Finally . . . In Which She Spoke the Dreaded 'S' Word

A few years back, a ministry leader wrote and asked if I might have a compelling friendship story to share for a book she was pulling together.  I poured many prayerful hours into my submitted saga.  Sadly, production came to a grinding half when more pressing concerns piled onto her plate and with deep apologies she returned my hard won little manuscript back to me.

And I shelved my story.

Some months ago, I felt that familiar yet scary tug to step out on a limb.  Adding the last few paragraphs, I submitted my carefully chosen 714 words to (in)courage.  They said, 'no, thanks.'

Shelved again.

In recent days I'm feeling that familiar yet scary invitation yet one more time.  I've been trying to discern what that's about.  And I feel led to finally hit the publish button on this little memoir of a very dark season in my life some 11 years ago.  I humbly open this significant corner of my soul today because I strongly believe that someone out there needs to know that yes, there is a way forward from the horrendous, all-encompassing pit of anxiety and depression. 

Yes, oh yes ... there is hope.  Yes, oh yes ... you have a future to live for.

And if you aren't that person, you most likely know someone who needs to grab ahold of these words.

I think the timing is just right considering I just sang the praises of being 60+.  My desire is simply to share hope.  The power of deep relationship.  The reminder that just because a counselor / ministry leader has a bunch of letters after their name doesn't mean they're immune to brain health issues.

And I want to sing praises of the powerful healing touch and gracious redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  And His desire to use our pain to offer comfort to others because we've been there, done that.

The apostle Paul said it best when he wrote, 'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God {2 Corinthians 1:3-4}.

In Which She Spoke the Dreaded ’S’ Word

She’d always been the deepest of wells, this dear friend.  I often found myself leaning forward to listen as she spoke because I knew that what came from her heart was usually worth paying attention to.  For decades she brought a steady, calming wisdom to our relationship, a solid spiritual strength borne from a lifetime of relentless heartbreak.  We had been there for each other, an unspoken mentoring back and forth, a lovely weaving of support.

But then came a mid-life season from the pit of hell.  And a moment in time where she had the courage to speak the unspeakable ‘S’ word.

It was a long ago time and place, a slow fade that morphed into something horrific.  A minor surgery gradually kicked off a cascade of physical maladies.  An undiagnosed Lyme disease collided with a wicked awful season of perimenopause, wrecking havoc in my body.  Prescribed antibiotics and hormones seemed to vie for attention and do nothing but confuse my already weakening system. 

In my family, serious illnesses, a military deployment, and other unsettling experiences added to the pile.  Meanwhile, this novice pastoral counselor was making her way through the minefield of church politics with its endless posturing and maneuvering.   Counseling and teaching, designing a recovery program, and being available to the church family morphed into an unhealthy 24/7 absorption, a distinct lack of balance made all the more troubling by lousy boundaries and an unwillingness to say ‘no, thanks.’

Over a period of months, the most horrific anxiety crept in followed by terrifying bouts of depression, crushing and immobilizing me like a heavy wet blanket.  I watched from somewhere far away as the life drained out of me, as body and soul began to close down.   And I began to sink into a pit of fear-fueled despair and hopelessness.

No one seemed to know what to do.  Responses ranged from heartfelt prayers to an occasional brisk ‘just snap out of it.’  Others simply backed away, helplessly watching from the sidelines as the essence of who I was disintegrated right in front of their eyes.

And then that dear friend called one afternoon.  My listless responses let her know that I was in a dangerous place.  And out of her great wisdom, she gently placed the dreaded, unspeakable ‘S’ word right on the table. 
‘Are you thinking of suicide?’ 

Her courageous question was spoken quietly, but it was quite clear.  And someone finally gave me permission to speak the awful truth of where I truly was.

Wisps of relief encroached on the aching exhaustion, the terrifying fear.  Hope began to seep in and I finally told my husband how desperate I had become.  It wasn’t long ‘til we pulled together a healing team  … a doctor monitored some carefully chosen meds, an experienced counselor came on board, a wise spiritual director guided me into being attentive to God’s invitations in the midst of it all. 

And I claimed a six month ministry sabbatical.
In the midst of my despair, I pleaded with God to redeem my brokenness, and I began to cling to these reassuring words that the Spirit began to whisper deep  - ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten … and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you’ {Joel 2:25-26}.

When all was said and done, I became a much wiser, more empathetic counselor.  I truly got it when I listened to a woman in the pit of despair.  I could be a steady, authentic presence for her because I had traveled on a similar dark path.  I could offer her realistic hope because God had given me an overabundance to share.

And my friend? 

Although hours now separate us, she still makes her thoughtful presence known.  She was with me when we got the news that our littlest grandchild died last fall, just two months after my dad had gone home to be with the Lord. 

But this time there were no daring questions. 

Instead she offered the quiet grace of her presence ... and her stash of colored pencils and glittery gel pens as we colored the hours away, sharing a grief-laden silence together.

P.S.  Always take someone's talk of suicide seriously.  Please call 911 or take them to your local emergency room immediately.  For more education, check out the National Institute of Mental Health.

And in case you're wondering ... yes, my family, close friends, and those clients along the way who needed great big helpings of hope already know the story ... 



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