Suicidal Depression and the Sanctity of Life

If I am truly pro-life, if I believe in the sanctity of human life, I have to accept the sanctity of my own life.

It is not humanity that declared human life unique. We merely recognize that we are unlike any other creature. From the Bible, we know it is more than our ability to reason, feel emotions, communicate, and solve problems; we alone are made in God’s image. It is not other people from whom we receive our value. It is from God.

What does that mean for someone like me, struggling with suicidal depression and ideation?

If I am truly pro-life, if I believe in the sanctity of human life, I have to accept the sanctity of my own life.

Celebrating the Sanctity of Human Life

On January 22, 1984, eleven years after the Supreme Court decreed in their Roe vs Wade decision that all women in the United States should have the right to end the life of their child before he or she was born, President Ronald Reagan declared National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Many churches observe the third Sunday of January as Sanctity of Life Sunday.

The focus of the sanctity of human life days in the US has been protecting babies in the womb from abortion. We know that they have no voice, and are completely dependent on their mothers. But I’ve noticed increasing focus on the value of all life, with encouragement to protect all the vulnerable and value all life regardless of age, physical or mental ability, and subjective value to society.

This is good. So good.

If God sustains someone’s life, He has a purpose for it, no matter how it looks from our earthly perspective.

But there have been times I doubted that I had a purpose, that I had enough value to keep living. And I know I’m not the only one.

Depression twist our minds, blinds us to truth and light, and steals our hope.

I honestly believed that everyone, including those who love me, would be better off without me.

But that flies in the face of what I KNOW about the value of human life, the worth of each individual, and God’s sovereignty.

Whether we can see them at the moment or not, each of us has a lifetime of reasons to remain in the life God has blessed us with.

In response to the 13 Reasons Why series, Julie Whitehead launched the 46 Reasons Why Not blog to share 46 reasons she has to not take her life, one for each year she has been alive. She then started sharing others’ lifetime of reasons, including mine, sharing one each weekday. Here are mine, all together…

Forty-Four Reasons Why Not

Depression twist our minds, blinds us to truth and light, and steals our hope. I honestly believed that everyone, including those who love me, would be better off without me. But that flies in the face of what I KNOW about the value of human life, the worth of each individual, and God's sovereignty. Whether we can see them at the moment or not, each of us has a lifetime of reasons to remain in the life God has blessed us with.

1 Jeff VanRy

Jeff and I have been married for seventeen years. Marriage isn’t quite what either of us expected. Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Sometimes my husband is one of my least favorite people. But he is also one of my strongest supporters. There are times when each of us needs the support only the other can give. We have three kids to raise together.

2 John VanRy

Suicide has already touched my children’s lives. Though their father’s father died long before they were born. Long before Jeff and I were married. Just six days before my husband’s ninth birthday. At the worst of my depression, it was impossible to believe that my children would be more harmed by the large trauma of my suicide than the unpredictable series of smaller traumas of life with a mother as worthless as I. But I’ve heard questions they’d be left with. I know that it would not only affect their lives, but also their children’s, because it would affect the way they parent.

3 Jonathan VanRy

Firstborn. Fifteen years old. He just finished his sophomore year of high school, and will be old enough to drive at the end of October. He’s in a critical time of life, as he chooses the first steps of his life beyond our family. He’s smart. But he doesn’t apply himself like he could. He got more motivated at the end of the school year. I’d like to see the effects as that continue.

4 Joel VanRy

Child number two. Socially awkward. Creative. Moody. The worlds and stories he can create! But don’t ask him to write them down, at least not in words. When he wants to draw them, watch out. I’ve never known anyone who can put such life and personality into stick figures. He’s the child who most keys off me emotionally. I’m the one he always needs to check in with. Even at twelve, he often calls me Mommy.

5 Nora VanRy

Child number three. Daughter number one and only. As sons’ identities are tied up in their fathers’, daughters learn about being women from their moms. Death by suicide is not the legacy I want to leave for her, or my boys. With how she and I already dramatically butt heads at age eight, our relationship in her teen years is likely to be, um, rougher than what I have with her oldest brother. But that could mean she may need me even more.

I've seen how losing a loved one to suicide can change someone. I know how a parent's untreated mental illness and suicidal depression twisted me up inside. I don't want to leave my kids with the same questions, powerlessness, and brokenness.

6 Kids’ adulthood

My kids are still kids. They still need raising. When they’re grown, they’ll still need guidance from older, more mature adults. I want to be one of those in their lives for as long as possible. That not only means sticking around, but also making sure I do my best to be as mentally and spiritually healthy as possible. If marriage and family lie ahead for them, I can help them go into marriage with eyes and hearts open, and be around to snuggle their babies.

7 Weddings

I don’t love weddings. They can make me sad thinking about how married life doesn’t look, or feel, like I thought it would. Marriage is hard. The divorce rate proves that too many people don’t go into marriage with realistic expectations, or, more importantly, the right attitude of a lifetime of mutual service and sacrifice. It’s not about getting your needs met; it’s about meeting each other’s needs. Young people need to better understand the marriage as a covenant relationship. The best situation for a child to grow up in is a stable, two-parent household, with a father and mother who love each other, and them.

8 Babies

Sometimes I’m sad that I’ll never have another baby. There was something about carrying another person inside my body, and then being able to nourish them from my body, that made me feel more real and useful than I ever had. Even though that season of my life is over, there will always be babies. I love the softness of baby hair, the perfect plumpness of baby toes, and that amazing baby scent.

9 Nancy Hall

Mom. Mentally unstable; never properly medicated. One of my biggest regrets is that we never had a chance to have a normal adult relationship. Mom didn’t die by suicide, but her episodes of self-harm… were excruciating. If I mourn that she was never blessed with the stability proper treatment may have brought, how much more would my kids have to grieve? If I took my life, they couldn’t help but wonder, at least sometimes, What’s wrong with me that my mom would

It's difficult to admit we need help. When struggling with depression, seeking help can seem too hard. But it's worth it. YOU are worth it. Don't be ashamed to get the help you need.

10 Glen Hall

My father is still living. He struggles with diabetes and heart disease. He developed Charcot syndrome several years ago, and, after much time not being able to use his foot at all in hopes it would heal, had part of his leg amputated. He currently has a torn ACL in his “good” leg. He’s losing his eyesight. We help him out with things from time to time, and he helps us.

11 Abdur, Rehema, and Beberly

The kids we sponsor through Compassion International. What an awesome opportunity to positively impact the lives of children living in poverty in places far away… Bangladesh, Tanzania, Guatemala. I’ll never meet them in person in this life, but God can use our money and letters in the foundation of faith for their lives.

12 May and June

Late spring into the beginning of summer is my favorite time of year. Spring finally gets hold in May. The green, so long dormant, bursts to life and flowers bloom. It’s the easiest time of year to feel alive. Milder days and nights. Rarely too hot or cold. Open windows.

13 Sunshine

One of the best things about May and June is the length of daylight. I love sunshine. For anyone who experiences SAD, you get this. Sunshine in the morning makes it easier to wake up. There’s still sun after dinner. Trying to wake every day in the dark and having it dark again before dinner drains the life out of people with SAD. It can be hard on people who don’t struggle with mood disorders.

14 Color

We can’t see light as it passes through the air around us. It’s visible only as it makes other things visible. It contains all the wavelengths that bounce back to us in an endless kaleidoscope of hues. Sometimes I can’t get enough of looking at them

Hold on a bit longer. Your eyes will clear. Even when we can't see it, the world is full of beauty.

15 Tulips and irises… and peonies and lilacs… and mock orange

I love flowers. You could probably tell that. When I’m taking the time to enjoy taking photos, and the therapeutic nature of photography, they’re among my favorite subjects. I love the colors, and shapes even more so. Some have lovely scents. God is infinitely creative.

16 Birds

More evidence of God’s endless creativity. Colors. Shapes. Sizes. Sounds. Have you ever seen a pileated woodpecker up close? Okay, relatively close? They have brown eyes. Have you ever been blessed to watch the development of robins from eggs to fledglings? Amazing.

17 Rocks and minerals

Another fascinating facet of nature with endless variation. Granted, they’re no fun when you have to clear them from a garden or field, but interesting to examine on a Lake Ontario or north Atlantic beach. Then there are all the beautiful crystals and gems God formed, and we find after so many years hidden away.

18 Walking

Sound boring? It can be, but it’s my favorite form of exercise. Feeling stuck? Get up and go for a brisk walk. Sometimes an amble, soaking in the sights and sounds around you is a great mental-health break, too. Breathe…

19 Lake Ontario

What can I say? I love spending time near the water. Lake Ontario isn’t the largest of the Great Lakes, but it’s the one I live near. For those of you who’ve never seen one of the Great Lakes and think of something I’d consider more like a pond than a lake, the Great Lakes are like inland seas.

There is so much more I want to see in this world, so much more to experience and learn. Life is worth living.

20 Campfires

There’s something relaxing in the crackle of a well-contained fire, and the playing light of the coals left behind. A campfire is ideal for relaxed fellowship.  And s’mores. Mmmmm… s’mores… The best corn on the cob is cooked in the coals.

21 Stars

One of the best things to do beside the dying embers of a campfire is lean back and look up. But you don’t have to have a campfire to enjoy the small lights that shine on our world from giant balls of burning gas over an impossible distance of space.

22 Food

#20 probably clued you in that I like food. When I stop enjoying flavors, and the pleasure of eating, it’s pretty obvious I’m depressed. When I notice that eating is more than just making myself put food in my mouth because I should, I know I’m on an upswing. Does dark chocolate hot cocoa with cinnamon and whipped cream count as food?

23 Glass

People can make amazing things out of glass. Even a simple windowpane is amazing when you stop to think about it. A barrier between us and the elements that lets us see out and receive light in. But we’ve done so much more with it! Colors. Shapes. One way we are made in God’s image is our desire and ability to create.

One way we're make in God's image is our desire and ability to create. We can make beautiful things, even with pieces of broken glass. But only God can take our broken pieces and make them beautiful.

24 Hot showers

One of my favorite things… They just feel. so. good. They can relax tight muscles and ease aches. They can feel like washing away the remains of a hard day, or like starting the day fresh. Sometimes I just need to feel clean.

25 Learning

There is no end to what we can learn about the awesome intricacy of God’s creation; from the inner working of atoms and cells, to the unknown reaches of the universe. We can never reach the end of gaining knowledge of our infinite God, His attributes, His great love and wisdom. We can always grow in our understanding of others, and how to encourage and build each other up.

26 Homeschooling

Yup, I’m one of those homeschooling moms. I want my kids to love learning. I haven’t quite mastered the best way to teach them, but… they’re learning, and have time to explore areas they’re interested in, and experience less peer pressure to be someone they’re not.

27 Music

I love putting on my headphones and working on my writing and blogging stuff. It’s like I’m in my own little, but limitless, world of sound. I do have to be careful of the types of music I listen to. Too much popular secular music, new, classic (the music I listened to as a teen is on the OLDIES stations!), or somewhere in between, can create dissatisfaction with our lives. It can feed unhealthy thoughts and desires. So, um, yeah, I need to exercise discretion.

28 Words

I’m not yet the writer I’d like to be. My mental health struggles have given my words more depth, but my messy brain has made me a worse writer in other ways. It can be so hard to focus, but there are so many words in my head I’d like to get out. I’m not the reader I used to be. But there are so many good words in the world.

There will always be more interesting things to learn, do, see, and experience. Life is fascinating. Live it.

29 Fruit of Brokenness

Most of my words these days, at least the written ones that others read, end up on my blog so I can show people that God can bring beauty and purpose out of our mess and pain.

30 Encouragement

Encouraging others is part of my purpose. To bring God glory by encouraging His children in their struggles, and shine His light so those who don’t know Him can see His grace and glory through me… even when I’m not feeling glorious.

31 My church

Even when we don’t think so, how we interact with our local church family (if you don’t have one, you need one), impacts its corporate health, not to mention its testimony to the lost in the community. Suicide is devastating in a family, and that group of imperfect people with whom you seek to honor God is your God-given family. We’re responsible for each other. In the depths of suicidal depression we may not be able to believe that people care and will really be affected if we take our life, but they would be.

32 CNY Wesleyan Women Ladies Retreat

Each year I participate in the planning and setting up of a prayer walk for my church district ladies’ retreat. Comments always make their way back from women whom God has blessed through a particular station, or the walk in general. At the end of last year’s retreat, I became part of the retreat committee. Numbers have been down the last several years. We’d like to see more women come, and offer them something worth coming for. Times change. What people expect, and how they worship, changes. God doesn’t.

33 Others who struggle with depression

I don’t want my actions to reinforce someone’s false belief that suicide is a reasonable option. I think that’s where 13 Reasons Why dropped the ball. No matter how difficult things are, suicide is not the answer. No matter how much we hurt, suicide is not the fix we truly want.

You are one-of-a-kind, uniquely designed to fulfill God's purpose. Don't give up.

34 Dr. Bordonaro… and Priscilla Thibault

I have a psychiatrist; it’s her job to help me make and follow treatment and maintenance, including medication (psychiatrists are medical doctors) plans. My friend Priscilla is a psychiatrist. I will never forget her telling me about how it felt to lose her first patient to suicide. It was years after the incident, but it’s not something you can just brush off, even if you’re a professional.

35 Tomorrow is a new day

Each day comes to an end. Each night ends with dawn. Some nights are loooooonng, but they’re not endless. There are days I deeply enjoy the things on this list, even if today isn’t one of them.

36 There’s so much left to see

I’m probably never going to have the opportunity to travel the world… but who knows. Tuscany. Greece. Molokai. I may never travel further in the US than Florida, or further into Canada than Toronto. Sometimes my world feels small, but it’s okay if I don’t go any further than I have. The potential is there as long as I am here.

37 Sushi

Travelling the world isn’t just a matter of seeing, it’s also experiencing. I don’t have to fly across an ocean for new experiences. This year, in honor of my 44th birthday, I tried sushi for the first time with a couple of my friends. Loved it. There will always be new things to try. Bungee-jumping is not on my list, but maybe yours?

38 I’m not defined by my weakness

I struggle with depression. I’m being treated for bipolar disorder. But depression and bipolar disorder are not who I am. Why would I let the final act of my life be dictated by things that aren’t the most important things about me? I’m not a victim; I’m a survivor.

I am not defined by the worst I've done, or the worst that's been done to me. Why would I let my final act be dictated by the darkness of depression?

39 Depression lies

All those thoughts that tell us we’re worthless, that there’s no hope, that things will never get better, that everyone would be better off without us – they’re lies. Who wants to base a monumental, unalterable choice on the worst possible lies?

40 Unclouded vision

When I’m depressed, I can’t see properly. Reality is distorted. I need to wait for my vision to clear before I make a drastic decision that eliminates the chance of making it to a better day, with clear eyes.

41 Psalm 40:2

“He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay,
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.”
NASB

42 Young people for whom 13 Reasons Why makes suicide seem reasonable

Life isn’t fair. People can be cruel. Pain isn’t the exclusive domain of the young. But the emotions of the young can be intense. They’re not as fully formed cognitively as they will be, and the brevity of their school years is, as yet, incomprehensible to them. Nothing lasts forever, but the younger you are, the longer a year seems. The only permanent factor of a suicide is death; circumstances change.

43 Those who don’t know Christ

The Apostle Paul understood that being with Christ after this life will be wonderful. He longed for it, but more than that, he wanted to fulfill God’s purpose for his life in ministry to the Church. I can’t share the Gospel if I’m not here. If the legacy I leave is brokenness so profound I couldn’t bear it any longer, it sends a message to those who don’t know Christ that a life of faith is, at best, pointless, if not excruciating.

44 You

How can I encourage you to try something new, get up and take on your day, seek God and study His Word to gain understanding and wisdom, maybe even just take the next breath, if I’m not here? How can I show you that life really is worth living, if I take my own? How can I tell your how special you are and remind you that you’re uniquely created with a purpose, if I deny that truth for myself? You’re worth my being here.

It's not hopeless. You're not worthless. Depression lies. We can choose to live truth even when we can't believe it.

 

You can read more Reasons Why Not on Julie’s blog, 46 Reasons Why Not.

 

More about the Sanctity of Human Life on Fruit of Brokenness:

The Sanctity of YOUR Life

Life: My Right

Suicide Prevention Week: My Story

 

Read more about Faith and Mental Illness

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