[Intro: Several weeks ago I completely disengaged from all community, stopped posting on my blog, and deactivated my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I did not attend my graduation from the PIHOP SSM and Fuller Theological Seminary. Unbeknownst to all but a handful of close friends I have spent 90% of my time alone in my room with the door shut as I have been in a deep depression. This happened as a result of a one-two punch that came from dealing with life on life’s terms.
This post is about where I am at now.]
Attempting to accept my inability to change my past and my character defects as well as to accept the fact that attending seminary has been proven to be a very costly mistake has been very difficult.
As if this were not enough a variety of other stressors and disappointments have come up for me to deal with. Like a faint echo of the two reasons I came down to seminary, it looked like a job and a relationship were on the horizon for me. Against my better judgment I got my hopes up about these things just in time to be disappointed. I have continued to deal with my dysfunctional family, for whom something as simple as Mother’s day or a Commencement ceremony turns into a fiasco, a web of lies and masks and an exchange of bitter emails. I am still struggling to find a job in a down economy for the last of my loans run out. Etc.
More importantly, for some time I have also been dealing with existential crisis. My faith and theology have been thoroughly deconstructed by my studies and my life experiences. I have also studied enough history to see some larger patterns that make me question what the point is at all of attempting to reform the Christian church or starting my own. At the end of the day if I die before I see thirty or if I die at one hundred would that really matter in the grand scheme of things? The one thing I am certain of is that I have experienced a fair amount of pain and disappointment and all signs point to more pain and disappointment in my future. I used to think there was a light at the end of the tunnel but now I realize there is just the tunnel. I have seen too much death and not enough resurrection to think anything differently.
Predictably this whole situation triggered another bout of depression and I have been at a place of complete comprehensible demoralization. The worst part about these episodes is that sinking feeling I get when I know things were going downhill fast. I tried to keep my spirits up, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually I crossed that invisible threshold of frustration, disappointment and despair and it was like life suddenly became black and white instead of color. When I hit this place there is no simple solution and no way to come back from it any time soon.
My best attempts to deal with this whole situation led me to very predictable coping mechanisms and patterns. I isolated thoroughly from community, I internalized all of my problems, and I returned to numbing behaviors in an attempt to escape my life. It is in these places that a place “where there is no love and there is no pain,” as Nine Inch Nails put it, has a certain appeal to me. I just want to be numb and I would give up the good if it just meant not feeling the bad.
The most discouraging thing about this was when I realized that in the last several weeks I have actually been in a place that is almost exactly like the dark place I was in 2008…and that was before I spent many years and a lot of effort seeking healing in recovery, counseling and prayer. It has made me question why I try so hard given the fact that I see little or no returns.
I eventually became suicidal, which represents the ultimate and final numbing out. I do not say that lightly or as some sort of cry for attention or help. It is just true. It got to the point of making a very detailed and achievable suicide plan and I eventually made an emergency appointment with my counselor. We decided against hospitalization on the grounds that I pursue psychiatric care and told some of my close friends. This was very difficult for me because I feared letting them know where I was really at would make me a burden that would promptly be rejected and abandoned.
There are essentially only two reasons why I have come back from that place.
First, I rashly made a promise to two friends to not do anything until I got on antidepressants. I thought this process would take a week or two but instead it has dragged on and I am still not on them. While this has made keeping this promise impractical, and I do not think antidepressants will solve all of my problems, as I said I am a man of principle and sometimes that is all I have and I will not break my promise.
Second, and much more importantly I realized that there are two people who actually need me.
My counselor recommended I check out Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning. In it Frankl describes two episodes in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany where he and other prisoners had to talk two men down from suicide. They did this by reminding them of the unique responsibilities. They had to do everything they could to survive to be able to fulfill those responsibilities in the future. For one of them it was the fact that he had daughter that could never find a replacement for her father’s love. For the other it was a set of geography text books that he started and only he could finish.
I wept as I realized I had no one and nothing like that in my life. While certainly I had some plans for the future and they might be good, they seemed too far in the future to be of any use. While some of my friends assured me they needed me and they would severely miss me and never get over my suicide, it did not seem real. I could wink out of existence and most of my friends lives would continue pretty much unchanged. They have other people who made them laugh and supported them through hard times.
However, two of my friends back home tearfully told me over the phone that I was one of the only people they really had and that they needed me. They tried to explain this but I brushed it off as it sounded like everyone else. Then they came down to visit me during commencement weekend. As we talked about what was going on in my life and theirs I realized that what they had said was actually true.
While one of them comes from a Christian home, both of them come from broken and dysfunctional homes. Both families have produced major challenges rather than support in their relationship. However, from before they were together and through their relationship, their wedding, and their first months of marriage I have been one of two people who has been categorically for them and helping them get through various challenges and drama that often originate from their family. I have been what their family should be to them and quite literally functioned as a brother. To them I am not irreplaceable and I could understand that in a very concrete way. I realized if I did do the hard work of coming back from where I was at, if I did end up committing suicide or just becoming some cynical numbed shadow of my former self, then they really would have no one. I did not want to do this to them.
These two scraps of meaning are the only two reasons I have decided to come back from where I was at. I have, yet again, made the difficult decision to live.
While the future is filled with uncertainty, I know my past can never be changed, and I will undoubtedly face more difficult times in the future. However, I hope exercise my “final freedom” as Frankl would call it and choose to become, as Dostoyevsky said, a man “worthy of my sufferings.”
P.S. Thank you to all the people who have been there for me, or wanted to be there for me. I am grateful to all of you, even though I may not show all the time. A special thanks to my two friends from Modesto who visited me. It was plainly obvious to everyone here how much you love each other. May you have many happy anniversaries and many children with ADHD.