I worked with an older gentleman many (many) years ago, who, though he didn’t come right out and say it, suffered from depression. I was young, so I didn’t pay attention to the obvious, but I remember one conversation we had in which he asked me if I thought someone who took their own life would end up in hell. My response was, “I don’t know” — not because I had no thoughts on the matter, I just didn’t want to be bothered with the conversation. I was eighteen, maybe nineteen, profoundly naive, uninterested in the plight of others, selfish.
Life, however, has a way of being ironic and now I am the one living with bipolar depression. And for all that I’ve gone through, all the pain I’ve experienced, when I think about this episode in my life (and in his), about our conversation (if you can call it that), my answer remains, “I don’t know.” Perhaps I lost my faith, you ask. Or maybe I found it. Maybe I don’t want to get into a deeply theological debate.
No, my answer remains the same because I’ve come to understand that his question had nothing to do with the issue at hand. If we take religiosity and the after-life out of the equation, we see the problem for what it is: our now-life is filled with pain, confusion and suffering to the degree that ending our lives seem to be the only remedy. It’s not, but when your vision is clouded over with depression and your mind is consumed with the negatives of life, you can’t see another way out.
But it’s not normal to want to end our lives. Take a look at all the stories out there about people surviving events that should have killed them and tell me it’s not in our DNA to fight for life, to fight to live. Why then would we consider suicide? Because we are weak and don’t want to deal with a situation? Because we are being selfish and can think of nothing else outside of ourselves? Because dying is easier than living?
Or is it perhaps we are sick and can see nothing else?
Depression is an illness, a chemical imbalance of the brain. It’s an invisible disease that, left untreated, robs a person of joy, of worth, of a will to live. And this sometimes leads to suicide ideation, which, again, is not normal. It is a symptom of a disease — not a weakness, a shortcut, or an act of selfishness. It’s the manifestation of thoughts that are difficult to turn off or turn around, the end result of an underlying condition that deteriorates with time.
And even though we know it, the imbalanced brain may not. Or it may try to justify it. It’s not our job to judge, to guilt or fight with religiosity. It’s not the time to get into a debate — it’s time to find out how they really are, to listen and hear their hearts, to find out if they need immediate help. It’s time to love them, understand them, find out how we can help. When we are willing to do that, to hear them cry for help the only way they can, to see the symptoms if the person isn’t seeking help, to sympathize — this is how we will save lives.
I didn’t work with that gentleman too much longer after that conversation — I left, or he did, I don’t remember — so I cannot tell you what became of him. I hope he is still alive. I hope he found peace. I hope he got help. I hope he found someone to talk to who truly listened to him and gave him the attention he deserved. Because I’ve learned the hard way that we all deserve someone who will truly hear us, especially in our time of need.
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