Like so many people I have stacks of paper that I don’t know what to do with. In the last few days I have sorted through and thrown out unwanted paper work and miscellaneous stuff. All this industry has had the effect of clearing out my head as well. Getting my estate in order and not leaving a mess for others when I die seems quite important.
I am redoing my will and the Transfer on Death and Power of Attorney forms as well. I did all this originally in the months following my husband’s death two years ago but my decisions were hasty and now need a thoughtful redoing. Not having family means I am passing my assets to my church and a couple of friends
I don’t know if my death will be suicide or a natural one but in any event these preparations are just the usual course of events for any 72-year-old. When my husband died two years ago he left nearly a thousand pages of writing much of which was personal to him. But among those pages were a few important ones that made me glad I had sifted through it all and not just tossed it out. I don’t want others to have to go through this when I am gone.
Since I have no family or old friends here in Albuquerque it has been especially difficult asking someone to assume my Power of Attorney in the event I can’t make my own decisions. While I have tried to specify what interventions I would want taken if I am seriously ill or harmed in an accident, there are still situations where this person might have to make a life or death decision. Since most of my friends in Albuquerque are older than I am and might not survive me, I decided to ask a young man (he’s 35) I have known for a couple of years to become the designee. While our interactions have been casual they have also been honest and reached deep. I shocked him when I worked up the courage to ask him but after he thought it over he agreed to do it. What a great gift to me.
As a hospice volunteer for several years I saw first hand the kind of messy paperwork so many leave behind. So often people keep papers with the thought that they might need them someday. In my case I have found solicitations for money from charities and political organizations that I thought I might be able to give to but are now months and even years out of date. I found ads for concerts I would like to have gone to but happened months ago. Also I found letters from former health insurance providers that were out of date or unacted upon.
So cleaning up, sorting out and updating is my gift to the living once I am gone. Much as I wouldn’t invite someone to dinner at my home if it were a mess while I am alive so I also don’t want to leave a mess to those who must carry on after I go. I guess that this is a posthumous application of the Golden Rule.
There have been so many responses to my blogs about depression and suicidal ideation from Christians whose symptoms like mine are not treatable by medication and therapy. I have had 7 years of therapy and I have tried almost all drugs for the treatment of depression. Some worked for me in the beginning, even for years, but then the symptoms worsened.
This has made me wonder what God is telling me with this illness that seems untreatable by the methods of man.
While reading the first chapter of the book of Nehemiah, I noticed that his response to the news that in Jerusalem the walls had been struck down and gates had been burned was that of grief, he wept and he mourned.
But Nehemiah didn’t stay broken. He turned to God. Specifically he fasted and he prayed. Well, first Nehemiah fasted then from fasting came prayer. The nature of the Nehemiah’s prayer is interesting. First he recognises God’s reality, his awesome power and might. Next he confesses mankind’s sinfulness towards God. He also recognizes how far short of the glory of God man has come. Then he calls on the mercy and love of God to remember the promises He made to gather those who he had scattered. Finally God told him what to do and made it possible for him to do it.
I have often fasted in obedience to church rules and I can’t say I have gotten a lot out of it. I have also wondered why fasting and prayer are often linked in the Bible. After reading Nehemiah and doing some praying and reading I think I have found an answer that makes me yearn to fast.
What I learned is that when we fast our weakness are turned into strength by the Lord. When we fast we are demonstrating our complete dependence on God. The purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world to focus only on God. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed understanding of our reliance upon God. It makes me think of Paul who said “For when I am weak then I am strong.”
With this new perspective in mind I think that fasting must include a withdrawal from the things of the world. Not just in praying but in not occupying oneself with distractions.
So I will fast and pray for everyone who has written to me about having depression and/or suicidal ideation. I am not fasting and praying necessarily that this affliction be removed but that if it is not God’s will to remove it then we can better accept and live with it and be of more service to others.
The use of the Jesus Prayer began with the Desert Fathers in about the 5th Century. Since then it has spread throughout the world. In Russia both monastics and lay people have prayed the Jesus Prayer for many centuries. Some of them wandered the roads and forests while saying the Jesus prayer as a way to grow closer to God. They lived in the countryside and people would give them a bit of food as a kindness and a blessing. This has been a way of sanctification for many.
Eventually as a person persists in this prayer while living a holy life it is said that the heart prays the prayer at each breath even while asleep.
For me hiking has been a way to fight depression and suicidal thoughts and restore my connection with God. I especially like praying the Jesus Prayer while I hike or walk. It controls my wandering mind and brings it back to God. It focuses the entire body and heart on God in one unified action.
Because when I am hike I get short of breath I simplify the prayer to:
Lord Jesus (breathe in)
Have mercy (breathe out)
This provides a profound way to make hiking or walking a meditation on the key point of Christian life. That we need God’s mercy and that mercy was already given us through Jesus Our Lord.
The entire prayer which I pray when at home and I am not breathing hard is:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (breathe in)
Have mercy on me, a sinner (breathe out)
God promised in Ezekiel 36:26 that “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” This Sunday at Liturgy our pastor, Father Nicolay Miletkov, talked of the effect of the Jesus prayer. He said that each time we say the Jesus prayer it is like a drop of water dripping on our stony hearts. And just as the constant drip drip of water on stone eventually wears down the rock, so our stony hearts begin to erode and to reveal the flesh and blood hearts that God created. It takes many years of praying this deceptively simple prayer to wear away the stone that surrounds our hearts.
Having tried this prayer when I was a new Christian I wasn’t able to appreciate its power or its beauty. Now that I am old and understand that I can do nothing of myself I am so grateful for this ancient tradition which transforms the simple act of breathing into prayer.
Mental Illness Can Be Treated
Several of the comments I have received indicate the writers do not believe that bi-polar illness a real illness. Some have written that they were diagnosed with bi-polar illness and that the prescribed medicine made them suicidal and when they got off the meds the suicidal ideation went away. I am sure if there is a misdiagnosis this can happen. These are powerful medications and if a person is misdiagnosed these medications can certainly bring on a variety of symptoms.
In the only case I have extensive experience with that of my husband there is little doubt that he had a very severe mental illness. His father also had this terrible illness. Rich’s father killed himself in 1969 before any of the medications for bi-polar illness had been invented. Lithium was being used in Europe but was banned in the US at the time of Rich’s father’s death.
Rich had a deep desire to not take the medication. Several times he tried to get off them with disastrous effects. Each time he had to be hospitalized and it took months to get the meds back into balance. My husband was always good about taking his meds and I guess I can thank his obsessive compulsive disorder for that. Many people with this illness refuse to take the medications when they are in the manic stage ending in hospitalization or suicide attempts or worse.
On the other side of this issue The American Psychiatric Association is currently considering classifying grief as a mental illness. This is medical malpractice. Grief is a normal condition of people who suffer great loss. However depression is a serious condition and though grief may resemble depression there is a world of difference. Depression changes the brain’s chemistry and recovery without some kind of intervention is rare. With grief however there is a natural healing of the pain as time passes and the person comes to terms with their loss resulting in a return to their normal personality. This can be a matter of months or even years.
In my own case I think the prolonged grief I have gone through was caused in part by the length of time I cared for my sick husband. Over 17 years of debilitating mental instability took its toll on me as the caregiver.
I think the suicidal thoughts and depression were something that could have been helped by a good therapist which I didn’t have available at the time they began. When in the course of blogging I talked about issues that turned out to be causing the depression and suicidal thoughts I was released from those thoughts by the very act of bringing them out in the open. Had I gotten a prescription for anti-depressants then I think the symptoms would have been masked by the medication and the problems would still be unresolved.
Prayer helps with this process but does not replace good medicine. If you are dealing with someone who has bi-polar disorder or severe depression or schizophrenia don’t hesitate to get them the medical help they need. You may save their lives or extend them by years. God expects us to use ordinary means to help those we love who are sick. If it were a heart attack or a broken leg you would surely get them medical help. So too with severe mental illness, don’t wait get the help now.