When you are suicidal is it possible to have a grateful heart?

My pastor made a point on Sunday that struck a nerve triggering bitterness within me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. That morning I believed what he said would be impossible for me to do and quite frankly that annoyed me. Little did I know that God was planting a seed in my heart.

My pastor spoke about waking up each morning with an attitude of gratitude in order to set the tone for the day moving our hearts and minds toward light and away from darkness. It could be as simple as thanking God for waking up and the ability to get out of bed. When our feet hit the floor thank Him for the ability to walk. As we get into the shower we should appreciate the hot water as it flows over our head.  However, as someone who often goes to bed praying for God to kill me, how do I ever embrace that? At that moment guilt completely washed over me because it sounded so easy, yet I couldn’t ever imagine doing that. If this is how we learn to be grateful and obedient to God it definitely wasn’t possible for me.

When I am in the midst of a depressive episode the mere act of opening my eyes in the morning is accompanied by disappointment and resentment. “God, why do you insist I keep waking up?” The weight of the fog of depression engulfs me, detaching me from the outside world penetrating every inch of my body and mind. I am paralyzed from any possibility of movement. The thought of getting out of bed carrying this weight of blackness is nothing short of torture. Trying to force myself to appreciate being alive, having the ability to walk and the presence of hot water for a shower seems absurd. It is extremely unlikely I will be able to remove myself from my bed. All I can do is cry as I wonder why God would have me face another day in this state of mind.

Of course I realize this is completely selfish. How dare I not be thankful for every breath I take and all that God has given me? But as I have described in previous posts, mental illness wreaks havoc with my thought processes and what should be obvious makes no sense. How can I process this and turn myself around so I can take a step in the right direction away from the destructiveness of ungratefulness?

There are people who would give anything for the ability to get out of bed on their own and here I am resentful because I can.  I WANT to be grateful. I long to say it from my heart and truly mean it. But I know it would be a boldfaced lie. And if you’ve never felt the grip of depression I realize this is difficult to comprehend.  Depression causes you to look at all of your blessings while telling you that you are undeserving. Deep down you know the truth but you are consumed with guilt for your feelings of despair and you become trapped in a maddening battle for your mind.

Recently a friend of mine committed suicide leaving behind a wife and two children the same age as my boys. Not once have I ever thought he was selfish. I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been trapped in a suicidal state of mind and I know what it feels like to firmly believe there is no other option. But after he took his life my frame of mind ultimately changed. His pain may now be over, but his family’s pain had just begun. Whenever I think about suicide – even if it’s only passive – I redirect my focus to the faces of my family. The reality of what they would have to deal with if I ever ended it is unbearable. Despite any desperation I may feel, when I see their faces I am convinced that I am supposed to stay – no matter how difficult it may be for me.

The memory of my friend and his family who has to continue on without him sparked a desire to find a way to appreciate my existence. My pastor’s words along with the memory of my friend came together. I immediately realized it was possible to shift my focus to my loved ones and I wanted to express my gratitude to God. Maybe there are steps I can take to change my heart. I’ve been trapped in a mindset that if I couldn’t be grateful for something as simple as waking up then I didn’t deserve to be alive and was incapable of being thankful for anything.

But Sunday night I had a revelation.

I am so grateful that my children are going to wake up and still have a mom who loves them more than anything. I am grateful they will have a mom in the bleachers cheering them on and supporting them that afternoon. Their mom will be there to make breakfast for them and pack their lunches. My kids will not  have to ask why their mom left them and chose not to stay to see them grow up. They will not have to live with guilt and forever wonder why. Thank you God for protecting them and helping me step out of the darkness.

Thank you that my husband won’t wake up this morning as a single father  forced to pick up the pieces of his children’s lives while trying to make sense of it all. Instead, he will continue to have a partner to share his life with.  

Thankfully my parents won’t be forced to bury their child then spend the rest of their lives trying to figure out what went wrong.

There have been days this week that depression has threatened to take me down. I’ve felt my mind “go there.” I’ve winced upon waking the moment I realize I have to survive another day. However I’ve forced myself to get out of bed and go immediately into my sons’ rooms to wake them for the day. Looking at their peaceful faces I become truly grateful to God for protecting them from waking to a nightmare they would have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

I hold on to the hope I will wake up one day with excitement and gratitude for the gift of life in and of itself. Never before have I believed that possible. When my pastor spoke about it on Sunday, I sat there beating myself up because I was convinced I couldn’t do it. I didn’t WANT to do it. It seemed pointless. But God put it on my heart that it is possible when I take the focus off of myself.

No matter how badly I’ve felt, I’ve never wanted to cause my loved ones any pain. I truly only want what’s best for them — a life full of blessings, love and joy. I won’t be responsible for taking that from them. Opening my eyes may be painful. Facing a lifelong illness is daunting, but when I do it for my family I know they won’t have to open theirs to devastating news and pain. When I re-frame my mind my heart is sincerely grateful.

Laying in bed on the eve of my son’s thirteenth birthday telling him about the night he was born, I became overwhelmed with love and gratitude toward God and  I thanked Him profusely for carrying me through the worst parts of my illness to bring me to that very moment to celebrate my son becoming a teenager. I was able to tell him how proud I am to be his mother and how much joy he brings into my life. The realization that I could have robbed him of hearing that from his mom hit me like a ton of bricks. When the bad days come I know I will get through because I’ve discovered the treasure of gratitude buried in my heart while gazing at my son’s face, taking my eyes off myself in order to focus on the things I am truly grateful for.