This is a tough topic for anyone to talk about, and I’m no exception. A conversation about suicide. I actually tried to write about it a couple times and couldn’t bring myself to do it, for a couple reasons. I’ve tried to be pretty transparent in my blog and to tell it like it is, but it was just too hard to write about this topic while I was in the midst of it and when it was still just too fresh. The other reason is because this is already a very complex and complicated situation, and discussing this topic can always complicate things. In the past few years, I have known about three different situations in which students felt obligated to stay in unhealthy relationships because their boyfriend or girlfriend was threatening self harm and/ or suicide if they ended it. I know if I’ve heard about three of those situations, there are probably a lot more that I don’t hear about. I think putting that kind of pressure on anybody is pretty manipulative and unhealthy, and I never want to do that to anyone. I don’t doubt that those people were probably so wrapped up their situations that there was probably something behind the threats, at least at times, but the way it is used is inappropriate. I’ve mentioned this issue briefly in a couple previous blogs, but although I think there is something to be said for the raw emotion and hard truth that can come from unedited spur-of-the-moment spewing, there’s also something to be said for thinking it through a little more, too. I want to be clear that I am not currently struggling with thoughts of self harm or suicide, and I feel like I have addressed the issues well enough and given myself enough time to be able to talk about it candidly.
To be honest, it’s actually kind of hard to recall the exact feelings I felt during those dark times, but I will try my best, because I think it’s important for people to know, whether they are or not struggling with this issue.
I’ll start by saying that when I was in the midst of extreme lows, I really didn’t know how extreme they were. I think that’s probably one of the scariest things. Like thinking about dying and even thinking up scenarios about how it could be done somehow became normal enough that I didn’t realize how poorly I was feeling at the time. It came in waves, so at times I think I honestly was “over it,” but then it crept back up again. It accompanies deep depression, and that’s kind of the same thing, like I knew I was depressed, but I didn’t know how it was affecting me until much later. The way I can kind of see it now is pretty random. Sometimes I’ll walk down an aisle in the store and suddenly be hit with a memory of what I felt the last time I walked down that aisle. I’ll hear a song and remember what I was thinking about the last time I heard that song. I’ll smell a smell or eat a food that brings back a flood of memories of the last time I had that particular sensation, and where I was at mentally and emotionally at that time. It’s pretty strange, because it’s like now that things are so much different, in a better way, I can look back and see how deep those lows really were. Again, that’s pretty scary, because it just makes me aware of how unable I was to fully understand how I was feeling, what I was experiencing, and how it was affecting all aspects of my life.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, it was suicidal thoughts that led me to seeking professional help to begin with. At that time I had been under extreme stress and pressure for a long time, mostly due to work. I had no boss pushing me, but I just put a lot of stress, pressure and expectation on myself, plus I can realize now that I was using work to distract myself from addressing other deeper issues, such as my sexual orientation. When I started getting help, things got better. When I started addressing my sexuality, things got worse. When I got to the point where I knew the only way forward was going to be coming out, I honestly thought that just wasn’t an option. It’s pretty messed up to think that the social stigma and religious pressure made suicide a better option than coming out, but this is a very important point, because it’s something that many, many gay people feel and experience when they consider coming out. Of course every single situation is different in its own ways, but mine seemed like the most impossible. From what I understand, everyone thinks their situation is the most impossible, so if you’re feeling that, just know, it is possible. A common slogan you hear about depression and suicide is the old “it gets better.” But if you don’t know how bad it is at the time, that slogan falls on deaf ears. It should be “it got better,” because you can only see that it got better well after it got better.
After I came out, it got better for a while, but then it got worse again. Before I came out, it was the fear and stress of what I thought would happen when I came out. Like I built that up into something way bigger than it ever had to be. I literally thought I would have to move because I would not be able to withstand the guilt and shame and rejection I would face. The technical term for that is “catastrophizing,”which means I expected the absolute worst and dwelt on hypotheticals that never materialized and were never going to materialize. When I came out, I definitely put on a brave face, and most people were like, “So what?” or “Yeah, I pretty much knew anyway.” It was honestly no big deal, but of course I had no way of knowing that before I came out. The response from the community was very positive. Parents actually appreciated the example I set because everyone knew it must have been very hard for me. So it got better for a while, and I couldn’t believe suicide and moving away had previously been my best options.
Then it got worse again. The support from the majority of the community was nice, but I will never be able to express in words exactly how it feels to be rejected, dehumanized, outcast and shunned by the religious community. I had put my whole life into faith and ministry, and the people who are supposed to be the most loving and accepting honestly believe that the way God would have them respond to me would be to remove me from participating in ministry, indicating that I am somehow suddenly worthless. Something that I didn’t choose and could never change, the way God Himself created me, somehow became a reason for them disassociate, to lie to me and about me, and to shun and excommunicate me. The most fucked up thing is that they genuinely believe that they’re loving me by doing that. They’re showing me grace, because simply being gay puts me in position of needing their grace, and puts them in a position to be merciful enough to give it. They love me, but I can’t sit at the same proverbial table or drink from the same metaphorical water fountain. That’s what Jesus would do. But I can’t tell anyone how they’re loving me, because Jesus wouldn’t do that.
It’s not about the ministry, because I never missed a beat in doing ministry. It’s just the principal of being treated as less than human based on something I didn’t choose, even by people who are intelligent enough to understand that it’s not a choice. I will never be able to fully express the psychological, mental and emotional damage caused by being people who represent my Creator implying that my greatest gift- the way I love- makes me a detestable, unnatural abomination, the ultimate sinner, incapable of intimate relationship with Jesus, who should be put to metaphorical death, because my blood is on my own hands.
That kind of message, whether communicated verbally or through action, is enough to drive anyone to suicide, and it does. LGBT people are four times more likely than strait people to attempt suicide, and LGBT teens in conservative religious families are 8.4 times more likely. Suicide hotlines across the country report that their largest volume of calls comes from LGBT youth in religious settings feeling that there’s no place for them within their faith, most likely because there really isn’t. 50%- half!- of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their life. The rejection has got to stop. Rejection in God’s name is absolutely unacceptable. If it seems to anyone like I have been a jerk in my efforts to educate people about the negative effects religious groups can have on LGBT people, it’s probably because I have been. If you were pushed to the point where taking your own life became a legitimate option to escape the endless internal torment required just to live in alignment with the reality of your creation, you would probably want to do whatever it takes to prevent other people from having to feel the same way. If you wonder why LGBT people are so adamant about their beliefs, it may be because people who have absolutely no idea what we experience feel they have the right to treat us as worthless, and then try to manipulate and guilt trip us for wanting to be treated as equals.
When suicide is an option at any level, it affects how you live. Depression is definitely real, and I would say it probably heightens insecurities, prolongs stress and anxiety, makes you question everything about yourself and everything and everyone, affects your sleep, your appetite, your focus, your energy, and dulls every aspect of your life. I’m a highly functioning person in general, so I was a highly functioning depressed person, but there definitely days I just couldn’t get out of bed, and other days when I just drove around endlessly in my car because I just could never feel comfortable anywhere or around anyone. I’m an introvert, but I isolated myself to levels I now understand were unhealthy. I’m genuinely a pretty mellow, easy-going, even keeled guy who is not affected by much, but I definitely went through phases of being highly sensitive, noticing things I generally would just let roll of my back.
On the worst days, there were only two things that kept me from following through with my plans to commit suicide. One reason I could never do it was because I would never be able to forgive myself for setting that example for students. I want to demonstrate that gay people can not only be genuine, dedicated Christians can live happy, healthy lives, and contribute positively to society, and committing suicide would send an absolutely terrible message to students that that is not possible, and that suicide is an escape for when life is too tough. To be honest, on some days I got so deep into it that I thought I could overcome that obstacle by making my death look like an accident. I planned to go to Maui and drive the Road to Hana, which wouldn’t seem out of character for me, and to drive off a cliff, which happens often enough that it wouldn’t be a definite suicide. It’s hard to even think about and write this, but I feel it’s necessary to show how deep into it you can get. And again, it’s scary to think that at the time I didn’t even realize how much of a bad place I was in. On those days, I was typically laying in bed, unable to find the motivation, energy or focus to do anything. The only thing that stopped me from booking the flight was my dog, who can sense when I am upset. He would hop up in bed, lay on my chest and look right in my eyes. He gave me a reason to live, because I could never imagine who would take care of him if I were gone. No one can love him like I love him. He quite literally saved my life. I know what you’re thinking- you should find your love in Jesus only. But remember, Jesus would reject me, just like you did. If you love like Jesus, then Jesus must love like you. That’s the kind of love that drives people off cliffs.
But it got better. It does get better. I am thankful that I was able to get regular help from a very good psychiatrist. I was prescribed medications twice for short periods of time, and I took them as prescribed, always with the goal of getting off them as soon as possible, because I prefer to be all-naturale. If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, depression or suicidal thoughts, I would always recommend getting professional help. I know there’s kind of a stigma attached with that, but who cares? Pursuing emotional, psychological and mental health is one of the best things anyone can do for themselves, and it’s no different than treating a cold or a broken bone, so there’s absolutely no shame in it. If you don’t have healthy insurance or can’t afford regular help, there are most likely free resources in your area that you can utilize. If you’re in a religious setting, be very careful about who you seek help from, and if you are dealing with LGBT issues, do not engage with anyone who believes sexual orientation and gender identity are a choice, can be changed, or should be denied and suppressed.
Talking about suicide is difficult, but someone has to do it. I hope that the more we talk about it, the less we need to talk about it. Someday people will understand.