Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Depression and Suicide

It's a few days after the sad death of Robin Williams, and along with all of the tributes, there is a lot of opinion flying around the interwebs about depression and suicide.  Having some firsthand knowledge of the topic, and never being a shrinking violet when it comes to giving my opinion, I held forth on Facebook and was surprised and pleased that it seemed to resonate with and help people.

For the person with clinical depression, there is no life circumstance that will protect them from it.  None of the things we aspire to in life will stop it.

The answer to the question "How could someone so (gifted/talented/intelligent/confident/competent/strong/seemingly happy) take their own life?" is that when driven by clinical depression, suicide is not a rational act.  Depression isn't just being extra sad.  It is a real mental illness that can make people imagine and believe the most horrible, irrational, outlandish lies about themselves, lies that everyone else knows to be lies.  Such a person can feel that they ought to die, and deserve to die, even painfully, as a gift to the world and restitution for the crime of having been born and lived.  Does that sound shocking to you?  Because that is the depth of irrational self-hatred to which depression can drive a person.  Severely depressed people can also be subjected to the chaotic short-circuiting of thoughts, resulting in what I can only describe as the feeling that one's mind is on fire.  Given that, it should be evident that suicide is not necessarily an act of weakness, selfishness or cowardice.  For some unfortunate people, simply being is itself at times unbearable.  People point out that suicide is a choice, and while that's true, it's not necessarily a choice made by a person in possession of their faculties.  I wonder if it ever is.

Society can help by understanding that mental illness is physical.  The brain is a physical organ that operates through chemical processes, and it is no more immune to malfunctions in those processes than is, say, the digestive tract.  A person with mental illness is no more defective, flawed or bad than is a person with ulcerative colitis.  But mental illness is the one physical illness that carries with it fear, stigma and judgment.

We would also do well to be a bit circumspect and humble in our opinions about anti-depressant medication if we have never personally had our lives and sanity saved by them.  They are not "happy pills" and they are not an escape for the weak.  For some, when prescribed and used properly, they erect a floor beneath their feet, a stop, a limit to keep their depression from spiraling out of control, and for them, they are a godsend.

Of course, I believe the best thing for any person is to be reconciled to their Creator and enjoying fellowship with him, through the redemption of our lord Jesus Christ.  I believe that much anxiety and depression is the result of unresolved guilt and unrepented sin, and the library has not been built that could adequately address the topic of the mind of the person whose soul is at enmity with God.  But mental illness is real.  And if we can make use of our God-given gifts and arts and intelligence to come up with ways to treat the physical problem of mental illness, we should.  And if we can stop seeing those afflicted with mental illness as being specially and frighteningly damaged, we should.

John 9:2-3 
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Traveling Companion

Not even I should go a year between posts, so I figured I'd check in, and with no topic in mind, just put down what's on said mind.

My depression is visiting me this week, but he's different than he has been in the past.  It seems like he's matured and mellowed along with me.  When he first sunk his teeth into me in earnest, some eighteen years ago, it was a savage, hard-edged thing.  It knocked me flat.  As I was able, with the help of doctors at least somewhat versed in brain chemistry, to control him, the edge came off, he donned softer clothing, but whenever he drew closer, he was still hard underneath the skin, and took me down for the count at least once.  The medical help?  The ignorant think it's some kind of chemical escape mechanism; as one uninformed, tactless nursing undergraduate called it, a "happy pill."  Those who really know, know better.  It's no such thing. I take my meds, and I still have clinical depression... but I'm alive.  That's the difference.  In the throes of depression, one is spiraling down a black hole with no end, and no desire to stop descending.  The medicine simply nails up a sturdy floor to stand on to stop the descent.  That floor may be lower than the surrounding ground, and it's made of rough-hewn planks, not carpeted in flowers and unicorns, but it is a floor, a limit to further downward movement.  And that's enough, and thank God for it.

Anyway, I've grown and learned, and I have people who depend on me.  My children get my mind out of myself, and they're worth it.  I had my chances to be more than a mediocrity, but now is the time to be a springboard to their dreams, and it's a joyful thing to do so.  Now, thanks mostly to the much-maligned doctor-prescribed SSRI in residence in my bloodstream, rather than being a savage primate riding piggyback, screeching in my ear, depression is more of a companion walking a few paces behind silently in a hooded robe.  (If I were a man of consequence, perhaps he'd be the slave standing behind me in the chariot as it passed beneath Roman arches in the triumphal parade, whispering "Remember thou art mortal.")  I'd love to be altogether free of depression's company, but that's probably not in the cards, and I can tolerate it.

This week, he's pulled up abreast of me.  Not on my back, saying dark things to me from behind gritted teeth, but keeping pace.  But where before his mutterings were a danger to me, this week, they're causing me to withdraw from people, all people except for family and the closest friends.  It's not falling down a hole, but left unchecked, withdrawal into one's self isn't much better.  But I think this is an episode that won't last; he'll drop back again and take his designated place behind me in our pathetic two-man parade.