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I went to go check out a childhood friends facebook page in the winter of 2010. I hadn't talked to him since I was a teenager. I soon found out that I would never talk to him again,

I did a quick google search and found out that he had been apart of an online gaming community. I tracked him down to some forums where I suddenly became away that something tragic had befallen him.

The last time I had talked to him was shortly after I moved back to southwestern Ontario. I don't remember much of the conversation, except that he told me he was feeling depressed. I was 13 at the time and depression was just a word that I thought meant "sad". We caught up, talked about the trivial things that 13 year old boys talk about, but something wasn't right. We never talked again. 

Now 15 years later I was reading these words about a person who was once a close friend of mine. "What a f***ing coward." or "I can't believe someone could be that selfish.". It was soon clear to me how my friend had died. I found his death notice online and read that all to familiar obituary of a person who had committed suicide. 

I never knew my friend as a teenager. I knew him as a young boy who liked to play video games with me after school. I never knew the man he became. My memory of him will always be that he was one of the small group of people who reached out to me when I had moved to a new school. 

You see, my friend was a person of eternal value and reading the words people wrote about his death that way has angered me to this day. I don't know why he chose to end his life, only that he did, and that is a tragedy beyond tragedies. I can't help but think, that the depression that started to take form in his life at the age of 13, finally claimed his life 14 years later. 

My stomach sinks when I hear how people talk about suicide victims. I literally have to fight back tears. Anger. Frustration.

When someone chooses to end their own life, there was something immensely broken with that individual. It also means there is something immensely broken in the world that person chose to permanently escape.

I have been trying to figure it out for years now. I have been battling thoughts and emotions, perspectives and revisiting my own life. Even right now, my pulse is racing, my palms are sweating, and my breathing is increasing as I think about the tragedy of mental illness.

You see - I once came very close to ending my life.

I have shared this story with my church family. I felt God calling me to share it, with all its flaws. I have shared this personally only to a handful of people. I hate talking about, but I think it's time. It's time because I can't take hearing the ignorance, and allowing the stigma to keep on building, and if it means being uncomfortable then so be it.

I was diagnosed with depression in my early twenties. I remember sitting across from my doctor and telling him what was going on in my mind. He quickly told me that it sounded like we needed to spend some more time talking things through, and we did.

I've never really shared with anyone what I shared with him. I had lost all the feeling in the world. No, wait, that wasn't true. I felt empty, and emptiness is a feeling that is so much larger than the definition of the word. I would stay up at night for hours, just wondering why in the world I felt so horrible. I hated getting up in the morning. I barely had the energy to go to class when I was in high school and college. I was so tired from years of pretending. I had finally snapped. Life felt like the colour grey in a minor key playing over, and over in my mind.

I said to him: "The only thing calming me down are thoughts of suicide."

When I said those words, I can't express to you how normal and casual they sounded to me in my mind. This simply was the fix for a life of years of mental oppression. From that 14-year-old boy who dropped out high school, to a young man trying to figure out the purpose of life - I had imagined life to be one, pointless moment of despair.

I knew Christ, which only seemed to make things worse. I knew Christ, his love, the knowledge of his grace in my life. I had seen so many people transformed by his love. So why did I feel so hopeless?

When my doctor told me that I was suicidal, it was like a revelation. He explained to me how the brain works, and how I was suffering from a medical condition. Me? Suicidal? Mentally ill?

It's still like a bad dream. I used to have nightmares about it almost every night. How could I have been so foolish?

The lowest I got was behind the wheel of a car. When life seems hopeless, when the mind is broken, consequences get buried underneath the blurred vision of total confusion. I felt alone in the world and so I acted like I was alone - speeding through the streets of St. Thomas, on the wrong side of the road, not wearing a seatbelt, a heart frozen like ice, running people off the road.

I don't know if this was a choice to end my life - saying I was making a choice suggests I was in the right mind to do so, and to be honest, I can't connect the reality of the situation to any sane thought.

One of the people I ran off the road was a police officer in plain clothing coming home. He chased me for a bit, slammed his badge against the window and quickly realized what was going on. He asked me where I worked and took me home. I had asked him if he was an angel to take me to heaven. He stopped by the bookstore where I was working to make sure I was alright. I wasn't, but it started my recovery - medication and some counselling.

Before you call me stupid, before you call me a coward, or an idiot, or a crazy nut job - please know that I have already called myself those things thousands upon thousands of times.

Looking back I know more now about the love and grace of Jesus Christ than I ever will. How he mourns for our brokenness, and how one day he will make all things new, how he will fix my mind completely, and this struggle will one day be complete.

If people would view mental illness as an illness maybe we wouldn't feel so callous. Maybe we would try to understand, that people sometimes have not only a broken soul that needs the gospel, but they have a broken mind that needs a doctor. Maybe Christ wants the church to take care of the entire human person, not just the "soul".

I still battle depression. I still tell myself to put on a smile, I still pretend but I shouldn't pretend anymore, because no one is getting better by pretending. Pretending it's OK to treat the mentally ill like freak shows will only end up with more suicide and more people feeling alone.

You aren't alone, and if there is anything I can do to help, please email me at mburkholder@gmail.com and let's talk. 


Comments

Anonymous said…
Hey Matt,

Thank you for being courageous and sharing your story and thoughts. I agree with you completely in that the grace of God can and will heal all things and just as the spirit is fallen and in need of care so is the body. We have to realize that depression is not just 'feeling sad' but is often a result of something that is not wired properly or is chemically imbalanced, both require care horizontally and vertically. As a community (both church and secular) we also need to develop relationships with each other so that we can recognize depression in others or else those suffering might not get the chance to get the help they needed as you almost didn't. We are all so happy that you did get help and give thanks to God that we get to have you in our lives. You are an awesome person and someone that I look up to! God bless!!
Matthew said…
Thanks J,

Sometimes I wonder if our digital friendship age is leaving us empty. It's far too easy to say "connected" without actually being "connected".

I know Jennifer and I have loved getting to know you and Faith more. That is something really lacking from our life - just that time to just sit down and be honest with friends.

Thanks for your encouragement!
Hayden said…
Hey Matt,

Thanks for the edition. I understand why it took you so long to post it. I would also agree that varying degrees of mental illness are quite pervasive in our society and unlike other common illness affecting the body, mental illness carries with it a very demoralizing stigma for those afflicted. Perhaps the only way to neutralize its effect is for people who have experiences such as yourself, to demonstrate the type of courage you have in this post. It is okay to suffer from depression, it is okay to speak about it, and it is by no means a slight of character. Now it is up to the rest of us to greet those people with the compassion and dignity they are entitled to.
Great Post

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