Archive | May 2017

Jonah: The Man Who Ran

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Ever lived an impossible day when you wished you could run away? How about an impossible week or month? How about an impossible year? Those of us who grieve, live in or have lived through the inescapable darkness of sadness. I learned this darkness first hand when I lost my firstborn to suicide over ten years ago.

Long, long before our time, there was a prophet of God who ran when he faced what looked like an impossible task. His name was Jonah, and his fascinating story is found in the Old Testament. It’s a gripping story that was perfect for my imagination when I first heard it as a kid. I was captivated by the prophet who dared defy God and ended up doing time in the belly of a mammoth fish. More about the fish in a later story. First, let’s explore the running part.

As one of God’s prophets, Jonah had likely completed missions before, but he was about to refuse one. Refuse God? How does a puny human dare do that? It does not appear in the story that Jonah answered God, but he made a decision not to obey nonetheless. God, who knows everything and cannot be fooled, knew what His prophet was plotting, but He did not interfere. Instead, He allowed the situation to play out in real time.

Act One of Jonah’s story unfolds as God directs him to the enemy territory of Nineveh. Probably fearful for his own safety, Jonah heads for the harbor and boards a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. It is obvious to the reader that he does not intend to obey orders, as he works a plan to get as far away from God’s commission as possible.

I did not run away physically from my situation, like Jonah did from his “mission impossible” assignment, but I wanted to run away emotionally. Run from the agony and shock that engulfed me. Run from the relentless, clawing fingers of emotional pain. Run from the choking fog, my constant companion. Run from the voices screaming in my head, you could have prevented this so why didn’t you? It was later, after lots of time on the hamster wheel of brutal guilt and blame, that God helped me understand who was behind the negative guilt messages assaulting my brain. They are never from my God who loves me. Instead, they are always from the enemy who hates me. Always.

How could I continue to live? How could life be worth living without my firstborn child in it? Many such questions flooded my mind in the beginning months of my grief journey. I was to learn that it takes time to sort out the emotions and feelings that come after loss, and in time, I was able to embrace the loved ones in my life who still needed me. Finally, I came to grips with the truth that I was not responsible for my child’s death. That horrific decision was his alone (no doubt coerced by the enemy of souls).

You may be wondering, what does a grief journey, in the here and now, have to do with Jonah’s story of long ago? The correlation, for me, is this: just as Jonah thought he could hide from God, and God wouldn’t notice, I “hid” from life after my son died. I can’t remember how long I avoided mixing with people, but I do remember that I was still in deep grief when I heard a voice give me a “mission impossible” assignment.

I was alone in the house that day when I heard a voice speak in my head. I was both startled and surprised . . . is that YouGod? God had never spoken to me before, but somehow I assumed the Voice was His. What the Voice said stunned me to my toes.

You want me to do what? The Voice did not repeat the assignment. It simply said, “I want you to reach out to help others in similar pain.” I could not believe my ears. If I heard God correctly, He was asking me, this broken-hearted, broken-down mom, who was still stuck in the mire of her own throbbing pain, to reach out and lend my shattered heart to help others in similar sorrow. I panicked at the very thought! How could a weakling, such as I, help anyone? I pretended not to hear.

Avoidance was something I was familiar with. Like Jonah, “I ran” from the assignment. I thought, God can pick on somebody else better suited. I have enough pain on my plate to deal with, and quite frankly, I could use a little help from someone who is surviving her own suicide grief journey! What I did not understand, at the time, was that God had the exact same idea in mind, and help was on the way. When I finally relented to follow His plan by reaching out to help others in grief, I found that every contact, every word written helps me along my healing journey as well.

We are never alone. No matter what, God is always there to comfort us, as He has said, “I will never leave you; I will always be by your side.” Hebrews 13:5b

Scripture from The Voice (VOICE)

 

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This entry was posted on May 20, 2017. 2 Comments

The Suicidal Brain

Recently a friend, well acquainted with my suicide loss, sent me an article about the brain, Loss, Grief, and Recovery written by Arlene R. Taylor PhD, who studies science and emotions concerning the brain. As I scanned the article, I was taken aback by the scientific data that is available on the brain. The information was new to me, and worth filing away for future reference. It is a long article, so I will share a portion of it that will fit the blog. If you are interested in reading the entire article for yourself, you will find the source at the end of this piece.

“Loss, Grief, and Recovery”

“Three relatively short words that represent huge concepts, the discussion of which is sometimes discouraged or repressed. Even worse, fraught with anger, fear, and conflict. Studies have suggested that the brain can deal effectively with something only when it can label and describe what needs to be handled. Topics such as loss, grief, and recovery topics need to be delved into –and handled. Otherwise the emotional energy around them can accumulate as a slush fund that sucks up energy, making the brain unavailable for successful living.

“Although this is not a definitive treatise on loss, grief, and recovery, it is a framework from which you can think about, talk about, select what is needed, and eventually choose a path of recovery that works for your brain. The good news is that it is possible to move through the process successfully—even gracefully…”

Definitions: [two from the article]

“Grief Recovery: Grief recovery is the process of learning to feel better and to achieve a condition of balance following any type of loss. For some, grief recovery means returning to a previously experienced state of soundness and balance; for others, it means attaining a state of soundness and balance that they may not have experienced before. It involves grieving the loss and healing the emotional pain. Just as human beings can recover from the pain of surgery and feel better as the incision heals, or recover from a broken bone and feel better as the bone knits together, so you can recover from a loss and learn to feel better as you move through the grieving process and heal from the pain. Sometimes the loss is identified and recognized and the grief-recovery process worked through. Sometimes not. The survivor may even feel angry, resentful, and even bitter at being ‘abandoned.’

“Survivor Guilt: Also known as survivor syndrome or survivor syndrome, this is a cognitive or mental state that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done something unfair or even wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have died by suicide…”

Types of Death: [one from the article]

“Death by Suicide: For survivors, death of a loved one by suicide can trigger a holocaust of emotion. The perception of loss due to a sense of hopelessness can be exacerbated based on factors including religion. It can be especially traumatic (for example) when survivors want to bury the loved one in a church cemetery, but are denied this opportunity due to theology that basically says the person killed him/herself and is going to hell so cannot be buried in consecrated ground–or some other variation on a theme. Unfortunately some believe that suicide is a violation of the 6th commandment.

“Studies are confirming that people rarely attempt or commit suicide unless their brains are in an altered state. Studies by Cornelius van Heeringen MD PhD of the Netherlands, have pointed out that suicide may be a unique entity, reflecting the culmination of several complex processes that include the following: depression, impulsivity, disinhibition, anxiety, and executive function dysregulation.” [executive function dysregulation defined below]

“Executive function dysregulation: “Emotional dysregulation (ED) is a term used in the mental health community to refer to an emotional response that is poorly modulated, and does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive response. ED may be referred to as labile mood (marked fluctuation of mood) or mood swings.

“Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include angry outbursts or behavior outbursts such as destroying or throwing objects, aggression towards self or others, and threats to kill oneself. These variations usually occur in seconds to minutes or hours. Emotional dysregulation can lead to behavioral problems and can interfere with a person’s social interactions and relationships at home, in school, or at place of employment.” (Wikipedia)

“Candace B. Pert PhD was very clear that when in the grip of a strong emotion, the brain is in an altered state, especially when the protective emotions of anger, fear, and sadness are involved.

“Many factors can contribute to an altered brain state, especially an imbalance in neurotransmitter and hormone levels. Following are five examples.

1. “High levels of Corticotrophin Releasing Factor (CRF), both a hormone and neurotransmitter, are released when a brain is stressed/depressed. High levels of CRF have been found in the cerebrospinal fluid of those who have major depression and those who committed suicide, likely related to the underlying major depression.

2. “An increase in cortisol levels. Cortisol has many important functions including working with the thyroid gland and assisting with the fight-flight stress response. Elevated 24-hour urinary cortisol production was found in patients who recently attempted suicide, compared with patients who did not have a history of suicidal behavior.

3. “Alterations in the serotonin system. Neurons in the reptilian (1st brain layer) produce serotonin that is carried to the prefrontal cortex (3rd brain layer) by long projections—regulating mood, sleep, etc. Abnormal levels (too high or two low) are associated with suicidal tendency, OCD, alcoholism, and anxiety. In suicide, neurons appear to send less than normal amounts of serotonin to the prefrontal cortex.

4. “Decreasing levels of cholesterol. Recently, decreasing levels of cholesterol have been linked with increased suicide risk, whether the decrease occurs spontaneously or is attributable to drugs or diet. The brain needs cholesterol (e.g., has an antioxidant effect; provides the raw material for progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone, and vitamin D; and impacts memory).

5. “Excessive activity of the norepinephrine system. Both a neurotransmitter and a hormone, norepinephrine mobilizes the body for action as in the fight-flight reaction to stress. Elevated levels of norepinephrine inhibit activity in the prefrontal cortex brain that helps regulate conscience, willpower, decision-making, and behavior.

“Certainly, it behooves humans to avoid rushing to judgement about suicide. Rather, choose to share information about ‘altered brain states and suicide’ with survivors. It may help their grief recovery.”

*****

What science discloses about the brain is a new concept for me, and, naturally, my thoughts went to my firstborn as I pondered this information. If elevated levels of norepinephrine inhibit activity, then it stands to reason (in my mind) that before my son’s death, he could have acquired brain changes that gave him, in a sense, a “suicidal brain.” Undoubtedly, he was not in a healthy place to make crucial life decisions when he resolved to end his pain; “a permanent decision to a temporary problem,” which some are inclined to say about suicide.

I’d like to call attention to the connection the author made between religious practice and suicide. She did not elaborate; she simply mentioned that it is unfortunate that some say the act of suicide is breaking the 6th commandment. I agree that it is unfortunate if people insist that this is a true statement.

As I understand scripture, only the God of heaven knows the heart of the child who chooses to end his pain. He alone knew what was going on in the child’s brain before he or she died. He does not follow the religious beliefs, practices, and traditions of our day. He alone loves your child even more than you do. No one grieves more with you than God.

“Loss, Grief, and Recovery” – A Mini-Monograph by Arlene R. Taylor PhD, Realizations Inc.

Conclusion entitled: “Science and Emotions”

 

 

This entry was posted on May 5, 2017. 8 Comments