Pastor Rick Warren’s Son Commits Suicide

matthew warren

Matthew Warren, son of Saddleback Valley Community Church Pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide, the Southern California church announced Saturday, April 6, 2013. (Courtesy Saddleback Valley Community Church and ABC News)

I’m sure you’ve all heard the very sad news that Pastor Rick Warren’s son committed suicide Friday night. I was so very sad when I read the news, because I suffer from depression and I understand how hard it is to stay afloat sometimes. Many people aren’t able to and it breaks my heart. Treatment doesn’t always work and finding a treatment that does work takes years, usually progress is slow, if at all. For example, I’ve been on medication for my depression for a few years, maybe four? Until a year ago, I hadn’t felt significant relief. I do now, but it’s been a roller coaster of emotions and managing side effects and symptoms.

If there’s one thing that’s challenging about depression, it’s the fact that as a depressed person you’ll be largely misunderstood by people who love you, by strangers, by bosses, and by friends. This, coupled by the feelings of overwhelming loneliness make for a very hard life.

Rick Warren’s mentions the persistent pain of his son Matthew in an email:

“I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'”

The church released a statement of its own yesterday saying, “Despite the best healthcare available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life.”

What’s important to talk about with Matthew’s story is this: Rick Warren and his family sought the best healthcare they could for their son and he didn’t find relief. It’s easy for families to blame themselves when a person kills themselves, but sometimes even the best treatment won’t work. The Warren’s aren’t to blame–if anything they are an example of a family who did everything they could, judging from their statements. It’s exhausting being on-call for suicide watch and as much as families help those they love, it’s ultimately out of their hands how the situation is going to play out.

In many Evangelical circles, suicidal people are labeled “attention seekers” and blamed for their depression, or worse yet, dismissed. This is plain ignorance. I have yet to meet a suicidal person who just talked about it for attention. If someone is talking about suicide, or having suicidal thoughts the best thing you can do for them is talk them out of it and (thanks to my friend David for this line) tell them not to make any decision like that until they’ve waited 24 hours. Usually the feelings of depression can subside in 24 hours, and even though they will return, it’s a good exercise in learning: for family/friends and the person suffering. For many years I’ve “held on” a few more hours and realized my emotions changed and I was feeling better. Not that I ever switched to euphoria and happiness, but the point is if you are depressed you need to understand how your mind and body works. You will feel some relief and you need to start charting those patterns on a calendar or mentally and understand that your moods swing, so where there’s a very low low, there will be movement toward relief. Just give it time. Know your patterns and ride them out. If you need to sleep through the dark times, go to bed. If it helps to talk to someone, find the one person in the world who will listen at any hour of the night and talk to you about your feelings or your sadness (again, David is often that person for me).

Sure, people won’t understand. In fact, people will be downright cruel. You don’t have to tell everyone, but tell the people who care the most, who are sincere and kind hearted. Tell the people who know how you feel, who’ve experienced it as well. And maybe you should tell your parents. For years I didn’t and then I realized they cared a lot and wanted to do everything within their power to help me. Some of my friends haven’t told their parents because their parents don’t really understand stuff like that, but in some cases, telling their parents was the best thing they could’ve done.

My friend and I were recently outside feeding her horse. She was talking about her mom growing old and developing dementia. “It helps to have something to take care of.” She said. Her mom had been driving the kids home from work and this was keeping her mom alive, she felt. It’s true. My job and my pets help me. Whether it’s knowing I’m needed and appreciated for the work I do, or knowing that no one is going to take care of my cats like I do, it helps me try to fight it out.

I’m not sure if there is a cure for depression, but I do know from experience it can be managed. Yes, there are side effects to medication and yes, you may feel your emotions numbed and sometimes your creativity might subside. Medications can often increase anxiety or make you hyperactive. Even with treatment, your life won’t look like other people’s lives and they won’t understand why. In fact, things like dating are particularly hard for people like me. People don’t understand why we’re sad all the time and worse, they think we choose to be sad on purpose. They don’t want to hear about it or talk about it and they think we’re just stubborn and having a pity party. None of that is true, although embracing sadness rather than fighting it can be empowering.

It’s not easy to talk about my experiences and sometimes I wonder if it aggravates my symptoms. Because of that, I’m going to leave this post comment free. If you need to talk, please reach out to someone in your circle of friends or family. If you need help, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to your friends/family, a professional therapist, or your doctor. There are other options, too, if you’re feeling really down: have someone take you to the emergency room or call the suicide hotline: In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). There is nothing wrong with you and it’s more common than you think. In fact, some of your friends or family may deal with the very same thing.

Resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US): 1-800-273-8255 

International Suicide Hotlines: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/international.html

Suicide Hotlines http://www.suicidehotlines.com/ 

Why Call? Can it possibly help? http://suicide.com/suicidecrisiscenter/whycall.html 

CDC Depression Stats: http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/

NAMI Major Depression Fact Sheet: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88956 

Depression: Ask the Doctor (NAMI) http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=89093 

From “Ask the Doctor” (link above): 

I am worried about suicide for my depressed relative. What should I do?

Suicide is a central risk in depression. “Safety first” is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to talk with your relative if you have this concern and strongly encourage him or her to get an evaluation as soon as possible. Untreated depression can lead to suicide. Fortunately, most people with depression respond to treatment.

 

 

Losing My Job

In July I lost my job. I decided to go back to school, considering I only had one semester left and considering that I was offered unemployment. It sounded like a good plan until things went incredibly different than the plan.

First, Senioritis started kicking in pretty heavily. Not only did I not want to attend class, I decided no one was going to make me. This has since backfired on me, because college has turned into high school and two of my four professors make attendance mandatory, with penalties to your grade.

Second, I lost my unemployment benefits because I’m in school. Essentially, I told the truth about being in school (which most people don’t do, I’m assuming?) and stopped getting any money. I’m usually not one to “ask for a handout” but in this case, I needed my benefits to continue. My expertise is in administration and that requires that I be available to work Monday to Friday, 8-5. With my school schedule, there was no way I could find a job to support me through my last few months of school.

When I lost my unemployment, I started job searching. I applied for anything and everything I was qualified for, and even jobs I was overqualified for. My plan was to start working, even if that meant I had to quit school mid-semester because of my financial hardships.

I got an interview for a part time position, even though I’d applied for many full time positions. The interview went well, but as it turns out, they hired someone else.

This past week I interviewed at a bookstore. I love books and I love this store, but I’ll be making less than half of what I was making before. It’s not enough to support me.  So, I was frantically searching for a place to live here in the LA area that would be affordable. It turns out all I was able to afford was a small room for rent in a house with 3 other adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs. Plus, my 2 cats. What a nightmare. I came home from looking at that room for rent and broke down crying.

October has been the most depressing month ever.

I honestly felt so depressed about my financial situation that for the first time in years I thought I would rather be dead. Considering that I have a pretty bright future (recent publications and book-writing in progress), the depression was just even shittier.

Week after week I cried and things got worse. My landlords were showing my apartment and I was dreading moving. Then my parents called me and saved the day. It’s not that the economy has been treating them well. They’re in sales and they lost a lot of business over the past few years due to the economy. Somehow, thankfully, they’re able to help me. It’s humbling to be the one who needs help, but it’s just the way it is right now. Our economy is terrible. I can’t wait to be finished with school so I can go back to work full-time. Although I hate administrative work, it’s what pays the bills. And in this economy, I’m grateful to have my bills paid.

A Woman of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side of Depression

Last year I went with a friend to his graduate school campus. I picked up Lyn Cowan’s book Portrait of the Blue Lady: The Character of Melancholy not expecting it to be as enlightening as it was.

She opens the book up with an engraving called “Melencolia I” which features the Dame Melancholy. She calls her the Blue Lady and her muse for the book.

Melencolia I is a 1514 engraving by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.
Melencolia I is a 1514 engraving by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.

Cowan points out the similarities between Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker” and the Blue Lady: the postures and moods are similar and not an accident. “…[S]ince both portray something of the essence of melancholy: its weight, its preoccupation with intense thought, the heavy head, and a sense of quiet power and strength which yet does not move.”

The Thinker (Le Penseur in French) is a bronze sculpture on marble pedestal by Auguste Rodin.
The Thinker (Le Penseur in French) is a bronze sculpture on marble pedestal by Auguste Rodin.

Cowan goes on to say that in the Blue Lady we find a different, “even redeeming, experience of the melancholic condition from the modern idea of ‘depression.’ With the appearance of melancholy personified as a woman of compressed power, the whole fantasy of melancholy changes. Through her we can leave the sterile, truncated modern-day conception of ‘depression’ and turn our gaze to meet hers, seeing there the intensity of feeling, the pressing need, the stillness of a moment in which nothing is happening but anything might emerge. She personifies contemplation, meditation, reflection, wisdom which knows how to wait…”

It was through Cowan’s book that I was able to look at my depression, which I now call melancholy, in a different light. Sure, I’m depressed and suffer (it is suffering) from it, but I started looking at myself differently than I had before. I am deeply emotional and often cry an embarrassing amount, especially when I write, but it’s out of those moments that I am able to write the most intense work that resonates with me and many others. And I always write alone when I’m writing these intense pieces. Sometimes I have to read those pieces again, and they still brings tears to my eyes, but had I not suffered from depression I wouldn’t be able to put all of that depth of emotion and transparency and power into the words I wrote. There is a difference between writers who can do that and writers who can’t, and I’ve learned to embrace that in moments like that I can be a woman of compressed power. My greatest weakness has reversed and I’ve embraced the strength it gives me. This is why I sometimes say depression can be my own superpower: “the clinched fist [of Dame Melancholy] concentrates grief, intensity, profound thought, and containment of energy, all of which typifies the melancholic attitude.” (Cowan 21) The depressed are humble and we don’t like thinking of ourselves as profound, but we are. We don’t like to think of ourselves as powerful because we are outsiders and our intensity of feeling is shunned by most people.

This is what it’s like to embrace this idea of a containment of energy and a compression of power and use it to your advantage. It helps to have pills…I’m not sure I could do it without…but this whole idea got me thinking about my weaknesses and how they serve me as an artist; whereas, the artists who don’t suffer, don’t necessarily get the joy of turning those struggles into something powerful that can connect with people in a fascinating way.

This is what it feels like to be depressed and to use the Blue Lady as your own muse: in your art, writing, painting, sculpting, motherhood, work, education, the day-to-day normal parts of life. Whatever you’re good at, you might not be as good at it if you didn’t suffer like you do. This came to mind even as I was watching J.K. Rowling talk to Oprah (the interview from 2010) yesterday about her mother’s death and her grief and she said, very delicately to Oprah, that the books would not have been what they were had her mother not died because her grief defines Harry’s entire life and the stories. Her grief of losing her mother is on every single page; what a person goes through when losing a parent, how the world looks through the loss of someone you love…all of that defines Harry’s world and it was through her grief that Rowling was able to write what has unquestionably become one of the greatest stories of our age.

This is what it’s like…

***

For more on depression, read What It Feels Like to Be Depressed, one of the first pieces I wrote about depression in 2012. 

Religion May Mask Depression

When I was religious, I was really depressed. Although, for the record, I’ve always been depressed for as long as I can remember. Yes, it’s humbling to talk about this. But, I’m a blogger. We’re confessional, I suppose. Sitting behind the computer makes us think that no one is reading our “diaries” so we put it all out there. Even when it’s TMI.

 

Okay, aside complete. For now.

 

Back the story…I was depressed and I’d cry a lot. About life. About my “guilt”, my “sin”, my “inadequacies”, “my lack of self-control” and the list goes on. Because when you’re religious, there’s nothing you can do to be perfect. But the thing is, perfection is a myth. Assuming there’s a way to be “perfect” or a path there assumes that some people with certain types of behavior (or without certain behaviors) are superior to others.

 

This just isn’t true. We are who we are. And I for one am happy with who I am. When I’m not second guessing myself thanks to religiously induced guilt that will probably haunt me forever.

 

(Disclaimer: The author is in no way a professional medical or psychiatric patient…er, I mean, expert? Yeah. That sounds correct.)

Life is hard these days

Life really is hard for me at the moment, so let me be raw for a moment and I hope this blog has returned to a somewhat safe place for me to be transparent. It’s tough to open up about some of what I struggle with because, as you may well have experienced, not everyone appreciates a candid person.

All the troubles lie on his shoulder

[This post is dedicated to the many individuals who we lose to suicide daily. In most recent news, a young man whose work was integral in forming the site Reddit committed suicide. RIP, Aaron Swartz.]

Life is hard. Life isn’t a bed of roses. Blah, blah, blah. You know the mantra.

Just think positive. Just relax. You’ve heard those before, too.

In some ways, sadness may be preventable I suppose, but I don’t think that is always the case. Many people don’t understand persistent sadness. Although they mean well, they can’t empathize.

Life really is hard for me at the moment, so let me be raw for a moment and I hope this blog has returned to a somewhat safe place for me to be transparent. It’s tough to open up about some of what I struggle with because, as you may well have experienced, not everyone appreciates a candid person.

Case in point, I went out to dinner with some friends around the holidays and explained how things were really going (read: not well). They were rather dismissive and just laughed and started talking about something silly instead of recognizing that I was actually in pain. I’m so well-versed in my feelings of sadness and depression that I know they will fade away or diminish, so those moments aren’t as affecting as they once would have been. I used to feel gravely rejected when people treated my pain this way. However, I’ve come to learn that not everyone deals with life in the same way and many people haven’t had to deal with the pain I have, so they simply have no frame of reference for the kind of sadness life hands some people. It doesn’t make them bad people, although it makes me not want to be around them. It’s tough to be yourself sometimes. I’m not the life of the party these days. At all. I’m probably a grump and a stick in the mud and depressing.

As much as people say, the cure for depression is to be around people, that isn’t always the case. Sure, there are days it really helps (especially when those you are around know you’re having a sad day) but other times it aggravates the condition. It’s just the reality of sadness.

That drug commercial “Depression hurts. Cymbalta can help.” makes me sad. They nailed it. Sometimes every day things just feel painful. When other people are laughing, it hurts. When your dog licks your face, you burst into tears. It is what it is and it’s nothing if it’s not pervasive and strong.

Author’s Note: Some days are harder than others, but it does get better. I often experience deep sadness and will have weeks of happiness. My moments of happiness are lasting longer and longer; in part because I’m aware of my pain and face it rather than cover it up. I write this entry in part because my blog is a part of my daily life and also because there are people who need to know that they aren’t alone, nor are they weird. Sometimes depression and sadness (not always the same thing, of course) suck. We take life day by day and it’s okay to be open about our pain without forcing happiness. Face sadness head-on; don’t quit. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate help. Call 9-1-1 or in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.    

A touching excerpt from Cory Doctorow’s words on his friend Aaron Swartz’s suicide:

Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.

Depression strikes so many of us. I’ve struggled with it, been so low I couldn’t see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan — all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot.

What It Feels Like to Be Depressed

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Years ago, I made an appointment with a doctor in Century City. Over the course of three or four years my body had grown disproportionate and my weight gain had spiraled out of control. I was fat and my weight kept rising. It was a scary confirmation that my depression was out of control, a fact that I knew all too well. My ability to eat, though, meant that I was alive. I wasn’t suicidal and I didn’t kill myself. I often felt I should be dead. The pain was unbearable.

The doctor greeted me in his office and we did a routine exam and blood work. He asked me a series of questions and I told him I suffered from horrible fatigue and could never get out of bed. I’d had this as long as I could remember.

***

My new doctor knew I suffered from depression and that I’d been diagnosed a few years prior by another doctor. I was in college at the time I was diagnosed, even though I’d certainly had a tendency most of my life. During my diagnosis, my doctor and I discussed the history my family had with depression and suicide. Just about everyone in my mother’s family had been depressed and one had a successful venture with suicide. I had reason to be worried about myself and I was proud of myself for seeking help.

The new doctor diagnosed me with anxiety, which surprised me. I’d always concluded that depression was the cause of all my problems but he’d handed me another issue–something that complicated my feelings about myself and my pain even more. I knew I suffered high-levels of anxiety but I’d never thought much about it. I stressed often and greatly. I often felt unloved, like I was detestable to people. Was this anxiety or depression or low self-esteem? It was hard to figure out; they all merged together.

Earlier, when I was religious, I’d learned to call myself a sinner often and my normal tendency to be introspective, which I now realized was probably something related to anxiety or depression, was tuned up to high-gear while I scanned my mind for sinful thoughts or patterns. I was compounded with guilt daily, because my ability to be introspective and critical was great. But I was guilty over things I couldn’t change about myself and now that I write this, I was guilty about things I wouldn’t change.

***

I’ve learned to cope with depression and anxiety. Not perfectly, but I’m too hard on myself or so my mom says. I have a new doctor who is regulating my weight and he says I’m too hard on myself, too.

My mother and I have conversations several times weekly. She assures me I’m normal and strong and in a way it’s like she’s telling herself this. At eighteen, she attempted suicide. When she calls me and tells me she’s concerned about me, I know there’s more than just motherly concern. She can feel the change in me. The dive into darkness. The feelings of being overwhelmed with loneliness.

The past two weeks been dark and lonely. Regardless of who surrounds me, how busy I am, or how active I am, I feel it. I feel the plunge and I can’t escape. Depression, some people argue, is something you CAN prevent. You can control your feelings and make your way out of it, they say. It’s a choice and you’re lazy or weak if you can’t fix yourself, they tell me.

They’re wrong.

 ***

Years ago my friend Jordan was frustrated with me. I often cried on the phone with him. I was deeply depressed some days and I was hoping he could help. He knew my pain all too well; his mother suffered from the same thing and according to him, had never accepted help for it.

“Lisa, you need to get help for this. No one, not even your mom, is going to be able to force you to live or try to get better. You have to pull yourself together and get help.”

I didn’t think I needed medication at the time and Jordan was trying to convince me otherwise. I followed his advice and I accepted the medication from my doctor. I decided to try to get help for myself so my dark days would seem a little brighter. For years it helped. Although it took months to see improvement, I started getting out of the emotional state I was in. Until about a month ago, I often thought, “This is what it feels like to be NORMAL.”

About a month ago, I took birth control pills and the suicidal thoughts started again. It’s normal for some patients to feel this way, the package said. So I stopped the pills. My emotions regulated. I was almost normal again.

But some things happened in my personal life that shook me up. I’m a crier and for two hours I lay in bed crying. I was having a breakdown and didn’t know how to make it through. The “normal” answers of how to fix it came to mind, including death. For hours I contemplated what to do and thought pills would be the most effective way to end it. What kind, though? How many? Couldn’t I just check myself in somewhere? Do I call my mom? No, it’s almost midnight.

Then I thought about a very minor thing: I had a work deadline tomorrow. I can’t breakdown. I had to pick myself up and figure out how to feel better. It was simple, but that’s what kept me hanging on that time. With depression you can’t just force yourself to feel better but sometimes, it seems with age the more dark times you go through the more you realize that just by the nature of depression the lows will go away for awhile and until they return you will get several days or weeks of relief. And you’ll do it all over again but you’ll be a little stronger next time. And eventually, maybe, you’ll realize that those who are depressed are often some of the most brilliant artists or the most caring individuals and you’ll see something wonderful in the parts of you you once were ashamed of.

This is what it feels like to be depressed.

For more on depression, read A Woman Of Compressed Power: The Redeeming Side Of Depression, a follow-up piece I wrote in 2013.