Tuesday, July 19

To Those Who Want to Die

Someone talked to me about suicide today.

And I found myself wondering.

I give a little bit to the humanitarian fund when I hear about natural disasters or people in war-torn countries. 

I give to local fast offerings when I see someone homeless on the street.

I volunteer to go to the church welfare farm when my ward gets assignments to go to the meat packing plant.

And then I go about my life. The good and bad, pain that happens in the world hurts for a moment and is easily forgotten.

But when I hear about suicide?

It rips me apart in a way more personal than anything else.

The US National Institute of Mental Health found that people who are gay have a suicide rate 3-6 times the norm.

A national Danish study found that people with high functioning autism who attempt to fit into society through a common process called "camouflaging" - learning social skills and rules, ultimately expending enormous effort and energy to appear normal, make connections with others, and fit in - have a suicide rate up to 9 times the norm.

An Australian study found that survivors of childhood / adolescent sexual abuse have a suicide rate 10-13 times the norm.

Current US research on individuals with bipolar disorder finds they have a suicide rate 60-120 times the norm.

I have all of those. I'm sure that those numbers can't just be added together or multiplied. If they were added, it would be 82-148 times the norm... multiplied would be a number so high it's meaningless.

I've looked up those numbers before. Been shocked before. Being bipolar was that different than being gay? Or autistic? But even numbers can't really explain reality. 

Numbers can't explain what it meant to spend so much of my life simply wanting to die. The hopelessness that seemed like it would never go away. The intrusive, triggering thoughts that appeared every time I saw a staircase, opened a window, or saw a bridge over running water. The constant pressure to drive into oncoming traffic or off the side of a canyon cliff. Research into the fastest, cleanest, simplest ways to die... along with how I could make my body disappear so that my family wouldn't find me dead.

I never attempted suicide. I had a primary teacher who told us about suicide more years ago than I can remember. She said that if we have the ability, we should never commit suicide... that choosing it would put a question mark on our eternity.

I forget most things in life. But that lesson, given only once that I could ever remember, in the corner room of the Arlington Heights 1st Ward building, stayed with me. And when I found myself wanting to die so badly that I contemplated ways to make it happen, I remembered that I wasn't *allowed* to kill myself. And the autistic, rule-following kid that was me was kept alive.

I prayed to die instead.

Every. Single. Night. I prayed asking to die, for weeks or months or years or however long it took until my patriarchal blessing came and told me my life would be "prolonged upon the earth" so suck it up and stop asking.

Didn't make the want or pain go away. But death stopped being an option then. And I guess I resigned myself to figuring out how to survive. And part of me, a part of me I kept buried deep inside, hoped that someday I could learn to thrive.

I'm alive today, over 20 years after my first episodes of suicidal depression. And not just me. I've watched hundreds of people who were attempting, planning, or contemplating suicide, who were able to find hope and choose to keep living. Seen hundreds of people make it through the darkness and despair and find a portion of light.

To my past self, I want to say that thriving is possible. Really thriving. Trusting God, having Him so close that He fills all my needs. Being able to trust in His vision for me for the future. Being able to find meaning and happiness and fulfillment in the everyday aspects of my life. In the little things and the small things. It's possible to find real, true, lifelong friends even if I'm a messed up guy who has more problems than I can count. It's possible to feel the Spirit even though I once was truly convinced that I was forever lost and damned.

And it's possible for me... even me... to be saved, to have my dreams come true, to be really, truly happy someday.

To anyone who finds yourself wanting to die:

Life is worth it. You are worth it. I hope you find this and that it speaks to your heart... or that somehow this gets to you even if you don't. Someday I hope we can look back on this together and see the growth that comes through pain. The meaning that can only be found in sorrow. The holiness that comes to the few of us who choose life while wanting death.

You can do it. I believe in you. 

And, tonight, you are in my prayers.

Last week marked the launch of the US National Suicide Hotline. Call 988 from any US phone to be connected to someone to talk to, at any time, any day of the year, to get help and hope for you or someone you love.

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