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From the Inside Looking Out

I had always thought of myself as tough, like one of the people who could survive almost anything. I have a time or two wondered if I could be as tough and strong as someone like Elie Wiesel was, while in a Nazi concentration camp. But more often than not, I’m not so sure. It’s National Suicide Prevention Week, and as much as I wanted to acknowledge this and give voice to educating and waking up people, I knew it would require me to write about my journey with severe depression, continuing to embrace the idea that my story matters.

The trouble with telling the truth though, is that it doesn’t always fit with someone else’s facts. And while I know it doesn’t need to – unless you’ve walked the world I am about to describe, you can’t truly know the world around me that I live in which sees depression as shameful and something to be fixed.

I’m not really ashamed anymore – saving my life has outranked that – but depression still remains difficult for me to speak about because the experience is so unspeakable. Yet others’ spirits continue to call me to more open, more vulnerable, express more shared humanity, even — and perhaps especially — when I don’t have words.

So this week I’m going to post a few blogs about #suicide and #depression – because things need to be said. Frankly, we as a nation, as a culture, have a long way to go in understanding it, in being with those suffering and uncovering the unexamined, unconscious assumptions about suicide. I’ll be using a framework of “From the Inside Looking Out,” “From the Outside Looking In,” and “The Way to God is in the Dark” to hopefully change the stigma, and maybe help you save a life.

Everything there is to do in life seems like hard work. When I see a voicemail on my phone, all I can think is that there is something else to take care of, something to manage, to be responsible for. Someone needs something. And I have nothing left. I am empty. Life is simply watching a movie of myself. The woman I am watching left a few years ago as a result of a lengthy trauma, and will not be returning – fallout from the Near Death Experiences. What was before, is now devoid of content.

I feel afraid and lost in my own backyard and I don’t know why, and no one can tell me why.

I see the post office van go by knowing I will have to eventually go empty my mailbox. Not because I want to, but because if I don’t it will inconvenience the mail worker. Or I think “it’s lunchtime, so I probably should make some food,” but I’d have to actually decide on something as I stare blankly into the open refrigerator. And if I’m lucky enough to decide, then I’d have to get the food out and put it on a plate and cut it up and chew it and swallow it… and it all feels like the Stations of the Cross.

I know this sounds ridiculous even as I type these sentences. I know most everyone has no problem listening to voicemail and returning calls. People manage to eat lunch and organize themselves to take a shower and go out the front door to work. Most everyone I know may not enjoy running errands, but they are not brought to tears at how overwhelming it is to adopt a mentality of “it’s no big deal” to run simple, mindless errands, and yet I am unable to figure out any way around it. And so I feel myself thinking less and feeling less. It’s a kind of nullity.

I feel afraid and lost in my own backyard and I don’t know why, and no one can tell me why. I don’t even know what I am afraid of, but I feel most afraid that maybe today is the day I can’t do it anymore. Every day I persevere, and some days I worry the resiliency meter has finally registered zero. I remember during active addiction, using was simply a slow march to death. I think this is like a slower way of being dead. It’s like a “funeral in the brain,” as Emily Dickinson puts it.

There have been a few times I’ve felt like I’m supposed to write a letter, which isn’t really a feeling, it’s more of a thought. A rational explanation for what you can probably never understand. Is it a letter to explain why I’m no longer here? And yet, I don’t have plans for offing myself. I don’t have a pile of pills ready to go, certainly no gun in the house, and I can’t even think how I would hang myself. That sounds like too much work. At some point in the darkness before the dawn I discover I must have fallen asleep because I wake after a couple hours of restless quiet and I am still here, realizing today isn’t the day to leave. I can only assume there is some place of grace that is a little heart beating, a little lung breathing.

And so this idea of a letter haunts me. Even if I wrote a letter, what would I say? Sorry, didn’t mean to hurt you? Didn’t mean to make such a mess? Wish I could have been a better daughter? Sister? Wife? Friend? Minister? A better me? Here’s the password to my accounts? Sorry I failed you? Sorry I was such disappointment and inconvenience? It’s not your fault? I love you?

There is no letter in me. Nothing pours out my fingers through the keyboard. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, I just can’t ignore the odd yearning. Maybe the yearning itself is a back door to one more breath, one more hour, one more day. Like a blood transfusion for that little heart and lung at the core of that place of grace.

I’m not lost in the dark, I am becoming the dark. Maybe the letter that won’t leave me alone, chewing on my brain wanting to be written is the blueprint for something unseen, unknown, but screaming silently, crying out, yet I fear no one hears.

A vicious predator came to my home a few years ago and took my breath, literally, and didn’t ask me – just forced me to surrender the only thing I had… Life. This demon penetrated its way into me, and now I am a troubled stranger lingering between hope and desperation. Lingering on a fragile rope that spans a bottomless, dark ravine and I am suspended too far from either side to see anything with clarity. As Parker Palmer puts it, “Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection-it deprives one of the relatedness that is the lifeline of every living being.”

At its worst, it’s not a feeling, it’s a not state of consciousness, it’s a place, a place of nothingness, where no one else lives. Sometimes life happens so quickly and dramatically we lose our sense of how the world works, where God is, what keeps us safe and gives our life meaning. Maybe you find your way, maybe you don’t. Most likely you don’t even know there is a way. It is a black hole, where there is no light, there is no breath.

I have figured out though, from others who have traversed this darkness, that by going inward and downward into it I can connect once again to life. I am told that the deeper we go into the heart’s darkness or its light, the closer we get to the ultimate mystery of God. I know some will disagree, the fixers, those who have grown weary… these are the people that used to be my friends, used to talk to me regularly, yet now have ghosted me on social media, or simply just disappeared.

I began to know myself as part of this world again. Wanting nothing more, or less, than to be who I was created to be.

By entering the depths of darkness that I was becoming, by allowing myself to be pushed beyond anything I had known or could comprehend, I could begin the slow walk back to life. This is not the kind of spiritual journey I ever imagined I would be on, in fact, how often do we even think of depression as a spiritual journey? It seems more like traveling Dante’s inner circles, meeting all the monsters in each circle as I spirally descend and then emerge as a result of my own insights into my own realty – into what is true and possible and life-giving. It is a demanding path, for which no school prepares us.

As Myrtle Fillmore asked me in my NDE, “What do you want,” when I was finally able to make that simple turn, and start to absorb and act on the self-knowledge that became available to me, I began to know myself as part of this world again. Wanting nothing more, or less, than to be who I was created to be. I used to think I knew what that meant, and I suppose I did on one level.

No matter what sits at the heart of me, I can never forget that who I am is an act of imagination. So I am writing this blog, this letter, singing this song, in an effort to make the world whole, at least my corner of it, and in return the world has begun to me make its own again.

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