23 September 2018

Confessions: To the Meaning

At 17, I planned suicide...with grandpa's .22 and an irrigation canal. For several months in 2011, I'd struggled to work a full 40-hour week. 

This was worse than that.

It was May 2015. My wife's occasional depression didn't go away.

One friend set an appointment with the doctor. I asked another friend to recommend a therapist. We hoped something would “work.”

We learned to make flexible plans, to say we'd try to be there, to turn back if something was too much. 

August 30, 2015, Tina contemplated suicide.

I tried to think of something to do...to change...to help. Her mother came to visit. Tina's therapist sent literature—what helps and how to stay healthy in the process. We discussed the difference between self-harm and suicide. Friends reminded me to rest.  

One night some other friends talked Tina out of buying razor blades...via text message...while she wandered the super market.

My experience kept me from being shocked at Tina's pain. 

Nothing prepares a person for the not knowing what each day might bring, the uncertainty whether what you say or do gets through, the pain when a loved one harms herself, the helplessness. 

October 5, the folks at work had ordered pizza, I'd just sat down for lunch. My phone rang. I headed home, picked Tina up from therapy, and we went to the hospital. They asked a lot of questions and offered her a place in a voluntary stabilization program. She spent 5 hours there and called me to pick her up.

I locked up medicines...and knives...and scissors. Her mother came and helped us out again. I don't know how we would have made it otherwise. I couldn't have kept working like I did. 

My folks sent food and came to see us. I wrote e-mails, asking friends and family members to pray. Friends brought food. Friends came for visits.

All the questions Tina asked, I was asking too. Why so much pain? Why did God give us depression when we thought we might be having babies? 

Some think these questions mean, “What's the benefit?” They say, “God is teaching you something,” or they try to find some other silver lining.

Some translate the question, “What's going on?” They might say, “brain chemistry” or “development.” There's some insight here. Or some might say, “There is suffering in the world because of sin....” There's some insight here too...and a lot of other questions, such as how much power God has, whether he's good, and what he's thinking of.

I wonder if the bigger question—one nearer what we really want—is meaning. 

Joshua Seachris of the University of Notre Dame's Center for Philosophy of Religion suggests that what we want is a framework or a narrative to make sense of...things...what Seachris calls “existentially charged elements of life.”

In “Man's Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl argued the search for meaning is man's primary motivation: “In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” 

Meaning, Frankl argued, is always there, is unique to the person and even to the situation, and is discovered “(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”

Between her darkest hours, Tina put together care packages for other hurting people. She cried when friends' babies passed away. She quit church and Christian music. But Broadway still reached her with something...not exactly hope...but something...and that was hard to do. 

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tina started getting stronger, even though she wasn't feeling stronger. We bought Jim Brickman tickets when she thought she'd like to go. It was worth it for the possibility. Colleagues gave us tickets to see Mannheim Steamroller. It was the first time we'd been out in quite a while.

February 2016, she started wanting life to change...instead of only wishing it would end. She entered a 3-week program. And repeated it in late September.

 We learned a lot about expressing needs, dealing with anxiety, having boundaries.

I still don't always know what it means. But the question contains the possibility of wonder...rather than despair.

1 comment:

  1. Powerful stuff. I for one am very glad to know both you and Tina, and now Arwen. It would have been a great loss not to.

    As you know, I struggled a lot when I started having panic attacks trying to avoid medication, and, later when seeing a therapist, I really wanted to get at the root trauma of the problem and "fix" it by finally remembering some suppressed memory or something like you see on TV.

    But, actually, I needed medication. I still do. I have a chemical problem in my brain which can create feedback loops I cannot calm myself out of. That is what medicine is for. Nothing to be ashamed of anymore than a deformed appendage.

    Similarly, how did I become like this? Who cares, my PhD psychologist said. You need to start working again. You need to provide for your family. You need to be able to get on a bus or go to the store without becoming oppressively overwhelmed. I am not going to ever *not* have anxiety, so learning how to live with it is a lot more important than digging through my past in hopes of finding someone or something to blame.

    As for why God allows mental illness, especially in Christians, I do think God can sometimes use it to teach or grow a person. That is not an empty line of thought (even though it often feels that way). On the other hand, there might be other, less exhausting ways, to learn lessons from God. I mean, did God sell Joseph into slavery or did his brothers, and God used it for good anyway? I think there is a lot of brokenness in the world due to our, mankind's, rebellion against God, and this causes a lot of collateral damage which is not dispensed fairly or equally (by our, human, understanding of the terms). I find comfort, (1), that it is only temporary, that all will be restored in the end, and (2), that God works all things towards his purposes, none of these prevent the realization of his plans or his demonstration of love to his people. Some Christians seem to enjoy this life, others seem to suffer in it, but both are being watched by the world around them, and we should witness our thanksgiving or alternatively our hope and confidence. Ultimately, it is only a sliver of eternity, and we don't know everything how our eternal salvation will play out.
    I think sometimes about that feeling after having been on your feet all day, walking, hiking, or just standing, when you finally sit down and take off your shoes and socks. People reclining in their palaces being fanned with banana leaves don't get that sensation. Similarly, in Japan (which has an enormous alcohol consumption), people often comment on hard days how good the evenings beer will taste because of it.