Yesterday as I was flipping through the channels I happened upon a show hosted by a well known Christian author and speaker who was discussing the topic of suicide with a guest. Having read several of this person’s books and watched many of her conferences on tv I decided to tune in. However, it didn’t take long for me to become extremely annoyed with their conversation to the point I envisioned myself reaching through the tv and smacking her upside the head.
I will first say this — They obviously had the best intentions and I’m sure what they were saying probably resonated with and helped some people. BUT — there were several things they said that I have a major problem with. And it bothered me even more because they were discussing suicide in relation to being a Christian while placing judgment upon those who suffer from mental illness which, in my eyes, contradicts the very essence of my faith.
They were calling the act of suicide selfish and a result of the person’s desire to take the easy way out. As my blood began to boil they continued with comments such as “Sometimes we just have to decide to do something besides sitting around being miserable,” followed by a chuckle and a shrug. It came across as very condescending and right then and there she lost all credibility with me. If I had tuned in to find hope and help with suicidal thoughts – whether I had any faith to begin with or not – that would have left me feeling defeated, misunderstood and like a failure. Since it was a Christian show on a Christian tv station I would probably resent her beliefs as well. It was not a very welcoming invitation for people to stay tuned to find hope.
As you know, I am a Christian with a strong faith that has helped me through the darkest times in my life. In hindsight I can say without a doubt that God has saved my life MANY times. However, conversations such as these can give Christians a bad rap because it comes across as very judgmental which tends to scare people away. Most, if not all, of my friends get that there is much more to overcoming a mental illness than the strength of someone’s faith. Most people realize that there is a medical component that we cannot will our way out of in order to be healed. It’s not that easy, but the conversation I was witnessing certainly made it seem like it should be and if it wasn’t then I had to be doing something wrong.
If you have never been to the point of wanting to commit suicide it is impossible to completely understand how someone could ever want to end their life, especially when, as in my case, they have so much to live for and be thankful for. Of course I can understand how from an outside perspective suicide seems extremely selfish because loved ones are left with the devastating aftermath. My pain may end but theirs would have just begun. When I am light years away from this state of mind I am able to comprehend the consequences of taking my own life and I pray I never get back there because I can see clearly how it makes no sense.
The thing that people don’t get though is that when a person gets to that point there is a disconnect between the act and the consequences. I’ve been desperate, coming close to ending it all many times and every single time I’ve truly believed that my family and friends would be better off without me. Beyond that conviction there is no other rational thought. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Clarity of mind no longer exists. A tangible darkness takes over and literally squeezes the life out of my mind until there is no more room for hope. It’s confusing. It’s terrifying. It makes no sense. The only truth I can accept is that the pain will never end and there is no other way out, even though in a rational state of mind I would adamantly disagree with that. Whenever I’ve contemplated suicide my entire perception of reality was skewed.
So when I hear a person preach that we are selfish, not fighting hard enough, taking the easy way out or not thinking of our loved ones it infuriates me. Especially when I hear a fellow Christian with seemingly good intentions proclaiming this to be true. Here’s the thing…when I’ve been held captive by this state of mind hearing this from a person who is supposed to be spreading hope has only made me feel worse and my immediate reaction would be to shut them out because my thoughts and actions have already been judged.
When I was new to my faith as an adult and had just been diagnosed with bipolar I reached out to people in my church, read countless books and attended Bible studies — all of which absolutely helped me. But during this time I also read books and several articles by popular Christians that basically claimed depression was a result of unhealed wounds, lack of faith and inability to surrender — all of which can be contributors, but there is often so much more to it such as a true biological component. Meds, according to these authors, were considered to be a sign of giving up and being weak so if we would only grow in faith then we would no longer need them. While that may be true for some, a blanket statement should not be made about every person dealing with mental illness. I felt like a failure and started to believe that I was being judged by everyone around me and eventually hated going to church and stopped going to Bible study. My friends were not judging me at all but my mind could not conceive that. I began making generalizations that everyone held that belief about depression (which they didn’t) and because of that I felt more alone and flawed than ever.
Here’s why I’m so annoyed. We have to be aware of how our words come across to people who are in crisis as a result of a brain that has malfunctioned causing rational thought to disappear. This is especially important if we want to convince others there really is hope and that a relationship with God is critical in dealing with any obstacle life throws at us. Telling people they are selfish and looking for the easy way out not only causes resentment but will most certainly turn people away from faith. I have a strong faith yet when I see shows or read books like this it ultimately makes me feel like a failure. I am convinced I will never get it right so what’s the point in even trying? Saying I am selfish implies that I am not concerned about others. When I’ve been suicidal this is not the case at all. The last thing I want to do is die and miss out on my family’s life or cause them to hurt in any way, but my mind has convinced me that there is no other way out and they would truly be better off without me.
I know many people who have been ‘turned off’ by Christianity because they have felt judged. There are people who won’t read what I have to say if they know it has to do with faith because of past experiences in which they were judged and looked down upon. How does that spread hope? How is a suicidal person going to find hope or ever come to faith or as in my case grow in faith if this is the message we hear? Or if we’ve been so turned off we don’t even want to listen.
I have had many pastors, mentors and Christian friends and family who have been completely supportive and open minded when it comes to trying to help and understand a complicated illness that most of the time makes no sense. They are loving, supportive, open minded and actively praying for miracles to happen. Without them I could not have gotten through…and that is what true Christianity is all about…We can’t try to scare people into believing something or guilt them into it in order to get better. But that’s what this show was doing and I want people to know that is not how we are going to be successful in helping those who struggle with mental illness.
Instead of telling me to pray harder or that when my faith gets strong enough I will no longer need medication, tell me you want to understand and that you are willing to try. Refrain from judging me and insisting that there is a quick fix. Remind me that faith will help me get through but realize a lack of faith is not the cause. Convincing me that I’m selfish isn’t going to change the chemical imbalance in my brain.
If I had tuned into a show where they were attempting to understand what a suicidal person may be going through with empathy that would have at the very least kept me listening. I would not have been resentful of her judgment and for making it seem as though I needed to be a better believer in order to get well. Seeking God and coming to faith will help us through the darkest times…that I can guarantee. But people who are struggling might miss out on that entirely because of mixed messages that are broadcast all over the place. Our job is to love one another, not judge each other and that’s how we can make a difference.