Sunday, 23 May 2010

"Suicide is painless"

A beautiful day again. I went quietly to St Michael's (where according to the bit of paper from the Bish, I am officially commissioned) and was sitting before Mass, when ye Rector sidled up to warn me that a former parishioner of mine would be prayed for in the intercessions in the departed section. He had suffered from bipolar disorder for years and had made several suicide attempts previously. This one succeeded. RIP.

I feel odd about this. At one level, no surprise. At another, "there but for the Grace of God...". The fact that when I crashed and burned last time, I actually got to the point of buying the razor blades - and in the early days at Emmaus, lay awake at night wondering which of the kitchen knives would be best for a quick soak in a warm bath with a couple of drinks, then opening the veins (the benefits of a classical education are obvious) - means I felt sharply the sense of final despair that I know he had gone through. When you have come close to embracing that pain free darkness and oblivion, it changes your perspective. I recall my sense of bafflement 20 odd years back when a University friend killed himself. Why hadn't he seen that the embarrassing situation he had got himself into (kerb crawling in Liverpool where he was a Tory Constituency agent) might have ended his hopes of a political career but wouldn't have stopped him from having a productive life? Now I understand it better. The release from sense of having failed at living can be terribly seductive.

I drew some wisdom from the sermon as it happens. Our desires teach us much about ourselves. Even the desires we fear or see as negative. Sexual desire teaches us of our need to love and to be loved. Desire for alcohol as an emotional anaesthetic teaches us of our desire for emotional stability and serenity. Desire for the nihilism of self-inflicted death teaches us about our deep desire for peace and respite from "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". It is exactly when we follow the "devices and desires of our own hearts" that we get into trouble. Our desires have to be understood and assesed for their healthiness if they are to enable us be who we are called to be. Discerment and self knowledge are vital both to cut our way clear of our own unruly wills and affections that may be calling us into damage and also to slash through the frigidity and oppressiveness of ancient taboos reinforced by religious affirmation ("The Church/Bible teaches..."). The chains that bind us can be self, as well as socially and culturally, inflicted.

I went to a meeting to let some of this go - to detoxify my little brain if you like. A description of a dangerous mental attitude from the Big Book struck me forcibly: we fail to cope when we adopt an attitude of "belligerent denial". Which I translated as refusing to admit our powerlessness and angrily thinking we ought to be able cope/get a grip/get better. The horrid thing about mental health problems is that you are intelligent enough and aware enough to know you are broken inside but have no hope or see no chance of it healing even in time. It is only when you get some sense of hope (even a name for the problem) that you can begin to recover.


  1. Hi John

    I've been reading your blog for a while and I've found it very interesting indeed.

    I'm very sorry to hear that a former parishioner of yours has committed suicide. As a matter of fact, I used to attend St Ninian's church in Glasgow when you were curate there, and I remember that you came on the Scottish National Pilgrimage to Walsingham a couple of times; I remember you celebrating mass in the Holy House at Walsingham, and of course in St Ninian's.

    I have suffered from severe anxiety and depression for most of my life, and can understand what you yourself have suffered, and also what your friend from university suffered. However, I am glad that you have got a job at the moment which you find satisfying, and that your are able to celebrate mass in St Michael and All Saints, which is a beautiful church.

    I hope that you keep well, and that you may be able to return to the full-time ministry in the future.

    To be honest, I've now gone over to Rome myself, but have found it OK, even if liturgical matters could often do with improvement! Never mind, I can at least pray the 1961 Breviarium Romanum in Latin courtesy of Herr Ratinzger, not to mention the current Liturgy of the Hours in Latin!

    I hope things continue to go well for you and keep up with the blog!!

    regards ALAN

  2. John,
    This has been your best post on this sterling blog.

    I feel wiser for having read it & it has reinforced my feeling of God saying "no" to me about my feelings of vocation & my calling. I'm not as perceptive about myself or others as you have been blessed with.

    Look after yourself & God bless,


  3. Hi Alan - I remember you very nearly accidentally knocking me out with the big thurible in St Ninian's when I was deaconing! My startled oath luckily was not picked up by the mike or else I'd have had a Gordon Brown Bigotgate moment! Thanks for the good wishes and encouragement. I hope the RC experience is a good one for you. Iris Thomson who came to St Ninian's had joined the RC's in Falkirk by the time I got there - so you aren't alone!

  4. Thanks Derek: hope things are OK with you.

  5. Hi again John

    Sorry I nearly knocked you out with the thurible in St Ninians - hope you've recovered by now!!

    It's interesting that Iris has also gone over to Rome. I also remember a couple of people in St Ninian's going over to the Orthodox Church - one lady whose name I can't remember joined St Luke's Greek church and Christine Cruddace joined the Russian church.

    At the moment I attend St Bride's RC church in East Kilbride - otherwise known as "Fort Apache!!". The congregation there have been very friendly and helpful to me indeed. The less said about the current state of music in the RC church the better, but maybe things will improve!!

    I have got into the discipline of praying a daily office, which I find very rewarding, and try to at least pray Evening Prayer each day. I normally use the current RC Divine Office, but on Sunday evenings I pray Vespers in Latin from the 1962 Breviarium Romanum, which Papa Ratzinger allows once again. What form of office are you currently usuing? I recollect that some time ago you mentioned that you had reverted to the Scottish Prayer Book, which you found helpful. Donald Strachan is still loyal to this also!!!

    In the past couple of years I have been on pilgrimages to Lourdes and Rome with St Bride's, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In a couple of weeks I am off on a short break to Mullingar in Ireland with them, during which we will visit a Franciscan friary at Multyfarnham.

    As I say, I hope that you continue to keep well. I think that many people still do not understand the issues surrounding mental health problems these days.

    with best wishes ALAN

  6. It takes courage to share as honestly as you have. Thank you and Every Blessing.

  7. Yes Alan I recovered from my near incense experience. The Greek lady was Susan. I have had a meal in Fort Apache's prebytery years ago so I recall it vaguely. The Daily Office I use at the moment is actually English Common Worship (living in community means we all make little choices that fit in with others) but I use the Mirfield short office when travelling.
    Best wishes!

  8. frdougal, I'm catching up on my blog reading. I can relate so much to what you've said here (having "been there" in that suicidal darkness before). This is insightful, and too true. Thanks for sharing!