“Tackling the taboo topic that’s killing some of us slowly”

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Currently I’m taking a medicine I can neither pronunce nor spell, it’s for depression.  I didn’t sulk under my own broom tree until my late-30’s, the idea of taking my own life hadn’t ever occurred to me before then — life gets hard when some of the people you minister to work against you. It wasn’t that I was ignorant regarding the topic, when I was in the 5th grade a neighbor-dad left his car running in the garage with the door closed, he was a casualty of a painful divorce.

I think suicide is like the virus Covid-19, we are tired of hearing about both; we’ve become callous and numb to the topics. We are approaching the one year anniversary of  Darrin Patrick’s suicide — I cried and spent the rest of that day in a funk, emotionally drained when I read the news. Even though we are victors in Christ and God will ultimately win the war, we don’t win every battle. Darrin is only one tragic example of pastors who end their own life.

There are countless celebrities who have done so too, and don’t forget our military veterans either. We have numerous suicide attempts daily — the next time you scour the obits, read between the lines, you’ll see local people who succeed as well.   And while it’s not healthy to obsess over suicide, it’s not healthy to ignore it either. Worst of all, churches are mostly silent on this awkward topic — when was the last time your church offered a sermon or seminar about it? It’s sad that shows on Netflix like “13 Reasons” or “After Life” can be more open about a disturbing subject than we are in church.

Two or three times a year I seriously consider ending my life.  It’s not that I have a deep desire to commit suicide or that I romanticize it, it’s more of a lack of desire to go on living.  Life, during those days, feels hopeless and bleak and I feel overwhelmed and carry an unbearable weight that only death could lift.  I feel like, what’s the point of going on one more day like this?  I know this type of depression is part & parcel of being creative because these funks I fall into usually follow or precede great bursts of energy, productivity and creativity. 

Thankfully, for me, my depression is temporary.  It hits me periodically, and for me it’s completely oppressive, overwhelming, nearly immobilizing me.  I can’t even do the simplest of tasks without feeling like I’ll crumple.  It’s hard to put into words, but in those periods, I don’t even want to go on living.  I feel like I can’t catch my breath, the darkness is almost tangible.  I think to myself, “Maybe one day I’ll succumb to it, but I hope not today.” 

Suicide might seem strange to you, it’s counter-intuitive to most people I talk to, they find it hard to imagine I think about doing it myself from time to time. Yes, at times life can feel pointless, the pressure to succeed in ministry is always there, and sadness and despair can descend from out of nowhere like a summer’s afternoon stormcloud — but as I stare into the darkness there are a thousand tentacles and webs that keep me from the brink of oblivion. I think about how it would affect my wife, children and grandchildren, and the handful of reasons I have for ending this life seem different then.

People who think about killing themselves aren’t being morbid or romanticizing the great beyond, they simply find it hard to go on living, whether it is pain, pressure, feelings of failure, regrets, chemical imbalances, debt, or conflict. My mom was rather melancholy, and we have other loved ones in our family who battle depression, so perhaps the darkness I periodically struggle with is genetic. No matter what the reasons may be, if suicide is foreign to you, you probably don’t understand the shame and guilt people who consider suicide carry with them either.

Nationwide suicide rates have been rising dramatically for years now, and with the massive unemployment our country is presently experiencing decimating our economy, experts tell us we can expect a spike in suicide.  Maybe you’ll never understand something that seems so irrational, but hopefully you’ll be empathetic and thoughtful, considerate of those who do struggle with this. I believe Jesus would want us to restrict our judgment and release a little more grace when it comes to a taboo topic, because really, people who think about killing themselves need a safe place and safe people to talk to.

I’m an introvert, but I know the essential value of human contact & interaction.  We all need healthy people to nurture our souls, to listen to our hurts, to lift us and love us.  There are a lot of people, some quietly, dealing with a level of depression.  The question to me isn’t why are there so many people struggling, the question should be, why not more?  Life is challenging, difficult, and at times bleak.  We ought to be asking, why not more depression, I think we should expect more.  Depression is normal, it’s part of the human experience.  For some of us, it’s more intense, more persistent, prevalent, more permanent perhaps, but it’s not a sin.  Remember Ps 34:18 always, God is close to the brokenhearted!  

Craig preaches for the New Song church in Kingsport, TN

You can reach him at craigcottongim@gmail.com 

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