I don’t mind admitting that I have suicidal ideations. Have had them for years. Many mornings they greet me with the dawn and hound me for quite awhile until I get out of bed. On good days they dissipate with the worries of the day. On bad ones they hound me at every turn hatching plots and drawing plans.
I am told this is normal for one suffering with clinical depression, or in my case, a diagnosis of Type I Bipolar. I don’t mind admitting to having been given this diagnosis. I’m an alcoholic, fifteen years sober, so I’ve learned that shame is my greatest enemy and that being open is at the heart of my recovery. If it makes others uncomfortable to have me speak so openly about my afflictions, so be it. And I do I try not to make it the regular topic of conversation 🙂
But I also know that for centuries, these thoughts went by other names. Demonic thoughts, devilish inclinations, the serpents’s tail, in one of my favorite poetic ways of putting the matter by Ignatius Loyola, whom I suspect had in spades what we today call bipolar. And I have come to rely upon the spiritual wisdom of the psalms more than anything else in dealing with these demons. Today we read Psalm 55 in our morning prayer lectionary and it, more than any other, describes the turmoil that is my heart on many days—a city full of strife and violence—not an external adversary or enemy, but my own familiar friend—thoughts that are hard to separate from my own voice.
But they mean me harm, as Wild Bill Hickok said in one of my favorite episodes of my favorite tv show, Deadwood. And you have to shoot ‘em down quick, or they can kill you. This is serious business. So, like Wild Bill, I keep guard over the city of my heart, and when I see one of these gunslingers coming my way, I shoot—but now my weapon is the sword, the pistol of the Spirit, the word of truth—the God of my understanding. The thoughts? They come and go. This is as sure as anything. ‘They shall not live out half their days,’ the psalmist writes. God’s aim is true because the aim is love for me and all of creation.
Today, I vow, I will pull the trigger of God’s love whenever warfare breaks out in my heart. And I will trust in this word:
God will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me; * for there are many who fight me. God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down;
The Episcopal Church. (2007). The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (Ps 55:19–20). New York: Church Publishing Incorporated.
Addendum: I have also found that even if I sometimes pay a price for being open, like having people think I am always on the verge of coming unglued, the naming of the thoughts gives them a lot less power. But its taken years to feel safe enough in my life to do so. I know many folks who don’t share because of what it can do to their careers. I know that even in the church, which I have served for over 20 years as a priest, it is not necessarily safe to share this information. You get stigmatized, labelled, dismissed or overlooked for jobs, even as others labor on in hiding or in denial. Its a challenge and one has to discern carefully when to share and with whom. But at this point in my life, it feels like its what God is calling me to do, and at the moment I don’t have a job to protect anyway. And I’ve never been healthier, or more full of joy, including the joy of naming the powers as theologian Walter Wink describes it.
Catalpa trees and sky at Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus Ohio