as it is a way out life.

 

Posted in Mental Health

How depression is demolishing my idols

I have never felt so dependent.

Every simple task is a monumental feat. Getting out of bed feels like scaling the Everest, only harder. Don’t even mention picking up a phone call. My head feels like it is locked in an unrelenting vice grip.

You see, I am being held hostage by two very experienced kidnappers: Depression and Anxiety.

Cunning abductors

My abductors can be quite unpredictable. They strike when I least expect it. Like that random bout of sadness when the rest of life is going well. Or that unexplained anxiety attack when the name on the caller ID just wants to know how I am doing.

Sometimes my abductors are lenient. They let me enjoy the occasional early morning, or an empty in-tray at the office. Sometimes they even let me reply to friends’ messages and agree to meet up with them.

Small wins

Other times I am lucky enough to escape from their grip and do normal-people stuff. For instance I went to church last Sunday; I wrote an essay on Wednesday night; I sat through a long meeting on Thursday. I even met two friends over lunch during the week; and I am writing this post right now.

All these highs and lows are familiar to anyone who has ever tasted depression. But my abductors have also been teaching me things.

Hard lessons

In the months and years I have slogged through this tar-like existence, my captors have inadvertently taught me key lessons about myself.

For instance, Depression and Anxiety have taught me that there things I used to idolize and look upon to give my life meaning. They have revealed to me just how much of an idolater I am.

You can see it in the things I am no longer able to do, and what that inability is doing to my sense of worth and identity.

I am a writer, and I am lucky (or unlucky depending on how you view it) to have my hobby double up as my job. I often joke with friends that I take breaks from writing to write. However, one of the first fingers that my abductors chopped off to torture me was my desire and ability to write.

These days it is normal to walk around uninspired for weeks. I have a feeling my captors are housing me in a dingy apartment on Writer’s Block. So, not only am I not able to write for a living, I am not even able to write for fun!

Depression and Anxiety have taught me that I may have had an unhealthy reliance on my ability to do certain things. Yes, I am a gifted, trained and experienced writer. Yes, I enjoy writing and do it for a living. But do I find my identity in my ability to write? Do I find my validation in the fact that others applaud my skill?

Crushing defeat

In the past, I would have easily answered a confident “no” to both questions. But now, I am not so sure. Each time I am unable to write or find inspiration, I find myself feeling utterly defeated. I want to hide from the world. I am suddenly ashamed that I have nothing valuable to offer the world.

Not being able to write as easily, as often or as well as I used to has revealed that I had pegged so much of my self worth on my ability to do these things. My gift had become my idol and my bargaining chip in a world that values personal talent and competence.

Gradually, I have realized that the fact that I am made in the image of God; that I am loved by this God who created the universe; that it has pleased this God to forgive my sin and welcome me into His family; these truths that I claim to subscribe to don’t seem to hold that much sway in how I value myself in this world.

I am learning that while I paid lip service to the fact that God is my all in all, I was really finding my real worth in what I had to offer this world, in the acceptance that this world showed me because of what I could do.

Now all these false gods are being stripped away, and instead of feeling like someone who has been unburdened, I am suddenly feeling like someone who has been stripped naked. It shows that these human abilities are all I really had as my covering.

I thank God for these lessons, even as I try to figure out how to apply them and refocus my worship. It took the scheming plan of my abductors Depression and Anxiety for God to show me where my true allegiance lies.

These agents of a broken world sought to destroy me by taking away the things I valued most. But God has been gracious enough to use these plans of evil as opportunities to show me what really matters, where my true identity is, whose acceptance really counts. God is showing me that I should never have been valuing these things so supremely to begin with.

May the Lord hold me fast through these trying times. To anyone currently going theough the same or similar idol-smashing process, my prayer is that you will recognize the process for what it really is and you will not despair. Instead of grumbling, be grateful. This is an opportunity to re-focus your worship and reclaim your true identity.

Our God is faithful. Even though He slays you, He is the only one worthy of your worship. Hold fast to Him. His grace is sufficient.

John 6:68 “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Rom 8:18–21 “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

2 Cor 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”