I’m Not Suicidal, I Just Forgot to Brush My Hair

September is Suicide Prevention Month. Among other causes, I am in awe of the people on the front lines of this tragic phenomenon. I remember meeting a suicide prevention call center volunteer. She was a wreck, thin and pale. Vicarious suffering was taking such a toll on her that friends and family were pushing her to back off for a while to recover. Understanding self-care and vicarious suffering is really important when working with vulnerable populations. I recall listening to a psychiatrist talk about how to tell if someone is suicidal and he said, “They don’t comb their hair.” He meant that they don’t practice any self-care.

People with chronic illness, like late stage Lyme Disease, Cancers, HIV-AIDS and other painful terminal conditions are vulnerable. Many of these populations are at risk for drug addictions, homelessness, and suicide. Long term illness decimates all aspects of life, not only our health. There are so many losses. Relationships suffer. Employment is often impossible, if not, severely diminished. Creativity is difficult when we are in constant pain. Basic activities of daily living are often unattainable goals that cause despair and hopelessness. Relying on others causes guilt and an overwhelming sense that we are a weight holding others from their most fulfilled life.

If you suffer from chronic illness, skip this paragraph and the next. Take a deep breath… or three. Go wipe your face. I know you have just envisioned all the ways the former paragraph is played out in your world. For the rest of you, imagine a time when you were in great pain. Maybe a broken bone or a ┬ásevere tooth ache. Maybe it was a bad bout of the flu, your stomach twisted and you head ready to explode. Now, imagine if that lasted, not a few days or a week, but years. Months or years of pain wears on a person’s ability to think and causes biological changes and chemical responses that become a loop that is only broken with massive interventions, if at all.

Even with interventions, friends who are living their lives, working, going to school, raising a family, enjoying hobbies, doing business and interacting with the world around them start to drop off. They have expectations and demands on their time. You cannot go shopping with them. You cannot join them at the range or the golf course. You don’t have the energy or the money to go anywhere. All of your money and all of your time is going to medical care. You are consumed with trying to find ways to get your life back. You become isolated and your thoughts turn on you.

Where is God? Where is goodness? How does this happen? Is there any way out? If you cannot find any answers to these questions, the real question of life is futile.

Suffering is lost on our society. We all want everything to be all right. No pain, no distress, no lack, no struggle.

The only problem with that is that it is unattainable this side of heaven. I believe God. I love my Bible. It speaks of heaven eternal with no pain and every tear wiped away, but not here. Here, we live in a broken place with broken people, broken systems, and broken expectations.

The good thing is that everything changes. Nothing is completely stagnant. I am writing this with terrible pain in my side. Every few minutes, I have to change positions to get a moment of a small degree of relief. When I finish, I will get up and move around for a while and the pain will move to some place else. It may vary in intensity. It may drop from a 7 to a 2 or 3 on the pain scale. It may even go down to a one for a while.

God is on the throne in heaven, according to the Good Book. If I am wrong, I have lost nothing really. If I am right, I gain an eternal peace. I believe each and every person has a purpose. I believe that all people can know the perfect love of God, that they can be adopted into His family and get help through every day from His Spirit and from angels. People who know Him believe the same. They care for other people and sincerely do what they can to relieve suffering in the world.

I hope and pray for healing and relief for suffering for all people, but the fact is suffering is a part of this life. If we can keep that in the forefront of our minds, we can fulfill our call and stave off the risk of feeling suicidal, even while suffering.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month. Prevention is best, obviously. We do need to be aware of those less fortunate who have chronic Lyme or other chronic illness and keep reaching out to them and help them to fulfill the purpose of their lives. So do that.

And don’t worry about me, I’m not suicidal, I just forgot to brush my hair.

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