After doing much reading on Medium about life, culture, crypto, religion, and more, I can point to one singular Member Feature Story that catalyzed my decision to begin publishing. My exact thought while reading said story was, If I have something to share that could possibly help even just one person through some major life issue, then I’m obligated to share. The story was Why Do All My Friends Want to Kill Themselves: When depression is just one push notification away. (To this story’s author Michael R. McBride: your honesty in sharing about your friends’ and your own experiences awakened something in me. Thank you for your public exploration on the topic, and for pushing your readers to join the conversation.)
In my relatively short life, I’m sad to say, an alarmingly high number of my friends/relatives/associates either themselves committed suicide or were married or related to someone who did. In the wake of each tragedy, I read the stream of kind words and fond memories shared by grieving friends. I usually share a few myself. And because sharing anything with the departed is no longer possible, as Michael’s story goes on to say, we take to social media with general statements to our still-living loved ones, knowing we might perhaps catch the ear of the would-be-next victim of depression and suicide before it’s too late. We do our best to find the right words, sincerely striving to help, penning little messages like, “Hug your friends tonight,” or, “If anyone reading this is hurting, I’m here for you.”
I suppose in a way, the story I write now is a longer-form version of those little messages, spurred on by Michael’s testimony and that of his friends. Reading his story hit me nearly as hard as hearing of another suicide among my circle of friends/family. So I’ll say,
If anyone reading this is hurting, I’m here for you.
As a baby of the ’80s, I had a Tyco View-Master — one of those red goggle-looking contraptions that lets you rotate through a series of slides featuring 3D “stereoptic” images. Now, I was about to claim that it wasn’t retro back then, that it was new and fresh like the Rubik’s Cube. But apparently this puppy has been available in some form or another since the 1930s. Who knew? Anyways, I had one slide that as the View-Master’s ten year old owner, I found thrilling again and again. It positioned the viewer to be staring — remember, in 3D — down the barrel of a gun.
Each View-Master slide had a caption. For this one, it read, “Few have seen this view and lived.” Clever. I wonder if there was a first-draft that didn’t get past the View-Master censors, which simply said,
Even just reading a word like “Bang!” or “Slam!” on a page gives me a hint of the physiological reaction I get from an in-person sudden, loud and disruptive noise. In that case, some switch gets involuntarily flipped, sending you into a brief moment of “fight or flight” mode. Self-preservation at work.
Well, do you know what I think? I think that even if someone’s life seems to be in shambles and he’s at the end of his rope, if he hears a Bang!, he’s not going to find himself in a mode of “fight or flight or stick around and hope that whatever banged will end it all for me.”
Some days, the cracks in society begin to show a little more clearly to the raw hurt, loneliness, and pain underneath, so professionally covered over and hushed away. Last month, I had one of those days. Christmas shopping brought me to the mall, a place I don’t often care to go. I’m not anti-Capitalism or anything. I just have simple tastes when it comes to anything not available at Target or Costco. A few new shirts for work received each birthday means the mall is a rare destination for me.
So there I was, and I found myself studying the faces of shoppers, hurriedly navigating the waters of holiday commercialism, and wondering what was going on inside each one. There was such a palpable cloud of desperation hanging in the air, you could’ve swum in it. So many forlorn people hoping to find something, anything, to fill a void in their life or patch a hole in their self-image; so many retailers willing to capitalize on that notion. (My degree is in advertising, so I know that the marketer’s goal to communicate the product’s benefit’s benefit. That’s why it’s not, “In these sneakers, you’ll be able to accomplish what you seek to do,” but rather: “Just do it.”)
I passed store after store, each more shallow than the last, each positioned between billboards on one side featuring more flesh than product, and on the other Westfield’s techie touch-screen kiosks scrolling through a stream of fashion hashtags. It felt like this materialism megaplex was like a living, breathing entity, working to convince each aching soul in its halls that they fall so short, and need so much more. It made me wish I had earned the right to speak to those souls, to encourage them and share with them life-giving truth to counter the hollow stuff they came to seek. It made me want to scold the retailers, but of course, they’re made up of broken people too. But mostly, it made me want to just leave… because I knew I wasn’t going to do any of those things.
I felt this very same pangs of empathy while reading Michael’s story. The cries for help, the pain felt and expressed by Michael, his ilk, and his commenters, leapt off the page demanding an answer. Each person deserves to know the truth. So this time, I’m doing something.
But see, the trouble with trying to use truth to combat these messages of you’re not good enough… the trouble with traditional approaches to helping our depressed and suicidal friends grab their proverbial bootstraps… is that the message of our blasted shortcomings is, actually, true — or, at least, an important part of the truth. That means trying to ignore or deny what’s being communicated won’t make it go away, as we cannot escape our brokenness. If we do that, the message will be allowed to twist and warp and confuse; lies will take root in it. No, rather than burying the message in a noble effort to protect hurting hearts and minds, we need to get comfortable with the notion, grab it by the horns, and properly frame this bit of truth inside an even bigger narrative, or worldview if you will. Add context to it; flesh it out; complete the picture. Then go to work.
What I’m saying is that the despair is real, because the brokenness is real. The emptiness is real. Life in this world, as wise King Solomon wrote, is futile. What is bent cannot be straightened, and what is missing cannot be supplied.
I’ll take a pause here to acknowledge that not everyone who is depressed is so because of a lack of joy, meaning or connections in their life. On the contrary, some very fortunate and loved people battle a depression primarily caused by chemical imbalance; and in fact, for those in this boat, the suffering takes on a whole new layer due to the juxtaposition of having a full and rich life, and right alongside it, crippling depression. I’m sorry for those I know in this situation. Please continue reading, because you’ll find relevance in what I’m about to unpack too.
So, what do we make of the self-preservation element, of that drive which silently keeps from stepping through the threshold those whose depression brings them to the door of suicide contemplation? What about those friends Michael mentions in his story who haven’t acted on these feelings “so far,” despite regular jokes and comments alluding to their ongoing consideration of it? Or the reactions from readers, sharing how, for example, the story “allows me to feel a little less dead — someone out there is experiencing this horrid world with me.”? If the world is so horrid, and individuals are regularly under an impossible yoke of regret, sadness, or guilt about constantly missing the mark and falling short in life, why don’t more among us pull life’s ripcord early?
I offer this explanation: we each have a deeply seated sense of intrinsic value in humankind, and specifically a powerful-enough (even if subconscious) semblance of self-worth. Think of it like a pilot-light of hope passively and constantly burning, even if it’s not being put to active use. It’s there like a tiny hero, regardless of your chemical imbalance or his low view of self or her regrettable experiences in “this horrid world.” And that’s an odd thing, if you think about it. The daily noise and consumption of the despair and depression is what’s most noticeable; but it’s the virtually imperceivable appreciation for life and self that wins the day.
Personally, I thank God for that. And now let me suggest that you do the same.
Because this is my goal on Medium. I want to take every bit of the reality available for us to witness and ponder, including the seeming inconsistencies and confusing parts, and apply/test my thesis: that the Judeo-Christian God is the best explanation for the way things are. As my favorite modern Christian thinker Greg Koukl puts it, this means it is intelligently consistent to hold that He exists and acts.
God is the best explanation for the way things are.
There’s nothing I love more than to discuss the intellectually-satisfying nature and philosophical merits of the classical Christian worldview, especially when compared to any other worldview held by my interlocutors. (Please: engage me on this subject, anytime.) But the real-world applicability of both the truthfulness and the content of classical Christian traditions and teachings is beautiful evidence all its own.
On the topic of self-preservation vs. suicide, you’ll find that the Christian scriptures can logically and meaningfully address the problems of evil and suffering in the world; and can just as richly and deftly, and without apology or contradiction, answer the questions of why the most hopeless among us manage to hold out hope for themselves and those around them, without any active effort, in spite of a perpetually bleak outlook, simply because of an intrinsic, God-given love of self.
These scriptures do not stop at offering mere explanations for evil and suffering. In the pages of the 66 books that make up the Bible you’ll find solutions and actions steps to take in facing the truth about these challenges of the human experience. See, tinkering with various aspects of one’s life in an effort to self improve, self actualize, think positively, or live mindfully, are all top-down approaches that never seem to stick. But a paradigm shift, a worldview overhaul, is bottom-up, and can offer a renewed foundation from which to do all things, to start over, to be reborn — or, better, born again.
Jesus’ friend and follower John recorded Jesus’ words:
Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice — I will show you what he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed! …[The enemy of this world came] only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that [you] may have life, and may have it abundantly.
Another follower, Matthew, in his biography on Jesus quoted Him saying,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.
I do hope this helps just one — or, God willing, more — of you reading this to consider a new trajectory for handling despair, depression or suicidal thoughts.
When I said that Michael’s story gave me a sense of obligation to share anything that might help even a single person experience relief, help, peace, joy, etc., I literally did mean share, because I didn’t invent any of what I’ve written so far, nor much of what I plan to write. I stand on the shoulders of many incredible thinkers who’ve come before me, all of whom themselves stand on the shoulders of the God-man Jesus of Nazareth. I hope you’ll continue to read my stories as I strive to share His story, if I’ve got it right, in order to better your story.