The subject of depression is tough for some to read. I am going to share details that very few know. It will be real and raw. But, of course, my pit story ends with the beauty of God’s grace and healing.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
***Read with caution.***
Today is the last day of suicide prevention week. As such, all sorts of people have decided to weigh in on the matter. Facebook has been full of posts encouraging people to seek help, telling them that they matter, and reminding everyone else that they are their brothers’ keepers. But. There are those few who choose to frame it differently. One such post is what has prompted this writing.
As I was happily numbing my brain on Facebook’s nonsense and foolishness last night, I ran across a post that started with, “Please read if you are struggling with depression…The question will a person go to heaven or will they go to hell if they take there (sic) own life? Please read all of this before some people get upset with me…” Now, normally I cruise on by such stuff without a thought. This person and I have almost nothing in common as far as beliefs go, despite the fact that we belong to the same church denomination. I often shake my head at her stuff and roll on. But. BUT. What she said later was so damaging, so damning, I couldn’t let it go. Essentially, after some poorly quoted scripture (that was taken completely out of context), she arrived at the conclusion that a person struggling needs to just rely on God and if they commit suicide they will go to hell.
I’ve struggled with mental illness most of my life. As a child, I couldn’t pinpoint it, explain it, or even recognize that it was different because that was my normal. As a teen, when my life completely blew up (that’s another blog post for another day), I spiraled. Depression and anxiety earmarked my existence. I was seen as difficult and spoiled. No one recognized what I was going through as a real issue, so there was no help. My first real memory of wanting to die was when I was 17 and driving. I thought about how easy it would be to simply fail to navigate a curve. I was young. People would chalk it up to teen driving, mourn and move on. God had a different plan, planted people in my life to offer just enough hope and I made it through.
Fast forward to the pit.
The year was 2009. I was 28, about to turn 29. I had a husband, two children, a church I loved, a relationship with the Lord. I’m not sure exactly what happened. In January, I started slipping. I fell quickly. Before I knew it, my sadness was an overwhelming dark cloud I couldn’t escape. At first, my friends were all very encouraging. They reminded me that God loved me, that I could pull through, that I could just pray and praise enough that I could move that cloud right out of the way.
It got darker.
Soon, I just wanted to die. My friends starting distancing themselves. They couldn’t handle me. They didn’t know what to do with me. They were convinced I just wasn’t praying enough. Or that there was some hidden sin I hadn’t confessed. Or if I would just read my Bible a little more I could walk away from the depression.
What they didn’t know is that the depression was paralyzing. I prayed constantly because I didn’t know what else to do. Sometimes my prayers were as simple as “Help me Jesus!” I read my Bible, looking for help. I played praise music. I listened to sermons online. I was at the altar every Sunday at church – for awhile, anyway – until people got tired of seeing me there.
For nine solid months, I wanted to die. There were days I could see myself hanging in my closet. I was terrified. I yelled at the devil. I begged Keith not to leave me alone. I wouldn’t let him tell anyone because I was afraid they would take my children.
And there it is. The reason for my post. The stigma. I desperately needed help. My husband needed help. He didn’t know what to do with me. He went to work many days not knowing what would happen while he was gone. My children needed help. Their mommy was crazy. They never knew if I would spend my day crying or yelling or if it would be an okay day.
Yet, the very people who had promised to love me through anything walked away. The ones who are supposed to love with God’s love were the most judgmental. They refused to view my depression as what it truly was – mental illness.
So of course I’ve done a little research. According to health.harvard.edu, depression is much more than a simple “chemical imbalance” in our brain. Despite our conviction that emotions and moods are housed in the heart, they reside in the brain, along with thoughts and involuntary things like breathing and heartbeat and so much more. The website says, “there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.” There are many chemicals involved. Millions. Or maybe billions. They’re simply not sure. Just like the other organs in our bodies, the brain is a magnificent, beautiful, intricate organ that can break.
When a person has a faulty heart, the church doesn’t tell them they’re not praying enough – they are encouraged to do what it takes to ward off a heart attack. Those things may include watching what they eat, stopping smoking, reducing stress, increasing exercise, and taking medication. Diabetics have broken organs. The pancreas doesn’t produce the right amount of insulin. If they go into diabetic shock, we don’t shout scripture at them, we get them the proper medical help.
Depression is an illness. Can it be spiritual? Sure! But so can any other physical ailment. But, we encourage a person to do what it takes to stay alive until the Lord reveals what He needs to reveal in every other instance. People with mental illness deserve the same amount of love from us.
After nine months of absolute hell, I was finally delivered from my pit. It was God’s grace and nothing short of a miracle that I lived. God had met me in that dark, nasty place in a way that I had never met Him. I learned that He was truly the only One that mattered. And that it didn’t matter that I was coming out to no friends, I was coming out to Him. The rest would take care of itself. Like all deep wounds, it took time for that one to completely heal, but I was a different person. Like a butterfly, I had undergone a complete metamorphosis, from the inside out.
So let’s get back to the original question. Will suicide send you to hell? The truth is, I just don’t know for sure. I really don’t think so. I don’t have a “just sayeth the Lord.” But, I have a good idea of what I believe to be true. God is love. He sent His son to die on a cross for us out of that everlasting love. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The hardest battle I ever fought was the battle for my own life. I fought it every single day for nine months. If I had lost the battle, I believe the promise is that God would have gathered me in His arms and comforted His weary daughter. I certainly hope so. Because in all that time, I never gave up faith that He would help me. I never quit loving Him. I never quit serving Him.
I went through that time without medication, foolishly. Now I take a tiny pill at night that helps regulate my moods and thoughts. Yes, I still struggle at times. There are many reasons which simply don’t matter. The point is that when we remove the stigma, we can help people. We can love people. You can’t love and judge at the same time.
Church, it’s time for us to wake up! Is this a spiritual problem? Yes, at least partially. Are we going to help people by telling them they are going to hell if they kill themselves? NO! I can’t say it hard enough! Are we loving the families of those who kill themselves by making such statements? No. We’re not. So, it’s completely okay if I haven’t changed your mind. But, I hope I’ve helped you see the hurtfulness of the statements. If you know someone struggling, love them. Hug them. Send them a card or a text. Call them. Make them food. Get them help. Tell them it’s going to be okay. Know this number: National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. This epidemic is real and we need to be ready to show the love we say we have.
If you’re struggling, I’m sorry. I understand. It’s going to be okay. I know how bad it hurts. Get help. Get help. Get help. I can’t say it enough. If your support system isn’t supportive, get a new one. Jesus loves you. I love you.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
Be blessed and tell someone you love them.