“There is no solution to our emotions except to feel them, even the hard ones, especially the hard ones.”
When I read about astronaut Charlie Duke speaking at our church for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I expected to hear a lot about the moon and a little about Jesus. I never imagined he’d share about his and Dotty’s marriage nearly ending in divorce, her struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and their miracle.
Charlie had his book for sale after the church service, but it was Dotty’s 26-page From Sadness to Joy I bought and read in one evening. I could have written it myself minus the astronaut husband.
Dotty told how she dreamed about a fairytale marriage; how she longed for Charlie to pay attention to her and her feelings; how she believed he and their two young sons would be better off with her dead instead of depressed.
Jesus redeemed her life first, then he redeemed her marriage.
I love happy endings, but I couldn’t help but think about all the people who didn’t get their happily-ever-after. Their pain clouded the truth about who they were and how much they were loved. Because of that, they couldn’t stay.
Harriet Deison, mother, grandmother, and prominent pastor’s wife, killed herself four days after Christmas in 2012. I’ve talked about her before. She drove across town in her Lexus, bought a gun, and shot herself in her car.
A few days after Harriet’s death, on January 2, 2013, 14-year-old Jenna Saadati killed herself. She was a freshman in her high school’s International Baccalaureate program. She planned to complete and publish her novel and pursue a career as a missionary pediatric doctor.
Andrew Stoecklein, 30, pastored a megachurch in California and had just returned from a sabbatical intended to relieve his depression and panic attacks. That Sunday, he preached to a packed church about depression and suicide, the first sermon in a series he titled “A Hot Mess.” Two weeks later, he took his life.
Designer Kate Spade, chef Anthony Bourdain, and actor and comedian Robin Williams made “suicide” a household word, albeit a painful one. Williams correlated depression and humor, “I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.”
Suicide’s been personal too …
My mother threatened suicide, which made me wonder about her mom dying so young. When I asked Mom, she said, “Daddy killed her.” That was, until one evening it was just us left sitting around the kitchen table. Out of the blue Mom said, “I think my mother committed suicide.”
I related to my grandmother being in relationships so painful it was hard to stay alive. I also related to Mom being detached from her emotions and from reality to the point she was unsure what even happened. I struggled for decades with depression and suicidal thoughts, and then I struggled to admit it when people said get over it, feel grateful instead, and God is good.
My lowest point happened last August 1st. I sat in a parking lot for at least an hour, too afraid to go home to our empty house. I related to Dotty thinking her family would be better off without her. Since I didn’t see an end to my depression, it made sense to end my life.
When I settled down, I drove home, sat on our sofa in the dark, and dialed my daughter’s phone. I didn’t cry or share how I felt or expect her help. I just wanted to know if hearing her voice might change my mind and I wanted to tell her one more time, “I love you.”
She answered and began to cry before I finished one sentence. She said, “Please don’t leave us. If you need to pack up your car and go to California like you’ve joked about for years, do it, … but please don’t go away so we can never see you again.”
Neither of us knew how she knew or why she reacted the way she did, but I’m so grateful to her and to God.
A couple of weeks later, on August 13th, I marked on my calendar “a turn of events.” I’m not sure what that even meant except I felt more stable than I had in years. I had energy after feeling “dead for a decade,” a chapter title from my manuscript. It also seemed significant my dad died on that same date 13 years prior, and now it was the day I came back to life a little.
Inching Toward Hope
The saying “a turn of events” left me questioning how to help other people who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts – how to help them have their turn of events. I wondered why Harriet, Jenna, and the others didn’t get their turn – a question with no answer.
What came to mind, though, is what my friend Betty said, “You have to find your own lonely way.”
Going it alone wasn’t what I wanted to write about here, although Betty wasn’t suggesting we don’t need each other. In fact, she showed up for me countless times.
However, at the end of our day and at the end of our lives, she reminded me, “It is you and God. Me and God. No one else can save us.”
“Finding our own lonely way” came to mind when I watched author and founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries Lysa TerKeurst interview Kayla Stoecklein, Andrew’s widow. Kayla talked about how she and others came alongside Andrew to help. They went as a couple to counseling and took a lengthy vacation just the two of them. They spent family time together with their three little boys, as well as making sure Andrew had alone time and time with his mentor. The morning Andrew attempted suicide (he died the next day), Kayla and his mother were outside the church making calls to get him more help. Kayla said, “We thought we were doing all the right things.”
Hopefully knowing no one else can save us will help families and friends who have a loved one struggling or someone they love who died by suicide. Or if you’re struggling yourself.
Do what you can. Ask for and offer help when you can. Talk and listen all you can. Pray. But know that at the end of the day and the end of their/your life, it’s you and God. Me and God. No one else can save us.
With all that said, I typed a few things I did for myself that ended up being “right” and helped me get better even though sometimes what I did felt wrong and hopeless.
- Getting better had a lot to do with prayer (begging). I lay in bed for hours trying to fall asleep and repeated thousands of times, “God, help me. God, help me. God, please help me.” I felt like I didn’t have an ounce of faith, but I prayed because I didn’t know what else to do.
- Getting better had a lot to do with giving up. I couldn’t heal myself. I couldn’t keep up with looking good. And I couldn’t keep up the roles in my family as Ms. Dependable, the referee for all relationships, and everyone’s Rock. I never should have played God in the first place. Depression (giving up) got me out of my husband and adult children’s business and in touch with my own life that needed much attention.
- Getting better had a lot to do with acceptance. I had compassion for people I used to judge, the ones so depressed they couldn’t get out of bed. I accepted there was no quick fix and, just like every home renovation we’d done prior to my depression, I accepted my life would probably get messier before it got better, and it did.
One more thing I figured out, and the hardest of all to do because it was the most painful …
I had to get out of my crazy head and deal with my broken heart. The Bible says take every thought captive, but I couldn’t do it (I tried) until my heart wasn’t captive.
Getting better meant I had to feel my feelings, deal with and reveal them, and heal from the difficult ones. And I didn’t even have the consolation that healing meant my emotions would go away. Healing meant I accepted and maybe even appreciated the ones that wreaked havoc. I accepted healing as a process, a long one. I accepted that other people may not like or agree with how I felt.
I got honest about my emotions with myself first and then others. Not with everyone, but the people who mattered most. I pushed through the urge to not feel even when those people didn’t want anything to do with their emotions or mine. I talked about how I felt because Hope happens when we talk and listen.
I hope you’ll join the conversation in hopes we’ll help each other get better and stay. #pleasestay
In This Together,
Since writing this post, another well-known and loved 30-year-old pastor, Jarrid Wilson, died by suicide after helping thousands in his congregation and beyond who suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. Sites like The Washington Post and People reported his story.
The Christian Post quoted Juli, Jarrid’s widow, from his memorial service. She offered Hope and called it “the gift of going second.” She said, “In honor of Jarrid, I’m going to ask all of you guys to join me in making our church home, our lives, everywhere we go, a little bit safer for people. Let them know it’s okay for them to tell you what they’re going through. Tell them what you’re going through first. It’s the gift of going second.”