The Carpenter’s 1971 “Rainy Days & Mondays,” lyrical verses remind us of such feelings, “Hangin’ around with nothing to do but frown, Rainy days and Mondays always get me down, What I’ve got they use to call the blues, Nothin’ is really wrong, feelin’ like I don’t belong..” At times it’s inexplicable, just a feeling. Most of us survive those times. It’s momentary. Not a way of life. Fleeting. However, when it persists, it can turn ugly, or worse, rapidly. The CDC ranks suicide in the top ten on cause of death. Most know someone touched by suicide. Listed as a major reason for suicide among teens is loss of hope-total despair. Organizations offer little hope-the one element missing in those prone to severe depression. Wyoming’s teen suicide rate continues to be alarmingly high, while mental health experts scramble for answers.
Many recall comedian Robin Williams’ end of life was anything but comedic. Reportedly bi-polar with a history of self-medication and deep depression, he ended his life-at least the earthly one. Some describe those conditions as “dark moments of the soul.” Myriad are the reasons for such moments. The “faux magic” of Tinsel Town has exacted a relentless toll of Hollywood stars and celebrities over time. It never makes sense. Apparently, a foot print at Grauman’s is insufficient to combat suicide.
In 2017, Wyoming lost philanthropist Mick McMurray, reported as a suicide. Wealth and resources failed to insulate him from the ravages of despair, if that was the case. Too many are vulnerable after years of unrelenting pain, alcoholism, drug abuse, ruptured relationships, divorce, death of a mate of many years indelibly leave a mark. Why do some give up? For some, it’s the mausoleum of memories that haunt them.
Celebrated novelist, Ernest Hemingway, inclined to depression and alcoholism, snuffed out his life in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1961. It was initially reported as a “gun accident.” His physician father had taken his life similarly years earlier. Hemingway’s granddaughter Margaux, took her life in 1996, at age 42, after a massive overdose. Was it in their DNA? Was it a predisposition to despair, that haunted them until they succumbed. Despair is no respecter of persons, age, economic standing, or geographic boundaries. Those suffering depression report that despair is magnified at holidays or on the anniversaries of the loss of one dear to them, although suicide rates do not spike during holidays, according to Psychology today.com
In an earlier era, the story of distance swimmer, Florence Chadwick, on a foggy morning in 1952, may help illustrate the vital role of perspective. She waded into the chilly waters off Catalina Island, where she planned to swim the channel to the coast of California. Reportedly, the numbing cold of the water hit her immediately. The boat that escorted her was barely visible in the thick fog. Several times during the trek, a rifle had to be discharged to keep sharks at bay. She labored in the water for fifteen hours before asking to be extricated. Her trainer encouraged her to keep going, telling her she was closed to land. No stranger to distance swimming, Florence was the first to swim the English Channel-both directions. But this day was different. She gave up just a half-mile from shore. Why? In a post-swim interview, she reported, “I’m not excusing myself, but if only I had been able to see the land, I might have been able to make it.” The fog got her. She lost her perspective. Two months later she swam that channel, and set a new speed record.
One may ask, “Is there an antidote for despair?” The kind that one can cling to unequivocally. King David touts such an antidote. Psalm 34:17 counters, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.” This isn’t mere “God-talk” or religious platitude. It’s trust and reliance on the One from Eternity, promising to be with us always. It’s wholly infrangible. The major difference being, that despair can be a moment in time, or way of life. The past four decades of youth have swallowed a bitter root offering a slippery slope of humanism-a hollow legacy to cling to in this bare knuckled world. Scripture confronts reality head-on, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but no abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.” One must find reserve to resist when dark places woo one’s soul. We dare not go there.
Vicissitudes on this revolving orb are certain. Once again we’re reminded that a multi-million dollar nest egg, constant accolades and praise of multitudes, are no hedge against life’s sharpest barbs. Neither opulence nor a life of leisure’s any assurance of personal peace or comfort. A pauper can discover greater joy than a prince in this world. We aren’t created for a reclusive life when troubles beset us. Seek wise counsel. Wisdom cautions one to refrain from prolonged days at the psychiatrist’s couch, or dulling one’s senses with prescription drugs, alcohol or empty slogans.
There’s a siren call to wage another war on depression and suicide. Many programs are well intended. Candle light vigils and walks against suicide raise awareness, but do little toward prevention. Consider the side effects of prescription antidepressants are often counter productive. The loss of hope’s daunting. Anticipate the casualties rising when Generation X,Y, and Z, coddled students, confront this not-so-antiseptic culture of competition, counter opinions, no “safe spaces,” and “no trophies for participation,” after years of rescue by helicopter parents and public schools. Embracing behaviors and principles that permit us to face uncertainty is paramount. Reaching out for help in the right places make sense. This may be a call to those who have a gift of comforting.
Despite a culture with a predilection toward the secular, there’s a place of respite for the weary soul. Blaise Pascal, 17th century French mathematician, physicist, inventor and philosopher, said it best, “Knowledge of God without knowledge of man’s wretchedness leads to pride. Knowledge of man’s wretchedness without knowledge of God leads to despair. Knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle course, because by it we discover God and our wretched state.” Despite the preponderance of positive thinking, and denial of the supernatural, on our own, we’re courting darkness, or worse. Jesus is the anchor in life’s storms, that will come as surely as the sunrise.
The wise know where to go to end despair’s indefatigable sway. Consolation may, for a season, assuage its uncompromising grip, yet fail to break the chains of bondage. It’s a choice. Often we’re ensnared in a web of quick, faulty choices, that lead us astray, down a path of no return. Miserable and overwhelmed? Is it the blues? Or worse? C.S. Lewis commented on perspective, “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end despair.” Only the fool denies despair. It’s real. Run to someone who loves you. To whom one turns to combat this assault, is pivotal. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org