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What Two Recent, Relatable Suicides Made Me Feel About Hope and Mental Health

Over the past several days I’ve been emotionally wrestling with the recent suicides of a Southern California pastor and a 27-year-old nutritionist in New York City. As a someone who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder — constantly contending with these illnesses — hope and nutrition are extremely huge components and explosive arsenal over the battleground of my mental health. Processing these tragedies — being alone in my thoughts and feelings has provoked sadness, an awkward fear and confusion within me — has resulted in massive empathy for them as people living with a mental illness and grief for their loved ones, alongside an unfortunate, tempting dark invitation to hopelessness.

I have never considered suicide as an option for myself, although being afflicted with the emotional pain and mental suffering that severe anxiety and panic has brought on in the last 25 years. The closest I have ever been to standing in the shoes of someone experiencing suicidal thoughts came upon me unexpectedly, in the winter of 2013. In that specific season, I was experiencing a large number of panic attacks, and I had to travel to Japan for work. Although I had many times in past years traveled all over the world, I could not get myself to get on an airplane this time around. My doctor had prescribed me a series of anti-anxiety medications, in which depression and fatigue were common side effects. Prior to this prescription, I had experienced moderate (I guess they call it “normal”) depression from anxiety and panic’s debilitating effects; however, the severity of depression I was experiencing was on another level.

For the first time, I found myself within saying, “Oh… I get it.” I had encountered what many people have described and labeled as “the black hole.” The strength of its dark vortex felt unconquerable and unbeatable — I became so weak and small, deceived into feeling all spiritual strength lost and mental stamina forfeited. I could not show up to life or contend. I couldn’t get out of bed. I lost all desire for any and all things that had interested me in the past. I get it — after experiencing a glimpse of numbing despair, I can sadly validate why people feel they can “check out” — and in that space, you are not thinking whether you are being “selfish” or not, or anything else for that matter. Although there are many different reasons why people arrive to suicidal thoughts, for me to be emotionally standing at the door from a distance has gutted me for all those struggling mentally and who consider this fatal option.

Under the care of therapists and doctors, along with supplements, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and group therapy — combating anxiety and panic with faith-based and nutritional components are altogether paramount and foundational in my healing process and recovery. I daily surrender the process of my thoughts and feelings to my higher power, trusting that unconditional love and truth, in time, will bear the fruits of inner peace and healing in my soul. Just as important is the spiritual community where I can be transparent and fully known, as well as supported emotionally and spiritually during turbulent times on the journey.

I also make efforts each day to eat whole foods — mostly a plant based diet — which lowers my heart rate, restores my gut health (serotonin, which is a hormone and neurotransmitter, aka “the happy chemical,” plays an essential role in regulating mood, and it is estimated that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut), and I physically feel more energetic and resilient to deal with the daily emotional stress. For me to mentally process these two specific tragedies happening to these beautiful human beings — advocates of hope and physical wellness, doing meaningful things for others on this planet — feels like a personal attack on the very foundational pillars for my mental health and overall wellbeing. Although I do not know them, I feel like I have lost some personal, fellow team members. And if I’m alone to these thoughts for too long, I can give a voice to these anxious, irrational and catastrophic negative thoughts that start and sinisterly whisper, “What you believe and what you are doing doesn’t matter. You see, God doesn’t care. Eating healthy doesn’t matter either. You are never going to get better. You might feel better today, but it’s not going to last long.” Consequently, I’m clear that if I choose to not fight back, allowing residence to these unpleasant thoughts, can result into a stronghold of hopelessness.

Now, what can I do with this contention within? I have to come to accept this battle for mental health and personal growth entails the combination of both glorious cognitive progress with joyous serenity, alongside unfortunate mental stress with tormenting setbacks — feeling what it means to be a human living in touch with Earth’s brokenness. However, the difference with faith and hope is that we must believe we fight from victory, not for victory. Eternally, the battle has already been won. I am going to believe that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but one of love, peace and a sound mind. The road of redemption is not a road of isolation either. Of utmost importance, I need to consistently remain and stay in the community, allowing myself to be known and vulnerable. A friend of mine who spent time in Northeastern Uganda said that he learned something invaluable about tribal communities. It was more than just being known, and everyone knowing everyone else’s business — it was necessary for survival itself. Why should it be any different in our own lives?

I must continue to fill my mind and heart with stories that breed hope. Along the same time I have been processing what I called “the battle over hope” within myself, I read a paragraph in a book about the John Hopkins scientist Dr. Curt Paul Richter, and his discovery of the effects of hope. In the 1950s, he performed experiments on rats in which they could only swim in buckets of water for only 15 minutes in order to stay alive. They would sink and die after 15 minutes. However, when the swimming rats were given an intermission, and taken out and rescued before they sank––they were able to swim for 60 hours when they were put back in the water. In conclusion, Dr. Richter discovered that the rescued rats were given hope. The hope they could be rescued was the stamina and resilience to keep swimming 240 times longer. Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Hope is just as necessary for thriving, as it is for surviving. Together let us continue to believe, contend and stand steadfast in hope.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash