Guest Post: The Survivor’s Side of Suicide, by Julie Cantrell

The Survivor’s Side of Suicide
By Julie Cantrell





Suicide is one ugly word. It’s the kind of word that swings heavy from lips. The kind that is whispered, and stilted, never sung.

As an author, I build my life around words. Every word has worth. Even those words we are not supposed to say. But suicide is the one word I do not like. I wish there was no need for such a word in our world. Especially since 1997, when my teen brother ended his own life two months before his high school graduation.

It is one thing to be on the other side of suicide, where you may offer prayer or casseroles or even a hug. It is another thing entirely to be on the side of the survivor, after a loved one puts a gun to the head or a rope to the neck or a blade to the vein. That dark depth of despair is no easy channel to navigate because unlike every other form of death, this one was intentional. This one could have been prevented. This one carries immeasurable sting.

The what-ifs and but whys and I wonders never cease. They haunt all hours, whether moonlit or shine. And the stares don’t stop either, the constant conversation that hangs silently between friends — at the grocery store, or in the church pews, or at the birthday party. No one says it, but they are thinking… That poor mother, how does she stand it? Or – That poor child, knowing his father took his own life.

What people on that side of suicide don’t understand is that we, the survivors left in the wake, are barely keeping our heads above water. We don’t want pity, or sympathy, or stares. We don’t want whispers, or questions, or help. We want one thing only. We want our loved ones back. And there’s one simple way you can give this to us.

Talk about the people we loved and lost. Don’t dance around us as if their ghost is in the way. Acknowledge the lives they lived. Recognize the light they once shined. Laugh about the fun you once had together.

There’s nothing you can tell us — no detail too small, no memory too harsh — that will hurt us. We crave it all. We are hungry for any piece of time travel you offer. Bring us back, to that space, when the one we loved was in the here and now.

Suicide is something most of us struggle to understand. It is difficult to rationalize the selfish part of such an act. How could someone not care about the pain they would throw on their loved ones? How could someone not be strong enough to stay alive?

But here’s the truth: suicide was not the cause of my brother’s death. Depression was the cause of his death. And depression is a beast unlike any other. It is an illness we still struggle to cure, despite all the therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention available today.

Sometimes, even with all the help in the world, a person cannot see through the pain. They cannot imagine a better day ahead. They see only more hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean suffering. Blood-zapping, brain-numbing, soul-bursting agony.

Imagine this: you wake every day as a prisoner. You are trapped in a cell with no freedom in your future. You are tortured — physically, emotionally, psychologically. The anguish never stops. Just when you think you cannot survive another blow, it comes again. More pain.

You try to ignorethe ache. You cannot. You try to numbthe hurt. You cannot. You try to rise above the pain. You cannot. The brutality persists. And you see no end to it.

If you knew you had to endure only one more round of abuse, or one more month, or even a year, or longer. If there was an end in view, you could be strong enough to handle it. You could take whatever is thrown at you because you want, more than anything else, to live.

You are a sensitive soul and you have so much left in you to give. You want only to love and be loved. But the cell has you trapped. You have tried everything. There is no end to the insufferable situation.

A person with depression becomes suicidal when they finally give up all hope. When they accept that nothing they do, no matter how long they survive, no matter how many medications or prayers or therapists they turn to, the pain will never end.

Can you imagine the pain you would have to be in to take your own life? Can you imagine the fear of a suicidal person (regardless of faith), daring to face the unknown because even the possibility of eternal hellfire or permanent purgatory or absolute absence seems less scary than another day in this world?

When Robin Williams passed away, the world was abuzz weighing the controversial issues of mental illness, depression, and suicide. While some people were unable to extend kindness or understanding, proving we have a long way to go in our culture’s recognition of chemical imbalances, the international conversation gave me hope. It proved that people are finally willing to say the word SUICIDE out loud, without the hushed whispers and back corner gossip. Putting this word on equal footing with all the other words in our vernacular is important. It lessens the sting.

I consider this progress, and I am optimistic the forward momentum will continue. It is time.
I write this blog today for several reasons:

·         One, I am proud to have been the sister to an amazingly bright spirit who left this world too soon and whose memory I want to keep alive.

·         Two, I want to increase understanding and support for the millions of people struggling with chemical imbalances.

·         Three, I want to offer support and empathy to all who have lost a loved one to suicide and encourage you to speak out loud to honor their spirit and to educate those on the other side.

·         Four, and most importantly, I have a very important message for anyone struggling with depression.

One week after my brother died, we received notice that he had landed the career opportunity he wanted with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. That job may have been enough to offer him the key to that cell, the something to cling to, the reason for reason. Maybe, if he could have stuck it out one more week, he would still be alive today. Seven days, and he may have had hope again.

Today, when I see someone struggling for hope, looking for a signal, a reason, proof that their life matters and that the pain will indeed end, I think of my brother and that phone call that came one week too late.

If you are struggling with depression, please remember… you are in this world for a reason. You have a very important journey you must complete. You were born to accomplish something, something only you know. You will suffer, you will hurt, you will feel hopeless and alone at times. But you are not in that space forever. Keep walking, keep moving forward, and you will find your way through in time.

When you hit bottom, please remember this: You are loved. You are never alone. You were born with everything you need to survive this journey. You matter.

And once you are on the other side, as you will soon be, then, you will look back with wiser eyes, the eyes of a survivor. You will know your soul survived the stretching season. And you will move through the world with greater empathy and understanding, a gift like none other. For you, sensitive one, are the blessed. And we need you here. In this life.

Be brave. Wage war. Hold fast to the light inside of you.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA TODAYbestselling author of Into the Freeand When Mountains Move. She works to promote suicide awareness and prevention in memory of her brother, Jeff Perkins. Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

Vulnerability – My deepest fear



As usual this week I am combining my Life of a Blogger (by Novel Heartbeat) post with my Friendship Friday (by Create with Joy).  This week’s topic is fears. 

Some fears are easy to discuss, and some are harder to discuss. It depends a lot on what your fears are. For instance, I have a fear of making myself vulnerable. So stating my fears actually goes against one of my deepest fears. However, I’ve been working on this specific fear, so this post will be a good opportunity to test out my new mad skilz at being vulnerable.

The Scream
Artist: Edvard Munch
(who theoretically had bipolar)

One of the things that has been making me feel vulnerable lately is my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this diagnosis, it used to be called manic-depressive disorder. I’m diagnosed with type 2, which means I’ve only been “hypomanic” and not “fully manic.” Hypomania increased my irritability, irrationality, and impulsivity while (on a happier note) making me feel that I couldn’t be wrong, that I had the ability to climb the highest mountains and take on the world. I lost several people I considered friends during that period. And that still makes me feel abandoned and vulnerable. (Though, I have to admit, the online community is SO amazingly supportive, and I’m very thankful for you guys. You’re all rockstars!)



With the spirit of fighting my fears, I will admit that the reason my blog has been a bit quiet last week is because I was in the psych ward of the hospital. (My doctor was unfortunately not as handsome as the one above.) I was really angry at my psychiatric NP for putting me there, because I didn’t feel that I was in crisis at that time. But now that I’m out, I realize that he was trying to make sure I was stabilized and ready for my new job, which starts on the 2nd of September. He was being forward thinking, and I was very unappreciative. I guess I’ll have to thank him later.



I hadn’t originally planned on writing about my mental illness on this post – nor had I planned to mention that I’d been hospitalized in my upcoming weekly update. But when I was searching stock photos for a nice illustration of fear, I found the one above. It seemed fitting, somehow. Before I can change (and therefore master my new job), I need to admit to myself that I actually am in crisis. And to admit that, I need to make myself vulnerable. 


The picture I wanted to choose for this post is the one above – with the spooky religious images. I’d already been having a bit of a faith crisis before I was diagnosed with bipolar, but the diagnosis put my faith into a tailspin. What if…I thought…what if all this time that I thought I was being inspired or called by God, all those feelings of “rightness” and euphoria were just figments of a hypomanic mind? That is the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever experienced. The foundation of my faith was no longer stable. I’d say on the Richter scale this faithquake was about a 6.5. Most of my faith is still there, but I’m walking around all wobbly. There were a lot of things I felt that God had called me to do – writing is among them. I started writing this blog because I felt that God wanted me to write, and a blog would be a good place to practice both writing and marketing. Now I wonder…what do I blog for? If I give up on my faith, do I stop blogging?



Anyway, putting my vulnerability and faith aside, my own diagnosis of mental illness is a fantastic segue to plug my upcoming Suicide and Mental Illness Theme Read. Don’t forget to stop by my blog in September and October to see what people are reading and watching for this event. I’ll also be having a couple of giveaways. You’re welcome to jump in and participate at any point in time…all you need to do is read or watch something that educates you on suicide or mental illness. It can even be something that’s an accurate portrayal of mental illness – just tell us why you think it’s not. 🙂 I have a list of suggestions for both books and movies.

The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy


The Question that Never Goes Away, by Philip Yancy

Genre: Christian Living

Reason for Reading: A galley copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because I’m interested in theodicy, and I’ve been pretty impressed with the bits of Yancy’s writing that I’ve seen.

Synopsis: After over a decade of traveling the world giving lectures on Where is God When it Hurts, Philip Yancy has decided to revisit this subject in his most recent book The Question That Never Goes Away. I have not read his earlier book, so I can’t compare the messages of each, but I assume the newer book has a similar message to the older, with recent examples and insights that he has gathered since writing the first book. 

He starts by describing two different types of disaster: the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan and the horrifying 4-year seige of Sarajevo in 1992. The first example is a natural disaster, but the second is man-made. Such disasters beg the question “Why?” Why would a God who loves us allow such destruction?

Yancy points out that atheists have a field day with such calamity – using it as evidence that God doesn’t exist. For, clearly, a loving God wouldn’t allow such things to happen; therefore it is erroneous to believe in God. But Yancy counters: if, indeed, this is an impersonal universe of random indifference, why are the atheists so shocked and upset about someone else’s tragedy? Clearly, their morals are shaped by the philosophical framework of Christianity. 

My thoughts: I don’t really think this is an adequate counter to the claim that God doesn’t exist. First of all, Christianity is not the only religion which is founded on the power of love. Second, there is no evidence that God created our revulsion to other peoples’ tragedy. Such revulsion can be explained by evolution of social behavior. Humans might simply have an instinct to protect our neighbors because we are better able to survive in a group than alone. On the other hand, I don’t think asking the age-old question “Why?” proves God doesn’t exist, either. To think so is a bit naive.

Yancy continues by explaining that there’s nothing wrong with asking the question “Why?” In fact, it is a question asked over and over again in the Bible. God expects such questions, and he understands our grief and frustration at getting no answer. BUT, He still doesn’t provide an answer. Not in the Bible. And not in the world. 

Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die. 

Yancy suggests that we shift our focus from cause to response. When disaster strikes, we should appreciate the outpouring of humanitarian aide that comes from individuals, communities, and countries. Yes – some of this humanitarian aide can be poorly planned, but notice what lies at the heart: love. We, as human beings, want to reach out and help those who are suffering. So where is God when it hurts? He is in those friends, neighbors, and complete strangers who reach out to help the suffering. God hates our suffering as much as we do – but he loves us so much that he sent his own son to suffer among us. Because we can relate to a suffering God. 

Finally, Yancy criticizes the claim that God sends suffering in order to build character. He points out that Jesus healed the afflicted. He never once said to them “But think of how character-building this experience is!” Yancy points out that God has promised to redeem our suffering. This does not mean that God sends suffering, but that when tragedy occurs, He inspires and directs good to result from the evil. Thus, we do gain character from suffering. 

My thoughts: Well, I know for a fact that good often comes out of bad situations in my life. I don’t know if that is only because I like to be optimistic and think of how I’ve learned from an experience, or become stronger, or had a good experience that otherwise never would have happened. I could just as easily dwell on the tragedy and what good that might have happened if tragedy hadn’t occurred. If I did so, I would certainly live a more miserable life. But would I be any more right or wrong? Regardless, it makes me happy to think that God redeems my suffering. I’d rather not be miserable, thanks.

My thoughts: This is a very difficult book to read because Yancy dwells on quite a few tragic events in detail. However, the book has a strong message and is written with a very humble and personal air. Yancy impresses me with his intelligent observations and powerful examples. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the question of why God allows suffering. I am eager to read more of Yancy’s work.

The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots, by Karla Akins


The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots, by Karla Akins

Genre: Christian Fiction / Women’s Fiction

Reason for reading: I’m leading a discussion on this book from February 24th through 28th on the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Association book club. You can join the email discussion group if you wish! Just click on the link, and subscribe to the yahoo group. There’s still plenty of time to read the book!

Synopsis: Kirstie is stressed out trying to maintain the image of the perfect pastor’s wife. She’d really just like to relax and not worry about what everyone in her congregation thinks. On top of that, she has a severely autistic son, and another rebellious teenage son – both of whom lead to a lot of sideways looks from her conservative neighbors.  When she realizes that riding a motorcycle releases her built up tension and makes her love life again, she has to deal with the prejudices of small-town gossips. 

My Thoughts: This is not the type of book that I usually read, so I was surprised when, after about 30-or-so pages, I became really attached to the characters and their issues. This was a sweet, funny book about finding friends in unexpected places, letting go of preconceived notions, forgiving those who gossip about you, and putting your family above work and social image. I got lots of good laughs over the antics of our “biker chicks.” 

I was a little concerned at the beginning of the book when the subject of autism was first brought up: Kirstie called it an “ugly disease” and her “enemy.” It is possible that some people will find this portrayal of autism to be offensive. However, I was glad to see Kirstie grow throughout the rest of the book. As she released her woes on the road, Kirstie became less depressed and was better able to cope with the difficulties of autism. Hidden here is a fantastic message that we can not give fully to loved ones unless we take care of ourselves too. 

I don’t want to drop any spoilers, but I have to say that the ending of the book was not only the most exciting part, it was the funniest as well. Wow. Way to pack it in at the end! 🙂 Fantastic finish. 

How do we know about Jesus?

As I pointed out in my New Years Resolutions, this year I have decided to explore my relationship with Jesus. Who is Jesus, and what does he mean to me? This has always been a sticky question that I avoided. My first book in my quest is: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright. Borg is a liberal Jesus historian and Wright a conservative one. The book is a set of essays which outlines an ongoing discussion that these two friends have continued for years. 

In the introduction, they list three target audiences: first, they hope that this book will be of interest to Christians and non-Christians alike. 

“We both believe strongly that what we say about Jesus and the Christian life belongs, not in a private world, inaccessible and incomprehensible except ‘from faith to faith,’ but in the public world of historical and cross-cultural study, in the contemporary world as well as the church.”


Second, they hope that this book will provide new insight into a debate that has become gridlocked among Christians – liberal vs. conservatives.

Third, they hope that their book will speak to people who want to better understand how different visions of Jesus translate into Christian life. This, I suppose, is why I bought the book originally – though the academic arguments will probably be of more interest to me. 🙂

In their first section, they ask the question: How do we know about Jesus? In their separate essays, Borg and Wright point out the difficulties of deciphering the historical data about Jesus. They agree that everybody’s interpretation of history is viewed through the lens of their own perception or worldview. Borg describes four lenses through which he views Jesus: 

  1. Gospels are history remembered as well as history metaphorized
  2. Jesus was a Jewish figure teaching and acting within Judaism
  3. Jesus’ legacy was developed by the community of early Christians
  4. Jesus’ legacy was developed by a variety of modern forms of Christianity, as well as other religions.
Borg and Wright agree that modern secular culture, which believes that the universe can be studied, understood, and described by natural laws, can be used as a weapon against faith. Borg says that it is easy to lose sight of the divine Jesus when you have a strongly secular worldview. Wright points out that with a secular worldview, you are focused on data and theories. Both scientists and historians ask the questions: 

Does the theory make sense of the available data? Does it have the appropriate simplicity? Does it shed lights on other areas of research? 

History differs from science in that there are no agreed-on criteria for what counts as “making sense” and “simplicity.” Therefore, it is very hard to for Jesus historians to come up with any consensus. 

Both Wright and Borg focus on the difficulty of working out the historical evidence of Jesus and the gospels. Borg thinks it is necessary to see and appreciate both the historical Jesus and the spiritual one, lest you lose sight of Jesus altogether. These two entities are not the same – the first is an actual man who was once alive, the second is a concept that has influenced spirituality for thousands of years. 

“When we emphasize his divinity at the expense of his humanity, we lose track of the utterly remarkable human being that he was.” 


On the other hand, Borg believes that if you emphasize only historical fact and what Jesus meant in his own time to his own people, you lose sight of how strongly his message has influenced today’s culture, and what he means to us today. 

In contrast, Wright says that he doesn’t think the early Christians made a distinction between the historical Jesus and the divine Jesus, so why should he? He feels that these “two versions” of Jesus are one and the same, and that whenever he reads literature about the historical Jesus, it reinforces his faith in the spiritual Jesus. 

Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Borg on this subject. I think that he nailed my problem directly on the head: all my life I’ve tried to combine the historical Jesus and the divine Jesus into one entity. Thus, my faith and my secular worldview were battling for prominence in my perception of Jesus, and I lost sight of Him altogether. If I can separate the two entities in my head, I will be able to appreciate both the wisdom of the historical man and the divine love of the Christ Jesus. 

Intercessory Prayer – Does it influence the Divine Opinion?



Throughout my life, I’ve often wondered about the power of prayer. If God is all-powerful, and He wishes the best for all of us, then why do prayers matter? If I pray that my friend’s medical school applications will go well, for instance, what difference do I make? Certainly God already has a Divine Opinion on whether my friend should get into medical school or not. Certainly God has the power to help my friend get into the right medical school without my prayers. So why pray? Of course, there is the chance that by praying I’m releasing endorphins or reducing levels of stress hormones in my body. So maybe prayer is more for my own physical well-being than to nudge God into seeing things my way? 

There have been several scientific studies which explored the power of prayer. I think the most frequently cited is the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in Cardiac Bypass Patients. But, as I pointed out in a previous post about whether God belongs in science, these studies tend to be inconclusive and easily misinterpreted. Clearly, I will not find a scientific answer to my question. 

Prayer seems to be a very natural human urge. It’s not just people from the mainstream religions that pray. For instance, some people “pray” to the universe, as in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Byrne’s philosophy uses positive thinking to direct the power of the universe, with life-changing results. Similarly, my Wiccan friend once likened spell-casting to a form of prayer. He said that if you focus your mind on a certain goal, you are more likely to achieve that goal – regardless of whether you consider this spell-casting or prayer. The universal belief among these religions and philosophies is that there is some sort of greater power out there (whether it be a self-aware God or simply the universe) that is ready to be harnessed for the good of humanity. 

Personally, I have a Christian perspective on prayer. The idea is: pray to Jesus / God for what you want and then finish up with a nice “Thy will be done.” This phrase always gets to me though. Of course God’s will is going to be done. I realize that this phrase is supposed to help me accept the fact that sometimes God’s answer will be “no.” But the phrase still bothers me – and maybe that’s because I still haven’t decided whether prayer really influences God’s Divine Opinion or not. 

I have two basic types of intercessory prayer that I commonly use. The first is the general “please God, let such and such happen. Please, please, please. Thanks! Oh…yeah. Thy will be done and all that jazz!” I pray like this because a part of me doesn’t really believe that I’m influencing the Divine Opinion. But I go ahead and pray, because part of me really does believe. *sigh* Wavering doubt has always been my biggest weakness, as you can read in my recent post about doubt.  

Surprisingly, I am much more confident about my second type of intercessory prayer. I meditate upon God’s love…I visualize it streaming out of the sky and filling me till I’m overflowing. Then I concentrate on whoever I happen to be praying for. I visualize a string of love pumping out of me and into the other person. This isn’t difficult, since I have an inexhaustible source of love coming from God. I hold this connection with the other person as long as I am able. 

In my heart, I know that this form of prayer works. I really AM channeling God’s love when I pray that way. So this is the way I prefer to pray. (Although it tends to be more about love and less about getting my dream job, so I have to pray the other way too!) But why am I so confident about this type of prayer and so doubtful of the other? I mean, shouldn’t the same questions be raised? If God is all-powerful, why would He need me to channel His love for Him? But I thought – maybe that’s what He put us here on Earth for. To amplify and channel his love. Maybe we’re part of His power. Maybe we’re meant to provide this love to our neighbors. This interpretation seems to fit with Christian philosophy. So I’m running with it. 🙂

On the other hand, I still need to reconcile myself to my other type of intercessory prayer. Perhaps my readers would like to share their thoughts on the subject?


Doubt

Jonah and the “great fish” on the South doorway of Dom Saint Peter
Image source: Wikipedia

I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with the story of Jonah. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to prophesy against their wickedness. But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He was afraid to prophesy in a foreign land full of wicked people who hated Hebrews. Plus, he didn’t want God to show mercy to his enemies. So he ran. But he couldn’t escape God, who in His Great Wisdom made a whale swallow Jonah until Jonah was able to see the error of his ways and continue more willingly on God’s path.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah recently. So I was surprised when a coworker jokingly compared ringing at the registers of our bookstore as her “Nineveh.” She added “but if God told me to go to Nineveh, I would go.” I half jokingly answered “then perhaps you haven’t found your Nineveh yet.” (She looked a bit taken aback. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut.)

I think we all have a personal Nineveh (even those of us who are agnostic or atheist). Some of us have more Nineveh than others. Recently, I have found a Nineveh. It’s a personal issue, and I don’t think the details matter for this post…but the basic idea is this: I have a series of choices that I feel God has encouraged me to make. I don’t like those choices, because I’m very much afraid of getting hurt. After much prayer, I decided to go ahead and have faith and make the plunge. It backfired in my face, I got hurt, I hurt someone else, and it all seems to be spiraling downhill from here. 

I am faced with two interpretations: I can assume that I foolishly mislead myself with wrong expectations; or I can have faith that God led me down this path, that He had a reason to do so, and that some good will come of it.

Neither interpretation is inherently wrong as a Christian. Lots of people mislead themselves into thinking they’re doing what God wants them to do when they’re really doing what they want to do. Easy mistake to make. And with this interpretation, I can safely backpedal out of the situation I’ve created and abandon the path that I’d foolishly chosen. (Yeah, it leaves a mess behind, but …. woops! my bad!) Unfortunately, losing faith in myself isn’t too healthy. If I choose this interpretation, then I need to believe that I don’t really know when God is calling me and when He’s not. Because I was pretty darn certain He was calling. And if that wasn’t God calling me, then I’m probably a little crazy and certainly can never have faith in my interpretation of God’s call again. So it seems like a good choice, as long as I’m ok with losing faith in myself and in God. 

The second interpretation is more scary. It means I have to continue on the path I’d chosen, having faith that I was, indeed, hearing God’s call, and that if He got me into this mess, something good must come of it. 

I haven’t yet chosen which of these interpretations to make, and am fluctuating a lot lately. But my instinct tells me that as a Christian I ought to believe that God was calling me, and that he’s still calling me to follow that path. The path to Nineveh. Where I really, really, really don’t want to go.

And while I wallow in self-doubt, as well as religious doubt,  let’s not forget that Jesus asked God to take away the burden of His chosen path: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV, see also Luke 22:42). Let’s not forget one of Jesus’ last statements on the cross: “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Mathew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. He was quoting Psalm 22.).

Jesus, that miraculous man who is loved by millions of people even 2000 years after his death, also had a path he didn’t want to follow. He also had his moments of doubt. Doubt is human. None of us should ever forget this fact when we are struggling with our own doubts. We need to always remember that we are human. That doubt is natural. 

Always accept that you are human – that even Jesus doubted – and forgive yourself for your weaknesses. That is the best way to restore your faith.