Multiple people in my life have committed and attempted suicide. Students, friends, family. At the age of ten I even saw someone I loved try to take their own life right in front of me. I cried and begged them not to, calling for help as I watched a bloody butcher knife cut the length of their arms.
When I was about thirteen my otherwise sweet and loving Christian grandmother told me that some sins couldn’t be forgiven and that homosexuals were one example. That’s the same conversation where she told me I could get AIDS if I sat on a toilet seat after one of them. This is my first memory of what became several instances of wondering whether the agony of hiding who I was would be worth it. It’s also the first time I remember thinking that the sooner I died, the more likely I would be to keep my secret from being found out. If I died young, people would be sad, of course, but they would just assume I had gone to Heaven (instead of Hell for being gay). I imagined what people would say at my funeral. They would be hurt and maybe confused, but at least they would never know my secret. Yes, these were real thoughts I had as a kid. The ones you don’t say out loud.
There’s a verse in the Bible that says you should capture your thoughts and make them obey Christ. For most of my life I was tormented by my thoughts for other men, and would quote this verse over and over again, trying to “capture” them and begging God to forgive me. Purify me. Make me stronger. It was my daily prayer.
I wasn’t as tortured by the idea of Hell as I was of by thought of my conservative family and friends finding out. I led worship (the music) in my church and ironically even sang from the stage some of the songs I had written that were (unknowingly to the congregation or the pastors), in part, about my struggle with being gay. A few songs (“Capture Me,” “Distractions,” “The Storm Inside,” and “So I Pray”) were actually really well received and learned by the others on the worship team. The last one was translated to Spanish and sang by them during a mission trip to Mexico. The themes were, I suppose, relatable to anyone seeking guidance during a struggle, but to me they are so vividly about one struggle in particular. Being gay. They were thoughtful cries for mercy and grace from a forgiving God. These desperate cries to a seemingly silent God were often written in some of my darkest, lowest moments. I’ve said many times that music saved my life, and it is true. The reflections I was able to process and express through these songs were often the only threads that kept me connected to any sense of hope. I never attempted suicide, but I did pray to die. I did beg to have it all end, in fear I would lose my family and everyone I loved if they ever found out. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 10-24 year olds, and significantly more likely for LGBT folks. I am so thankful for the people in my life who — cumulatively over the years — helped me find the courage to no longer hide who I was.
My family has lived in Oklahoma since before statehood and experienced real-life “Grapes of Wrath”-era, Dust Bowl hardships, which often created deep generational poverty. This is likely one of the reasons why both depression and alcoholism have run in my family for many years, as has instances and patterns of domestic violence. Those in my family who were not perpetrators of those things were certainly survivors of it. Some were both, because it can, of course, become cyclical. While my personal feelings never manifested in any attempts to take my own life, the experiences I’ve had with those who did have taught me a couple of important lessons.
(1) Happy is not the indicator.
It’s not always about how happy someone seems. Depression is not about how much “happy” you have or how much happy you’re missing. Happy people can be happy and also be struggling with depression. There’s a myth that depressed people don’t value their lives or that anyone who could consider suicide is selfishly only thinking of themselves.
The truth is… depression is a disease. One that can even make you that believe removing yourself from the equation – in the long run – is the best, most selfless thing you could do for the ones you love.
The truth is… sometimes there are reasons, and sometimes it makes no sense at all. Sometimes it’s a result of isolation and loneliness. And sometimes loneliness is disguised as popularity and hidden inside happy, social butterflies. Sometimes there are warning signs, but sometimes there really may not be any that you ever notice.
The truth is… depression is in many ways invisible.
(2) Relief comes from the invasive love of others.
What if we treated everyone with the love and compassion that we might show to someone who we knew was battling depression? Worst case scenario: we brighten the day of someone who was already doing just fine. Best case scenario: we help someone feel less alone and potentially save a life.
What if we practiced invasive love? Invasive love acts. Without prompting. Invasive love is nosey and persistent. Invasive love is patient, even when it’s emotionally exhausting. Invasive love knows that it’s better to ask the uncomfortable questions and wait in silence for the truth.
Invasive love. Love that gives a damn. Love that intrudes. Love that doesn’t allow someone the luxury of hurting in private.
Maybe what we should be doing is less perpetuating the negative stigmas that cause suffering in silence, as my friend Lyndsay discusses beautifully in her blog, and a little more invading of the ones we love.
I’ll leave you with a thought from a Facebook note I wrote in December of 2011 (remember those?):
“I don’t know what you’re going through — and it may be something more difficult than I could ever imagine — but I can tell you that there is always more to live for. You are stronger than you know. You have more people who care about you than you know. Your life has had a bigger impact on those around you than you know. Your life matters. You matter.”