Sunday, December 14, 2014

Suicide, Sin, and Dealing with Depression

Like I said last week, 'tis the season to be frazzled. It's also a time of year when folks get together with family, including folks like Yogi Yorgesson's "goofy relations:"
"...After dinner my Aunt and my wife's Uncle Louie
Get into an argument; they're both awful screwy
Then all my wife's family say Louie is right
And my goofy relations, they yoin in the fight.
Back in the corner the radio is playing
And over the racket Gabriel Heater is saying
'Peace on earth everybody and good will toward men'
And yust at that moment someone slugs Uncle Ben....
("I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas," via
Oddly enough, December is generally a month with the fewest suicides each year in America. ("Holiday Suicides: Fact or Myth?," Injury Prevention & Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (December 31, 2013))

Digging a little deeper, I noticed that those 'December suicides' statistics may or may not include murder-suicides: the sort of thing I talked about in "Psycho Santa's Slaying Spree - The Catholic Connection," back in 2008. That's not quite another topic.

Maybe folks get the idea that suicides spike during the holidays because we read or listen to the news. It's the old 'man bites dog' is news thing. Sort of.

Think about it: John Doe kills himself, and it's July 17. That's a big deal for John Doe and anyone who knew him: but not the sort of thing that makes headlines. John Doe kills himself, and it's December 24: odds are there'll be a "Christmas Eve Suicide" headline somewhere in the paper.

Knowing When — and How — to Get Help

I take suicide personally, since that's how I lost a dear friend: and I've felt the impulse occasionally. Basically, it's not always someone else; or 'those people.'

Depression is one of suicide's risk factors, along with a family history of suicide, loss, and, as the CDC put it, "unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts."

Before I forget it, here's some contact information I ran into while scraping this post together:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK (8255)
A free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

I like the "free" part: that puts it in my budget.

I get verklempt sometime during Advent, each year. A procedural glitch in getting some prescriptions filled helped make this year's session particularly interesting, and I'll get back to that.

Depression: It's Treatable

Major depression gets called major depressive disorder; clinical depression; unipolar depression, or unipolar disorder; or, if it happens off and on, recurrent depression.

I'm among the 96.6% with major depression who haven't killed themselves.

This isn't the occasional blue funk folks can 'snap out of.' It's real: and, happily, treatable.

In my case, all it took was a combination of extremely powerful antidepressants: which sure beats downing a dozen cups of ultra-strong coffee a day to stay vaguely focused. I go through withdrawal when the paperwork doesn't go through promptly: but it's still better than the pre-pill decades. Lots better.

If medicos had known more about depression when I was growing up: well, that's water under the bridge. I'm very glad to be living now, when we have access to this sort of information:
There's more at the Mayo Clinic site: I just hit the high points, or low points, or whatever.

I'm not likely to kill myself, but like I said: I've had the occasional impulse — including a really strong urge during my teens, while driving over a bridge.

I'd been having an unusually unsavory day. It took a few seconds to realize that I was stubborn as a mule: and could probably out-endure what was going on.

Turns out, I was right.

I'm still stubborn, I'm still working on fortitude, and that is another topic.

SAD, Depression, and Soap Opera Amnesia

That 'crossing a bridge' thing happened during summer, by the way: not midwinter. My Advent angst may get a boost from SAD, but I'm nearly certain that it's connected to what happened around Christmas, when I was in 7th grade.

There's a 'hole in my mind,' a gap in my memory that runs from before that Christmas to the next spring.

It's not, I think, really a hole: more like roadblocks. The memories of are most likely still in there, but my brain apparently purged their indexing. That's a horribly mixed metaphor, but you get what I mean.

I've been told that's going on in my head acts a bit like PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, including feeling hopeless about the future and "not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event."

That illustration shows which parts of the brain handle fear and stress. It's from this fact sheet:
Wait a minute.

"Feeling hopeless about the future?" Aren't Christians supposed to be just simply oozing hope?

Yes, but my faith doesn't depend on how I'm feeling at the moment. My hope is more of a decision than an emotion, and I'm still working on it.
"HOPE: The theological virtue by which we desire and expect from God both eternal life and the grace we need to attain it (1817).
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)
Back to depression, suicide, and similarly-cheery topics.

Complications of PTSD include depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.(Mayo Clinic)

Or, in my case, not remembering that the traumatic event happened.

Unlike a soap opera amnesia case, I've never forgotten who I am. All that's missing from my autobiographical memory is a few blocks of episodic memory. There's a Wikipedia page about Psychogenic_amnesia, which sounds cooler than hysterical amnesia, but it's pretty much the same thing: also not much fun, and that's yet another topic. Topics.

Mortal Sin and Not Losing Hope

There wasn't much of anything religious or theological in my decision to out-wait my troubles on that bridge. I've learned quite a bit since then: which led to my becoming a Catholic. Yet again more topics.

Since I'm Catholic, I must believe that human life is sacred; which makes murder wrong, even if I'm the victim as well as the murderer. (Catechism, 2258-2262, 2268-2269, 2280-2283)

Suicide is a particularly bad idea because once we're dead, our options are severely limited.

Murder and suicide are mortal sins: acts that destroy charity. While we're alive, we can decide what we did was wrong, take responsibility for our actions, and repair the damage we've caused. Getting that done after I've killed myself would be — difficult. (Catechism, 1021-1022, 1033, 1451-1460, 1855, 2283)

The Catholic Church does not, however, say that all suicides go to Hell. Suicide is a monumentally bad idea, but I'm not allowed to lose hope for folks who killed themselves.

God can do things we don't and can't understand: even allowing postmortem repentance. "...The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives." (Catechism, 2283)

"Here Shall They Hang," and Clueless Critics

That picture is Gustave Doré's illustration for Canto XIII of Dante's "Divine Comedy, Inferno."

Dante and Virgil are walking through the 'Forest of Suicides' on their way across the Seventh Circle of Hell. They're the two chaps you see toward the back of that scene.

Dante's epic poem is not an official Church document: but he knew his faith.

I'm not a soul riding in a body: I'm a human being, a living body and soul. The material and spiritual parts are designed to work as a single unit. Death separates body and soul: but they're reunited before the Last Judgment. (Catechism, 362-365, 990-991, 1005, 1038-1041, 1059)

In his imagined Forest of Suicides, souls of folks who had killed themselves were waiting for the Final Judgment, when they'd be unpleasantly reunited with their bodies.
"Here shall we drag them, to this gloomy glade;
Here shall they hang, each body evermore
Borne on the thorn of its own self-slaughtering shade.
("The Divine Comedy," Inferno, Canto XIII, lines 106-108)
Some folks in Dante's day didn't know much about poetry:
" 'here shall they hang:' Nowhere, perhaps, does Dante assert more clearly than in this moving an terrible image his conviction of the intimate and unbreakable bond between spirit and flesh. The Suicides willed the death of the flesh, but they cannot be rid of it: their eternity is an eternity of that death. (The absurd charge of heretically denying the resurrection of the body was brought against Dante on the strength of these lines, but only by those to whom the language of poetic imagery is a sealed book.)"
(Dorothy L. Sayers' footnote to "The Divine Comedy," Inferno, Canto XIII, line 107; "The Divine Comedy 1 Hell," Dante Alighieri, Translation by Dorothy L. Sayers (1949); Penguin Classics reprint)
And that's still another topic.

Here's that contact information again:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-TALK (8255)
A free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

More about life and health:
Background and advice, mostly for folks who aren't 'at risk' for suicide:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.