Roberto Rivera


I hurt myself today To see if I still feel I focus on the pain The only thing that’s real The needle tears a hole The old familiar sting Try to kill it all away But I remember everything In the weeks and months preceding the vote on Colorado Ballot Proposition 106, which legalized physician-assisted suicide in the Centennial State, John Stonestreet pointed to the wave of suicides among Colorado teenagers and rightly argued that a “yes” vote on 106 would send the wrong message to vulnerable kids. Sadly, two thirds of his fellow Coloradans didn’t agree or didn’t care. As it turns out, teenagers aren’t the only people in the state experiencing a suicide epidemic. A recent story in the Washington Post tells the story of an increase in suicides among white women in La Plata County, in the southern part of the state. Since 2007, at least 14 women have killed themselves in La Plata County. That may not sound like much, but the county only has 53,000 people. In a state that has the “fourth-highest suicide rate in the nation for white women ages 45 to 54,” La Plata County has the highest suicide rate of any county with 30,000 or more people. In the Post’s telling, what’s happening in and around Durango, Colorado, is a microcosm for what’s happening across America: “the rate of suicide has nearly doubled among middle-aged white women since 1999—rising from 7 per 100,000 to 12.6 in 2014—helping to explain a startling increase in their early mortality.” This is especially true among white women with a high school diploma or less. “For them, the suicide rate has more than doubled over the past 15 years.” What have I become My sweetest friend Everyone I know goes away In the end And you could have it all My empire of dirt I will let you down I will make you hurt Reading the article, which a friend called one of the saddest things he had ever read, I’m struck by how familiar it all feels. Obviously, I’m not a white middle-aged woman living in a small town. That’s not the familiar part. What’s familiar is what one of the victims texted to a friend five weeks before she took her life: “I’ve been really really bad, however it makes me feel worse talking about it. . . . Trust me, I just need the pain and suffering (anxiety/fear/panic) to go away, not to mention the insomnia!” What’s familiar is what her husband said: “If she had a great day, it was usually two or three weeks before there was another.” What’s familiar was the list of medications mentioned in the article: “Effexor, Wellbutrin, Klonopin, Seroquel,” and Lamictal. I am acquainted with all of them and on a first-name basis with several of them. Finally, what’s also familiar is that these drugs have side effects, and varying degrees of efficacy. Sometimes they make a big difference; sometimes they don’t help much, or at all; and other times they help for a while and then they don’t. Psychiatry, even at its best, is, at minimum, one part art to two parts science, and these women were not experiencing it at its best. That’s not a criticism of their doctors—it’s an acknowledgment that most top-flight psychiatrists practice in big cities and their suburbs. I wear this crown of thorns Upon my liar's chair Full of broken thoughts I cannot repair Beneath the stains of time The feelings disappear You are someone else I am still right here So what do we—and by “we” I mean Christians—make of, and do with, this? If the death of Matthew Warren taught us anything, it’s that you can believe all the right things and still be desperate enough for “the pain and suffering (anxiety/fear/panic) to go away” to seriously consider taking your own life. Here’s the thing about serious mood disorders: You can know enough Scripture to be able to quote Philippians 4: 4-7 in the original Greek; you can even believe it; and because of infelicitous brain chemistry, “anxiety, fear, panic,” and depression will still be constant companions. Knowing and believing the right things are essential, but—and this is the part many Christians are nervous about admitting—they’re not always enough. You can know, as Matthew’s father, Rick Warren, rightly said, that “no emotion lasts forever” and that the depression, however severe, “cannot last forever,” but, at the risk of oversharing, let me tell you that this isn’t how it feels when you are in its grip. My friend was right about how sad the Post’s story is. I am blessed. I have access to excellent care and am surrounded by people who love me. It may be painful at times, but I have hope. I cannot begin to imagine what life is like for the people portrayed in the article, “broken” people with “broken” spirits and souls. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.   Lyrics from “Hurt” by Trent Reznor, copyright Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., 1995.


Roberto Rivera


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