Some things in this post may be triggering. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please reach out to someone. If you don’t know where to turn the Samaritans are a great place to start. This link will take you to a page where you will find various ways you can get in touch with them.
Tuesday was World Suicide Prevention Day. All over social media and on the television and radio people were sharing stories, encouraging people to ask for help, and attempting to remove the stigma from losing a loved one to suicide, or being someone who deals with suicidal thoughts.
I didn’t post anything. I would like to say it was for a noble or considered reason, but honestly, I’m not very organised and didn’t have my act together.
I woke up on Wednesday to a message on my phone. A friend in Canada had shared an article with me. The article was about the Pastor, Mental Health advocate, and author, Jarrid Wilson, who had lost his life to suicide on Tuesday evening.
I didn’t know Jarrid Wilson and wasn’t aware of his work, and yet the news of his death affected me and the outpouring of public grief challenged me.
I have never suffered for any length of time with suicidal thoughts and this lack of experience (for which I am very grateful) has given me reason to pause before writing on the subject. I know that writing from a place of ignorance can cause unnecessary pain and therefore I am choosing my words carefully. If you are offended or find these thoughts unhelpful, please accept my sincere apologies.
When I was in my early 20s a friend of mine died by suicide. We were not especially close at the time, having moved to different cities to study, but the news of his death deeply grieved me. It also caused me to ask many questions.
Until that point I had no reason to think about suicide, it had not touched my life. But as I began to process my loss I became aware of the unsettling way I thought of suicide.
In my faith there was one belief that stuck in my throat. I am not sure if I was taught this, or told it specifically, or just assimilated it from the culture I was raised in, but I believed suicide was a sin and would be punished by spending eternity in hell.
The whole ‘Jesus dying for your sins’ thing, didn’t seem to work here. Maybe it was because there wasn’t time to apologise for it, maybe it was just too big a sin to be redeemed? I wasn’t sure.
Something about the ‘sanctity of life’ gnawed at my insides. I was worried for my friend. I was angry with God.
That was a long time ago and I haven’t thought this was for a really long time, but I also didn’t want anyone else to live under this assumption. I felt a need to call this belief what it is: heresy.
I don’t know why I hadn’t picked up on the nonsense contradictory belief that God was Almighty and simultaneously not big enough to grant absolution for all sins. I think I believed there had to be some absolutes. We had to draw the line somewhere.
Looking back now I think one reason I had accepted this false teaching was because I thought mental illness was different to physical illness. Physical illness was something you could do nothing about – some suffered, others didn’t – but it was random and therefore no blame or responsibility could be apportioned. I believed mental illness, however, was due to a lack of backbone or moral fibre, it happened because you weren’t trying hard enough.
And if mental illness could have been avoided by greater effort, or holiness, or determination, then this lack of effort needed to be punished.
Not only was grace notably absent from my thinking, but also I was ignorant. I didn’t know then what I know now:
any mental illness is a physical illness.
Thankfully, when my precious friend died, someone I respected reassured me he was not in eternal torment, but it would take another decade before I would begin to understand anything about mental illness, or see it for what it is, a sickness which doesn’t pick and choose, which anyone can suffer from, where no blame or responsibility can be apportioned.
(I am also now a big believed in the power of grace. Learning to have grace for myself and grace for others has changed my life. I don’t know where I would be without it.
Also – either God is grace-filled and all-loving or he isn’t – you can’t have it both ways.)
The tragic news of Jarrid Wilson’s death has also prompted me to speak up, a little louder, a little more often. To call out to anyone who might be suffering.
Although I have never felt suicidal, I know what it is to feel I am spinning out of control and cannot trust my own mind. I am well at the moment, but I want to remember what it is like to be unwell because I know I am not the only one. I know it is all too common and I know how many people stay quiet and don’t get help because of shame or ignorance or fear.
So let me say again incase you missed it:
this is not your fault.
The suffering you are experiencing is not because you are weak, or can’t get your act together. It is real and it is hard. It takes great strength to keep battling. You are so brave.
In the past two days I have been trying to find words I might say to someone who is battling suicidal thoughts. I keep pulling out my phone and typing part-sentences, trying to form words which will be powerful to make someone stop and think again.
These words are messy and clumsy, and fall over one another in a rush to be heard. Here they are:
‘To the weary and overwhelmed: grace.
To the burnt out and stretched thin: mercy.
To those who think the world would be a better place without them: you are wrong.
We need you.
We want you here.
Not for what you can contribute or because you are useful to us, but because of who you are. Because we see you.
Not the performance and achievements, or failures and mis-steps: You.
We see you and we say: please stay. We want you and we need you; the real you, the whole you.
Stay with us. Hold on.’
Struggling with anxiety? Read my story here.
If you want to know more about my story from diagnosis through to recovery, I have written all about it in my book; How Not To Be Good. Most recent reader review: "It's like you have climbed into my head and articulated my exact thoughts/feelings/worries. THANK YOU - for being brave enough to do it, for going through it and for sharing it”