What to do when you just want to die
February 1, 2012 | My Jottings
I would guess that most people have been in that place before. Feeling like things are so bad, so unfixable, so far gone, that you can’t see any hope no matter how hard you search for it.
If you’re the naturally optimistic sort, maybe you’ve never truly despaired of life. Or maybe you can only remember one time when the thought crossed your mind that you’d be better off dead. But if you’re someone who could be Vice President of the Pessimist’s Club, then you may have had many times in your life when you were ready to call it quits.
I tried to take my life many years ago. It wasn’t a cry-for-help attempt, it was a real, carefully plotted out time-to-die plan, and I almost succeeded.
I was fourteen years old.
Someday I will tell the story of how I almost ended it all. It’s not a topic I visit very often but I’m not afraid to share it. It’s part of my history and I freely speak about it if I feel nudged and if it could be helpful to someone.
Today I want to share about what we can do when life is really hard and we can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. (Disclaimer: this post should not be taken as the whole of advice we might need when life is difficult — some folks might need to get professional help such as a doctor or a trained counselor or a pastor, and do so right away.)
I was born with a melancholy temperament, which means I feel things deeply, tend to over-analyze, can have much compassion and empathy, revel in details, can be creative, tend to be critical and nit-picky, and usually see the glass as half empty rather than half full. The other part of my temperament is choleric, which is often defined by bossiness and pride, a take-charge attitude, and someone who can get the job done while forgetting the feelings of others. For me, the combination of these two temperaments means that when one part of me is feeling low and hopeless, the other part of me tries to grab me by the lapels and give me a good shaking and a firm talking to, and tells me harshly to just quit blubbering and shape up.
The melancholy me thinks the choleric me is really mean and uncaring. The choleric me thinks the melancholy me is a wimp and should just get over it. It can be a bad combination.
When life gets really hard and the enemy of my soul pitches a tent on my shoulder so he can hiss his poison in my ear, it’s my melancholy nature that let’s him stay there for way too long. I have learned a lot in recent years about how to take my thoughts captive and replace the lies with truth (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5), but that doesn’t mean satan gives up for very long. It’s still a battle. But here are a few things to do when life gets so hard it makes death looks easy:
1. Cry out to God for help. You’ve heard me say this before, but I can’t emphasize this enough. If all you can do is weep and whisper the name of Jesus in between your sobs, do it. Whisper the Name above all names, over and over again. That is deep prayer, when it’s coming from a place of total helplessness and humility.
Don’t be discouraged if the blinding light of angels doesn’t immediately fill your room, or if your mood doesn’t lift right then and there, or if the person causing your grief doesn’t fall at your feet completely changed. I have yet to experience quick answers to such cries for help. God is not constrained by time and He is (maddeningly) not in a hurry. He is into doing things His way, and they’re always the right way. When pain is so deep it’s hard to understand why comfort doesn’t seem to come the second we plead for it, He is teaching us to wait on Him. Cry out, talk to Jesus, tell Him everything, and in faith, carry it all to Him and leave it there. Ask for His miracles and be willing to do what you’re supposed to do when that revelation comes.
2. Wait three days. Don’t drive off the cliff today. Don’t stroll the aisles of sleep aids at Target or Walgreen’s tomorrow. Don’t let thoughts of guns and razor blades stay in your mind longer than a nanosecond. Don’t do it. Wait. Call a friend. Call a sister. Call a pastor. Call a crisis help line. Take a walk. Read your Bible. Put on some worship music. Watch a decent movie. Cook a meal. Pet your dog. And keep asking Jesus to give you the strength to put one foot in front of the other, keep living one more day, one more hour. What good is waiting going to do? Believe me, waiting three days can make all the difference in the world. Why? I don’t know exactly why, I just know from experience that when you’re feeling like you’re done with life, you should wait. Wait on God. I think God might have a thing about waiting three days too. Consider Jonah and also how many days Jesus was in the tomb.
3. Start a gratitude journal. Or if you’ve already started one, get it out again and start writing. I have kept gratitude journals at various times in my life, but until I read Ann Voskamp’s unforgettable book One Thousand Gifts, I never really saw the transformative power behind that kind of spiritual discipline. When I wrote down what I was thankful for before, I was merely writing down what I was thankful for. My husband, my children, my eyes, my independence, my faith, etc. Now when I open my gratitude journal, I number each thing I record, and I view each one as a gift directly from the hand of my heavenly Father to me. I picture His nail-scarred hands giving each one to me, personally.
If I believe nothing is random, and as a Christian who believes the Bible I do believe that, then a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight isn’t just a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight. It becomes a deer walking by my office window in the moonlight because God willed it so. Because He knew what pondering His wonders would do for my soul, for my mental health, for my perspective, for the strength I need to carry on each day.
Very recently a large deer with a huge rack of antlers strolled by my office window as I sat in the dark. The moonlight softly lit the snow around him to a barely perceptible periwinkle color, and he was five feet from me as I watched his dark silhouette. He stopped to nibble on the peony branches and decided they weren’t worth a second bite. He strolled languidly across our front lawn, paused at the big rock with the peace sign on it, crossed the street and found another kind of bush more to his liking in a neighbor’s front yard. Because I am becoming more practiced at watching carefully for the gifts God gives to me every day, I sat in the dark and the quiet, and exulted. This was a gift to me from God, with my name on it. He extended His hand and said, “Julie, this is for you” and I took it with reverence and awe and thanks. He loves me enough to give me hundreds of gifts each day. And I’m going to notice. And I’m going to thank Him. And I’ll write them down to help myself remember that when things get dark and when life gets hard, He’s still up to something. He’s still at work in my life and in the lives of those I love so much. He can be trusted.
And when you write down the things you’re thankful for, number them. And don’t hesitate to thank God for little things. When I write down even the smallest of gifts, something shifts in my heart, soul and mind. A bit of strength comes. A bit of hope. Just enough.
What if you’re having a hard time thinking of things to be grateful for? I understand that. I think of people like Joni Eareckson Tada who have lived with quadriplegia for decades and can’t blow their noses or brush their teeth by themselves. Yet she finds things to be thankful for. I can too.
I can see color this morning. Thank you Lord that the deep cardinal red on our living room pillow brings a bit of pleasure.
I can wipe spills on our counter this morning, with my own hands. While standing on my own feet. I thank you Jesus.
No bombs went off in my neighborhood last night. Write it down.
I have teeth in my mouth to chew my food, and not one of them hurts.
Write one thing down, then another. Ask for eyes to see, and ears to hear. And then write down what you see and hear, and realize they are gifts from God….to you.
When you keep a gratitude journal, gifts multiply. Saying thank you to God for a precious daughter then blossoms into thanking God for the way her eyes look at you when you tell her how proud you are of her, or thanking God for the way her neck smells when she hugs you good night, and the nose to smell her scent with, or of how unique her handwriting is, and how she wrote “I love you Mama” on a handmade birthday card, or how graceful she walks and what a gift it is that she can walk, or how trusting she is, and how God is using that to teach you to trust Him.
Saying thank you multiplies blessings. Complaining obliterates them. I know this.
What if I’m wrong? What if all these things I’m thanking Him for are random, and He didn’t really send the deer for me and didn’t really give me healthy teeth, and it’s all about chance, heredity and flossing? Well, okay, maybe someday I’ll find out I’m wrong. But I would hate to find out someday that He crafted 10,000 or 1,000,000 or 10,000,000 gifts just for me, and I went blindly on my way and complained, or ignored them. I’d rather be found thanking than not.
I don’t know when God will intervene in your situation, or mine. But until His answers come, I am going to do whatever it takes to gratefully receive these breaths, these heartbeats, these moments, these gifts that He gives me, and live.
When I was laid-up and feeling sorry for myself last year, post surgery, I read one of Joni Eareckson Tada’s books and it helped me to be grateful for all the things that I could do and just took for granted.
And when I was on my own and struggling with depression, I used to go around the house singing out loud the Matt Redman song – ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ at the top of my voice. I sang it in a sort of battle-ready way, letting the enemy know in no uncertain terms that whatever happens, I truly believe that God is good. I have found that the enemy attacks in many different ways, wherever he finds a weakspot. If my finances are weak, then he will pour in the poison you were talking about,Julie. And when that situation is sorted out, he’ll find something else e.g. family, job, health, etc.
I love these lines in particular from Matt’s song:
“When the darkness closes in LORD, still I will say,
‘Blessed be the name of the LORD, blessed be Your holy name’.”
My husband (who is a gifted musician) tells me, very gently but nonetheless honestly, that I am tone-deaf. But my Father in heaven loves my screechings! (Anyway, when I’m singing away in the shower or alone in the car, I think I sound pretty good!)
And if I’m in pain, I do try to hold onto the saying that ‘This too shall pass.’
Finally, I would also recommend Ann Voskamp’s book. I bought a copy last December and read it in about two or three days. It has helped my prayer life considerably.
I love that song by Matt Redman too, Kay. It always feels like it’s not just another song when we sing it in church. Thank you for all that you shared here…what a blessing you are!
I am in a Bible study right now and the book we are using is “Loving God with All Your Mind” by Elizabeth George. She starts out by talking about her struggle with depression. One of the verses she starts out with is Philippians 4:8. This has really helped me to “take my thoughts captive” when Satan tries to upstage my life. If you haven’t read this book already, you may find it a blessing for you life. I know I have! “Whatsoever things are true…think on these things.” I’m so grateful for the Word of God!
Mariel, thank you so much for sharing what you did and for the book recommendation. I will purchase the book right away and look forward to reading it. God bless you!
Wow, Julie, what you wrote so resonated with me. I have been through many seasons of extreme darkness and while I have not actively attempted to take my life, I have often thought about how just a slight movement of my hand while driving down a mountain (where my home was at one time) would end all my misery (though not really). God has used my children and now my grandchildren many times through my recovery process to remind me of His goodness and of the impact my life has on those I love. I have had a very long journey and can say now that no matter what is going on in my life I know it will turn out just fine. I have humbly learned how to carry my burdens to the cross of Jesus (though there are some times I need a reminder). He is always and without fail faithful to meet me right where I am struggling.
Everything you wrote is very helpful. I too started a gratitude journal during one of the darkest times of my life. There were times at the beginning when I had to really dig to find things, turning all the rocks over as it were. It took me a while but I then began to realize all the things you noted were true for me as well. And gratitude has now become a natural way of living for me.
Matt Redman’s song is a significant part of my prayer life. Because I listen to Christian music pretty much exclusively there are multiple times throughout the day where I have the opportunity to praise God for the things he has provided and to ask for his strength to make it through what ever it is that I am facing at that moment.
Thank you so much for sharing ~
Dearest Tauni, Sometimes your words move me like no other person’s. Thank you so much for all you’ve said. I totally relate to the part about children and grandchildren…I’m so aware of what kind of legacy I want to leave them and that always helps me to look up. Your words made me miss you a lot. LY.
God bless you Julie . Thanks for sharing. I’ve been in that dark place too, so I really understand what you are saying. It’s brave to talk about it. Thank you. H x
Thank you Helen. I’m more concerned about other peoples’ discomfort when I speak of those years in my life…my own discomfort with the subject waned some years ago. I cannot help who I was – that is God’s territory. But I can help who I am, and that is His territory too! 🙂 I appreciate you so much, Helen….
Jewel I love the part about gratitude! There is something about stopping, literally stopping, and taking in what you know is for you from Him, and acknowledging it…something intimate. It’s not like we are some spinster with an imaginary dead lover, who sends flowers and a signed card to herself! He REALLY LOVES US! You know it wouldn’t be Him saying, “I didn’t do this for you…”.
Snatches of time when spirit to Spirit takes place and our senses are invited to partake. YUM!
That picture you painted of the spinster, Ginny – yikes! I hope I sleep well tonight. 🙂 Yes, I agree with everything you say here….we are loved. Thank God for that!
Thanks for another timely piece, Julie. I’ll share it. I’m still processing my recent encounter in the ambulance. Keep writing!
Thank you Lloyd! I’m so glad the Lord spoke to your heart in the ambulance. You keep writing too – I love The Hole News. God bless you, friend….
I loved all of the above comments and I agree that knowing our
Heavenly Father loves us so much He would send a deer to you
as gift. I love the book Jesus Calling by Sara Young. Short daily
readings to help keep me aware that God is in charge and all is
Thank you Dorothy. It always makes me happy when you stop in and leave a comment. Missing you….
Julie, this is such a good piece – as in probably the best piece you’ve ever written, every word of it right on the nail true. Thank you so much.
I also wholeheartedy endorse what Kay says about singing praises. My friend Margery, when she had an attack of what Holly Golightly called “the mean reds”, used to stride along Hastings seafront (about three miles) and back again, whatever the weather, praising and praising and praising God for everything she could possibly think of, and singing praises to. She found it lifted her every time.
Thank you so much, Ember. I think I would like to meet Margery – is she still with us? What a wise woman. xxoo
I loved this post too, Julie. Unfortunately I can also identify with those dark places but what I love about these types of posts and you is that you are open to discussing real stuff. I come from a long line of people that didn’t discuss their problems and issues and everything was always “fine.” They are great people, mind you, just not very open about their own struggles and issues. Which means that it has not come naturally to me. But I am learning a lot about transparency and vulnerability and much deeper relationships and personal freedom as a result. And I love that about you.
And the book Dorothy mentioned is one we have started using as a family devotional with our boys but I find that it seems to be speaking directly to me every time.
I’m also very interested in the book Mariel mentioned!
Thank you for being you Julie!!
I get what you’re saying, Jessica. My family wasn’t great at talking about issues either, until things had built up and then it was time for a blowup. 🙁 Isn’t that amazing too how the things that are meant to minister to the little ones in our lives usually touch us deeply too? And thank you once again for your comments, which are always a blessing, Jessica. xxoo
Thank you for the inspiration. I read this today because Lloyd Mattson recommended your blog. I am SO glad that I have been able to be encouraged both by his work and by your thoughts.
Thank you for visiting Nancy – welcome! I so enjoy Lloyd’s ponderings – he’s a very kind, funny and wise man. God bless you Nancy!
Lovely post, Julie, and such wise thoughts. I’ve been there, too. Do you know the book “Hinds Feet on High Places?” My favorite of favorites, because I AM the character Much-Afraid. Once during my darkest time, the line of the song “we bring a sacrifice of praise” made me think of the little sacrifices Much Afraid builds as she learns each lesson in that book. I went out to my backyard, built a little pile of rocks and offered a sacrifice of praise that I didn’t feel like I could give. But it helped me step outside of my sadness long enough to get through another day. And that was enough for then. Thanks for your thoughts today.
Marcia, I love the book Hinds Feet on High Places….in fact it’s time for me to read it again now that you’ve mentioned it. And I completely understand the building of a small altar to give to the Lord whatever He is asking from us at that time. It might be time for me, after reading your comment. Thank you….so nice to be in touch after all these years.
This is wonderful Julie! Thank you for grace. I am right with you, friend! His love endures!
I am here to gently whisper that I have counted blessings in the heat of the battle. This keeps my eyes on the Lord. For He alone is enough, always enough. All praise to Him!
I am honored and thankful that you took time from your busy life to leave a comment here, Ann. Your book has meant so much to me. God bless you and your dear family! xxoo
I am doing a little blog-creepin’ this evening, and this popped up as “something you might also enjoy” or whatever it is that it says. This is wonderful. I definitely understand the melancholy vs. choleric tendencies. While right this moment isn’t a particularly dark one for me, there have been many lately. Thank you so much for being you and writing the things that you do. Much love.
Sam, your comment blessed me. Thank you for sharing. I send my love and prayers for you today… xoxo