The kind nurses would check on me every morning.
“Here are your meds, honey. Did you sleep well? Do you feel like hurting yourself today?”
“Thank you. Yes. Yes.”
My stay in the psych ward was brief and peaceful. I was surrounded by people who were hurting more than me. The person with schizophrenia across the hall would yell all night and fling his feces at the door. It was the best I have ever slept. The darkness of depression had finally swallowed me, and I could see no other option but death. I’d planned on crashing my motorcycle to save my family and friends the pain of wondering what they could have done to help me. Fortunately, my plans were thwarted. Instead of dying, I spent three nights on suicide watch and the next six months living in the woods.
Being labeled “a survivor of childhood sexual and emotional trauma” is not an identity anyone would choose. But that is me. At least it’s part of me. I spent the better part of my 20’s and 30’s (I’m 42, now) having horrible flashbacks, brought on by anything from seeing a random number to smelling a certain cologne or perfume. Sleeping was impossible. My nightmares were vivid and terrible, which led to a lifelong case of insomnia. I still only sleep for about three hours at a time. I am tired. All the time.
My time in the woods with my family was all about building and rebuilding. I had a pretty solid foundation of not feeling, of not dealing with anger and hurt. Once my emotional house toppled over, I had no means of coping. My wife and I started to build a new foundation. She would sit with me in my counselor’s room and listen as I relived events from my childhood. She would watch as I raged against a punching bag until my hands bled. She would hold me as I mourned the theft of my innocence.
Jesus looks like different people to me. During that time of my life, he looked like my wife. He also looked like our friends who let my family of eight move into their home in the woods. I used to say, “I hate people.” Those three undid my hate.
Once the emotional wounds started scabbing over, made possible by therapy and medication, I began to learn really practical things about being human. Did you know that all people aren’t out to get you? That love is real? That you are meant to be loved? I had no idea.
I had to train my brain to believe those things, to reject my knee-jerk reactions to people and situations that caused anxiety. I started to have healthy conversations with myself about what to think and feel, about what was real truth versus truth that had been filtered through trauma. I wasn’t a “fat, stupid faggot who was meant to be an abortion.” Turns out, I’m talented and smart, gentle and kind, strong and able. People actually like me. I had to remind myself of that when the darkness creeps in. Still do. The monster under your bed doesn’t have fur and fangs. He’s more of a mist, floating around, trying to remind you of the old truth you once believed.
The most helpful and practical things I’ve learned are:
- The skill of communicating my thoughts and feelings, instead of lashing out or internalizing everything, has been terribly difficult but hugely beneficial.
- I am a “man of faith.” The habit of prayer, reading the Bible, and devoting my life to the God of the Bible—instead of being a victim—really is transformative.
- Eating healthy and exercising has been a game changer. I hated both, by the way.
- Consistent life rhythms are powerful. More “healthy rhythms” equals less dull ache.
That’s what depression is now, a dull ache. Not the “flamethrower consuming me with grief and despair” that it once was.
If you are reading this and find yourself right in the middle of the flames, hear me when I say there is hope. I beg you, don’t give up. Call somebody you love. If you don’t love anybody, call a suicide prevention center. Check yourself into the hospital. Do anything but take your life. You are emotionally hemorrhaging right now, and we need to stop the flow.
I know it’s hard. I know you are hurting and scared, but don’t give up. The journey to healing may require us to walk through a desert of broken glass, but it’s worth it. Seven and half years ago I concluded that life is hard and suicide is painless. I still believe that. But choosing the work of life over the ease of death is worth it.
If suicide crosses your mind, there are people who can help. You’re worth the time. You only have to reach out.
Talk to a pastor who can listen and pray for you at 513-731-7400. Whether you believe in God or not, we’ve seen prayer save lives. You matter to God. Give it a shot.
You can also send in a prayer request here.
If you’re not sure about God and prayer feels too intimidating (it’s not, we promise), contact a suicide hotline.