Lombard CRC

#8 - Depression and Suicide

This is a picture of the iconic home used in the old Mork & Mindy TV show

that featured Robin Williams.

We happened to be in Boulder, CO

right after Robin at committed suicide.

Many people had stopped there,

paused for a time of silence

or laid flowers in memory.

If you remember people were shocked

that such a popular and well-loved performer

would take his life.

And then shocked again to hear later

about the mental illnesses he battled.

Depression was one of the contributing factors.

Since then we routinely hear about

other high profile people who take their lives,

some at the height of their success.

We are exposed more and more to depression.

And while depression

isn’t the sole determining factor

when it comes to suicide

it is increasingly clear that these are related.

Clinical depression and feeling depressed

are not the same thing.

Sometimes we say we are depressed

when we mean we are sad or feeling the blues.

So we assume when we hear someone is depressed

all she has to do is snap out of it,

look at the bright side,

and choose to be happy.

While clinical depression may look like sadness

it is not something one just gets over.


I asked my step-sister-in-law if she would

share what it’s like as she lives with depression

so we could understand it better.

Here is what she wrote –

Me and the Black Dog


I have depression.

Sometimes it feels like depression has me. Depression does that to you: it envelopes you, suffocates you, drowns you.

It is important to remind myself

that I have depression, but I am not depressed.

You see, I’m not this illness,

even when it has swallowed me whole.

Depression is not who I am.

There are different types of depression,

including bipolar depression and major depression. Some people have a depressive episode

or what is often called “situational depression”

that is triggered by a significant, traumatic event.

I have chronic major depression.

The “chronic” part means that it does not go away.

Like many people, my depression

intersects with other mental health conditions.

I also have an anxiety disorder and a dash of ADD. Many people are surprised to hear

that I have these conditions.

I’m pretty high functioning,

as are many other people

with various forms of mental illness.

Just because you cannot see the disability

does not mean that it isn’t there.

I’ve struggled with the symptoms of depression

for my entire life.

I finally got help in my 30s.

There were many years where I was in pain

and distress, but I didn’t understand

what I was experiencing.

It was frustrating.

Getting help has allowed me

to understand my condition better

and to manage the pain more effectively.

For me, depression does not go away.

It ebbs and it flows.

I have a strategy for managing depression

and anxiety.

Understand, though, that you “manage” depression the way you manage a lion with a whip and chair.

You can keep it under control,

you can keep the worst symptoms at bay.

But you’re still in a cage with a wild animal

and you must never forget that.

Depression is a complex condition to manage.

It is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.

There is a very physiological element to depression. Depression hurts – physically hurts.

When the  depression was at its worst,

my whole body and my whole being ached.

It was a very deep aching

that radiated out from my core.

It felt like my soul was dying.

Depression feels like your soul is dying.

That’s why I call depression a cancer of the soul.

Anxiety feels different.

Anxiety makes my throat constrict

so that I feel like I am being strangled.

And I clench my jaw all the time. Anxiety pummels my body.

Depression just aches.

And of course,

depression is emotional and psychological.

Depression isn’t feeling sad.

Your body feels sad, but your brain feels muddled. For me, when the depression was very bad,

I felt like my brain was full of static.

I couldn’t think.

It was like watching TV without a cable connection

or listening to the radio as you lose the signal.

It was just static.

When your brain feels like that,

it is impossible to get things done.

It is impossible to know what is wrong.

It is impossible to figure out what to do next.

Your brain is just scrambled signals.

So for me, one of the first steps to recovery

was unscrambling the signals.

In my case, medication was and is central

to unscrambling the signals.

Medication does not make the pain go away.

But it adds a lot of stability

and makes it a lot easier to process

what I am experiencing

so that I can tap into other parts

of my management strategy

to address other symptoms.

You need a multi-faceted strategy

to manage depression

because depression is a shape-shifting illness.

It is a trickster.

It takes different forms,

throws up a variety of symptoms,

and masquerades as different ailments.

Sometimes you can’t sleep;

other times, you sleep too much.

Sometimes you can’t eat;

other times, you can’t stop eating.

You feel angry. You feel irritable.

You feel despondent.

And then – you don’t feel at all.

The whole world smells and sounds and tastes grey. You don’t see how blue the sky is

or how fresh the air feels after the rain.

You don’t hear music anymore; just noise.

Depression is a shape-shifter and it is a liar.

Its lies are probably the cruelest part of the illness.

It tells you that everything you are feeling

is your fault

or that what you are experiencing isn’t real,

that the pain is just in your head.

If you just tried harder,

the noise in your head would stop

and your soul wouldn’t ache.

Depression is a lying illness and its most sinister lie, its most dangerous lie,

is that this darkness around you will not end;

that this pain is permanent;

that there is no relief.

It lies. It lies.

It lies about the most important truth:

that all new things begin in darkness;

that dawn comes out of the deepest darkness…

and that if the light isn’t there yet,

then sometimes you have to reach into the darkness and pull it out.

Sometimes, you have to wring the light

out of the darkness.

Depression is a cancer of the soul.

Not everyone survives cancer.

If you are going to survive,

you need tools of hope to claw back at the darkness.

You start by building a good foundation

for mental health to keep the darkness at bay.

And you add on habits and practices

that you use when you feel like

things are getting too dark.

I try to maintain a good baseline of health

through a combination of medication, psychotherapy, sleep hygiene,

sports and activity, and community.

I have an inventory of tools that I can use

when I hit a flare-up:

things like visiting bookstores,

certain pieces of music,

cat videos, favourite walks,

creative pursuits,

and conversations with trusted friends.

One of the ways people can help people

with depression is by being present.

Just be there and don’t offer advice.

Recently, during a particularly difficult time for me,

a dear friend simply said,

“You can leave all these feelings with me.

Just bring them here. It’s okay.”

She did not try to fix me or offer trite advice.

She just stayed with me.

The darkness is not so scary

when you know that you are not alone.

If you are not sure that someone is okay, ask.

Sure, you’ll have some awkward conversations.

But isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven

paved with awkward conversations,

as we walk alongside each other,

carrying each other’s burdens?

So ask. You can say, “Are you okay?”

 Or, “Would you like to have a coffee together?

Or maybe would you care to join me on a walk?”

Be a tool of hope;

but don’t be a tool

by simply offering advice

like “maybe more prayer would help”.

People with depression do not need your advice.

We need you to see us and to accept us,

as broken and wounded as we are.

And we need your patience

because depression makes you selfish.

Managing depression requires me

to be very self-aware.

So I am always very cognizant of what I am feeling and what things are affecting me

on any particular day.

I need to be this self-aware to say healthy.

However, being this self-aware

tends to make me self-centred and,

if I am not careful, selfish.

I cherish people’s ability to be patient with me,

to show generosity of spirit with me,

and to understand that I am more than my moods.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize

what depression has given me.

When I was in the deepest part

of the worst depressive episode I have ever had,

I felt the presence of God in a way

that I had never experienced before.

Sure, I knew God loved me.

But in that dark, horrible time,

I felt how much God loved me.

I felt physically cradled by God.


Her story reminds me of Elijah’s story.

The Triune God is the God we need

when it comes to depression.


1 Kings 19 is a revelation of God’s restoring grace.

We need to hear that because sometimes we doubt

or feel pressured to turn away from

]our one true source of hope.

King Ahab and Queen Jezebel pressure Elijah:

Ahab tells Jezebel ‘everything Elijah had done . . .’

when it wasn’t Elijah at all,

it was the hand of the Lord

answering prayer and delivering his people

from an oppressive ruler.

And Jezebel swears by those defeated false gods

to assassinate Elijah ‘by this time tomorrow.’


Now Elijah, afraid and on the run,

showing the signs of depression,

will experience the true God in a way

he never would have otherwise,

and find a newness not of his own making.


God is big enough to be present with you

in all things,

even something as devastating as depression.


Verse 3 is translated:

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.

The word translated as ‘afraid’

is from the word ‘to see.’

You can think of it this way:

Elijah saw what was going on

and tried to escape.

But yet, he really didn’t see it all.


So the Lord will meet with Elijah,

and in the experience of his presence

Elijah will see the Lord restore him.


This is grace

for a mother with post-partum depression,

for a soldier coming home with PTSD,

for a teenager bullied and feeling worthless,

for you and me and all those battling depression

or contemplating suicide.

God is bigger than what threatens you.


Elijah runs away.

He wears himself out with his running,

and winds up isolated and alone.

And all he can think is that

his life has no worth:

vs 4-5: He came to a broom bush,

sat down under it and prayed that he might die.

“I have had enough, Lord,” he said.

“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”


As far as Elijah is concerned this is for the best.

That’s what we understand many come to conclude

when they struggle with depression and suicide.

One suicide survivor says:

“It wasn’t really about dying.

It was about escaping unbearable pain

when I couldn’t see any other option.

And I was convinced everyone would be happier

if I was gone,

that I was doing them a favor by unburdening them. This is why guilt trips

like ‘think of what you’re doing to your loved ones’ don’t work for me…

I’m so grateful to still be alive today.

The pain did fade.

I found other options.

And I want to stick around,

to see how this life of mine will play out.”


God responds to Elijah.

We learn from our Heavenly Father that when

someone we love starts talking this way

we’ve got to take it seriously and look for help.

The LORD God responds to Elijah

not with judgment but with lovingkindness.

God responds first with physical care:

twice an angel is sent with food and drink.

‘Get up and eat’

is God’s first message to Elijah in response.


If you are struggling today with any manner

of mental or emotional stress,

take care physically:

resting, healthy eating,

maybe it’s time for a doctor’s check-up,

taking courage to ask for

and to receive help and care,

and acknowledge such nourishment

with thanks to our Heavenly Father.


Elijah journeys on to Horeb.

Once we have received the Lord’s blessings

we know we can’t remain as we are,

we are blessed to go on.

But now he is not alone and on his own.

He has been nourished by God’s love.

This takes him to the place of Israel’s exodus

and Mt Sinai where Moses met the Lord

and God asserted he is the deliverer

and the one to protect his people.


There Elijah meets with God.

The Lord’s question to Elijah is personal:

What are you doing here, Elijah?

The Lord addresses Elijah by name.

The Lord knows you by name.

The Lord is a hopeful presence in your troubles.


That’s how we are to take the question.

We could read it a few different ways:

Elijah, what are you doing here,

as a reprimand: you shouldn’t be here.

It’s better to hear it as the Spirit restoring him:

Elijah, can you tell me what you need?

Elijah, what do you want from me?


It’s an invitation,

as God’s presence, his word, and Christ’s fellowship in the church always is.

But most times we miss that,

we don’t get it,

that the Lord is inviting us closer into his presence.

We too quickly conclude God is judging,

demanding, distant.

When really, what has to happen is that

the Spirit must peel away the layers

of our sorrow and sin and assumption,

so that we belong body & soul to Jesus.


Elijah responds, but he doesn’t answer the question:

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord

God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”


He’s justifying his desire to be done with life.

He’s merely excusing his escape.

But this is NOT his whole story.

This is NOT God’s whole story for Elijah.

Elijah wants to give up,

but this is never God’s will.


An estimated 20-25 people a year

attempt to take their life

by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ken Baldwin tried but he miraculously survived.

This is what he learned, his confession after attempting to take his life:

As soon as he let go and jumped,

that was the moment he realized

everything that overwhelmed him

about his job, his life and his circumstances

were completely fixable,

except that he had jumped.

"I saw my hands leave the bridge," he recalled.

"I knew at that moment,

that I really, really messed up.

Everything could have been better,

I could change things.

And I was falling.

I couldn't change that."


We are limited,

but God is not.

Each trial and loss,

trouble and concern,

is an invitation to be changed for the better by God.

All new days begin in the darkness before dawn.


The Lord leads Elijah out:

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”


And then we can hardly imagine the scene:

Powerful winds that shatter mountain rocks.

An earthquake shakes the ground

beneath Elijah’s feet.

The intense heat of a holy fire burns before Elijah.

But in all that Elijah doesn’t discern God’s presence.

The Lord is not in those things.

It is only after a gentle whisper

that Elijah understands God is near him.


So what is being revealed here?

God is as close as a whisper.

The Lord is always with us,

it is we who are looking elsewhere,

in big things,

in power as the world understands powerful things.

It could be that Elijah is expecting

to be overwhelmed by holy power.

It could be that Elijah thinks this is it,

he will be destroyed,

this is what the end looks like.


The gentle whisper is the holy invitation

to come honestly before the Lord,

completely, fully,

in all that is broken, shameful,

all your guilt and regret,

in your anger and disappointment.


It’s the invitation as church

to be open too.

To learn together to share our wounds

with one another

in trusted spiritual friendships,

with gifted elders, deacons and pastor.

To know it is okay to confess and lament

when we haven’t been there for each other,

or haven’t been as open as we could have,

or have struggled alone out of fear

of being found out and

then disappointed by those who love us.


God asks Elijah again,

what are you doing here, Elijah?


Elijah responds with the same words.

He is not yet healed fully.

There are still more layers to peel away.

Some hurts are chronic.

Some depression never leaves.

But the Lord doesn’t leave us.


Elijah is not judged or corrected.

For with God forgiveness is always there.

The Lord sends Elijah out,

with his depression and all,

to serve the will of the Lord.

Because each one of us is meant

to serve the Lord

no matter our weaknesses.

There are kings to anoint

and prophets to commission.

For the Lord promised to deliver his people.

So even someone like Elijah,

with his limits and pains,

ministers to the people of God.

He can live well and for the glory of God.

IN the end you are not your weakness

nor your limits and failings,

you are not your depression.

You are Christ’s own,

you belong to him,

and your life is, even right now, for his glory.


Here are the last words my step-sister-in-law

shared with me:

When you have depression,

you need a big God.

You need a God big enough

to handle your anger and your doubts.

You need a God whose compassion and mercy

tolerate your rage

and who comforts you in your desolation.

You need a God whose patience is infinite

and who will speak to you in a gentle whisper

rather than angry judgment.

You need a God who sees you,

who knows you in all your passion,

in your good moments and your bad moments –

and who welcomes you as God’s Beloved.

I will likely have depression

and anxiety for the rest of my earthly life.

But for all of eternity,

I have been, am, and will be God’s Beloved.

And so I go forward,

knowing that even in the darkest places,

my God will hear me.


This is your Lord, too,

and the Lord of our church.

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