Suicidal Ideation & Chronic Illness Part 3
**This post may be triggering to those who have experienced suicidal ideation, depression, have lost someone to suicide, or suffer with a mental illness of any kind. This post is not intended to substitute professional health. If you are experiencing suicidal ideation please reach out to a trusted loved one and seek professional advice. This post is only intended to shine light on an important issue and share what has personally helped me.**
If you are currently suicidal and are in the U.S. please call: 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 (from anywhere in the US) to talk with a trained Crisis Counselor. If you are currently suicidal and are in Canada you can find crisis numbers and services in your province at this link:
If you haven't read part 1 or part 2 of this series, I decided to open up the conversation about suicidal ideation and chronic illness in an attempt to destigmatize it. I wanted to emphasize how common this issue is and how you're not alone with your suicidal thoughts. For today's post, I'm going to share my story and offer hope. As someone who suffered with suicidal ideation for as long as I can remember, I've decided to share how I was completely delivered from this and how I continue to choose to kill my chronic illnesses instead of myself.
Today I'm specifically going to be talking about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and PTSD that happened as a result of my fight with my chronic illness.
Many of you may have experienced depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or other mental illnesses and symptoms prior to your physical illnesses. I hope you can still find encouragement with this post no matter what order your symptoms presented themselves, but I wanted to acknowledge the perspective I was coming from in that my fight against my physical illnesses caused most of my psychological symptoms. I'm emphasizing this because I don't want to minimize the complexities of mental illness but rather share my personal experiences with it.
Although I never had depression, anxiety, or panic attacks prior to my diagnosis, I experienced emotional trauma that made suicidal ideation seem like a realistic option from a young age. I was 7 years old when I first remember sitting in front of a mirror contemplating suicide. Whenever I went to think about attempting suicide, I always did so in front of a mirror and I never knew why. Now I realize I had to confront the body I was attempting to kill face-to-face, heart-to-heart, before causing harm to her.
The next time I thought about suicide wouldn't be for years later. I was genuinely a happy person in between suicidal thoughts but I grew up raised by a sociopathic father with narcissistic personality disorder and a very codependent mother. Although I love them both to death and have healthy relationships (with boundaries) with both of them now, I wouldn't have recognized healthy coping strategies from a mile away.
Over the years, the time between intense suicidal thoughts or close-calls grew closer and closer. I remember one time being in math class in grade 9 where I wasn't paying attention whatsoever because I planned to commit suicide after school. I had actually made peace with the idea and had made up my mind that I wasn't going to be in class tomorrow so I didn't need to understand what the teacher was teaching. Looking back, it terrifies me to think of the times where I wasn't wrestling with suicidal ideation but had made peace with the decision. Thankfully, I was feeling so sick after class because of a migraine that I had a nap and felt better later on. Looking back I realized that my undiagnosed POTS had actually saved my life.
No one besides my family members could've known about my suicidal ideation because I was a type A, extroverted, outgoing, always smiling teenage girl who genuinely loved life when she could handle it. Concealed depression is incredibly dangerous this way.
I had become a very emotional and dramatic teenage girl during my parents' divorcing years so I asked my mom to see a counselor. She was incredibly helpful but I didn't talk about my suicidal ideation because I thought it was normal- afterall I had experienced this for as long as I could possibly remember. I remember one time where she asked, "did you threaten to commit suicide to your mom?" and I was so mad at my mom for telling her. I think I denied it, or dismissed it, or minimized it. I didn't want to talk about my suicidal ideation, I scored low on the depressive scale, and just wanted to talk to someone about all my big emotions.
Fast-forward many years and my suicidal ideation became what I soon started to call "bathroom floor moments." When my suicidal ideation was at its worst, I would find myself on the bathroom floor with a rope just staring at it for hours. Yes, hours. Then after crying, praying, or feeling numb for long enough, I'd pick myself up off of the bathroom floor and go live my normal life.
I ended up in a nondenominational Christian Church in grade 11 and found myself encouraged and hopeful on Sunday mornings but by the time Tuesday came around, the filth of my own life had washed away that hope. I talked to God but didn't know He could talk to me. This made for very awkward small-talk.
In my first year of University I became angry at the world. I was a feminist who quickly became Agnostic and then Atheist. Not many people knew this at the time because I didn't want to get in the way of the faith of those around me-but I was disgusted by Christianity. I was disgusted at the things people did in the name of God. I thought there was no possible way a God existed. I wrestled with this for a couple of years and spent all of my spare time researching the topic. I eventually started dating a guy who didn't know what he believed in. Then one summer my best friend Natasha was in town (she went to college a couple provinces away and is back now) so we went to the same church we did in grade 11. I was temporarily encouraged but still deeply skeptical. My boyfriend then asked to come one day and became a Christian almost immediately. I was really happy for him and became encouraged but was still extremely skeptical of everything Christianity entailed. I would join them on Church on Sundays but then argue in my university classes that Christianity was basically everything that was wrong with the world.
Oh God, forgive me.
Natasha went back to Ottawa and Jake decided he wanted to check out this Church really close to his house. The first time I walked in I was 90% sure a God didn't exist. I walked in and this random woman I never met started speaking in tongues over me. I had never heard of "speaking in tongues" in my entire life so if you know what it is you can imagine what I was feeling. Speaking publicly in tongues in a church isn't always encouraged but God knew what I needed. God knew I needed something to completely and totally baffle me, He needed to draw me in. I went to this Church for 4 years after this but never saw that one woman again. While she was praying on me and only me (I wasn't the only new person at this Church either), the only comprehensible thing she said over me was "live in me." I never told anyone what she said, not even my boyfriend because it didn't mean anything to me at the time, I just said how she was speaking a language I didn't understand over me. The pastors of the Church helped explain some things to me after the service.
"Well...that was weird," I said to my boyfriend in the car ride home, "either we're crazy or she's crazy and I don't know which one." We laughed awkwardly but both decided we wanted, no, we needed to know more.
Christianese (as my current pastor likes to call it) answers to my evidence-based questions weren't enough. Saying "just have faith" about an existential crisis as important as this would be irresponsible.
"Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
After this experience, I looked a lot into the Biblical idea of speaking in tongues. I have looked a lot more into the scriptures associated with speaking of tongues since this experience, but at the time I sought to understand it form a logical standpoint. I experienced something that couldn't be explained by my Atheist views so I had to either decide if what I experienced was somehow false, or if true, adjust my entire world beliefs accordingly. At the time I found this article (you can find the summary of it here) that looked at the fMRI scans of those speaking in tongues.
God completely baffled my skeptical heart.
I then took the Alpha course through my Church which is designed to learn more about Christianity. On the week they title "the Holy Spirit weekend" people were praying over me, and one person was praying in tongues, and my boyfriend said to my pastor "did you just say 'live in me'?" my pastor replied, "I'm not sure what I said, but it sounds like you have the gift of interpretation" (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). I then explained how that random woman said the exact same thing to me months earlier. I had no idea what it meant but it was reassuring.
God continued pursuing me and I continued pushing back. He didn't give up, oh I'm so glad He didn't give up. I decided that He probably exists but I needed to understand how that was possible. My heart was convinced but my mind wasn't. After all, the childhood Sunday school ideas of God I was used to were not holding up. It was at this time that my Pastor let me borrow his book "The Case for Christ." This book is written by a man who was previously an atheist. Him and his wife had been atheists their whole life when his wife randomly decided to become a Christian. He was expecting her to become a prude but was shocked that she was filled with a kind of joy that didn't make any sense. He was extremely skeptical and hesitant but decided to put "Jesus on trial" similarly to how a modern day trial would work. It's a very dry and dense book but I highly recommend it to anyone who is curious on the matter. This book, along with many other online sources, helped convince me more than anything else had. The author of "The Case for Christ" traveled the world speaking to scholars and historians on the matter and it was a fascinating read.
*"The Case for Christ" is a film I've recently seen appear on my Netflix feed. It's based on the book but I haven't watched it yet and don't know how comparable they. I think it's worth a watch though.*
At this point, Jesus existed to me, God existed to me, the Holy Spirit existed to me, but I was what I'd call a "baby Christian" in that my faith was new, young, and immature. I wasn't reading the Bible but I was in a beautifully new place.
And then I got sick. Bedridden, housebound, couldn't sit up without fainting and having a seizure kind of sick. POTS is a cruel beast that doesn't discriminate.
I remember lying there after my first seizure and praying "God, I'm sorry I don't have a good relationship with you, I'm sorry I doubted you, but please, I'll do anything for you to make me well." That was the beginning of many desperate prayers and the beginning of learning about God's character.
Four months into my journey with POTS is when I had the most traumatizing 1-month hospital stay. Without going into detail, I experienced a lot of medical malpractice and irreversible physical and mental trauma. I was discharged feeling worse than when I arrived. I had what I now know as PTSD and was paralyzed by the most intense fear of my life. I had moved back home with my mom at this point but my apartment (that I lived in prior to developing POTS and live in now) was vacant and had most of my stuff. Every once in a while, when the seasons would change, my mom would drive me up to my apartment to get clothes or something I needed (even though I was mostly bedridden I would still need a jacket to go to doctor appointments). I would then have a crying, fall-to-the-ground breakdown every time I'd walk into my apartment because "it smelled like it did when I got sick". Visual, auditory, and olfactory flashbacks made up most of my time.
I prayed, I wasn't healed.
I was frustrated and confused but God gave me the gift of faith in which I never doubted His existence once since getting sick.
It's weird how when you're physically sick you can go from fighting so hard to live to wanting to die in about 0.5 seconds. I fought so hard to live but became so tired of my fight that dying seemed like the only possible way out.
I found myself on the bathroom floor more times than ever before.
I'm not going to pretend to understand how God works. Explaining how a good God allows intense suffering to those He loves would take 10 more of these posts and I wouldn't be able to do an adequate job. I am not equipped to debate theology. However, I am called to share my story and offer hope.
God saved my life by giving me POTS. God saved my soul by giving me POTS.
The Fall after I developed POTS (I developed POTS in January 2014) my church was offering a program called "Freedom Session" which is a 9-month program designed to give people freedom from a variety of issues. I wasn't physically capable of attending church at this time, and was only ever leaving my house to go to doctor appointments, but my boyfriend was going and for some reason I decided I wanted to go. Every Tuesday I would have to sit up for 2+ hours. I was terrified at this goal but decided I wanted to do it. I started "training" myself to sit up more the months prior. In the very beginning I put a timer on my phone and sat up for 30 seconds a day (that's how sick I was). The next week I did it for a minute and added in some ankle and wrist rotations throughout the day. Before I knew it, I had my own "exercise plan" and was able to sit up for 40 minutes. I didn't know what Freedom Session really was, I just wanted to be around people I loved, who also loved God, for a couple hours each week. I was more symptomatic in the mornings so I knew Sunday mornings weren't yet a possibility, but Tuesday evenings seemed more realistic. I was so terrified to go to the first session that I had to take Ativan because I was leaving my house for the first time (besides to go to a doctor appointment) in 8 months.
I had developed social anxiety and was terrified to be wheeled into my church. But God had me there for a reason. He completely transformed my heart in those 9 months. I dealt with trauma, completely forgave my father, and gained my confidence back. I was able to go to Church. I then slowly was able to walk a bit into Church. I was prayed for constantly by this church and eventually started to volunteer at this church and then work for this church.
I started to teach the same Alpha program and Freedom Session program that gave me my life back.
I had many Holy Spirit moments throughout this journey that kept me going- ones as unexplainable as the "live in me" story (that I'm not finished yet). We had a prophetic assembly in which my current pastors (I go to a different church now than the one I went to for 4 years) prophesied things over my life that I never imagined would come true. We received the recordings from this prophetic assembly and were instructed to transcribe them for future reference and to make sure they were Biblical (never blindly trust someone who claims to have the gift of prophecy). I was in a wheelchair, mostly bedridden, and extremely ill when my current pastors said I was called to redefine church for my generation, that I would be on church in a staff somewhere, and that joy was going to define my life. God has been fulfilling all of these promises in my life in ways that don't make any logical sense.
However, it wasn't until Christmas 2016 where I started reading God's word daily and praying daily. The transformative power this had over my life was undeniable.
Healing isn't always linear though and there were as many downs as there were ups. I thought I had experienced complete deliverance from suicidal ideation during Freedom Session but that wasn't the case. I gained 50lbs because of my thyroid tumor, completely lost all confidence, and ended up in a really toxic relationship. My thyroid tumor brought on a lot of extreme hormonal depression. I would lie in my bathtub, without water, fully clothed for hours. I didn't have any strength, I couldn't pray, I would just lie there, or on the floor, listening to praise music for hours. Even after receiving radioactive iodine that removed the tumor, becoming hypothyroid and being treated for it, this depression remained the same. It persisted throughout my relationship and affected it. Once we broke up, I started seeing a counselor who was able to recognize my codependency from a million miles away and started to deal with a lot of deep-rooted issues I didn't realize were still there. I had seen many counselors in the past for short periods of time and they always helped temporarily but no underlying issues were solved.
I lost the weight, I saw my counselor weekly, and we were starting to see a lot of progress. I experienced authentic peace for the first time in my life and I started to change what I could and develop healthy boundaries. Still, the tendency to jump to suicide as the first solution plagued me. We were making progress in all areas but this one.
Then one week my suicidal thoughts began to really scare me. I didn't want to kill myself because of Fozzy (my dog who is my everything) but I was disappointed by the fact that the thoughts weren't going anywhere even though I was making progress in every other area.
Then one night I cried and screamed out to God. I knew God had a purpose for me that was greater than I could possibly understand and that I wanted to pursue that. However, I couldn't stand how I was feeling mentally or physically. I needed relief. Or this would've been it.
I felt called to pray scriptures about deliverance from fear and healing over my life with the power God and authority God has given me. After hours of praying, I felt encouraged, tired, but hopeful. I had finished praying and went to where I spend the majority of my time at my apartment: my desk. I realized that my small "The Best Yes" desk calendar (based on the Christian book "The Best Yes") was on the wrong date, so I switched it to the right one.
"Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me." -John 15:4.
Live in me.
I had never seen that in the Bible before. Other translations say "abide in me," or "remain in me," but I had never known what the woman on my first day of Church, or my old pastor at Alpha were referring to when they prayed those words over me.
It all made sense. Something clicked in me. I prayed that over me. I read John 15 in that translation and multiple other ones. I looked up the context of each verse. I just sat there smiling like a fool.
Live. In. Me.
Something washed over me that night. It doesn't make any logical sense, I know. But something switched on, or off, however you want to look at it. The nights on the bathroom floor ceased to exist that night (and not just temporarily like they did after Freedom Session, but consistently). I don't sit on the bathroom floor, I don't have visions of me cutting myself or a person hanging from a rope on the trees outside my house when I'm incredibly depressed, and I usually don't ever get depressed anymore.
I don't think of suicide as an option anymore. I live in Him and He lives in me and I won't destroy what God made for life.
It might not be the life I pictured. It's not always the life I want. But it's a life with purpose, joy, and a life intended to serve Him no matter what storm brews or what mountain is in front of me.
I am truly, genuinely free from suicidal ideation. I don't have to fight the thoughts. I am at peace. I am free.
Looking back I can see how a million tiny pieces added up to giving me my life back the way God intended it this whole time. He's called me to something greater than myself and has given me the strength required. I still make sure to guard my heart, as His word has instructed, through daily discipline, prayers, devotions, and setting up boundaries to protect my mental health. I don't take this healing and freedom for granted but have realized it's a gift that I have to open each day.
Thank you for reading my journey. No matter where you are today, you are not alone and there is hope. I know it doesn't feel like it. But together, let's kill POTS, not ourselves.