I had a friend named Zach (not his real name) whom I had known for over 20 years. He came to me for pastoral care. For most of this past year, we met regularly – multiple times a week, sometimes daily – via Zoom or telephone. He poured out his heart – a dysfunctional relationship with his mother, and what he described as decades of craziness. He was diagnosed by a psychiatrist with bipolar disorder and placed on medication. Zach came to realize that he had been cycling between months of mania and months of depression for years. For the first time, he saw how sick he was. He was taking his medication and was in therapy with a licensed therapist. He had friends that cared about him with whom he talked regularly.
In his extended periods of mania, he slept little, worked crazy hours, made a lot of money, imagined himself to be the greatest in his profession, spent more money than he earned, and got involved in one dysfunctional romantic relationship after another. All of those relationships ended very badly, and he would typically then plunge into deep depression. The last of his dysfunctional romances ended with him making an impulsive decision to move to a new city where he bought a huge house he could not afford, spent tens of thousands of dollars on cars, hot tubs, and furniture, and being arrested for cyberstalking.
When he awakened from that mania, he dove into depression – this time with his eyes open. He realized that he bore the bulk of responsibility for his broken relationships. He realized that he had a serious mental illness. He anticipated a future alone and insane. I tried to persuade him to check into a psych hospital. He said he wanted to, but could not – he had to work, make money, pay bills. I tried to explain to him that it was in the manic stages that he got himself into the most trouble and that the depressive phase was in one sense a gift, albeit a painful one. In depression, he could see reality, and, with help, let go of the false image of himself as superman, and reconnect to the God he once knew.
Valentine’s Day approached – he longed for romance, love, to be cared for, for a warm, nurturing mother. He imagined himself “living in the basement with my tail between my legs, an idiot failure who keeps screwing up his life."
Around 4:30 AM, he stepped out in front of a semi on the interstate.
There are layers to what went wrong:
· Dysfunctional relationships.
· A brain disease caused by a chemical imbalance.
· Equating financial success with spiritual blessing.
· Inability to discover his authentic self or experience the divine heart.
What didn’t go wrong were all the people who tried their best to help him.
Suicide leaves the survivors with a list of “if only-s”
· If only he’d been diagnosed sooner.
· If only he’d checked into a hospital.
· If only he hadn’t been alone that night.
· If only he could have seen the future God had planned for him.
· If only he could have understood that in-depth therapy would eventually heal the childhood wounds.
· If only he had known that long-term spiritual direction could have formed him in such a way as to experience the depth of God’s love.
· If only he had been able to allow God to show him who he was created to be so he could let go of false personas.
Zach was a deeply troubled person. He is now at peace. Yet, how it must break God’s heart when we use our freewill to harm ourselves, others, or our world.
God longs to enfold all of us, all creation, in covenant love and shalom.
Suicide is never the answer.
It’s OK to not be OK.
If you need help, call 988.