Yesterday was World Suicide Prevention Day, and the seminary at which I work held a suicide prevention summit for mental health professionals, clergy, and educators to learn more about the resources available to help in this cause. It made my heart glad to see how many people showed up for the event and the number of resources being shared because it means this issue is getting the attention it deserves.
This is a cause that touches me deeply—not only because I have witnessed the devastation left behind when people I have known have committed suicide, but also because I have struggled off and on with suicidal tendencies myself for at least thirty years now. It’s a cause woven deeply into the pattern of my life.
Living with these tendencies means I have a closer relationship with death than most people can imagine. I am ever aware of how thin the veil that separates life from death really is, and I feel death’s presence ever lingering just on the edge of my peripheral vision.
While I am currently in a good space, I know what it is like to honestly ask myself each morning whether I think I can live through just one more day … and mean it. There are times that I would not have been able to say yes to anything more than that single day. The weight of all the possible days ahead would have been too heavy to bear, but I have always managed to find the strength for just the one day. In those times, the knowledge that I could choose suicide was a hopeful thing because it meant there was a way out if it ever became more than I could bear.
My good times are still measured by how long the gaps are between thoughts of suicide. When I have times that I realize it hasn’t crossed my mind as a desirable possibility for days, that means things are going exceptionally well! I suspect that this is not how most people measure their days, but it’s part of my normal.
I can imagine that this sounds terribly morbid to people who have not dwelt in that valley for long periods. In fact, it probably is a bit horrifying to many (which is why I generally don’t talk about these things to others—it scares them too much).
I’ll also be the first to admit that living this way is hard, and it’s left its scars. And yet, from where I am now, I wouldn’t trade it because I’ve discovered the gifts inside what seems to be an ugly package.
I discovered several years ago (in an epiphany moment that stopped me in my tracks) that my desire for suicide has always been the desire to end the life I was living in that moment, not necessarily wishing to end life forever. There was always something in my life that had become a cage that had so trapped my spirit that death seemed like the only escape from the cage.
But that’s seldom truly the case. Every cage has a door in it somewhere, and I’ve discovered that more often than not, the one ultimately holding the key was me. It was never obvious at the time, of course. I couldn’t see the door at the time, and I definitely didn’t know I had the key. The distorted thinking and perceiving that is the depression that often came with those times made it even more difficult to find the way out.
Yet there was always a way out. The way through has always meant finding the key I held and using it to unlock the door to the cage that kept me imprisoned. Sometimes this meant a complete change in thinking, sometimes it has meant leaving an unhealthy situation or relationship, sometimes it has meant finding healing for some broken and wounded part of me, sometimes it has meant honoring my limits, and still other times it has meant giving myself permission to pursue things that make me come alive.
Living in the shadow of death with such awareness has forced me to find these keys, to unlock these cages, and to do the work I need to do to heal and to stay healthy. It’s made me appreciate the good times and the healing and the beauty of this world in a much deeper way than I would have otherwise. I walk through each moment with a deeper awareness of how fragile life is and therefore how precious the moment is.
I am still more fragile than I want to be sometimes, and I still have to work hard to maintain my health and continue that healing process. But I’m grateful that I’ve never reached the point of giving up and that I’ve always found just enough strength for one more day because I’m finding so much beauty in life as I have escaped my cages. Even when it’s not easy, it’s been worth it.
For those of you who know intimately this dark valley that I speak of, I encourage you to reach out for help in opening the door to the cage the has you trapped. There are people out there who know where to find the missing keys. Talk to someone you trust or call a crisis center today to ask for help. There is a precious, beautiful life out there outside of the cage if you can hold on just long enough to get the door open.
For those of you who know someone who seems to be struggling with thoughts of suicide, there are many resources out there that can help. The International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of resources from around the world to assist you in finding the right help for your loved one.
Don’t let the shadow of suicidal thoughts darken your life for a moment longer than is necessary. Help is available, and it is possible to not only survive this life, but also to thrive. I know it’s possible because I’ve done it, and if I can do it, so can you.
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